Government

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by Reid Fitzsimons

The “Hate Crime and Public Order Act” became effective in Scotland on April 1, 2024. One can intuit the nature of this law, which offers special protections to preferred demographic groups, but the essence of the law can be seen in the March 29th statement of First Minister Humza Yousaf: “I would say to anybody who thinks they are a victim of hatred, we take that seriously, if you felt you are a victim of hatred, then of course reporting that to police is the right thing to do.” In other words, the Act is based on feelings and not objectivity, and is selectively applied.

Prior to law law going into effect, I emailed the Scottish tourist agency, VisitScotland, for reasons explained in the text of the email below. Their response, also below, was prompt and courteous, and can be summarized as, “We don’t know.”

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf on the left. "Hate," of course, is a largely undefinable and subjective word. This is not a great analogy, but imagine a parent who tells the child not to eat candy before dinner, as compared to "don't do anything that upsets me before dinner." The first in objective and can be obeyed, the latter is nebulous and based upon the whim of the parent.

Greetings (or perhaps Latha math) from the US:

My wife and I are long-retired and spent many years living in other countries, but these were always impoverished places in Africa and Central America where we were either volunteering with other organizations or running our own charity project. For quite a while we’ve discussed the time when our life situation would allow us to be regular tourists, and that time has arrived. For years our number one destination desire has been Scotland. I’ve read pretty much every Ian Rankin and Denise Mina book, and almost feel that the fictional character Hamish MacBeth is a distant relative we could visit in The Highlands!

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by Reid Fitzsimons

During much of the Presidential primary season in 2016 I was out of the country in a fairly remote area with little access to news. Upon my return in May, while on a layover at the Atlanta airport and their endless broadcasts of CNN, I learned that Trump has sewn up the Republican nomination. I admit I felt a little queasy the news: I didn’t really know that much about Trump and never watched that show with the tag-line “You’re Fired!,” but I had heard plenty from the establishment news media that he was somehow dangerous and clearly not their guy. In general the other Republican candidates fit the desired mold of being “reasonable,” willing to “cross the aisle” and work with Democrats. I did know Trump was a blowhard.

Donald Trump and Barack Obama post-election Nov. 2016

Over the summer Trump was officially nominated, as was Hillary Clinton (HRC) for the Democrats. The latter, who is a true sociopath, made it easier to vote for Trump despite my severe reservations. Perhaps due to increasing age and cynicism I avoided watching the conventions and speeches, but shortly before the election I was in a cheap motel room in Pensacola, FL, turned on the TV and found Trump at some campaign rally. I girded myself to listen to his shtick, fully expecting him to rant with spittle flying and bark like a seal, this being largely how he was portrayed by the establishment press. What I found instead was a pretty typical political speech with the usual promises of prosperity, jobs, strong military, etc. Part of his rhetoric involved “make America great again (MAGA).

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by Reid Fitzsimons

From 1986 to 2001 I worked for the NY State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) as a medical practitioner (PA). This was at one of a number residential institutions scattered throughout NY, located in a fairly rural area as was common for such facilities. We had an in-house population of around 300, with people ranging from profoundly retarded requiring total care and often with severe medical co-morbidities, to mildly retarded, who were generally were able to talk, walk, and take care of their basic needs with supervision. It was a job to feel good about: society taking care of people who truly couldn’t take care of themselves.

With a few exceptions, the employees who interacted daily with our population were caring and competent, this being especially the direct care aides and the nurses; it can be a tough job, both physically and emotionally. Ultimately the facility was controlled by bureaucrats, and with all bureaucracies there were petty people lusting for petty power and involved in petty intrigue, but at the direct care level it wasn’t too hard to remain oblivious to such nonsense, at least for most of my time there.

The epitomic bureaucrat

Bureaucracies typically create their own jargon and euphemisms, which frequently change depending on the whims of rarely seen bureaucrats. When I first started in 1986 the people in our care were not called the historical name of “inmate,” nor were they called patients, but the designated word was “client.” I always thought this was a little silly because it implies a cognizant two-way relationship, but assumedly someone deemed it a humane, non-pejorative title, which was okay. Nevertheless. people with important positions felt compelled to change the wording, so over the years we used “individual we serve,” “service recipient,” “consumer,” and after I was gone I heard “colleague” was in vogue. To me the simple word “resident” would have been both accurate and polite, but it never entered the lexicon.

