Small Acts Of Kindness

If you look at the post I did when Biggest Guy deployed, the second photo down shows a young sergeant, his young wife, and a small boy sleeping on their laps.

The young sergeant was James Nolen, killed by an IED on Nov 22, 2009. The young wife was his pregnant wife Rachel, and the young boy her son William.

TG and I have stayed connected to Rachel and watched as she’s dealt with the burdens she faces with grace and strength.

Recently, someone showed her some grace, and writer, friend, and milspouse Kanai Fong writes about it at The Kitchen Dispatch:

People who truly possess a green thumb, usually live life with a full heart. The late SGT James Nolen of the 2/508, 82nd Airborne had one, and anticipated gardening at his house near Ft. Bragg, NC when his deployment ended. His wife Rachel writes:

“When we moved into our new house before James deployed all he could talk about was how much he couldn’t wait to plant trees, have nice gardens, and a beautiful yard. James had a green thumb so there was no doubt that he would have done it. But unfortunately things got so busy before he deployed we never got to begin his gardens.”

I’m going to post the punchline to this story because I want to make sure the name of Gellen Lawn Care gets broadcast far and wide…here’s Rachel:

“This afternoon the nicest thing happened to me. Over the weekend I signed a contract for lawn service with Gellen Lawn Care.
Well, today, Patrick (the owner) came to cut my lawn. He noticed James’ memorial garden. After telling him all about James he thanked me for his sacrifice. Then he gave me back my contract and offered to cut my lawn for free as long as he was in business.
It truly means so much to me that a complete stranger would be so nice. I know James is smiling down from heaven. I’m telling you it’s the little things that mean so such.”

Some things, thankfully, speak for themselves.
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How Public Sector Unions Control Politicians

Former LA Police Chief Bernard Parks is currently representing LA Council District 8, where he’s currently being opposed by a union-cultivated candidate Forescee Hogan-Rowles. From the LA Weekly:

Parks has been targeted for removal by the DWP’s union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, and its affiliate IBEW 11, as well as the city’s police union and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and SEIU Local 721.

The cash-rich unions representing thousands of city workers have organized a massive independent expenditure campaign, pouring more than $650,000 in contributions into electing Hogan-Rowles.

Parks, as head of the City Council Finance and Budget Committee, has infuriated IBEW Local 18’s outspoken and powerful business manager, Brian D’Arcy, and L.A. Police Protective League president Paul Weber, by seeking more control over DWP pensions and benefits, challenging the public utility’s rationale for rate hikes, voting against a costly police contract and backing layoffs and furlough days for city workers.

The County Federation spent more than $8.5 million to defeat Parks when he ran in 2008 for the 2nd District Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors seat, which he lost to Mark Ridley-Thomas.

This is what the capture of the state and local political process by public-sector unions who are primarily interested in their own interests looks like, and this is why it’s critical not only that we deal with the fiscal consequences of the last 25 years’ control of the political process, but with the mechanism that brought us there.
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Satan Buys Earmuffs. I Violently (Can I Still Say That?) Agree With A Crooks And Liars Blogger.

…or he agrees with me.

One of the points I’ve made for eight or nine years blogging is that the Democratic Party has abandoned working people, except for a few favored ones – public sector unions being one of the exceptions. I’ve been derided for it, but it’s true so I really don’t care.

I’m delighted to see someone on a progblog come out and say it as well.

Here’s Brad Reed at Crooks And Liars:

For far too long the Democratic Party leadership has supported policies that have screwed blue-collar Midwesterners as much as any Republican policies have — after all, remember that the repeal of Glass-Stegal got more than 90 votes in the U.S. Senate and was signed into law by a Democratic president. Instead of constantly asking ourselves, “What’s the matter with these silly Midwesterners?” we should probably be asking, “Why the hell isn’t our supposed center-left party looking out for all workers’ interests?”

Is that a light that I see?
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Armed Liberal On the Radio

Oh goody…

I had the pleasure of meeting John Phillips at a dinner on Sunday, and would have pegged him as an announcer before I was even told he hosted a radio show on KABC, here in in Los Angeles. I don’t know him or his work, but will for sure know more tomorrow…

He’s just invited me to join him at 8pm Pacific tonight…we’ll see how that works out! You can listen in LA on AM 790, and you can stream it here.
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A Liberal Argument Against Public Sector Unions

My friend Kevin Drum has a piece coming out next week in MJ about the decline of private-sector unions. Today, he has a short blog post up about the contremps in Wisconsin and the effort by the new Gov to shut down the public sector unions and change the terms of the public employees employment (greater healthcare and pension contributions, etc.).

