Saturday, January 30, 2010

From an Alternate Universe

Republicans have spent the last year on a message that seems to contradict itself. They're saying:

1) Obama is pathetic because he can't make good on any of his campaign promises, and

2) In following through with his campaign promises, Obama is turning this country into a socialist dictatorship.

Thanks to Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" for pointing out some more hypocrisy, but he left out one crucial detail:  Somehow, the public is eating it all up. 

The President's popularity has dipped substantially. In fact, he holds the dubious distinction of being the only African American president in history with an approval rating below 50 percent, all because he has NOT enacted drastic reforms in health care, gays in the military, and the War on Terror like he said he would.

Personally, I'd say if the man can straddle a worm hole in space and exist in two universes at the same time, one in which he is wildly successful and another in which he is a colossal failure, that's quite impressive, particularly after only one year. Give him his props.

At any rate, the GOP is feeling its oats.

(I don't even know where the expression "feeling your oats" comes from. Probably best not to think about it.)

Example: Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (think Sarah Palin with wrinkles) has introduced a bill to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to protect the atmosphere.

Last time I checked, the EPA is supposed to protect the environment, and the atmosphere is, in most places, part of the environment. But in Murkowski's world, recklessly spewing a bunch of toxic waste and greenhouse gases into the air doesn't count.

Makes sense, I suppose. If the Earth heats up, people in Alaska are least likely to find that objectionable.

Curiously, the new manacles on the EPA would not apply to automobiles. Her amendment specifically allows the EPA to keep its rusty, barely adequate catalytic converter on your exhaust system, but factories and power plants would be free to emit nasty filth unchecked, much like the standard cable TV news pundit.

I'll give you two guesses as to which industry lobbyists have been nicer to Senator Senator Murkowski. Hint: It's not the beleaguered auto makers.  It's probably the same ones who favored her father, the man who occupied the same senate seat before her, and fought environmental reforms and conservation efforts for his whole career so the energy industry could have its way with Mother Nature.

It's not as if Murkowski is a global warming denier. Her website says it is "a real threat that must be addressed."

Maybe she's the one living in two universes at once.

Or perhaps she is the criminal mastermind of an evil, multi-national psychotic organization bent on destruction of the human race.

Either way, she must be stopped.

I urge you to write to our congressional delegation: Senators Olympia "Still There" Snowe and Susan "Helium Voice" Collins, along with Representatives Mike "Flannel Got Me Elected" Michaud and Chellie "Insert Amusing Nickname Here" Pingree.  

Tell them two things: a) Despite the maelstrom of corporate lobbyists and special interest money surrounding our elected officials, you are still naive enough to believe an intelligent, well-reasoned letter from a concerned citizen can be heard in Washington, and b) Lisa Murkowski is a big fat poopy head who only made it to the Senate because her daddy appointed her while he was governor.

If there's any way you can get it postmarked from "the other side of the worm hole," that would be a bonus.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Double Standards: Two More than I Thought We Had

Republican Scott Brown's senate victory in Massachusetts means three things:

First, that Health Care Reform, which virtually everyone agrees needs to happen in some form, has been officially diagnosed with a terminal illness. Health Care Reform would like to be treated for this illness, but its policy has been arbitrarily cancelled. 

Second, that people in Massachusetts might lack some perspective. They were happy to keep sending Ted Kennedy to Washington despite decades of embarrassing drunken scandal, but were out for Martha Coakley's blood when she called Curt Schilling a Yankees fan.

Third, that a man who used to be a nude model can win an election for a major national office. 

As a Republican.

Honestly, people, I don't know why this is such a big deal. Schwarzenegger showed his hindquarters in "Terminator," and nobody thought twice about allowing him to become Governor of California so he would not plow a car into the state house and open fire on the innocent people inside.

The one thing that gives me pause is wondering if a woman could do the same thing.

(I'm not talking about plowing a car into a building. I know plenty of women who have done that.  I'm talking about getting elected after showing the world her unmentionables.)

Could Sarah Palin have found her way on Jon McCain's ticket if she had posed for Playboy a couple of decades ago?

Would anyone have ever voted for Susan Collins if she had misspent her wild youth filibustering in the buff?

As Jeremy Mayer pointed out in the New York Daily News, sexism in politics is hard to miss "when a woman's homeliness becomes an issue in an election, while men ugly enough to stop traffic typically get a free pass. Or when a woman is judged 'too attractive' in focus groups, and her campaign urges her to dress less sexily so the voters will think she's smarter."

And, he says, female politicians can't live down any mistakes the way their male counterparts can. 

I have to agree. Women have to be squeaky clean. The slightest flaw or blemish gets amplified to the extreme.

Hillary Clinton actually lost votes because of how she handled her husband's infidelity.

