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Nice work if you can get it.

(Yes, I know I’ve used this title before. )

This is really quite extraordinary. I am a jealous guy. The law firm that represents Chris Christie on the taxpayer's dime has made a small fortune (Well, for most of us, a large fortune) off of a case that does not yet even exist.

According to documents released last week, the law firm  hired by Governor Christie to deal with his legal problems concerned Bridgegate has billed taxpayers $6.51 million for work through April.  Gibson Dunn & Crutcher was hired by Christie to defend him and his office with the firm’s most notable achievement being the production of a highly contested report that exonerated Christie from any wrongdoing. Yes, the law firm has been paid millions in taxpayer dollars to produce a report that says their client is innocent.

Gibson Dunn originally proposed billing the state of New Jersey $650 an hour but eventually agreed to $350 an hour.

The firm submitted bills to the Attorney General’s Office that said in March it had 59 people working on the case and that they charged the state $2.49 million in fees. One lawyer two years out of law school billed for 342 hours that month — or an average of 11 hours every day in March. His taxpayer tab was almost $120,000.

Friday’s disclosure means that the lawyers representing Christie’s office, his staff and those working for the legislative committee investigating the scandal have charged taxpayers $7.87 million, according to bills released so far.

via Firedoglake citing NorthJersey.com.

I truly admire that associate, and I'm sure she or he is partnership material. If he or she can survive, that is. 11 hours a day, assuming not a single day off. Many people who practice law would assert that it is physically and mentally impossible to spend that much time productively doing legal work. More astounding: all of it performed on one case, and wouldn't you like to know if that eager beaver billed time to other files during that marathon month.

Inquiring minds want to know how anyone could fill all that time, considering that there was no actual pending litigation and no adversary, though potential adversaries abound.

But the heroic associate's feats are dwarfed by those of the firm as a whole. At the $350/hour rate they agreed to charge, the total bill suggests that the firm has billed more than 2 and a half years of time to the case. Lets be generous and assume 10% of those billings are for reimbursement of expenses (those lunches don't come cheap). That brings the total expenditure of time to just below 2 and a half years. Even Ken Starr worked more efficiently than that.

It would certainly be interesting, and should be someone's job, to look over those billings and try to figure out how they could possibly come up with enough legitimate things to do to justify churning the file to that extent. Perhaps New Jersey could hire another law firm to look into it.

Hoist with our own petard

The Egyptians must have enjoyed this.

Boys with Toys

Tom Tomorrow gets to the heart matter re: the militarization of the cops, in his most recent cartoon. There's no question that our racist culture allows the Ferguson police to have more fun with their toys than the cops who faced Clive Bundy, but the fact is that without those toys they wouldn't be able to reenact scenes from Star Wars on the streets of Ferguson. One can't quite imagine British bobbies, faced with the same situation, and armed only with nightsticks, acting in quite the same way. They have to get their way by wielding moral authority, which means they also have to show respect to the people they are policing. All those toys change the equation; the cops are invulnerable behind walls of steel and armor.

Sort of like storm troopers.

Exactly like storm troopers.

On a much less harmful level we've seen this sort of thing take place in our fair town of Groton. We have nine fire districts in Groton, manned for the most part by a mix of volunteers and paid staff. Each fire district sets its own taxes, which are added to the town's tax bill. The fire district component of the average tax bill is relatively small in proportion to the whole, so people tend to ignore it, and ignore the meetings at which the tax rates are set and the budgets are passed. As a result, no one watches (except when things get extreme) while the boys fill their toy chests with all kinds of cool equipment, which, who knows, might someday be actually needed in the event of a super catastrophe. We have, by reliable accounts, more fire equipment than the City of New Haven. Cops are the more or less evil twins of firefighters, and they've been given an almost bottomless toy chest by the federal government, chock full of toys that are totally cool and enable them to live out their fantasies, which they are, in fact, taught to believe should be standard operating procedure (Watch the video at the link). The Ferguson cops probably truly believe that all that military equipment is truly needed to meet the threat posed by an unarmed, mostly peaceful crowd (who are mostly black, after all). All those toys and a chance to use them. A situation guaranteed to bring out the criminal that, as Mick Jagger observed, lurks in every cop. (Well, not every cop, but many. I can think of some noble exceptions.)

