Monday, August 29, 2011

On having to defend Michele Bachmann. Don't Make Me Do This Again.

The latest Michele Bachmann controversy revolves around the first words of a speech she made inside a tent at an outdoor Christian meeting in Iowa.  It had been raining and the first words out of her mouth were, "Who likes wet people?"  Someone leaning to the left either misheard or deliberately chose to present it in a doctored YouTube video as "Who likes white people?"  Guess what happened then?  Yesiree, it went viral.

The clip making its rounds on Wonkette and other sites left out her next sentence, which was, "Yeah, that's right.  Because we have the God of the winds and the rain, don't we?"  On the un-doctored video I watched she clearly says "wet people".  Clear as a bell.

I hate that I have to defend someone who is so clearly against all that I stand for, but I'm going to do it because, as a long time liberal, I know what comes of any attempt at hanky-panky at our end.  We get trounced for it and it never goes away.  But beyond that, phony attacks are their game, not ours.  Or I should say, mine.  I'll never be a part of that idiocy.  There is enough honest ammunition against Michele Bachmann without resorting to lies.

 This is the true version of her remarks.

And this is the doctored version.  (I'm still hearing "wet" instead of "white" but many people swear she's saying "white people".  Judge for yourself.) 

If you want to see Michele Bachmann at her dangerous worst, watch her here as she defends South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for making sure her state remains a Right-to-Work state.  Bachmann couches it in terms of "Pro-growth" but what she's saying here is that she wants to see every state become an anti-union, low wage state.  She says, "A right-to-work state is a good thing", and she's saying it clear enough for everyone to get the message.

In that same speech there's no doubt about her words as she threatens to take out both the National Labor Relations Board and the Environmental Protection Agency if she becomes president.  This from Politico:

“Our president decided to allow the National Labor Relations Board to try to stop what Boeing is doing in South Carolina,” said Haley, referring to the NLRB’s complaint that Boeing moved the plant from Washington state to South Carolina to punish union workers, in violation of law. “It’s the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen. If you were president — knowing he is saying he can’t do anything because it’s an independent agency, what would you do?”
“Why thank you for asking that question,” Bachmann said, inviting the crowd to applaud Haley and promising she would take her calls if elected president. “If the NLRB would also be continuing their current stance, they may not last very long. Once they see what I do to the EPA, they may shape up.”
(For the record, I'm not at all convinced the NLRB made the right decision about Boeing's move after the fact -- the plant has already been built; Americans are already working in those jobs -- but I am convinced that Boeing decided on South Carolina because of it's lax labor laws.)

  If the polls weren't showing this ridiculous excuse for a candidate as a Republican front runner it would be easy to dismiss all that she says.  Nearly every day it's something new and attention-getting. (This weekend it was God trying to get our attention about the deficit by sending us earthquakes and hurricanes.)  The times are such that we surely need to pay attention to what this woman who would be president has to say, but we don't need to make it up as we go along.
I mean, literally, we don't need to.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Follies: On Kardashian, Condi, Lust, Larceny and Love in the Air

How jealous are we of that lavish, over-the-top Royal Wedding the Brits got to celebrate this year?  So pathetically jealous we had to pretend we're capable of having one of our own by latching onto the lavish, over-the-top Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries wedding. (Whoever the hell they are.) The Big Event took place last weekend and every station in the nation went all barmy over it.  The name "Kardashian" was out there so often, I figure it's just a matter of time before it appears in dictionaries all over the world as another striking example of "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"

[Celebrity] is but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing."
— With apologies to Macbeth

But my favorite part was a moment just before the nuptials when a CNN reporter was outside the compound talking about things most shallow and decidedly icky, like the fact that People Magazine paid more than a million dollars for the exclusive rights to the wedding photos, and a kid (looking and behaving like a certain grandson)finds a spot behind the reporter, within camera view, and gets all goofy, dancing around, making silly faces.  As if he knew this was a farce, a Kardashian money-maker, a temporary interlude (the marriage lasted all of 72 days), shuttered once the publicity died down.  (I had a great video clip of the kid but it has disappeared and I haven't been able to find it again.  Too bad.)