But a man can get drunk, grope an undercover detective in an airport restroom, sell votes to lobbyists and special interests, and toss out racial slurs like toothpicks, and the worst that will happen is a few pundits will wonder if that might be a little much for one appearance on "Meet the Press."

You also have to wonder if the conservative media applied a different standard to Brown because he is a clean-cut, white Republican. "I can just imagine what Rush Limbaugh or Fox News would have done with nude photos of a Democratic nominee of either gender," notes Mayer.

Ew. I wish he had phrased that differently.

Republicans champion themselves as bastions of civilized morality, whose holy example shines a beacon of cleanliness to rescue our depraved society from the moral squalor that constantly infects and pervades our society.

On the other hand, selling your body to a hyper-glossed waste of trees that is dedicated to putting the word "sex" in as many different phrases as possible on its cover ("99 sex moves," "sex genius," "bad girl sex," "the sex tricks he craves," "total body sex," etc.) really isn't that bad.  

Maybe Martha Coakley should have tried it. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Neighbor Has Feelings, To

Dear Prudence: I am a happily married man who has noticed that the young woman who lives next door leaves her drapes open while walking around her apartment half naked. Should I tell my wife, ask the woman to close her drapes, or buy a set of binoculars?

"Prudie," the popular and tragically inept advice columnist at, told this man to hope his wife would be "reasonable" and not mind his occasional indulgence in the neighbor's inadvertent peep show. Failing that, she said he could buy some sheer curtains, so he could still enjoy the sunlight without feeling tempted.

Ugh. Next she'll be telling readers it's okay to sit outside a woman's bedroom window with a camera, because, hey, men have needs.

My Advice: First, you've got to tell your wife everything. Now.

Consider the likelihood of this scenario: 

Wife (entering room suddenly): "Why do you keep looking out the window?"

You: "Uh... I'm bird watching."

Wife: "At 10:30 at night?"

You: "You know... owls... and stuff."

You know women find out everything, eventually. Don't ask me how.

So explain that you saw the neighbor naked, but you looked away quickly because you only have eyes for the amazingly beautiful goddess you've chosen to share your life with.  

Then, ask this goddess to politely inform the neighbor of her indiscretion, and request that she shut her drapes or put on some clothes.  That way, the awkward situation will probably go away, and you don't risk the whole neighborhood finding out what a perverted creep you are.

Even if your wife is "reasonable," it's not okay to exploit the woman's poor judgment of sight distance for the sake of some sordid ogling. You wouldn't want someone spying on you in the same situtation.

Hey, that was fun! Let's try again, this time with "Dear Abby," which is a fraud right off the bat, because "Abby" never actually existed. Turns out some chick named Jeanne Phillips has been mooching off the name recognition. Not very prudent, if you ask me.

Dear Abby: I'm a vegeterian and my family keeps making fun of my meal choices. My grandfather says, "carrots have feelings, too!" And the workers at the sandwhich shop call me crazy for spending five dollars for a pile of vegetables between two slices of bread.

Abby's Advice: Given all the hormones and chemicals used in meat production these days, vegetariansism is a reasonable choice. But your grandfather is probably too dumb to understand that, so just don't sit near him at family gatherings. Complain to the manager at the sandwich shop.

Yeah, that should work. It's not like senile old men have ever been known to talk across the table. And the sandwich shop workers certainly deserve to have the boss on their backs for what they thought was good-natured ribbing.

My advice:  True, the meat industry is evil, so you must be evil, too. 

The next time your grandfather says, "carrots have feelings, too," yell back at him, "so do I, grandpa!" and run from the room in tears. The rest of the family will quickly put him in line. As for lunchtime, I advocate an old trick called "going to a different sandwhich shop."

Now, then: if you have some major life predicament easily rectified by some distant syndicated guru, feel free to zip me an email, and I'll get to it just as soon as I'm done checking out these hooters... uh, I mean, owls.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Unkindest Cuts

As a commie pinko leftist hippie, whenever I speak of snooze-inducing moderate Governor John Baldacci, I have to borrow a quote from Marx: 

I've never liked term limits, but in his case I'll make an exception.

Is he the ideal person to get us out of this state budget crisis, since he's the one who got us into it? Early indications are not promising.

Teacher salary freezes? Seriously? The legislature would have to pass a law nullifying all the contracts in each district. The education lobby is plenty powerful enough to keep that from happening.

Baldacci knows this. And he knows that Maine teachers rank 43rd in the nation in pay. He's just setting up the teachers to look like the bad guys for trying to thwart his benevolent belt-tightening. As class sizes balloon and positions get slashed, teachers will take their share of punishment, believe me.

The proposed 10% cut to Mainecare services has been getting a lot of press, but no one is paying attention to the more troublesome proposal to limit outpatient therapy services to 18 sessions, no extensions or exceptions.

