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Tale of Two Parties

So I spent last evening at a Democratic Party training session for volunteer attorneys. The object of our endeavors on election day will be to make sure that people are allowed to vote. There is a fear that even here in Connecticut there will be a concerted effort by the Republican Party to suppress the vote. There is also the more mundane problem of local registrars who believe the law says one thing when it says another (for instance, some require photo IDs, which is way more restrictive than the actual law). We were told, and I'm sure it's true, that the Democratic Party is running similar training sessions with similar objectives throughout the country.

It occurred to me as I made my way home through the drenching rain that while the Democrats are busily holding training sessions trying to make sure people can vote, the Republicans are no doubt holding training sessions to teach their volunteers how to prevent people from voting.

Something to point out the next time someone tells you that both parties are the same.

Fair and balanced everywhere we go

Paul Krugman took a plane ride, and was subjected (sound blessedly off) to Newsmax TV (no choice, everyone had to watch it), which he speculates is even more right wing than Fox:

This sort of thing is obviously an important part of the reason we’re living in an age of derp. Events and data may have made nonsense of claims that the Fed’s policies would inevitably produce runaway inflation, and made those insisting on such claims look like fools; but there’s a large audience of people who, pulled in by affinity fraud, live in a bubble where they never hear about such evidence.

via Paul Krugman's Blog

I think Paul has it only partly right here. The real issue here is not that “there's a large audience” for right wing propaganda (there may be, but this incident doesn't prove it), but that many of us are subjected to this propaganda against our wills. How many times have you gone into a commercial establishment to find that there is a TV on the wall turned eternally to Fox News. My wife has been engaged for years in a battle with the folks at her gym to get them to stop tuning the televisions there to Fox News. This is not coincidental. It can't be, since the phenomenon is so all pervasive. This sort of bombardment reinforces, for those who pay little attention, the idea that Fox is a legitimate news purveyor. After all, why would Dunkin Donuts show Fox if it were a purveyor of lies. Dunkin' wouldn't do that to us, would it? Inflicting Newsmax on defenseless airplane passengers is just a step more blatant, given that Newsmax does even less than Fox to hide its bias.

Not all of the business that tune into Fox are evil, malevolent, or willfully seeking to propagandize, though many of them are. Many are just following the examples of others. There is an establishment in Groton situated across the road from one of the poorest areas in town. We know the owner quite well. When we took her to task for subjecting us to Fox News (why there's a TV in a deli type establishment at all is another question), she looked totally mystified. She clearly had no idea that it was anything other than a straight news channel because she was totally unengaged politically. To prove that point, she's now displaying a Foley/Somers sign in her window, not, I'm sure, out of any firm political convictions, but because Somers is a hometown girl and she's doing her a favor. To some people, politics is like sports. They have no conception of the fact that it actually matters who gets elected and that taking sides might, in fact, turn customers away. We have let them know we won't be coming back. For myself, it is especially galling that she is displaying a sign for a man who will do his best, if elected, to screw the bulk of her customers, who come from the neighborhood I mentioned earlier.

So, unwittingly, she went too far. But displaying Fox News is different, because you can pretend that you are not taking sides at all; you're just showing the fair and balanced news. Only the politically aware will realize what you're doing. The rest will just soak it in, even those who might otherwise, if at home, watch CNN or not watch the news at all. A good illustration of taking sides when not taking sides, in another context, comes from Krugman's most recent column, in which he rightly tells us we should be squashing Amazon. He discusses the Amazon/Hatchette controversy, and notes:

Specifically, the penalty Amazon is imposing on Hachette books is bad in itself, but there’s also a curious selectivity in the way that penalty has been applied. Last month the Times’s Bits blog documented the case of two Hachette books receiving very different treatment. One is Daniel Schulman’s “Sons of Wichita,” a profile of the Koch brothers; the other is “The Way Forward,” by Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate and is chairman of the House Budget Committee. Both are listed as eligible for Amazon Prime, and for Mr. Ryan’s book Amazon offers the usual free two-day delivery. What about “Sons of Wichita”? As of Sunday, it “usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.” Uh-huh.

via The New York Times

So, anyway, what Krugman's experience illustrates more than the lesson he took from it, is the all pervading corporate friendly propaganda to which we are endlessly subjected and which we are more or less powerless to avoid. Just another brick in the wall.

