Worth reading, 07/01/13

Paid via Card, Workers Feel Sting of Fees (New York Times)

A growing number of American workers are confronting a frustrating predicament on payday: to get their wages, they must first pay a fee.

For these largely hourly workers, paper paychecks and even direct deposit have been replaced by prepaid cards issued by their employers. Employees can use these cards, which work like debit cards, at an A.T.M. to withdraw their pay.

But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee. And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.’s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.

These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators.

And the poor get poorer. But hey . . . it’s all so convenient and income-generating for the issuers.

This is disgraceful.

Ridiculous story du jour

Atheists unveil monument by Ten Commandments (Associated Press, via Fox News)

STARKE, Fla. –  A group of atheists unveiled a monument to their nonbelief in God on Saturday to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County courthouse.

As a small group of protesters blasted Christian country music and waved ‘‘Honk for Jesus’’ signs, the atheists celebrated what they believe is the first atheist monument allowed on government property in the United States….

[It serves as] a counter to the religious monument that the New Jersey-based group [American Atheists] wanted removed. It’s a case of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

About 200 people attended the unveiling. Most were supportive, though there were protesters, including a group from Florida League of the South that had signs that said ‘‘Yankees Go Home.’’

‘‘We reject outsiders coming to Florida — especially from outside what we refer to as the Bible Belt — and trying to remake us in their own image,’’ said Michael Tubbs, state chairman of the Florida League of the South. ‘‘We do feel like it’s a stick in the eye to the Christian people of Florida to have these outsiders come down here with their money and their leadership and promote their outside values here.’’

Now let’s see if I’ve got this straight….

Because the hard-headed Christians of Starke, Fla., insist on keeping a Ten Commandments monument in front of their courthouse, on public land, despite its obvious violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, a group of atheists based in New Jersey has decided to put up an “atheist” monument on the site as a counterweight.

How exactly is thumbing people in the eye a way to make the world a better place?

You know what this sort of behavior leads to?

Toilet-seat tossing, that’s what.

Memo to everyone involved:

The Ten Commandments monument should be removed. And now, so should the atheist monument, which has no more right to occupy space in the public sphere than the monument it was designed to counter.

Let’s take them both down on the Fourth of July. What a great way to celebrate Independence Day.

No winners here


Charge dismissed against student who refused to remove NRA shirt (FOXNews.com)

The West Virginia eighth-grader arrested after refusing a teacher’s demand he remove a National Rifle Association T-shirt he wore to school won’t face criminal charges after all.

Jared Marcum, 14, was charged with obstruction following the April 18 incident after police who were called to Logan Middle School school said he refused to stop talking. The case generated national headlines, as Marcum’s family and attorney, Ben White, claimed the demand that he remove the NRA shirt violated his right to freedom of speech. On Thursday, Logan County Circuit Judge Eric O’Briant signed an order dismissing the charge.

The kid should have taken off his shirt. Most schools have rules prohibiting “message” shirts and inappropriate clothing, and this clearly was qualified.

But arresting the kid was just stupid. All it did was make him a hero.

Lots of losers here.

Worth reading II, 06/28/13


Paula Deen’s slurs are a bitter pill to swallow (Eugene Robinson, Washington Post)

Paula Deen needs to give the self-pity a rest. The damage to her carefully built image is self-inflicted — nobody threw a rock — and her desperate search for approval and vindication is just making things worse.

Sorry to be so harsh, but come on. Deen is tough and savvy enough to have built a culinary empire from scratch, in the process becoming the most famous Southern cook in creation. She incarnates the whole “steel magnolia” archetype, with razor-sharp toughness beneath the flutter and the filigree.

Excellent piece by Eugene Robinson. Paula Deen has to stop playing the victim. She was smart enough to make $17 million a year. How could she possibly be so ignorant?

This was a self-inflicted fatal wound.

Good riddance.

Are you listening, Mr. President?