At one hour each, 18 sessions is not really long enough to fix a facial tick, let alone develop coping skills for a debilitating mental illness. Why even bother?

More importantly: counseling pays for itself. A wrist-slitting teenager who goes to counseling can save the state money by not ending up in Acadia Hospital. Every adult who goes to counseling to overcome depression or addiction saves money on law enforcement resources.

As Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion told the Bangor Daily News, "These cuts are just going to shift costs; they are not going away.”

All right, wise guy, I can hear you saying. Where should we cut, then? The money has to come from somewhere.

I say, let's raise the hell out of some taxes - particularly on wealthy tourists, whom we don't like anyway. 

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting recently detailed how Baldacci nixed tax increases on mansions and ski trips, both typically purchased by wealthy flatlanders, apparently because he has friends who work in those industries.

If that doesn't tick you off during a budget crisis, you don't have a pulse.

Why not chisel away at Martha Stewart's fortune, and maybe force John Travolta to sell one of his planes, before we go after social workers and teachers?

Anyone who fears that rich people from out of state will stop coming to Maine if we raise taxes on them does not understand how rich people think.  Higher taxes make Maine more attractive, not less.  We become more exclusive that way.

"Honey, I'm bored with touring Europe and staying in hotels where the bellhops receive their tips in combination-lock briefcases. Do we have any other vacation options?" 

"Well, the Joneses are going to Maine this year."

"Oh, I'm so jealous! Can we go, too?"

Do you really think an extra $5 per night on their hotel bill will keep a family from Massachusetts from spending a week in Bar Harbor? If so, let them eat cake in New Hampshire.

Let's squeeze every penny we can out of hotels and gas stations, along with Mountain Dew, Doritos, Land Rovers, hunting and fishing licenses, lobster dinners, and inappropriate tee shirts sold at Old Orchard Beach.

And hope Baldacci doesn't do too much more damage before the next tourist season.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Warranties, and Other Colossal Wastes of Money

    Three weeks ago, a leprechaun parked in my driveway and hacked into the circuitry in my dishwasher.

    That's the only explanation I can come up with for its behavior. It starts randomly, ignores me when I push buttons, shows odd sanskrit messages on its LCD screen, and won't complete more than five minutes of a wash cycle before quitting.

    If I try to select the "econo wash" cycle, I can hear it chuckling at me.

   Which leads me to my Consumer Protection Tip of the Day: do not buy the extended warranty.

   "Duh," is the response I expect from many of you. But 35 months ago, I was inexperienced in retail appliance shopping, a dishwasher-purchasing virgin, if you will, and I sprung for the $60 three-year extended warranty, figuring it would give me a little extra peace of mind because a) I'd purchased the showroom model, and b) I'd purchased a Frigidaire, which, to the best of my knowledge, specializes in making crappy refrigerators. 

    How wasteful is the extended warranty? I'm willing to bet that when the government buys something, it opts for the extended warranty.

    Forget the fact that companies would obviously not offer a warranty unless they were pretty sure your dishwasher would not have problems in that time frame. 

    The one time I've had cause to try to use a warranty, I learned something interesting: companies have ways of making it pretty much impossible.

    I called up the retailer where I got the Frigidaire, and they gave me a toll-free number.  Uh, oh.

    "Thank you for calling Protection Advantage Corporation. All of our agents are extremely busy learning to speak English and ask pointless questions to frustrate people into giving up on their warranties. Your approximate wait time is three minutes. Please hold."

    Fifty minutes later, someone finally picks up. After I give her the model number, serial number, phone number, birthdate, name, address, astrological sign, fishing license number, and spare tire size of my dishwasher, she tells me her computer can find no one in my area available to service my dishwasher, but someone will call within the next 24 to 48 hours.

    So I wait.  I get a call from a guy who refuses the job because he knows he won't get paid.

    I call the 800 number again, and eventually manage to get to someone in management who tells me Protection Advantage Corporation is not the company that looks for repairmen. They subcontract that nasty work to another company called "PowerFix," or something lame like that.

    There's no way to contact "PowerFix." A nice buffer has been created between Corporate America and any speck of accountability a consumer might try to flick in its direction.

    The manager promises to try to straighten things out for me, and says someone will call me within 24 to 48 hours.

    No call comes.  My warranty runs out in a couple of weeks. More importantly, my wife does not approve of the way I do dishes, which is to pile them in the sink until they overflow instead of rinsing and wiping immediately after use.

    I called again, threatening to take the case to Judge Judy, and eventually spoke to someone who said I could find the repair service myself, fax the bill to the warranty company, and cross my fingers.


    In the meantime, I'll FedEx my leprechauns to their corporate office. We'll see where that gets me.