The Grifter Party

One advantage the Democrats have over the Republicans is that they are not afflicted with a swarm of grifters that specialize in diverting money intended to advance political causes into the well lined pockets of said grifters. Nothing suits them better than to advance the cause of a candidate with no actual chance of winning, but who, for one reason or another, is great for fundraising. Ben Carson is a case in point:

In Iowa, he sits behind only Mitt Romney as the first choice of Republican caucus-goers, according to a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. He’s on the verge of running for president, close to making the decision, so he has to learn about politics. The real challenge, he says, is not to learn too much.

Oh, I think he's safe there. If he runs he'll be getting advice from the folks who previously catapulted people like Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain into the spotlight. They'll be able to impart their collective wisdom to him on the first plane flight to Iowa somewhere between wheels-up and the time the first drinks are served. And yes, he will be presented as the alternative to Mitt Romney 2.0.

via Daily Kos (Emphasis added)

Carson is manna from heaven for the folks who made gobs of money off of Bachman, Santorum, and Cain. He's black, which means the rubes can play the “this proves I'm not a racist” card, and he's fairly good at articulating the right wing nonsense that they lap up. For the grifting industry winning is entirely beside the point. In fact, when they lose, it actually helps business, because they can convince the rubes that the losses are the result of a left wing conspiracy that only the next avatar of Sarah Palin can stop.

2016 is shaping up to the year that a grifter backed candidate may very well get the Republican nomination, for the simple reason that there is nary a non-grifter backed potential candidate in sight, with the possible exceptions of Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie, neither of whom, for obvious reasons, has a serious shot at the nomination. No, this time the choice will be among the likes of Carson, Paul, Cruz, Jindal, and who knows what other red meat pusher the grifters might dig up.

The fascinating question in this respect is this: Are the candidates in on the grift? You could certainly make an argument either way. In my own opinion, Sarah Palin wasn't in on it at the beginning, but, give her credit, she's a fast learner in some respects, and she's been in full control of her grifting brand ever since she resigned as Alaska governor in order to grift full time. I'd like to believe that Cruz, who went to Harvard Law, is in on it, if only because I'd actually like to believe that it really does take brains to get into Harvard Law. No matter, the fact is that each of these potential presidents will be a source of wealth to various grifters that will latch on to them, rendering their campaigns less effective in the process. Assuming Cruz is fully aware of the problem, he'll still be incapable of preventing the grifters from siphoning money away from his campaign.

It would be nice to believe that grifter dominated campaigns will always ultimately fail, but, sadly, that's not the case. We live in a quantum universe after all. As I said, for the most part, at least at present, winning is not a grifter objective, but these things happen.

At least three presidents in the last century or so were the products of grifter type salesmanship: Warren G. Harding, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. Neither man was fit to be president, and that includes Reagan, whose handlers set the country on the path toward extreme inequality down which we careen to this date. I'll admit, the grifters running those campaigns were more focussed on winning than those that swarm around the current crop, but some of them have learned that winning is truly optional. Consider Karl Rove, who has amassed an impressive losing record at Crossroads, but who has made himself a much richer man in the process while retaining his reputation as a political wizard (nothing enhances your credibility in the Beltway more than always being wrong).

Yes, there'll be a lot of money diverted from productive uses on the Republican side of the 2016 presidential campaign. The shame of it is that it looks like Hillary Clinton will be the beneficiary of all that grifting. Perhaps there's a certain irony there, given how much money the grifters have raised stoking fear and loathing of the Clintons.

