Category Archives: Salon

Nothing Sucks Worse Than The Post Office — Except for Kinko's

NATE SILVER IN FIVE THIRTY-EIGHT

Paul Krguman compares his experience at the Post Office to that at FedEx and UPS:

Art Laffer (why is he, of all people, on my TV?) asks what it will be like when the government runs Medicare and Medicaid.

But I’d raise a further question: he warns that when the government takes over these, um, government programs, they’ll be like the Post Office and the DMV. Why, exactly, are these public functions unquestioned bywords for “something bad”?

Maybe I’m living a sheltered life here in central New Jersey, but I don’t find the Post Office a terrible experience — no worse than Fedex or UPS. (Full disclosure: I worked as a temp mailman when in college.) And nobody likes going to the DMV, but the one on Rt. 1 I go to always seems fairly well managed.

Maybe things are different in New Jersey, but my couple of experiences at the Post Office since moving to Brooklyn a few months ago have been really awful. The first time I went, to mail out my tax forms on April 15th, I had to stand in line for the better part of 20 minutes to buy a couple of stamps. The second time, when I had to mail out some forms for a passport renewal, the clerk “serving” me decided literally without warning or apology half-way through processing my forms that it was time for her break; it took a good 15 minutes, with most of my personal documents slid conspicuously under her window, before someone came to relieve her. The third time, when I had to send some corporate documents to Albany for my consulting business, things were going smoothly enough — until I actually had to fill out the shipping receipt, and discovered that there were literally no working pens available in the entire building. I had to go across the street and buy one.

There’s probably only one customer service experience that is routinely as bad as the Post Office: FedEx Kinko’s.

The last time I went to FedEx Kinko’s, the black & white printer was broken, the fax machine was broken, and the “high-speed” Internet connection — which I was being charged for by the minute — was about as fast as a dial-up line in Ulan Bator. And then I had to stand in line for 15 minutes to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege of having my time wasted. The clerks at the Court Street Kinko’s are actually quite sweet — but the location is chronically understaffed and undermaintained on one of the busier commercial thoroughfares in the Five Boroughs. There are also the simple things that FedEx Kinko’s doesn’t get right: why do I have to fill out shipping forms by hand — invariably transposing the ZIP+4 or something and having to start over again — instead of by computer, when the clerk has to key in everything I’ve written down anyway? This is the nineties 21st Century, damnit. FedEx does an admirable job of delivering packages — but the retail experience is a real black eye for the company.

And apparently, I’m not alone in these experiences. Yelp.com has compiled 237 ratings for a total of 67 distinct USPS locations throughout the New York City area. The average rating, on a scale of 1 to 5, is a 2.29. As Yelp raters tend to be fairly generous with most things, this is really bad. But the ratings for FedEx Kinko’s are even worse: an average rating of 2.07 (n=78). The UPS Store, at least, gets somewhat more decent marks (an avergae rating of 2.70), which matches my experiences, although UPS has a somewhat hipper brand and Yelp is notorious for having a pro-hipster bias.

All kidding aside, I do think the Post Office creates some small, residual level of disdain for the idea of government-run services. The level of funding seems manifestly suboptimal and probably ought to be increased. But if every private-sector business were run as badly as FedEx Kinko’s, we’d all be frickin’ Communists in no time.

Ana Marie Cox – Media Whore: "I Think That It's a Wonderful Expression of Democracy – I'm Not Sure If They're AstroTurfed or Not Myself"

RELIABLE SOURCES

CNN TRANSCRIPT AUGUST 9, 2009

Teabag-Cox

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Thanks, John. It’s one of the oldest rituals of democracy. Election officials getting an earful from the voters, but a handful of high decibel critics at a spate of town hall meeting on health care reform have turned out to be a magnet for the media. You know how it works. The meeting might be dull, 99 audience members might be civil, but one screamer draws the cameras. You have probably seen some of this footage constantly replayed on television and across the Web.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The cash for clunkers program is —

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You’re lying to me!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That’s right!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you waiting for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don’t have sophisticated language. I recognize a liar when I see one.

CROWD: Just say no! Just say no! Just say no! Just say no!