Kevin says:

I won’t pretend to be the world’s most full-throated defender of public sector unions. If I could trade ten points of union density in the private sector for ten points in the public sector, I’d take the trade in a heartbeat. But that is, obviously, not the trade on offer. Nor is what’s happening in Wisconsin merely hard bargaining during tough economic times. That would be understandable. Rather, it’s an effort to destroy one of the few institutions left that fights relentlessly for the economic interests of the middle class. That’s why conservatives oppose unions of all kinds, both public and private, and regardless of their faults, that’s why they deserve our support.

Well, it’s great that he ‘may not be the most full-throated supporter of public sector unions’, but in fact – as a liberal – he should be their biggest opponent.

No, they don’t deserve the support of true liberals.

First, and foremost, the problem with public sector unions is that have captured state and local politics in the states where they get to play.

In California, the total contributions in the last two years from State & local government employee unions plus Police & fire fighters unions and associations plus Teachers unions is over $6.2 million dollars, which is 15% more than the next biggest donor – construction unions, 73% bigger than the third biggest donor – attorneys, and over 257% bigger than the first real business lobby, telecommunications (I’m skipping Native American gaming as sui generis) – data from the great MapLight.org website.

If you can tell me that the public sector unions don’t have the pink slip to many of our California politicians without cracking up … I want some of what you’re drinking.

And there’s the problem. When state employees are primus enter pares among the interest groups the state has to balance among, we find the state and local governments increasingly setting policies directly for their benefit. And for decades, we did just that; they ate at the top of the trough, and the rest of the folks just ate what was left. And as long as there was lots…it was fine. There’s less now.

Less because yes, we are paying lower taxes than we did in the Clinton years. Less because California shifted the tax/revenue structure around when we passed Prop 13. Less because there’s a recession. less because we’re gradually becoming less wealthy as we have to compete with the rest of the world.

And public sector employees are saying – well, that’s your problem and trying hard to hang on to what they’ve managed to win in the political process.

But who gets hurt by this? The poor, that’s who.

Look, you broadly have four variables that control any system: 1) how much can I spend (budget)? 2) how much do I get for it (efficiency of work per unit spending)? 3) how much do the people doing the work cost (wages)? 4) what do I expect to get out of it (output)?

In a world of fixed budgets, I can increase efficiency per worker, or lower wages and hire more workers (until the efficiency drops), or if my workers are less efficient and cost more, I can do less.

So far all efforts at managing public sector labor costs have involved doing less – we furlough and close offices on Fridays; we cut programs; we shrink the rolls of those who are helped.

We don’t look for efficiency to improve outputs or cut labor costs. Why? because work rules and labor agreements – agreements signed with politicians elected with the money provided by public sector unions – keep us from doing that.

I’m kind of sympathetic to the real people who are facing cuts and who aren’t going to enjoy the ever-escalating prosperity that they signed on for. But I’m not so sympathetic to the fact that almost all of our government programs have turned into jobs programs.

As a liberal, I want an activist government that can actually do things. I want the poor helped, children educated, the ill helped to become well. That cost money, and potentially imposes on my life in a variety of ways. At some level, I – and lots of others – are willing to pay the money and be imposed on – to help the children, the poor, and the ill.

When you tell us that the money is for a bigger boat for the administrator, or that the inconvenience is because work rules – for the benefit of staff – can’t be changed, I’m a whole lot less willing to pay.

It’s hard to go ask for more money for government – which it needs, badly (to get us out of debt, to rebuild our infrastructure, to invest in the ways that California invested in the 50’s and 60’s) – when the bulk of that money goes to people who make as more or more than taxpayers do. It’s flowing uphill, and that’s not how – as a liberal – I think it ought to work.

Are the wealthy and corporate interests playing up these issue? Of course they are. But no one can deny that they are real issues, and it’s both stupid and shortsighted for the liberal commentariat to somehow try and wish them away into some kind of Koch Brothers talking point.

This is an issue we have to deal with, and now is the time. I want to push back public worker unions so that government can do more for poor people and not for the middle-income bureaucrats who are supposed to be helping them.

If there is going to be a showdown now (and the fact that the national unions are piling onto Wisconsin shows that there is), let’s have one.
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Some People Just Never Surprise You

When last seen on these pages, Nir Rosen was a journalist embedded with the Taliban who used his US documents to pass a band of Taliban through an Afghan government checkpoint.

A truly douchebag move, right?

And I guess he just is who he is.

Today, he tweeted – dismissively – about Lara Logan having been assaulted in Cairo.

And then, when caught, tried to delete the record.