Truth is Stranger than Satire

A few days ago I made a modest proposal: that we should take immediate action to prevent Texans from entering the country in order to protect ourselves from the scourge of Ebola. You may recall at the beginning of the Obama administration Rahm Emmanuel was quoted as saying you should “never let a serious crisis go to waste”. My thinking was similar: never let mindless panic go to waste. Some good can come from every situation, and if it takes unreasoning fear to rid the rest of the country of Texans, then by all means we should take advantage of that fear.

Well, a few days later I noted that my advice was being taken in somewhat altered form, by the State of Louisiana, that, in typical Southern fashion, chose to keep Texas garbage out, while (presumably) still letting Texans in. Now, I am somewhat chagrined to report, my advice is also being followed in New England, where people are not supposed to be as stupid as the folks in the old Confederacy:

It's a sign of how fast fears over Ebola are spreading. A Maine teacher is told to stay away from her classroom for three weeks. But as far as anyone can tell, that teacher was at a teacher's conference in Dallas ten miles from the hospital with the Ebola patients.

Regardless, the district took the extraordinary step of putting that teacher on leave anyway. School district 58 is requiring the Strong elementary teacher to stay away from students and the school for three weeks, over fears by some parents the teacher could have been infected with the Ebola virus.

According to a message on the district's website, a number of parents expressed concerns about possible exposure of that staff member to Ebola after that person went to a teacher's conference in Dallas, Texas where three Ebola cases have been confirmed.

There's no indication that the teacher went anywhere near the hospital where the first case was undergoing treatment. Administrators say in the message to parents “We have no information to suggest this staff member has been in contact with anyone who has been exposed to Ebola."”

Via WGME News

Now, the fact is that while the majority of Mainers are not this stupid, the plurality may very well be ready to re-elect Ron LePage, so there is definitely a strain of crazy in the state. Those of us who consider New England a stronghold of rationality can only hope that Strong happens to be chock full of LePage voters, or maybe, and this is more than probable, the school superintendent bowed to the demands of a few nutcases. It's an odd thing in this country: the more insane the demand, the more likely our public servants are to accede. Give the press there credit. The article I've excerpted above makes the absurdity of this action pretty clear.

Dubious Achievement Awards

If, like me, you make at least a daily pilgrimage to Daily Kos, you are aware that David Perdue, Republican candidate for Senate in Georgia, is having some problems. He's a businessman, you see, with the kind of background that we are told we need in our legislatures. He proudly specialized, according to his own sworn testimony and campaign statements, in sending American jobs overseas.

You may not be aware that there's a businessman running for governor of Massachusetts, and, like Perdue, he was a whiz at exporting American jobs. So much so, that he got an award for it:

It’s a photo Democrats might have only dreamed of laying their hands on. Republican Charlie Baker, the avowed jobs creator, receiving an “Outsourcing Excellence Award.” In a tuxedo.

But on Tuesday, Martha Coakley’s campaign circulated just such a photo, documenting the politically awkward award that Baker received in 2008 from the Outsourcing Center, an industry group, when he was chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

via The Boston Globe

Now, based on what I've read about both these guys, I think Perdue would have every right to resent the fact that Baker got this award, as Perdue seems to have been the far more productive outsourcer. But I'm not writing this to make the case for either of these guys. No, I'm writing to share my sense of wonder that anyone would think it was a good idea to give an award for exporting American jobs, and to share, as well, my astonishment that anyone would think it was a good idea to accept such an award. I mean, there are plenty of assholes in the world, but so far as I know, they don't get together every year and give one of their number an “Outstanding Asshole Award”. Baker's record should disqualify him from being governor, but the fact that he accepted that award is proof positive that he lacks the kind of judgment needed in a governor. It illustrates as well, how remarkably comfortable they are in showing their contempt for the people whose lives they are systematically ruining.