Love Story #2Moammar loves Condi. Who knew?  The Libyan Rebels have taken over Gadhafi's (Kaddafi.  Khadafy. Qaddafi. etc.) .compound and of course the first thing they did was to dig through the junk to find the juicy stuff.  Imagine their joy when they found a photo album entirely devoted to portraits of Condoleeza Rice.

One might guess from the evidence that Moammar had a certain obsession with Condi, but all guessing ends with the heretofore ignored interview the smitten one gave to al Jazeera way back in 2007, in which he gushed:
 "I support my darling black African woman [...]  I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. ... Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. ... I love her very much. I admire her, and I'm proud of her, because she's a black woman of African origin."  
 Well, yes, it's very bizarre, very creepy, but what I can't figure out is 2007?  How did we miss this for so long??

Love Story #3

Newlyweds Arthur Phillips and Brittany Lurch wanted very much to have a nice reception where their many friends could join them in celebrating their nuptials.  Money was apparently tight (neither of them were Kardashians, you see) so it took the Centre Hall, PA couple a few days to figure out how they were going to do it, but when the plan finally took shape it was a doozy.

They headed to the local Wegmans and loaded up a cart with over $1,000 worth of reception-type food and then walked out the door without paying.  Brilliant.  It worked!  The problem was, they had invited so many people to their special soiree one cart-load of hors d'oeuvres just wasn't going to do it.  They had to go back and load up again.  They were so tickled over the success of their first heist, they ordered a huge batch of seafood from the deli.  But something felt amiss, apparently, because they left the deli counter without the goods and tried to get outside, landing smack into the arms of the police.

They will be spending their honeymoon in jail.  No immediate plans for an actual marriage.

(That's Bonnie and Clyde.  Click here for Arthur and Brittany's wedding portrait.  The Centre Daily wants me to pay for the photo but I don't want to.)

That moment sublime:  The flying scene from "Out of Africa".  Pure romance:

Cartoon of the Week

Joe Heller - Green Bay Press Gazette

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Our Employees are Revolting, In More Ways Than One

Here's the thing about those occupants of the White House, the Capitol complex, and all other elected taxpayer-paid tenants of taxpayer-built edifices all across the country. Once they're in office they tend to forget their place on the organizational chart, so here's a reminder: 

We, the people, are on top.  We are the employers and they are the employees.  We pay their wages and their benefits, give them cushy offices and take care of their every need.  We pay it all, knowing that to do so is, ipso facto, giving them serious control over our lives.

Freshman members of the 112th Congress pose for a class photo on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
(Photo by: Jeff Malet. Photography/Newscom)

In Congress,  if the electeds are still employed by us after five years in office, we are required to pay every solitary cent that goes into their retirements.  Consider that:  They only have to work for us for five years to get a guaranteed lifetime retirement based on an average of the best three years of employment.  That means a House member would have to be re-elected twice to qualify, but a first-timer serving a full six-year term in the Senate will thereafter be eligible for retirement at our expense until death or until the coffers run bone-dry, whichever comes first.

There's no chance that their employers -- that's us -- can arbitrarily decide that we don't feel like paying it anymore.  We can't say we want more of our money to go to us and not to them.  When it comes to shared sacrifice, we seem to have exempted them.  We're locked in.  We will pay their retirements, no matter what we might have to let slide in order to do it. 

This one crucial fact sometimes gets forgotten in the day to day back-and-forth about whether or not our elected officials are doing their jobs in a way that the majority of the employers -- that's us -- will find acceptable:  They don't have to do their jobs well.  Once they're in, they're in.  We can't fire them for laziness, carelessness or insubordination.   There's no such thing as chronic tardiness or too many sick days.   They can even vote to strip jobs and take away retirements from the very people who have put them in office, all the while knowing they're safe from the same kind of unfair action.  Once they're there, sitting comfortably in their catbird seats, they can, in fact, make and/or enforce laws that will actually damage and/or destroy a good segment of the very people who pay their way

It's as if they have the best damned labor union in the country (that's us) looking out for them.  Ironic, isn't it,  considering how little use most of them have for labor representation?
Under both CSRS [Civil Service Retirement System] and FERS [Federal Employees Retirement System], Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
As of October 1, 2006, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.
Like most of us, they now pay into Social Security and will be eligible to collect on it after age 62 -- unless that changes, too.  (The young'uns might want to remember that before they get too hasty about killing it.)