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by Reid Fitzsimons

I have a friend who was raised in relative poverty but, through hard work and smart life decisions, became quite wealthy. A number of years ago his son, at perhaps the age of 13, went through an obnoxious spoiled period- very mouthy and said pretty vile things. If he had to be home by 9, or to bed by 10 on a school night, life was UNFAIR, and one of his refrains was “I HAVE RIGHTS!” Many of us can recall going through similar adolescent phases, and thankfully most of us grew up and out of this “it’s all about me” selfishness,”as did this young man.

It’s interesting that the term “rights” is so often invoked by privileged kids (in the years I spent do-gooding in impoverished countries I don’t recall ever hearing it). Of course, to them it’s an ill-defined generic word that essentially means, “I should get my way, I deserve whatever I want!” Unfortunately, this understanding and interpretation of “rights” is increasing in the US as we’ve become wealthier, more selfish, greedier, and more shallow: “rights” have become little more than political and cultural weapons and slogans, without regard for what they really are, and it is indeed pernicious to trivialize them. A “right” is not an argument for “I want what I want, and I want it now.”

The Heretic

Imagine yourself living perhaps 400 years ago in a culture controlled by a Puritanical church, where the established powers had a very personal interest in determining the rules, language, behavior, and even thoughts of the citizens. You were that rare person who observed not only contradictions in the church doctrine and hypocrisy in the actions of the leadership, but actually expressed your concerns. You put yourself in a precarious position, subjecting yourself to accusations of blasphemy, heresy, and witchcraft, often leading to social ruin, banishment, and even death. Certainly you were the exception, as most people would conform to the demands of the powerful to avoid being called such things: look straight ahead, mindlessly repeat the catechism, and hope to be left alone.

The Employee Who Thought Management Was Out To Get Him

Centuries later…For many years I was a NY State civil service employee, and for much of that era had the good fortune to be pretty much left alone to do my job, one I felt was truly meaningful. During that time I worked with and came to know a fellow employee who seemed like a decent guy, competent in his job, reliable, caring, mature. Nevertheless, there was always suggestion of taint about him, as if he had done something really bad in the past; the implication that if you want to get ahead, get those promotions, don’t get too friendly with him.

The “Deep State”

20 plus years ago I was elected the local President of a NY State public employees union representing professional, scientific, and technical workers, a somewhat curious occurrence considering I am/was a conservative and generally anti-union. Nevertheless, I won by a 2:1 vote margin and was fairly popular, if I may say so; it proved to be a revealing experience. One of the members was a middle-aged guy with whom I had a friendly acquaintance. He was always affable and seemed perfectly competent and dedicated, but there was always a vague stain on his reputation- he was barely tolerated by management and never seemed to be going anywhere in his career. At times he suggested there was an ill-defined conspiracy against him, which he attributed to his declining to be part of the old-boys network from years past, the kind of claim to which one responds, “Is that right?”

One day, as an office building was being shuffled about, another employee came across a file with his name and, assuming it was his, handed it to him. As he looked through it he came to quite a realization- the folder contained all sorts of management documents and communications ridiculing and demeaning him, going back years. In essence he was accidentally given a “secret” file that proved he was indeed a target of an administrative conspiracy, in violation of numerous contractual and policy rules. Keep in mind we were not a nerve center of NY State government, but a rather remote outpost, so to speak. From the union standpoint we had a field day, with one of the few administrative people with integrity admitting, “We have no excuse or defense.” I learned during my union time his case was not altogether unique, and that there are always plenty of petty people lining up to curry favor with bosses by disparaging others and bosses who bask in their own petty power and who live to have their boots licked.