Notes on the Primary

A few random observations after last night's primary, which we observed via the Internet (including texts from our friends) from way up North here in Vermont.

First, on a purely local note, we might hope that the Day might take a lesson from the shellacking Betsy Ritter gave Bill Satti last night (20th Senatorial District) to change its endorsement policy, pursuant to which a candidate's experience, ability and policy positions are completely irrelevant, except where they count as minuses because they are impressive. The Day prefers to consider intangibles such as “passion”, and even there it misses the mark. The voters disagreed. Betsy won every town except Satti's home base of New London, and she did better there than he did anywhere else.

Speaking of newspapers, is the Hartford Courant still a news dispensing organization? I kept hitting the refresh button on the Day's website, which stayed reasonably up to date. We were trying to see if the Republicans would really be stupid enough to nominate our local Sarah Palin clone as lieutenant governor (looks like they were), so I went to the Courant's site on the theory that the bigger paper ought to have the better coverage. Their numbers were at least two hours old at the time I checked.

As to the big races, as others have observed, Malloy has a big problem, mostly of his own making. It is apparently a sign of maturity (Democrats only, of course) to shit on your base as soon as they get you elected, which Malloy seemed to relish doing. Funny how there's a distinct lack of enthusiasm for him these days. I still think he can beat Foley, whose performance in Sprague, we can assume, will not be forgotten. Give Malloy credit: he fights hard and he'll pound on Foley almost as hard as he has on the teacher's unions and the public schools.

If our local Sarah Palin clone does manage to get elected, let me be the first to announce that it will be her ticket to political oblivion, unless Foley dies in office or goes to jail, the latter, of course, being more likely. He will be the most hated man in Connecticut in less than 2 years (people will begin fondly remembering Malloy), and, Connecticut not being Maine, his chances of getting re-elected (or a Republican replacing him) will be next to nil. Anyone who can accuse laid off workers of being responsible for their own layoffs while he's trying to get their votes is unlikely to be able to contain his arrogance and rich boy sense of entitlement once he's elected.

Paul Ryan courts the huddled masses

Paul Ryan has some advice for his fellow Republicans:

‘‘We need to show that we have better ideas. We need to show that we have real solutions. We need to show that we’re the party of opportunity,’’ said Ryan, the vice presidential nominee in 2012.

His upbeat tone and call for wholesale expansion of the party to include more low-income and racially diverse supporters come as his party struggles to coalesce around a plan to deal with illegal immigrants.

via The Boston Globe

When he's right, he's right. For the moment, let's just talk about low income people. The GOP does have a problem with this group, caused in part by some of their members who truly care about the poor, but have trouble expressing themselves, like the guy who said that we really should just let them wither and die. He tried to explain that he really didn't mean it. He was just trying to say that the poor are only poor because some people are trying to help them, instead of letting them fend for themselves in a world in which the system is rigged against them.

Enter Paul Ryan, who clearly understands that the GOP could use some of the poor people's votes, inasmuch as, try as they might, they can't disenfranchise them all or get them to wither and die, particularly given the fact that we are creating more poor people than we can get to wither, in large part as a result of Republican obstructionism. So, Ryan's offering the poor something more than the chance to fend for themselves in a world in which the system is rigged against them. Based on his policy positions, his prescription for attracting the support of low income voters is to stop unemployment benefits, slash Medicaid, cut taxes on the rich, and cut food stamps. And that's just the start, as he's got social security disability and retirement benefits in his sights as well. Some might say there's not an inch of daylight between Ryan's prescriptions and the current policy of the Republican Party, but they couldn't be more wrong. You see, Ryan is also proposing that the party assure the poor that Republicans care about low income Americans, which makes all the difference. Once the poor folks realize that the Republicans are reducing them to destitution for their own good, they will vote for the party in droves. Or so Ryan believes, which proves not only that he is a man of compassion, but that, contrary to the common slur, he does not believe that he is living in an Ayn Rand novel, for even Rand was not that detached from reality.