Today regular members of the House and Senate each make $174,000 per year, with additional funding going toward staff and office wages, travel and other incidentals. (The leaders, of course, make more.)  Their staffers can make almost as much as they do, and they're entitled to anywhere from 20 to 60 support staffers.  We pay to keep all of them working.
  • Representatives' staff allowances can be used to hire up to 18 permanent and four non-permanent aides divided between the members' Washington and district offices. Up to $75,000 of a representative's staff funds can be transferred to his or her official expense account for use in other categories, such as computer and related services. The maximum salary allowed House personal staffers in 2005 was $156,848 (2001: $140,451)..
  • Senators' personal staff allowances vary with the size of the members' states. Senators may hire as many aides as they wish within their allowance; typically this ranges between 26 and 60, depending on the size of the state and the salary levels offered to the staffers.
    • The maximum salary allowed to Senate personal staffers in 2003 was $150,159 (1999: $132,159); for Senate legislative staffers the maximum salary in 2005 was $153,599., has a full compilation and history of wages and perks going back to 1789, when Congressional salaries were six dollars a day, with no limit on honoraria.  They could accept all the booty and swag they wanted in those days.  Now they have to choose between booty or swag.   (No, I'm kidding.  Actually, it says they cannot accept honoraria these days.  Absolutely verboten.  No can do, people.  Forget about it. Got it?   But corn dogs are okay.)

As employers go, we're really lousy at this.  Knowing how committed we're going to have to be toward ensuring a lifetime of benefits to our electeds, we really ought to do a better job of hiring them in the first place. It's not like we haven't studied their resumes.  It's not like we’ve neglected the interview process.  It costs us millions of dollars and requires a multitude of days bringing us interminable boot-licking, back-slapping, chest-thumping speeches to get us to the point of hiring these people.

Could we just try and remember these four magic words before we give any of them the honor of a job with lifetime benefits?   

For the common good. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: The Worst Writer Ever, Abercrombie's scam, and the Eagle Has Landed

A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the Bulwer-Lytton contest for the worst first sentence of a novel, I had no idea there was actually a worst novel in the world, too.  The consensus, from what little research I've done on the subject, is that Amanda McKittrick Ros is the author who wins, hands down.  (A literary group that included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would read her works aloud to see who could do it longest with a straight face.  None of that bothered Amanda in the least.  She scoffed at critics, claiming at least one of them was being mean because he was madly in love with her.)

There does seem to be some conflicting views on which of her novels would actually win the title of Worst, but Irene Iddesleigh, published in 1897, clearly ranks right up there in glorious hideousness.  It's out of print, but is available through the Gutenberg Project.   It was really hard to choose the lines most representing how awful that book really is, but here goes nothing:

 I should begin with the beginning.  It goes like this: 
Sympathise with me, indeed!  Ah, no!  Cast your sympathy on the chill waves of troubled waters; fling it on the oases of futurity; dash it against the rock of gossip; or, better still, allow it to remain within the false and faithless bosom of buried scorn.

Such were the few remarks of Irene as she paced the beach of limited freedom, alone and unprotected.  Sympathy can wound the breast of trodden patience, --it hath no rival to insure the feelings we possess, save that of sorrow. 
 Irene, you see, is the protagonist who meets the wealthy Sir John, who courts her and proposes marriage, both of them knowing all along that her heart belongs to Oscar, the poor tutor.  She marries Sir John, of course, but it's doomed from the start.  It'll come as no surprise to you that it ends badly for poor Irene.  But what sets this novel apart from other bad novels (and has made Amanda famous as the worst of the worst) is the author's avid, awful alliteration.

"Leave me now, deceptive demon of deluded mockery; lurk no more around the vale of vanity, like a vindictive viper; strike the lyre of lying deception to the strains of dull deadness, despair and doubt/ and bury on the brink of benevolence every false vow, every unkind thought, every trifle of selfishness and scathing dislike, occasioned by treachery in its mildest form!”

(I think what’s happening here is Irene is thinking she should be sorry for something, but I could be wrong.)

I use this picture as my avatar sometimes, but I’ve come to believe it’s Amanda McKittrick Ros writing her putrid purple prose.


