Punishing the Victim in Indy

At Arsenal Technical High in Indianapolis, Indiana, bullying is OK but standing up against bullying isn’t.  In its infinite idiocy, the school expelled Darnell “Dynasty” Young when he fired a stun-gun into the air after being surrounded by six people who were bullying him.  The bullies became afraid and left the scene, and Young was safe.  No one was injured.

Young had reportedly been bullied repeatedly since the start of the school year.  When he and his mother reported the bullying to the school authorities, he was told that the bullying basically was his own fault because he was so flamboyant.  If he wanted the bullying to stop, he could adjust his behavior.

So far, none of the bullies has been expelled.

The callousness of the school authorities is stunning but not surprising.  In so many places in the nation, bullying is ignored or tacitly sanctioned by schools, churches, and other institutions who consider bullying to be merely a part of growing up. It’s a pretty safe bet that these institutions are run by people who weren’t on the receiving end of bullying when they were growing up.

There may be Pink Houses in Indiana, but there sure isn’t a pink consciousness.

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Santorum Caves In

News outlets are reporting that Rick Santorum, arguably the most outspoken and critical of Mitt Romney’s primary rivals, has sent an email to his supporters endorsing the Romney campaign.

Let’s not forget that it was less than two months ago that Santorum made the following statement about Romney:

“You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who’s just going to be a little different than the person in there. If you’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate of the future.”


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Tampa, the GOP, and the Subprime Mess

There’s a stunning irony in the choice of venues for the GOP convention that is likely lost on most Republicans.  Tampa, Florida, was home to an entire division of Countrywide — the mortgage lender that played an enormous part in the nation’s economic downturn by saturating the market with subprime mortgages and then bundling them together into securities that could be sold by equally unscrupulous bankers on the open market to unsuspecting purchasers.

At the peak of subprime frenzy, Countrywide built out an entire facility in Tampa devoted to the sales and servicing of subprime mortgages.  The company could barely hire people fast enough to keep up with the demand that they themselves had generated by making loans available — on the worst terms possible for the borrower — to tens of thousands of borrowers who simply were not qualified to carry those loans.

At one point, Countrywide boasted of a record of $28 billion of mortgages written in a single month of lending, with many of those loans underwritten using the shoddiest of underwriting standards.

Consider these unemployment numbers for Florida:  In 2005-2006, unemployment bottomed out at 3.3%, right when all that subprime lending was going on.  With the subsequent tanking of the economy, due in large part to the collapse of the subprime market because of the fraudulent lending practices of Countrywide and others, unemployment in Florida skyrocketed to 11.4% in mid-2009, and remains to this day at or above 9%.

Florida also boasts one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, particularly on condominiums which were built (or overbuilt) in response to the new demand that all that subprime lending had created.  When the bubble burst, construction on half-finished developments came to a halt. Buyers who had bought into these developments were stuck with properties that were worth pennies on the dollar compared to what they now owed.  These early owners also took on the obligations of the condominium associations, the expense of which was to have been spread across dozens or hundreds of owners and now consequently was legally required to be borne by those unlucky few.

So, when the GOP opted to hold its convention in Tampa, organizers apparently were completely unaware of the optics of this choice.  Add to the bad optics of this backdrop the fact that the presumptive GOP candidate is touting a return to (or a doubling down on) the same economic policies that created this financial disaster, and it becomes hard to think that there won’t be some pretty significant negative repercussions for the Republicans.

The Democrats would be fools not to make hay out of this hypocrisy.  My guess is that the haymaking is already underway.

 

 

The War on Pink-Haired Religion

If you’re a fan of pink hair and oversized nostrils, you’ve undoubtedly found yourself occasionally transfixed in a late-night television stupor by that mega-couple of Christian scams, Jan and Paul Crouch.

The Crouches have occasionally come under scrutiny over the years and have had brushes with scandals, both financial and sexual.  But a family squabble among the potential heirs to the TBN empire has triggered recent renewed attention to their finances and, in particular, to the tax-exempt status of their organization.

The New York Times delved into this juicy subject recently in a lengthy expose of the multi-million dollar empire that the two have built, focusing on their family dysfunction and on their questionable accounting practices.

Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.

The twin sets of luxury homes only hint at the high living enjoyed by the Crouches, inspirational television personalities whose multitudes of stations and satellite signals reach millions of worshipers across the globe. Almost since they started in the 1970s, the couple have been criticized for secrecy about their use of donations, which totaled $93 million in 2010.

The only confusion in all of this is how this duo has managed to get away with their scam for as long as they have.

Read the New York Times article:

Sarkozy Is History

Nicholas Sarkozy, who has been at the head of a country with an austerity plan and an unemployment rate greater than 10%, has just been voted out, in favor of Socialist François Hollande. The ramifications of this change in leadership and policy may be far-reaching.

Many prominent economists blame the austerity measures put in place by the Sarkozy government for the failure of the French economy to recover. And yet those measures are almost identical to the GOP’s so-called economic recovery plan.

While it’s not likely that any drastic economic improvements will happen instantaneously with the change in leadership in France, it will certainly be something to keep an eye on in the coming months.  And there’s no doubt that what happens in France will affect economies around the world.

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Biden Endorses Marriage Equality

The Vice President, in an appearance on today’s Meet the Press, became the highest ranking U.S. official ever to have endorsed marriage quality. He described himself as “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage.