It's an unfortunate fact that like Perdue, Baker may win. In Baker's case it's because the Democrats saw fit to once again nominate Martha Coakley to high office. Coakley's incompetence as a campaigner will never be equaled. She is the person most responsible for inflicting Scott Brown on a defenseless nation. For that alone she should have been expelled from the party, but, she lived on to fight (and probably lose) another day.

Louisiana to Texas: We don’t want your garbage unless it’s radioactive

Every once in a while I'm surprised at the reach of this humble blog. A few days ago I sounded the alarm about the need to keep Texans out of the country in order to protect us from the Ebola virus. Well, when I came upon this story I could only assume that the attorney general of Louisiana somehow stumbled on my efforts, embraced my reasoning, and decided to go me one better:

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has a plan to stop Ebola: File a restraining order. Caldwell, a Republican, called the proposal to dispose of Dallas Ebola victim Eric Duncan's incinerated belongings at a Lake Charles landfill “absurd” and pledged to use the legal process to stop the transfer. WBRZ Baton Rouge reports:

“We certainly share sadness and compassion for those who have lost their lives and loved ones to this terrible virus, but the health and safety of our Louisiana citizens is our top priority. There are too many unknowns at this point,” Caldwell said. The Louisiana Attorney General's Office is in the process of finalizing the application for temporary restraining order and expects it to be filed as early as Monday morning.

Additionally, the office is sending a demand letter to Texas state and federal officials, along with private contractors involved seeking additional information into the handling of this waste.

via Mother Jones

Some might say, indeed have said, that there is zero chance that this garbage could pose a threat to anyone in Louisiana. But I say that at this point anything emanating from Texas poses a threat. And, as the Louisiana AG says, the state of Louisiana feels that any public health risk to its citizens is not worth taking. Quite laudable really.

Now, you might wonder why Texas is sending its garbage to Louisiana in the first place. Well, it turns out that Louisiana has sort of marketed itself as the garbage dump of the nation, though I'm sure it takes pains to make sure that the garbage it imports poses zero threat to its citizens:

But Caldwell's stance is especially bizarre in light of the great lengths Louisiana lawmakers have gone to position the state as a repository for every other kind of waste. Fracking waste disposal, for instance, has become a $30 billion industry nationwide over the last decade. Much of that wastewater has been dumped into old wells in Louisiana. Louisiana may also soon begin accepting thousands of tons of other states' shale wastewater, which will be shipped down the Mississippi on barges. In Louisiana you can even store radioactive materials in an abandoned salt cavern, and then, after the salt cavern collapses, creating a massive sinkhole and forcing hundreds of people to permanently relocate, pour wastewater directly into the sinkhole. Just don't try to truck the ashes of an Ebola victim's belongings across the Sabine.

Those radicals at Mother Jones seem to think that Louisiana's being at least a mite inconsistent here, but I just don't see it that way. After all, there is no conclusive, 100% sure, ironclad evidence that sinkholes full of a mixture of radioactive waste and wastewater pose a threat to public safety, whereas everyone agrees that if you get Ebola you could die, and, besides, there is no conclusive, 100% sure, ironclad evidence that burning a person's effects to a crisp actually destoys the living Ebola causing organisms that might be in those effects. So it's perfectly obvious that there's no inconsistency here, at least going by the standards normally applied to Southern Republicans.

Time to clamp down

DALLAS — A Dallas nurse who treated the Liberian man before he died of the Ebola virus last week has tested positive for the disease, officials said Sunday.

Although the nurse was wearing protective gear, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that the latest report indicated a clear breach of safety protocol at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

Earlier the hospital did not recognize the Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, as a potential Ebola patient when he first sought treatment there. Mr. Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, died last Wednesday.

via The New York Times

Now, I'm not usually one to sound the alarm about immigration, but it's pretty clear from the above that it's past time when we should clamp down on unrestricted immigration from Texas. Right now, anyone who wants to enter this country from Texas can do so. There are literally no restrictions on flights from Texas into the United States, and anyone traveling by car can get in to the US without even going through customs.