  And speaking of words, these two, Abercrombie and Fitch, have always made me snicker.  They're so damned prissy-sounding.  Like two accountants straight out of Dickens.  But somehow the clothing company, around since the 19th century, has latched onto the young, ages 18-22, causing them to overlook how old-fashioned that name is and take to wearing the name on tees, pants, caps, and underwear.  Product placement is everything, I get it. Really.  Now, stop SHOUTING.

But last week A&F turned the tables on that whole concept.  The company is actually willing to pay someone big bucks to stop wearing their merchandise!   I don't watch "Jersey Shore", so I don't know this guy Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino, but apparently he doesn't fit A&F's image as an approved wearer of their clothing brand.  Also, he's way past 22 years old. (He's 29.)  Also, A&F loves controversy.  I mean loves itReally, really loves it.

So, okay, it's a publicity stunt, but a pretty clever one.  They're now offering the entire cast of "Jersey Shore" a "substantial amount" of money not to wear their clothes.  No word yet on whether any of the cast members have taken them up on it.  (This could start a whole new trend.  Paying people not to wear a clothing line might someday even have an effect on the jobless numbers. And the world would be a better place.)

 In my travels on the WWW, I found this great new website (New to me, I mean) called "The Awl".  I don't know what it is.  It's a whole bunch of fun and interesting things.  (Their motto is, "Be less stupid". Check it out.)  But today I was wandering around there and found a quote by Maud Newton from her NYT Magazine article called "Another thing to sort of pin on David Foster Wallace".

I suppose it made sense, when blogging was new, that there was some confusion about voice. Was a blog more like writing or more like speech? Soon it became a contrived and shambling hybrid of the two. The “sort ofs” and “reallys” and “ums” and “you knows” that we use in conversation were codified as the central connectors in the blogger lexicon. We weren’t just mad, we were sort of enraged; no one was merely confused, but kind of totally mystified. That music blog we liked was really pretty much the only one that, um, you know, got it. Never before had “folks” been used so relentlessly and enthusiastically as a term of general address outside church suppers, chain restaurants and family reunions. It’s fascinating and dreadful in hindsight to realize how quickly these conventions took hold and how widely they spread. And! They have sort of mutated since to liberal and often sarcastic use of question marks? And exclamation points! “Oh, hi,” people say at the start of sentences on blogs, Twitter and Tumblr these days, both acknowledging and jokily feigning surprise at the presence of the readers who have turned up there.
Oh, Jeez!  What can I say? Ya got me...

That moment sublime:   A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells about an amateur photographer, Frank Glick, who happened to spot an eagle sitting on a headstone one misty day at the Fort Snelling Cemetery.  He took the picture and then gave it to the widow of the soldier whose headstone the eagle chose to grace. A friend of his sent it to the paper and Jon Tevlin wrote about it.  The story and the picture went viral.  So viral that it brought out the inevitable doubters, who insisted the eagle was too large on that headstone.  It had to be photo-shopped.  The experts came out and said it most certainly wasn't enhanced. A cemetery spokeswoman said there are eagles around there all the time.

But who really cares?  This particular photo is wonderful on so many levels.  The mist, the bare trees, the sheen on the tops of the asymmetrical rows of headstones, the bit of red in the foreground, the first headstone leading to the focal point, and the eagle posed just right.  It's breathtaking.

Tevlin said it generated more emails than any other story he'd ever done.  There were 11,000 hits on Facebook when the picture appeared.  The military has ordered copies and it has made its way to Afghanistan where it sounds like they may use it as a basis for a monument to the fallen there.  Bravo, Frank Glick.  This is for you.

Cartoon of the Week:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Political Tiddly-Winks in Iowa. The Corn Dog Won

Good God and Lordy, people, is there anything more ludicrous on the political scene than what happens in Iowa whenever the Republicans don't have a Grand Poobah candidate for President?  This year it was a big barbecue in Ames where just under 17,000 people 16 1/2 years old and over got to pay their $30 to "vote" for a candidate and then party afterward.  Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul were the "winners".  And, not surprisingly, the emperor wore no clothes.