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: When they could no longer ignore the anti-Obama voters, Democrats began to dismiss them and demonize them as the hired guns of the insurance companies or Brooks Brothers protesters.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: When Hamas does it or Hezbollah does it, it is called terrorism. Why should Republican lawmakers and the AstroTurf groups organizing on behalf of the health care industry be viewed any differently?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now the press trying to unravel allegations that the Republicans have planted some of these protesters and countercharges that the Democrats are trying to discredit legitimate dissent.

Joining us now to talk about the coverage of President Obama’s health plan and whether he’s getting a bit overexposed on television, in New York, Mark Halperin, editor-at-large and senior political analyst for “TIME” magazine, and author of the blog “The Page.” S.E. Cupp, blogger and the co-author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right.” And here in Washington, Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America Radio and a columnist for “Playboy” magazine.

Mark Halperin, are the media playing up the loudest and the angriest of these protesters to the point where it distorts what’s what’s going on at most of these town hall meetings?

HALPERIN: Yes, it distorts it and it’s also bad for America. I’m embarrassed about what’s going on as an American. I’m not an advocate for any position on the president’s proposals, but I think this is, Howie, something you have written about and seen for years, the lowest common denominator, people taking video that is meaningless.

Yes, there should be discussion. Dissent is fine. I don’t care why the protesters are showing up, but this is a horrible breakdown of our political culture and our media culture to allow people who are going in with the intent to disrupt to become the story. The biggest issue in the health care debate, things like, should there be a public plan, completely ignored by all media and crowded out the discussion by stunts and gimmicks, and the White House has exacerbated it by attacking back on the same style.

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, Mark Halperin says this is a breakdown in the media culture, but we couldn’t not cover these people, and they do have a right to be heard, don’t they?

COX: Right, they do. And I actually do not think it’s a breakdown of democracy. I think that it’s a wonderful expression of democracy. I’m not sure if they’re AstroTurfed or not myself. I think they probably aren’t, but I think that’s almost a worse sign for the Republican Party.

I think this is actually the death throes of a dying Republican Party, or at least in this forum, and the not sort of the start of something new.

KURTZ: S.E. Cupp, you have to admit, if you want to look at the media’s performance here, that the various outlets, and particularly television, are giving these critics ample air time. Continue reading Ana Marie Cox – Media Whore: "I Think That It's a Wonderful Expression of Democracy – I'm Not Sure If They're AstroTurfed or Not Myself"

What's Not to Love About Having Our Healthcare Decisions Made by Insurance Company Accountants?

hcttTOM TOMMORROW in Salon Continue reading What's Not to Love About Having Our Healthcare Decisions Made by Insurance Company Accountants?

Glenn Greenwald Waterboards Chuckie Todd

S A L O N

Glenn Greenwald


roveyYesterday, I voiced several criticisms of comments made earlier this week by NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd regarding potential torture investigations by the Obama Justice Department.  Shortly thereafter, he emailed me to say that he wished I had contacted him before posting.  In response, I invited him to participate in a podcast discussion with me of the issues raised by his remarks and my analysis of them, and, to his credit, he accepted.

This morning, I spoke with Todd for roughly 30 minutes about the relative significance of torture investigations, the implications of failing to prosecute high-level political officials when they break the law, the role of the media in these matters, and whether Todd was expressing his own views or merely repeating what the White House believes (the polling data I reference, along with the media’s routine distortion of it, is documented here and here).  The discussion can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below (it can be also downloaded by MP3 here or by ITunes here).  A transcript will be posted later today.

UPDATE:  The transcript is now available here.

The Newly Released Secret Laws of the Bush Administration

Tuesday March 3, 2009 06:31 EST

The newly released secret laws of the Bush administration

(updated below – Update II – Update III)

Reviewing yesterday’s front page of the print edition of The New York Times prompted this observation from Digby:

I looked at the front page of the paper this morning and wondered for a moment if I was looking at one of those historical documents about which scholars would wonder if those who read it in real time had a clue about the scale of what was happening.

There’s a run on the banks in Ukraine, the world’s biggest insurer suffered the highest quarterly losses in corporate history, Europe is starting to come apart — with Germany being the lead player. Major change seems to be rumbling in a bunch of different ways right now — with echoes of the past overlaid with things we’ve never seen before. Maybe it’s just a blip.  But maybe not.