This state of affairs could be tolerated when the only negative effect of letting in Texans was the resulting lowering of the average IQ here in the US. It hardly made a difference, considering that we still had Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and the rest of their Confederate brethren to contend with. But now that Texas has turned out to be ground zero for the North American Ebola outbreak and, as expected, they've proven themselves totally incompetent to deal with this situation, we real Americans have to take action to stop the steady infiltration of Texans into the United States.

We have to assume that anyone from Texas; anyone who thinks Jesus invented football; anyone who thinks Rick Perry is a fit public servant, is a potential carrier of the Ebola virus, in addition to being a certain carrier of the stupid virus. Already, Texans, any one of whom could already be infected, are creeping over the border and escaping into Oklahoma, which, God knows, can't afford to have its IQ diluted further. There have already been reports of abandoned cowboy hats discovered on the Texas-Oklahoma border. It's time that Obama took action against this growing threat. I'm not necessarily advocating putting all Texans into concentration camps until they've been shown to be Ebola free and capable of thinking rationally, but it's certainly something we should consider given this dire emergency.

I urge everyone out there to keep an eye out for illegal Texan immigrants and report them to the local authorities. They might look entirely normal, but you should be able to tell they're Texan after talking to them for just a few minutes. If they know the name of every player on their local high school football team there's a good chance they're Texan. Don't panic. Do avoid intimate contact. That should be easy, as you likely won't be tempted. Call the police. Keep them talking about football until the authorities arrive. Until Obama finallly gets his shit together and puts up a wall around the Texas border, it's up to us to contain this invasion.

Note: I have been advised that given the current state of discourse on the internet, I should point out that the above is intended as satire.

Last night I went to a debate

Last night I attended the Ritter-Formica State Senate (CT -20th) debate. I find attending debates a frustrating experience, and this was no exception, for the reasons I'll get into. We were there (my wife and I), to support Betsy Ritter, a good friend, true progressive, and excellent legislator.

But I'm not here to talk about Betsy. This post is about Connecticut style Republicans, as exemplified by Paul Formica, Betsy's opponent.

Let me start with what should have been the lead (but goes unmentioned) in the article about the debate in the New London Day. Formica had no idea that there is a measure on the ballot this year to change our constitution to allow the legislature to implement early voting, easier absentee ballot access, etc. Right now, the constitution defines the criteria for absentee balloting and voting, and any changes require a constitutional amendment. It's a frankly ridiculous provision. The League of Women Voters asked each candidate for their views. Formica implicitly accused the audience of sharing his ignorance by suggesting that the League rep read the ballot question,allegedly for the benefit of the audience, but really for his. They did, but that still wasn't enough for him to understand what the question was about, or craft his usual “I think we should talk about that” answer. One would think his ignorance of this very important ballot question would give the New London Day's Editorial Director (Paul Choiniere) pause before giving Formica the Day's endorsement, but Formica has that endorsement in the bag. The Day will cite his business experience, (he runs a fish market) and tell us all that we need that valuable experience in the legislature, despite the fact that there is really no good evidence that business people do much in the legislature other than look after their own interests. After all, that's what they're taught to do.

But let's get to the Republican modus operandi, as practiced by Mr. Formica.

Connecticut is not a crazy state. See, contra, Texas, Alabama, Missisissippi, …oh, heck, pretty much all of the old Confederacy and a few other states thrown in. Flat out crazy does not sell here. Nonetheless, we have our share of crazies, be they gun nuts, “libertarians”, John Galt worshippers, religious cranks, or racists. Some of these people may be Democrats, but if so, no one has found one. The rest are Republicans, and though they are not a majority of the state by any means, they are rapidly becoming at least a plurality of Republicans in this state, as the non-crazies become more and more repelled at the monster that the national Republican Party has become. So, folks like Formica have a problem. Crazy doesn't sell, but if you go full bore sane you risk alienating the only remaining loyal Republicans. What's a not totally insane person to do?