The main function of the Iowa Straw Poll is to draw in money for the Republican Party and for the towns in Iowa that hold the straw polls.  That should be enough for those folks, but even given proof of the historical insignificance of the poll and it's non-role in the winning of presidencies, the press falls all over itself to turn it into something it's not now and never will be.  As a political forecaster, it's record is pitiful.  Rarely if ever does the Straw Poll winner win the Iowa Caucus, much less the presidency.  So let's just get over the "importance" of yesterday's vote in Ames, Iowa and have a little fun with it, okay?

Andy Borowitz:  SandP Downgrades Iowa IQ:

Calling the results of today’s Iowa straw poll “alarming,” Standard and Poor’s took the unprecedented action of downgrading Iowa’s IQ.

While the effects of such an extraordinary measure are hard to predict, experts say the IQ downgrade could result in Iowans having difficulty completing sentences or operating a television remote.
“This downgrade would be very upsetting to Republicans in Iowa,” said an S & P spokesman.  “Fortunately, there’s no way they’ll understand it.”

 At the Fairgrounds, where the Big Barbecue was going on, Ron Paul had something called the "Prosperity Playground", where you could slide down the "Sliding Dollar" slide and just be a kid again.

Ujala Sehgal writes about it and more in this piece in the Atlantic.  Man, those kids had fun!

The Ames Patch took to judging the candidates' tent sizes.  Thaddeus McCotter's may have been the smallest, at an embarrassing 30x30 feet,  but Tim Pawlenty's took the prize as the largest, at 200 sq. ft. over Michele Bachmann's 10,000 foot air-conditioned whopper.

I'm hearing rumors this morning that Pawlenty is already thinking of dropping out of the race, so I hope he had a great time there in Ames.  Something should come out of all that effort, at least. (News flash:  It's true.  Pawlenty has dropped out.  Of the entire presidential race! All because of the Iowa Straw Poll.  Am I going to have to rethink this whole thing?  Am I just not getting it??)

Okay, I started this out absolutely refusing to even consider including that truly awful, truly obscene un-Photo-Shopped photo of Michele Bachmann deliriously munching a very long corn dog, but I changed my mind.  Here it is:

(NoteChanged my mind again.  I couldn't stand the picture any longer so I took it down.  It's here if you really want to see it.)

And here's a bonus.  Marcus Bachmann with that same corn dog.  I WILL NOT comment.  No.  I mustn't.

(NoteDitto the shot of her husband.  It's here.  Go for it.

But I will say this:  What happens in Iowa should have the decency to stay in Iowa.  Really.

Friday, August 12, 2011

FRIDAY FOLLIES: Bachmann's look, Mitt's People, and the Artistry of the All-seeing Blind.

Michele Bachmann was on Newsweek's cover this week and editor Tina Brown swears to all who will listen that Bachmann's bizarre cross-eyed skyward gaze was meant only to "capture her intensity".  About the crossed-eyes, Tina says she doesn't see it.  She honestly doesn't know what all the fuss is about.  (Cough, choke, gasp, gag.)

She was on "Morning Joe" last week defending her choice, and what an entertaining few minutes that was!

Now there are cries of foul and/or sexism and/or foul sexism.  Even Miss America got into the fray on Fox and Friends.  Did she think the cover was racist?  Well, yes she did.

But as someone who has never had the good sense to put on a photo face when a camera is pointed toward me, I might actually have some sympathy for the expressive Rep. Bachmann.  I blame it on my Italian heritage.  While I'm talking with my hands I can make some pretty awful faces, especially if I'm in a rage about the Tea Party and people like Michele Bachmann.  Or being put on hold having to listen to Jazz when I'm trying to get something done that requires telephone support.  Things like that.   (No, I'm not going to show classic examples here, though there are plenty of them out there.)

I know what it is to get caught with the goofy face.  It's embarrassing.  And I thought that's what happened with Bachmann until Tina Brown talked about the photo shoot.  The cover photo wasn't a candid, it was a studio portrait set up with a photographer who had all the time in the world to get a good one.  OMG.  Tina.  You scamp.

Mitt Romney got caught admitting that corporations are people, thus ensuring some big bucks in the campaign coffers from the corporate persons.  That would be a good thing if Republicans actually wanted him as their candidate, but they don't seem to be leaning that way.  Still, he's out there giving it all he's got, and all he's got is the best entertainment at the Iowa State Fair.