The Up-in-the-Air President (Timothy Egan, New York Times)

It was cool, as media moments go, when President Obama called from Air Force One to congratulate the plaintiffs in the California gay marriage case on Wednesday. They were in the middle of a live television interview when the voice of the president was delivered, via cellphone, from high over the Atlantic.

But it was also emblematic of the leadership style of this brainy, tightly drawn president: too often, he phones it in from 35,000 feet, far from the sweat, grime and blood of the battlefield of politics….

It’s the way he runs the executive branch, his fear of taking the fight to Republicans, that is so maddening….

[H]e’s defensive, forced to defend his presidency as still being alive and well. Obama doesn’t have to be Lyndon B. Johnson, twisting elbows to shape history. But maybe he can hire an L.B.J. Leaders find a way.

This is essential reading today, because Egan is right on every point. Is it too much to hope that Obama finds time to read it?

Worth reading, 06/28/13

The Service of Snowden (Roger Cohen, New York Times)

So what is Snowden? A self-aggrandizing geek who betrayed his country and his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, exposed the United States to greater risk of terrorist attack, and may now — wittingly or unwittingly — have made his trove of secrets available to China and Russia, nations that are no longer enemies but are rival powers?

Or a brave young American determined to fight — at the risk of long imprisonment — against his country’s post-9/11 lurch toward invasion of citizens’ lives, ever more intrusive surveillance, undifferentiated data-hauling of the world’s digital exhaust fumes (for storage in a one-million-square-foot fortress in Utah), and the powers of a compliant secret court to issue warrants for international eavesdropping and e-mail vacuuming?

As the old Miller Lite ad used to say, I feel very strongly both ways.

This is an excellent analysis. Make sure to read this today.

You can’t make this stuff up


San Diego Protester Faces Vandalism Charges for Sidewalk Chalk Drawings (Reuters)

SAN DIEGO — A protester is standing trial on criminal vandalism charges in San Diego, and faces a sentence of up to 13 years in prison if convicted, for a scribbling a series of anti-bank slogans in chalk on a city sidewalk.

Mayor Bob Filner has denounced the prosecution of Jeff Olson, 40, a man with no previous criminal record, as a waste of taxpayer money and an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment free speech protections in the U.S. Constitution.

“This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children’s chalk on a city sidewalk,” the mayor said last week in a memo to the City Council.

The city attorney, Jan Goldsmith, defended his pursuit of the case in remarks published on Thursday in the U-T San Diego news website, saying: “We prosecute vandalism and theft cases regardless of who the perpetrator or victim might be.”

If writing on the sidewalk with chalk is vandalism, punishable by up to 13 years in prison, then let’s just put every American kid in prison now and save ourselves the wasteful cost and effort of millions of trials.

Seriously . . . Is this prosecutor out of his mind? What on earth might he be thinking?

I’m feeling so guilty right now. I confess . . . When I was a kid, I used to write all sorts of stuff in the streets of Brooklyn. With chalk. I made bases and home plates for games of stickball and punchball. I made boxes for games of scully. (I have no idea why it was called scully, and I couldn’t begin to tell you how it was played, except that you needed bottle caps. And chalk.)

Thank goodness the cops never caught me. I reckon I did it enough times to warrant a life sentence.

Memo to San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith:

Get a life.

Must read

George Takei: A defeat for DOMA — and the end of ‘ick’ (Washington Post)

Takei, one of the most delightful people on Facebook, offers his opinion today on the Supreme Court’s ruling. It’s essential reading. One graf really caught my eye.

To help justify the “ick,” many, like that judge in Loving, turn to the Bible, perhaps because science doesn’t lead to the conclusion that homosexuality is unnatural. As one popular saying goes, homosexuality is found in more than 400 species, but homophobia in only one. But references to the Bible or other religious texts are not a solid footing on which to base notions of traditional marriage. Concerns about the separation of church and state aside, traditional marriage has never been what its homophobic proponents believe. As author Ken O’Neill reminds us, the fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.

Now read the rest.