The answer, at least the one adopted by Formica and many others, is to say nothing while implying you are for everything and also against everything. As with Schrödinger's cat, your true state is discovered only when the box is opened (if then). Formica's answer on the gun legislation was a classic example. (I can't quote verbatim, I can only give the gist). Betsy was quite clear that she supported the gun legislation as written, though she felt there might be some areas in which it can be strengthened to protect victims of domestic violence. Formica felt we should discuss possible alterations to the bill. The details? What details? He felt we shouldn't criminalize law abiding citizens, which is an oxymoron, of course. If a person breaks the law by possessing an illegal gun, they are not law abiding. But in the end, he gave not a hint what he would actually do if he were in office, other than saying that he was willing to talk about guns and everything else. In fact, it's fair to say that he did not give a single direct answer in the entire debate. Now, I must be truthful and say that there was one question that I thought Betsy danced around. It's something politicians do, but when it's all they do, you have to wonder.

One question that Formica evaded was particularly interesting, and particularly telling. It is a standard Republican talking point that the John Galts of the world are being stifled by excessive taxes, regulations, and other various governmental impediments that prevent them from delivering the capitalist nirvana and good life for all that would otherwise exist without the nefarious government. Choiniere actually used a question (see below) which asked for specific examples of government regulations that were stifling business. Now, given Formica's endless repetition of this Republican trope (a variant of it appeared in almost every one of his responses, you'd think this was a softball question. But no. Formica's response was to start to dance again, and then make the mistake of mentioning the newly enacted requirement for paid sick days as an example of government overreach. He said that he himself paid sick days to his employees, but it was something that was none of the government's business. So that's the best he could do on the question, and you could tell he realized he had put his foot in his mouth when he let that detail slip.

Let's take a little side trip, for this example exposes another fundamental problem with the Republican “philosophy”, quote marks used because it's hard to call something so incoherent a philosophy. To his credit, Formica pays his employees for sick days. Undoubtedly, most small business owners do (my law firm does, for example). It's hard for even a low level psychopath to look someone in the eye and tell them that they have to work sick or their kids will have to go hungry. But the folks at McDonald's don't look anyone in the eyes, and it appears to be easy for them and their Walmartian ilk to view human beings as expendable production units, whose dignity as human beings need not be considered or respected. It follows that it is Formica's “philosophy” that these psychopaths should have an economic advantage over people like him that treat their employees like human beings. It would never happen, considering the format of these debates, and Choiniere's question selection, but should't this be asked: why isn't it the role of the government to assure that every worker is treated with a certain level of respect and assured a decent days wages. In a nutshell, why shouldn't the government establish terms of employment below which the psychopaths cannot go?

The examples of incoherence abound. We heard in response to every question that taxes are too high and spending is out of control, yet we were never told precisely where this out of control spending is taking place. We were also told, in fuzzy generalities, that we need to have great schools, good health care, etc., but we were left to wonder how we were going to pay for these things after we cut taxes. Magical thinking abounds on the right.

When asked what he thought about non-profit hospitals turning into for-profits, Formica responded that he felt the market should decided these questions (before catching himself and reverting to generalities, but he didn't retract the magic of the market comment). We hear this a lot from Republicans. Yet, when it comes to cases, particularly when it comes to throwing money at corporations, the acts don't seem to be consistent with the words. After telling us that we should be at the mercy of a for-profit corporation when it comes to our health care (Our local hospital is clearly headed in that direction), he told us that one of his greatest accomplishment's as first selectman of East Lyme was his support of a Joe Courtney initiative to develop rail transportation to New London's harbor. (Sort of ironic coming from Joe's 2012 opponent) But, one must ask, if that rail transport is such a good thing, shouldn't the market have already taken care of it? Indeed, why support any government program that supports any business (as Formica surely does), for isn't the government getting in the way of the market's all knowing, always beneficent, invisible handian operation? In actuality, the Republican philosophy, as implicitly advanced by Formica, is this: The market should decide whenever the market's decision benefits our overlords, but when they want to put their snouts in the trough, by all means we should fill it with goodies.