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend. We could raise taxes and --
[unintelligible crosstalk]
ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. So -- [audience laughter] where do you think it goes?
Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets.
Okay -- human beings, my friend.
Number one, so number one: you can raise taxes. That's not the approach that I would take.
Number two, you can make sure that the promises we make are promises that we can keep. And in my view, the areas that you have to consider are, for higher-income people ...

Well, that was kind of nutty...  I went looking for someone coming to Mitt's defense but so far all I've found is a quote from a Romney spokesman on an update to a piece on Talking Points Memo:

Update: Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom took to Twitter to defend Romney's quote: "Do folks think corporations are buildings? They're people who incorporate to conduct business. They create jobs and hire more people."

Okay, that's better.  I get it now.  Meanwhile, the DCCC has already come out with a video using Streisand's "People" as background music.  It's here.

I was all over the tube looking at comments.  Someone wanted to know if corporate takeovers could now be considered kidnapping.  Someone else wanted to know if two male corporations could get married or would they have to settle for a merger.  So I added a few myself:  When does the awkward teenage phase end?   Is there a diet for obese corporations?  Can they bake a cherry pie?  Who does their nails?  Can one of them become President of the United States? Can we punch them in the face?  How do we tell their faces from their asses?

It's a zoo out there, my friends.  Nuts is the new normal.

Moments of Sublime:  On one of my quests for interesting distractions, I found a link to a blind painter.  How does one paint if one can't see?  Well, seeing is in the eye of the beholder, it seems.  These artists would be remarkable if they were simply artists who could paint. The fact that they paint while blind makes them awesome in my eyes.

John Bramblitt became blind at age 30.  He has never seen his wife or child, nor any of his subjects, yet he paints them beautifully and accurately.  He explains his technique here.


This is Maria Santos.  She was blinded in a car accident when she was just 22 years old and already an accomplished artist.  Watch the video about her experiences here.

 What inspirations they are.  They've developed whole new ways of seeing in order to accomplish their dreams.  There are lessons to be learned from them, but for now...just enjoy.

Cartoon of the Week

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Poor Old Detroit: Who is going to save it from itself?

Detroit is my unofficial hometown.  I spent more years in and around Detroit than anywhere else in the country. I loved growing up there, so it would be hard not to have feelings for the city now, even after all of the scandals, the neglect, the excesses, the tearing-down of beautiful landmarks, and the destruction of entire formerly lovely neighborhoods for no earthly good reason other than that nobody cared.

Even though I don't live there any longer, and haven't for years, I keep Detroit in my sights.  It's like an old friend gone weary and self-destructive.  All the hand-wringing in the world isn't going to save it from itself, but a friend is a friend forever, and often we delude ourselves by living on memories alone.  We just can't let go.

My adopted city has long been at the mercy of elected officials gone greedy and potentatish.  Once in office, the lot of them come to see the city coffers -- taxpayer money -- as their own personal gold-stores ripe for the taking.

Detroit Public Schools, the sole resource for educating the city's poor youth, has a dismal history of allowing the school board to spend much needed funds on fancy office furniture and through-the-roof expense accounts for exotic trips and chauffeur-driven limos.  (Dan Rather ran a two-hour special on the DPS in May.  They called it  "A National Disgrace".  That's putting it mildly.)

I was a student in Detroit Public Schools in the 1940s.  Our buildings were beautiful, and so were the grounds.  We had gorgeous conservatories and libraries filled with stacks of leather-bound books, made cozy and welcoming with huge stone fireplaces, polished oak walls and sparkling leaded-glass windows.  I can still conjure up feeling pretty special while wandering around inside one of those schools.

I don't know what happened -- the blame is often put on White Flight, on racism, on the movement of factories outside the city -- but whatever it was, all that was golden and promising in Detroit is no more.

I blame some of it on the dissection of the neighborhoods by ill-placed freeways, and on the serious lack of any kind of useful public transportation.  There simply is no way to use public buses to get around the city.  Huge sections are left to fend for themselves if cars are not available.