Various universal perception biases always make it difficult to assess how genuinely consequential contemporary events are:  events in the present always seem more important than ones in the past; those that affect us directly appear more significant than those that are abstract, etc. (though powers of denial — e.g.: all of those bad things I’ve read about in history can’t happen to me and my country and my time — undercut those biases).  Whatever else is true, it seems undeniably clear, at the very least, that the extreme decay and instabilities left in the wake of the Bush presidency will alter many aspects of the social order in radical and irrevocable (albeit presently unknowable) ways.

One of the central facts that we, collectively, have not yet come to terms with is how extremist and radical were the people running the country for the last eight years.  That condition, by itself, made it virtually inevitable that the resulting damage would be severe and fundamental, even irreversible in some sense.  It’s just not possible to have a rotting, bloated, deeply corrupt and completely insular political ruling class — operating behind impenetrable walls of secrecy — and avoid the devastation that is now becoming so manifest.  It’s just a matter of basic cause and effect.

Yet those who have spent the last several years pointing out how unprecedentedly extremist and radical was our political leadership (and how meek and complicit were our other key institutions) were invariably dismissed as shrill hysterics.  As but one of countless highly illustrative examples, here is a November, 2004 David Broder column scoffing at the notion that there was anything radical or unusual taking place in the U.S., dismissively deriding the claim that there was anything resembling an erosion of basic checks and safeguards in the United States:

Bush won, but he will have to work within the system for whatever he gets. Checks and balances are still there. The nation does not face “another dark age,” unless you consider politics with all its tradeoffs and bargaining a black art.

That was (and still is) the prevailing attitude among our political and media elites:  it was those who were sounding alarm bells about the radicalism and damage of the Bush administration — not Bush officials themselves — who were the real radicals and, worst of all, were deeply Unserious.

* * * * *

Continue reading The Newly Released Secret Laws of the Bush Administration

This Just In: Obama Completely and Utterly Sells Out To Fear

Glenn Greenwald in SALON

Obama adviser Greg Craig: adding insult to injury

In today’s New York Times, James Risen — who won the Pulitzer Prize for exposing Bush’s illegal NSA spying program — has an article on Obama supporters who are criticizing Obama for his FISA reversal and attempting to defeat the bill Obama supports. The article quotes Jane Hamsher, Markos Moulitsas and myself and features the very innovative effort by Obama supporters to use his campaign’s social networking tools to urge Obama to oppose the FISA bill (more on that campaign here). For his article, Risen spoke with Obama adviser Greg Craig, a partner at the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly, and this is what Craig told Risen:

Greg Craig, a Washington lawyer who advises the Obama campaign, said Tuesday in an interview that Mr. Obama had decided to support the compromise FISA legislation only after concluding it was the best deal possible.

“This was a deliberative process, and not something that was shooting from the hip,” Mr. Craig said. “Obviously, there was an element of what’s possible here. But he concluded that with FISA expiring, that it was better to get a compromise than letting the law expire.”

Craig’s statement is flat-out false. FISA — enacted in 1978 and amended many times to accommodate modern communications technology — has no expiration date. The Protect America Act, which Congress enacted last August to legalize warrantless eavesdropping on Americas, had a 6-month sunset provision and thus already expired back in February, restoring FISA as the governing law. Thus, if Congress does nothing now, FISA will continue indefinitely to govern the Government’s power to spy on the communications of Americans. It doesn’t expire. What Craig said in defense of Obama is just wrong.

I emailed Craig this morning about his comments (here) and when I received no reply, I called him, left a message, and he called me this afternoon. After I read him his quote, explained that FISA won’t expire, and pointed out that his comment in the NYT therefore made no sense, Craig paused for awhile and then said that he meant that the “warrants under FISA would expire in August,” and Obama supported the FISA “compromise” to prevent that from happening. When I asked Craig if he was referring to the surveillance orders authorized by the Protect America Act that allow the Government to spy with no individual warrants (which have a one-year duration and do expire in August), Craig said that this is what he meant, and that Obama wanted to avoid having those surveillance orders expire.

While that last version at least generally comports with reality, it makes no sense whatsoever as an explanation for Obama’s FISA position. Back in August, when he was seeking the Democratic nomination, Obama voted against the Protect America Act. Therefore, had Obama had his way, there never would have been any PAA in the first place, and therefore, there never would have been any PAA orders possible. Having voted against the PAA last August, how can Obama now claim that he considers it important that the PAA orders not expire? How can he be eager to avoid the expiration of surveillance orders which he opposed authorizing in the first place?