I suggest that Formica is not unique; he is typical. Foley, for instance, is much the same. These folks run for office without giving us the slightest hint of what they intend to do when elected. Mostly because they know we wouldn't like it if they told us. That's why, in the case of people like Foley, it's so useful to catch them in unscripted moments when they let their guard down (usually in front of their fellow plutocrats) and give us an idea of what they really think, when they, for instance, start talking about “Wisconsin moment[s]”.

Now, a few word's about the New London Day. Paul Choiniere, head of the Editorial section of the Day, selected the questions from among written questions emailed to the Day, or submitted by the audience. But that was a total farce. Besides the obligatory gun question (the Day is ever anxious to appease its right wing detractors (they who cannot be appeased)) the selected questions all reflected the Day's obsessions, with the possible exception of the very first question, propounded only by Lawrence and Memorial Hospital, a self-serving question asking whether the candidates would commit to relieving hospitals of the hospital tax. I know that at least two people submitted questions about climate change, but those questions, along with any other question that did not involve “economic development” or taxes, went unasked. This is standard Day practice; it did the same thing at the recent debates involving the state representatives that represent the Groton area. Wait, I must correct myself, there was also a question about the common core. But the essential point stands; the Day's solicitation of questions is a farce. Your question will be asked so long as it is a question that Paul Choiniere would have asked anyway.

Involuntary Servitude in the 21st Century

You just know where this one is going:

After his 12-hour shifts at an Amazon warehouse in Las Vegas, Jesse Busk says, he and 200 other workers typically waited in line for 25 minutes to undergo a security check to see whether they had stolen any goods.

Upset that the temp agency that employed him refused to pay workers for that time, Mr. Busk sued. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about this hotly contested issue.

The nation’s retailers are paying close attention because such security checks are common. The Supreme Court is to determine whether the check and related waiting time were part of Mr. Busk’s regular, compensable workday or, as the temp agency argues, were time after his workday and not compensable.

via The New York Times

Poor Mr. Busk. He’s got no chance. For one thing, his lawyer shows signs of some sort of mental defect:

Mr. Busk’s lawyer, Mark R. Thierman, disagreed [with the employer's position]. “The antitheft check is integral and indispensable because the company said you have to do it,” he said. “If the company tells you to do it, it doesn’t matter whether it’s related to what else you do on the job.”

Mr. Thierman said that if an employer ordered a worker to do something, that work should be compensable, whether or not it was integral and indispensable to primary work activities. He cited a 2005 Supreme Court case, IBP v. Alvarez, which said that if a company required its employees to arrive at a particular time to begin waiting, even if there was no work to be done at that time, the waiting time would be compensable and not just preliminary.

“It’s by definition a principal activity because you were told to do it,” Mr. Thierman said.

He argued that under Integrity Staffing’s logic, if the company ordered an employee to mow the lawn outside the Amazon warehouse for 25 minutes after his 12-hour shift, the company would not have to pay for that work because it would not be considered “integral and indispensable” to his principal activity of tracking down goods ordered online.

I mean, what's with this guy? Does he think we're living in the Age of Reason or something? That sort of clear cut reasoning hasn't had any place before our Supreme Court since long before Bush v. Gore.

You might wonder where the Justice Department is on this issue and whether it has made the mistake of following Mr. Thierman where logic and common sense led the poor deluded guy. Well, fear not:

The Obama administration has filed a brief backing Integrity Staffing. Signed by lawyers from the Labor and Justice Departments, the administration’s brief said the Ninth Circuit’s focus on whether antitheft checks were done for the employer’s benefit was “an insufficient proxy for determining” whether they were integral and indispensable to a principal activity.