Stay classy, Nir. Keep embracing that wonderful oh-so-humane inner self.
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Dating Advice From The Armed Liberal (A Replay)

Since I’m working on Valentine’s eve, it occurs to me that I ought to repost an old favorite of mine about dating from back in the day (2003) when TG and I were…and publicly wish my wife a Happy Valentine’s Day to boot!

So Tenacious G (my [then-] sweetie) and I went out for our pre-Valentine’s Day dinner last night. We have the boys Friday, and it’ll be a zoo everywhere, so we went to our favorite neighborhood bistro and had a nice dinner together.

Which was slightly spoiled by the conversation at the next table. I’m usually pretty good at filtering, and too polite to acknowledge that I’m eavesdropping (or reading your mail upside down on your desk), but this was just too much, in every sense of the word.

It was a first date. He was (from the conversation) about my age, but overweight, balding, and with a sunlamp tan and a pony tail – a combination that I can’t imagine the ladies could resist. I’m commenting on his physical attributes (actually more his “presentation” of them) because they meshed so well with the personality that he displayed at dinner.

I kept one eye on my watch for a bit and at one point he talked over three minutes without stopping. I think she said about ten words in the entire hour and a half that we were there, and the conversation from their table never stopped.

They (he, actually) discussed Iraq. He’s against it, but he would have gone to Canada if his lottery number had come up during Vietnam and would personally drive his son to Canada today (in his Ferrari) if he was in any danger of serving in the military. We can’t invade Iraq, he explained, because we haven’t defeated Al Quieda, and we haven’t made a settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Once we do those things, he’d be open to considering it if it was OK with the U.N.

I have a discussion on his points over at Winds of Change.

He discussed work. He’s apparently a prosecutor, and he discussed how unfair the laws that he is sworn to enforce are, and how he practices his own form of “jury nullification” on cases that he thinks are just unfair.

He discussed (at painful length) his divorce, his lack of a relationship with his children, and his dysfunctional dating history.

He discussed his cars (a 70’s Ferrari, a 60’s Porsche, and a new BMW).

He discussed dancing, and the kind of music he likes. He went on a long riff about “the sensuality of just moving your body to music” … i.e. he dances like a white guy.

So in 90 minutes, he did a kind of miniature “Biography Channel” special on himself.

There are so many problems here…

Look, I’ve never been a ‘playa’, but I’ve certainly dated a bunch (TG would say “more than a bunch”) and met a bunch of neat women (even married a couple). I’ve given some dating advice to my sons and to my more relationship-challenged friends (male and female, showing that they’ll take advice from anybody). But it was all I could do not to turn around in my chair last night and go “Stop. Stop now. Ask her something about herself, and let her complete her answer. Explore her interests. Hand her the keys to the conversation, because believe me at the rate this is going you aren’t going to be getting any tonight.”

So let me offer some dating advice to my fellow middle-aged divorced guys:

Shut the fuck up.

Don’t try and “sell” yourself, its boring and ineffective. Help her sell herself, and in doing so you’ll sell yourself far more effectively than you could otherwise.

Don’t inventory your possessions, inventory your passions.

Don’t recount, in real-time, the story of your failed prior relationships.

Don’t talk down your exes.

Basically, don’t assume that you’re the only interesting person in the room.

And lose the damn ponytail.
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Valuing Stability Over Fairness (And Justice, And Freedom…)

In case it’s hard for you to understand why our foreign-policy apparatus is so just plain awful at dealing with large transitions – like the one we’re seeing in the Middle East right now, here’s John Gaddis, talking about the Cold War in his book of the same title The Cold War: A New History.

A kind of moral anesthesia settled in, leaving the stability of the Soviet-American relationship to be valued over its fairness because the alternative was too frightening to contemplate. Once it became clear that everybody was in the same lifeboat, hardly anyone wanted to rock it.

The moral ambivalence was not moral equivalence. the United States never found it necessary to violate human rights on the scale that the Soviet Union, its Eastern European allies, and the Chinese under Mao Zedong had done. But Washington officials had long since convinced themselves that the only way they could prevent those violations was to go to war, a prospect that could only make things much worse.

“If you want to change that, the only answer is war” is something I’ve heard – approvingly from some on the right and disapprovingly from some on the left – in talking about the stuckness of the situation of the people in the Middle East. Everyone is afraid, and not unreasonably – lots and lots can go very very wrong.

Why we’re not planning to see what we can do to help it go right is the $64,000 question, and the flatfootedness with which we’re acting (and have acted under lots of prior Administrations) is definitely facepalm territory.
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