I blame some of it on the wholesale destruction of historic buildings and neighborhoods where, along with the demolition of thousands of tons of brick and mortar, a sense of belonging, of history, of continuity, was crushed beyond repair.

But I blame most of it on a lack of caring.  Jobs have left the city, leaving poverty behind.  Any attempt at gentrifying the city is met with suspicion and a lack of support from city services, including police and fire departments.  It's big news if a major chain looks to build a store in Detroit proper.  The bigger news is how many choose not to build in Detroit. 

I know for a fact that there are people in Detroit who hate what has happened to their city and are working to make it better. (Eleanor Josaitis was one of them.  She passed last week and will be forever missed.)  Former basketball star Dave Bing is the current mayor, having taken over after Kwame Kilpatrick's reign as head poobah of one of the most corrupt regimes in Detroit's history.  I want to believe Bing when he says he's working hard to make life better in Detroit.  I want to believe him when he says he's investigating this latest mess concerning the outright theft of monies meant to go to the poorest of the poor. (See below)  I want to take him at his word, but when I see that he has warned his staff not to talk to the media about this, I would be a fool not to wonder why.

In a revelation that's almost hard to comprehend in a city as poor as Detroit, it's the city's Human Services Department that is currently under fire for personal and possibly illegal spending sprees.  The Human Services Department is the place where the poor are supposed to be able to get the help they need. Funding comes in the form of Federal Community Services anti-poverty Block Grants, which are meant to be used for employment, education, income management, housing, nutrition, emergency services and health, according to federal guidelines.

Instead, they've been used to buy top-of-the-line washers and dryers, refrigerators and freezers, a laptop computer, a Wii Fit game, and assorted gift cards, none of which ever benefited the poor. This is the same department that was under fire earlier this year for spending $210,000 of the block grant money to buy expensive office furniture.
Three employees of the Detroit Human Services Department, including the director, have been fired after a Free Press investigation revealed mismanagement and misspending.

Mayor Dave Bing announced the firings after the city investigated the newspaper's report that $210,000 in federal funds intended for poor people were spent instead on office furniture.
Bing said the investigation found nothing "fraudulent or criminal in nature" and then revealed that "most of the furniture purchases have been accounted for, however, two televisions and 10 computers have been determined missing."

Bing said the investigation found "a lack of oversight and poor inventory management."

Good Lord.  That's how Mayor Bing sees it.  It'll be interesting to see how the Feds see it.  An investigation follows some time this week.

Meanwhile, if that's not depressing enough, there's this story by former Free Press columnist Desiree Cooper in her "Detroit Diary".  She writes that, in modern Detroit, people are going to jail for stealing things like diapers, formula, and vitamins, and not being able to pay fines for taking a fish out of season.

"Long thought to be a relic of the 19th Century, debtors’ prisons are still alive and well in Michigan,” my good friend, Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan’s executive director, said in a press release. “Jailing our clients because they are poor is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources. Our justice system should be a place where freedom has no price and equality prevails regardless of a defendant’s economic status.”

But a 2010 multi-state study by the ACLU entitled, "In for a Penny," showed that Michigan is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to jailing people who are too poor to pay fines.

"Michigan, a state hit harder than most by the recession, is trying to find operating funds in the most unlikely of places: the pockets of poor people who have been convicted of crimes," concluded the report. "Though the Michigan Constitution forbids debtors’ prisons and state laws explicitly prohibit the jailing of individuals who cannot pay court fines and fees because they are too poor, judges routinely threaten to jail and frequently do jail poor people who cannot pay."

So stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a poor folks fund is simply "a lack of oversight and poor inventory management" but stealing a few dollars' worth of necessary food and goods, or not being able to pay a fine, is reason enough for a jail sentence?

Detroit in the 21st century. "Les Miserables" all over again, as Cooper says.  What makes it even more disheartening is that these stories and others like them are all the ammunition Gov. Snyder and his Koch-addicted bunch need to get away with appointing "emergency financial managers" to take over school districts and municipalities and give them to private interests to do with them as they will.  The question, as always, is will Detroit survive?  The answer, as always, eludes us.  It's up to the people now.  We'll see if they think Detroit is still worth it.

 One evening, little Gavroche had had no dinner; he remembered that he had had no dinner the day before either; this was becoming tiresome.  Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.