Greetings from Vermont

We have been in Vermont since Friday on our annual trek. Readers of this blog have been spared for the last several days due to the unfortunate fact that, over the weekend, we could not connect to the wireless network in the house we’re renting, due to a password issue. Thanks to the very helpful realtor who rented the place to us, the situation is now rectified, and our three days without internet, which seemed like an eternity, are now over. My gain is your loss, as I am now back.

However, I have nothing to say about current events, because I am somewhat blissfully unaware of what is going on out there. That will now change, now that we are once more snared in the World Wide Web.

So, a few Vermont pictures. We like to visit the Farmers Markets. This year we went to the market at Brattleboro. It is truly amazing how beautiful everyday objects can be when properly arranged. It almost seems like the farmers compete to see who can display their vegetables to the best advantage. I mean, do the carrots at Stop & Shop ever look this good?

20140804-212450-77090713.jpg

Or the garlic?

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Politics tomorrow, maybe.

Good try

I do hope this ends up in the courts, though I know that the Satanists will lose:

The Satanic Temple has launched a campaign seeking religious exemption from laws that restrict access to abortions, citing the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling.

The group, which “facilitates the communication and mobilization of politically aware Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty,” argues that states' “informed consent” laws violate its religious freedom.

“An increasing number of states have passed 'informed consent' laws, requiring that women seeking abortions be subjected to state-mandated informational materials that are often false or misleading,” the group wrote on its website. “We believe that personal decisions should be made with reference to only the best available, scientifically valid information.”

Lucien Graves, a spokesperson for the group, said that the Hobby Lobby ruling supports their initiative.

“While we feel we have a strong case for exemption regardless of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that religious beliefs are so sacrosanct that they can even trump scientific fact,” Graves said in a statement. “Because of the respect the Court has given to religious beliefs, and the fact that our beliefs are based on best available knowledge, we expect that our belief in the illegitimacy of state­ mandated ‘informational’ material is enough to exempt us, and those who hold our beliefs, from having to receive them.”

Thirty-five states have enacted informed consent laws that require women receive counseling before an abortion, and 27 of these states detail what information doctors should give to patients, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

via Talking Points Memo

It's hard to impossible to argue with their logic, but we all know they'll lose. Still, it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court distinguishes Hobby Lobby away. Then again, maybe they'll find it impossible to do. When they struck down the “Defense of Marriage Act”, Scalia made the mistake of saying quite emphatically that this meant that any law against gay marriage was unconstitutional. The lower courts have jumped on that, one suspects with much glee, as a fair number of judges must loathe Scalia, and must therefore take delight in hoisting him on his own petard. It wouldn't surprise me to see the lower court judges, many of whom must be livid at the intellectual dishonesty of the Hobby Lobby decision, cite that case to death in support of claims like those of the Satanists. After all, the court forgot to say, as in Bush v. Gore, that this was a one off. I suspect, however, that the court will resort to the caveat in Hobby Lobby that its ruling doesn't necessarily apply to all claims of religious exemption; only to those with which the Frightful Five agree.

Strangers: heather Bond Somers and the truth

There's really no other way to put it. Examples are probably legion, but let me submit one to a candid world:

The break-up of Boughton and Somers after the convention had some Republicans questioning her loyalty, but Somers said earlier this week that she had planned to run for lieutenant governor last November before her local election in Groton.

She said that’s why she didn’t seek the position of mayor. It was because she knew she was going to be seeking higher office.

via Connecticut New Junkie

One does not “seek” the position of mayor of Groton in any electoral sense. The Groton mayor is simply first among equals; it is a largely honorary and ceremonial position conferred by a vote of the council, not of the people. Why did Heather not seek the mayoralty this year? It was not because she intended to run for higher office. It was because the Democrats took the majority on the council this year, and there was no way on earth that they would have elected her to the post. I don't know if the Republicans even bothered to nominate an alternative to Rita Schmidt, but if they did, it was an empty exercise and they would have known it at the time.

Let me unskew this for you

Over at the Daily Kos, they are trumpeting a poll that shows that Americans would prefer to have American jobs protected rather than passing more job killing trade agreements. I'm with the Kosites on this issue, but this poll cannot be relied upon as a true measure of the feelings of the American people.

Let me explain.