I asked Craig that question several times and received completely incoherent replies, after which he started insisting that he already answered me and had nothing else to add (he then changed the subject to talk about the “improvements” the current bill achieves over the Rockefeller Senate bill). The fact is that there is no answer. In the past, Obama has opposed the type of warrantless eavesdropping which those PAA orders authorize. He’s repeatedly said that the FISA court works and there’s no need to authorize eavesdropping without individual warrants. None of that can be reconciled with his current claim that he supports this FISA “compromise” because National Security requires that those PAA orders not expire and that there be massive changes to FISA. It’s just as simple as that.

It’s bad enough that Obama is supporting a new warrantless eavesdropping scheme. They should just candidly admit that he changed his position rather than feeding incoherent and insultingly false rationalizations to the public — whereby they throw around the terms “National Security” and “balance” enough times and hope that nobody notices or cares that what they’re saying makes no sense. One of the strengths of the Obama campaign has been a willingness to have adult discussions about complex political issues, assume a fair amount rationality and intelligence on the part of the voting public, and avoid manipulative, obfuscating sloganeering like this. It’s just adding insult to injury to resort to nonsensical justifications of the type Craig put into the New York Times today.

Just to get a flavor for how fundamental a reversal is Obama’s FISA position, here is what Obama said back in February when accepting Chris Dodd’s endorsement:

We know it’s time to time to restore our Constitution and the rule of law. This is an issue that was at the heart of Senator Dodd’s candidacy, and I share his passion for restoring the balance between the security we demand and the civil liberties that we cherish.

The American people must be able to trust that their president values principle over politics, and justice over unchecked power. I’ve been proud to stand with Senator Dodd in his fight against retroactive immunity for the telecommunications industry. Secrecy and special interests must not trump accountability. We must show our citizens — and set an example to the world — that laws cannot be ignored when it is inconvenient. Because in America –- no one is above the law.

Here is what he said back in January:

Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.

The FISA court works. The separation of power works. We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight, and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend.

No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people — not the President of the United States, and not the telecommunications companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program. We have to make clear the lines that cannot be crossed. . . .

A grassroots movement of Americans has pushed this issue to the forefront. You have come together across this country. You have called upon our leaders to adhere to the Constitution. You have sent a message to the halls of power that the American people will not permit the abuse of power — and demanded that we reclaim our core values by restoring the rule of law.

It’s time for Washington to hear your voices, and to act. I share your commitment to this cause, and will stand with you in the fights to come.

And obviously, his vow last October to “support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies” can’t be reconciled with his vow to “support” such a bill now.

The issue is not — as one extremely confused Obama-cheering blogger put it — that Obama has done “something contrary to what conventional wisdom as dictated by a small coterie of prominent bloggers agrees with,” nor is it — as an equally confused, Obama-cheering Ed Kilgore put it — that Obama is “stray[ing] from Democratic Party orthodoxy or from strict down-the-line partisanship” by “expressing heretical thoughts on FISA” (incidentally, it’s amazing how the rule of law, the Fourth Amendment and accountability for Bush lawbreaking have now — in service of defending Obama — all been instantaneously reduced to nothing more than quirky, self-absorbed, petty blogger “dictates,” and Obama’s disregarding of those core political values is a bold demonstration that he won’t be held hostage to anyone’s narrow partisan demands).

The issue is that Obama has repeatedly, over the course of the last year, made emphatic commitments and clear statements about his core political values that are completely irreconcilable with his support for the FISA bill. It’s possible to recognize that someone is just a “politician” and still trust that they’re telling you essentially the truth about what they think and what they’ll do. One hard-core Obama supporter explains that here.

As I said, it’s bad enough that this is being done. Eventually, the sting of what Obama and Democrats generally have done will diminish somewhat for many people. But for those who have sat by watching the Bush administration and its followers exploit complexities over spying issues in order to issue one false claim after the next to justify his lawbreaking, having the Obama campaign issue factually false and/or incoherent explanations to justify Obama’s conduct only makes matters worse, not better.