The administration argued that the security check at the Amazon warehouse was little different from a security check at an airport that construction workers must go through on their way to a project at the airport. The 11th Circuit has ruled that the time spent in that airport security check was not compensable and not integral to the job, on the grounds that it was ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration, not the employer, and was not of particular benefit to the employer.

Now, I'm just a country lawyer, pretty much on an intellectual par with poor Thierman. My response to the Justice Department would be that no employer pays their employees for the time it takes to get to and from work, and that in the case of the construction workers, getting through airport security was analogous to getting through highway tolls. It's not an employer's fault if you have to leave for work earlier, or get home later, because of traffic delays. It is the employer's fault if they insist that you can't end your workday until they do a strip search. But as I say, like Thierman I'm somewhat simple-minded.

Of course, it's always possible that the Justice Department has a hidden agenda here, and they have, in fact, bought into Mr. Thierman's weird premise that an employer ought to pay its employees for the things it requires them to do. Given our present Supreme Court, the Justice Department may have concluded that the best way to help the workers was to oppose them, on the grounds that there are five justices who will reflexively oppose whatever Obama supports. So, who knows. The court may surprise us. But don't hold your breath.

Hoist ‘em high

One of the more evil things the Republicans do is suppress the vote. Unfortunately for them, they cannot yet explicitly restrict the electorate to Republicans (they're working on that), so, every once in a while a Republican is bound to get swept up in the net. And, it was bound to happen, sooner or later, that one of the perpetrators themselves would get hoist up high by their proverbial petard. So, this is really delicious:

Arkansas Attorney General candidate Leslie Rutledge is crying foul over the cancellation of her voter registration form. Rutledge, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, was kicked off the voter rolls after it was discovered that she failed to cancel previous voter registrations in Washington, DC and Virginia, and re-register in Pulaski County when she moved. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, a Democrat, said he was legally obligated to remove her after receiving a letter flagging this issue.

Rutledge and Republican groups are calling the removal a “dirty trick” that was politically motivated. But what happened to Rutledge is in fact very common, and becoming even more common after the state implemented a number of strict voter restrictions, including a controversial voter ID law being litigated in court Thursday.

Democratic Party chair Vincent Insalaco pointed out in his statement that “a thousand eligible voters had their absentee ballots thrown out earlier this year following the implementation of more rigorous voting guidelines.”

The Republican National Lawyers Association has also come to Rutledge’s defense, expressing outrage that she was “systematically removed from voter rolls within 90 days of a federal election.” RNLA Chairman J. Randy Evans went on, “The fact is that it is a clear and unmistakable attempt at the most harmful kind of voter suppression in violation of federal law – removing a qualified female voter from the rolls notwithstanding her valid registration and actual votes in the last 4 elections in violation of her civil rights. Democrats should be embarrassed.”

Ironically, the RNLA has been instrumental in pushing mass voter purges across the country, specifically defending the right to purge voters within 90 days of the election.

Rutledge, however, is proud of her role in defending Arkansas election laws accused of discriminating against minorities and low-income voters. “Whether it was concerning Voter ID, Redistricting, Obamacare, or the IRS targeting conservative groups, I sat at the table side-by-side my fellow Republican attorneys and we developed legal strategies to proactively stand against or at times defend our citizens from the overreach of this Administration,” Rutledge wrote in an Attorney General questionnaire.

via Think Progress

Don't you just love the RNLA's description of Rutledge as a “qualified female voter”? I hope the county clerk sticks to his guns. Wouldn't it be loverly to see Ms. Rutledge in court claiming the law she championed was unconstitutional, inasmuch as it was never intended to apply to “qualifed female voter[s]” who were also white and Republican. But what am I saying? In the South, that might be a winning argument.