The right wing is undoubtedly going to twist Biden’s words around and have a field day with this, but Biden describes the issue in the most understandable way possible.

Tilting at (Corporate) Windmills, Pt. 2

Telecom giant SBC has a product that they’re hawking called “SBC Unified Communications.” In theory, it sounds like a convenient technology — all your voice mail from all your phones in a single account, which you can play back from any phone (residential land line or Cingular cell phone) or from a browser based mailbox. Plus you can receive faxes in the mailbox, too, and print them out. Sounds great, right?

Well, don’t get too excited, because it sucks. SBC proves unmistakably that theory and practice are two entirely different things by taking a good idea and implementing it in such a shabby fashion that it makes it seem like a bad idea. Not only is the product drastically misrepresented in their marketing hype, but also almost no one in SBC’s customer service (and certainly no one in Cingular’s customer service) has ever heard of it.

Here are the pitfalls I found in less than 24 hours of starting and then cancelling this utterly useless service:

  • SBC advertises that the web service is available from any PC in the world. What they don’t tell you is that you have to install a bunch of ActiveX and Java plugins to get it to work. So if you’re on a corporate PC that has restrictions on software and plugin installations (as most well-secured systems do these days), you can’t access it.
  • If you have a SBC Yahoo Email account, they can’t integrate the two. You have to have a whole separate Email account, and it’s limited to 50MB. Are you starting to see how the concept breaks down?
  • If you have a Cingular cell phone, the marketing hype makes it sound like they’ve already got things completely integrated. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The only thing they have integrated is the legal arrangements between the two subcorporations of the uber-corporation; the technology doesn’t even come in a close second. For example, they haven’t figured out a way to flip the “Message Indicator” switch on your Cingular phone. Instead, when you get a voice mail message, the system sends a text message (for which you are charged a separate fee); then, when you retrieve the voice mail message, it sends anothertext message (for which you are charged another separate fee). Their customer service tells me that they’re working on coming up with a way to remove the second text message and it “might be done by the end of the first quarter.”

The most insulting aspect of all of this is the utter contempt that SBC shows for its customers. First, they think it’s o.k. to send a product to market that clearly isn’t remotely ready for human consumption. Second, they don’t bother to train their own personnel sufficiently in how to use it. Oh, I spoke with a number of people who claimed they had had training, but with only one exception, no one had any idea how this thing actually worked. None of them had actually used the product, and all (including the man who knew a little about the product) were working from a script and not from first-hand knowledge. Damn! (Then the excuse they use for not knowing anything about it is that it’s a new product. One guy told me “We’ve only had it available for about a year and a half.”)

For SBC, it’s o.k. to ask customers to spend more money for products that don’t work as well as the ones they are paying less for. For SBC, your time is worth nothing. Just once I’d like to hear the following phone hell outgoing message:

Thank you for calling BigScaryCorp. Your call is important to us, but not so important that we’d actually have someone here to answer it. Instead, we’re going to use some of your unpaid time and some of the unpaid time of everyone else who calls so that we don’t have to spend money on staffing and we can increase our returns to our stockholders. Your approximate wait time is 2 hours and fifteen minutes.

To date, my investment in time for this foolish venture in misplaced trust is as follows: (a) approximately 2 hours of phone hell trying to get specific questions answered about the product prior to ordering; (b) a half hour placing the order; (c) another three hours of phone time determining that the product did not perform the way either the marketing materials claimed or the way the people who answered the initial questions claimed; (d) another hour or so cancelling the order with SBC; (e) another half-hour getting SBC to give me back my original voice mail; and (f) another half-hour getting Cingular to give me back my original voice mail. There was also two weeks of waiting between the time that the order was placed and they actually initiated the service.

Oh, I just remembered. There’s one more investment of my time — the time it took to compose this rant. But at least that part was worth it.

Family Second

The State Department announced today that president-whisperer Karen Hughes will be taking a post at State designed to change Islamic perceptions about America. How many different aspects of this announcement are there that are objectionable?

First of all, have our news media conveniently forgotten Karen Hughes’ ‘family first’ position of several months back? With a huge self-righteous fanfare, she left her post at the White House because her son supposedly came first and she claimed she wasn’t seeing enough of her family. It was time, she said, to return to Texas where they could spend time together.

But now all of a sudden it’s OK for her to travel extensively in the Middle East? Is it easier to get to Texas from Iraq than it is from D.C.? Have they perfected that ‘Beam-me-up-Scotty’ technology and I just didn’t hear about it yet?

Second, isn’t it more than a little disingenuous to attempt to control perceptions of the U.S. in the Islamic world? Isn’t this just a thinly vailed public relations campaign designed to make it possible for the U.S. to continue on exactly the same trajectory that it’s been on, without actually making any substantive changes in the way that the U.S. deals with the Muslim world? This is akin to the tobacco companies honking their own horns for their efforts to get people to stop smoking, while simultaneously racheting up their marketing efforts to sell more cigarettes.

Third, Karen Hughes? This is the administration’s idea of a diplomat? Karen Hughes’ professional life has been exclusively as a campaign professional and a television news reporter, most of it in Texas. What on earth on her resume would qualify her for a position at State? If she posted her resume on Monster.com, I bet she wouldn’t get a single inquiry for a diplomat job. And I’d also bet there are career diplomats all over the world who are screaming silently about this appointment.