The pollsters posed three questions. Here's the description of the last question, posed after two initial questions that introduced the subject of currency manipulation by countries like China:

When asked: If the Obama administration supports an international trade agreement that does not specifically prohibit currency manipulation, do you think the United States Congress should support or oppose that trade deal? A plurality of Democrats believe Congress should oppose such a deal—48 percent oppose, 41 percent support—while a majority of Republicans believe Congress should oppose a trade agreement without rules against currency manipulation—77 percent oppose, 17 percent support.

via Daily Kos

You see the problem, don't you?

Let's suppose for a moment that just one little word was changed in that question. Let's suppose that the word “supports” was changed to “opposes”, but the word “Obama” stayed right where it is. We can safely assume that this would shift the Democratic numbers by a fair amount. But the real tell is in the Republican figures. These trade deals, after all, are quite popular with the real Republican base, and so we can expect that the folks at Fox will manipulate the suckers to fall in line. But, not being properly Fox primed, and faced with a question which starts off with stating that Obama supports something, what can any red blooded Republican do but oppose it? Change that one little word, and those numbers would have flipped. If they had told those Republicans that Obama is opposed to killing puppies you'd have 77% of them in favor of a puppy holocaust.

So, this poll was gamed, and the pollsters had to know it. As I say, I'm on their side, but I'm surprised that anyone at the Daily Kos would give this poll the time of day.

Doublespeak, 2014 style

“Everything is the opposite of what it is, isn't it”“

John Lennon quoting Harry Nillson

Now comes the Office of Management and Budget to prove the truth of Harry's observation:

U.S. statistical agencies have proposed major changes to the definitions of manufacturing and services that would fundamentally change our understanding of what manufacturing is and how it affects the economy. Specifically, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued a proposal for changes to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) that would take effect in a 2017 revision. NAICS is used by the myriad federal statistical agencies that collect, analyze, and publish statistical data related to the U.S. business economy, including U.S. trade. Agencies most affected would include the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the U.S. Census Bureau. In brief, NAICS 2017 would implement a previous but suspended plan (NAICS 2012) to classify factoryless goods producers (FGPs) such as Apple and Nike, most of which are now in wholesaling or management of companies (both service industries), into manufacturing. The proposal would also move trade by manufacturing service providers (MSPs), such as China’s Foxconn (which builds Apple products) into services. MSP establishments in the U.S. have been and will remain in manufacturing, but the jobs and output that are traded would be moved into services.

via The Economic Policy Institute

Now, this makes a certain weird sort of sense, given the prevailing views of our ruling oligarchs, who of course have our best interests at heart. Besides being job creators, they are also product creators. At their behest, those products are brought into physical reality. That process is called manufacturing. Therefore, they are manufacturers. The entities that actually produce the physical objects are merely providing the service of actually making the physical object. Therefore, they are service providers. It makes perfect sense, so long as you are comfortable with having your head spin or thought that 1984 was a book about a utopian society

This would perhaps be trivial, if not for the real world implications to those of us who do not bestride the world like those job creators. The wonky reasons are set forth in the linked article. A few not so wonky objections come to mind. First, there is the matter of our common language and the stresses and strains put on it by those who manipulate it for political reasons. I'm comfortable with the fact that the word "literally” has now come to mean, in addition to “literally”, “figuratively”. “Literally” is now the opposite of what it is as well as being what it is, but it has become so by a process of natural evolution. Things become a bit more sinister when words are manipulated intentionally in order to advance a political or policy agenda. After all, in our economic system, a “servicer” is literally (original sense intended) the opposite of a “manufacturer”, or as nearly opposite as one can imagine. This proposal seeks to do for these words what years of misuse have done for “literally”; make them mean the opposite of what they are, as well as retain their original meanings. This is not healthy.

Let me verge on paranoia a bit and suggest that with a-shall we say- manufactured uptick in manufacturing in this country, the deadbeat unemployed, we will be assured, will have even less reason for refusing to work, what with all those manufacturing jobs that must be available.

Who knows, your next Iphone may be labelled “Made in USA”, for all it seems to take to qualify for that moniker is that someone here in the USA has the idea that something should be made and the ability to see that someone, somewhere actually makes it. As to the actual making, that's merely a service that can be performed anywhere. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm sure our newly christened manufacturers will be more forthcoming, and the label will read: “Made in USA, serviced in China”.