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by Reid Fitzsimons

We’ve had the pleasure and honor of being friends with a remarkable young person, now 41 or 42, for 10 years. She is a very accomplished professional and makes good money but lives frugally in an inner city area. She spends much if not most of her money mentoring and supporting young woman “of color,” both in the US and in poor countries. She is the type of person who would, and in fact has, put everything on hold and travel to the a third word country to help someone in crisis. She seeks no fanfare whatsoever and, it should be noted, is able to do what she does largely because the expensive tastes to which we are so accustomed do not interest her.
A number of years ago she expressed some frustration with one of her girls, perhaps 15 or 16, because she was doing poorly in school and was functionally illiterate. Reading was not important to her because, “Reading is for white people” she said. That is a significant and even tragic statement and mentality, obviously, but not the subject of this article (recall that one goal of slave owners was prohibiting literacy among their chattel). Several years later I asked our friend how this particular girl was doing. She replied she’s doing well and going to college. My response was predictable, an “oh great, so she buckled down and learned to read.” To which she replied her girl never really became literate, but “everyone knows the college she’s attending isn’t a real college.” Exposing my own naiveté at the time, I have to admit I didn’t realize there were colleges that weren’t real.

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by Reid Fitzsimons

A bit of historical stipulation first. The post WWll era left the US in an incomparable global position in terms of economics and power, having become an industrial and technological titan out of necessity and unscathed by direct destruction by geography. Enormous wealth and its associated leisure were the natural consequences. The generation labeled “Baby Boomers” enjoyed, if you will, this leisure at an unprecedented level, resulting in the first truly widespread separation of survival requirements from life- no more milking the cows by 5 am before heading off to the one-room school house. Perhaps surprisingly, or perhaps not, this opportunity did not always lead to greatness but often to self-indulgence, as exemplified by 1960’s catch phrases, masquerading as deep philosophy, such as “Do your own thing,” “Don’t lay a guilt trip on me man,” and the like.

While as a rule conservatives are disinclined to a worldview based on racial and gender identities we need to be honest and admit that by “Baby Boomer” we’re really talking about privileged white people. People whom, decades later, are clapping their arthritic hands in attempted rhythm with the ancient Doo-Wop stars on PBS fundraisers and thinking Bernie Sanders is "with it."  White people in million dollar homes in the Boston suburbs with Black Lives Matter signs conspicuously posted on their well-coiffed lawns maintained by Mexicans who arrive every week or so in the back of pick-up trucks.

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by Reid Fitzsimons

Now and then the usual suspects of the Republican establishment- the Mitch McConnell’s, John Kasich’s, etc- make meaningful, principled, and at times intelligent statements about any given issue or topic. Hence, it is generally disheartening, though occasionally amusing when, like a dog yanked back on a leash, they have to modify or retract them when faced with the accusations we’ve come to know so well: misogynist, various prefixes followed by “phobe,” and of course racist. One such phrase we have heard for years, usually during faux budget negotiations, is “They want to kill Big Bird.”

The origin the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and its entities of PBS and NPR extends back only to the 1960s and can be succinctly described as the product of Lyndon Johnson’s conflicted emotions. He viewed himself largely as an unsophisticated hick and, especially when associated with the cosmopolitan Kennedy’s, yearned for acceptance by the elites. From a policy standpoint this translated to a perhaps noble albeit Quixotic goal of “bringing the arts to the masses,” but in reality has meant decades of heavily subsidized entertainment for the educated and wealthy. Since inception tax dollars given to this therapy for Lyndon Johnson’s inner turmoil has probably totaled in the billions- for 2014 CPB alone received close to half a billion in tax dollars.

Not surprisingly, to be “for” tax funding of CPB, etc imparts an aura of lover of the “arts,” broadmindedness, sophistication, compassion, and humanity. To be “against” stigmatizes one as an uneducated right-wing nut who has an unnatural attraction to pick-up trucks and lives in fear of fluoridated water.

I am a little too old to have watched Sesame Street (premiered in 1969) and I’m ambivalent as to whether it has been truly educational without indoctrination or more of a guilt-free way to plop your kids down in front of the TV. One can state with a clear conscience, however, that the Sesame Street franchise has been shamelessly marketed for decades with great remunerative success (from 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales; I not sure if this includes the exorbitant admission price I paid to see Sesame Street on Ice in 1988 when my son was two). Nevertheless, the accusation that “they want to kill Big Bird” recurrently engenders night sweats and tremors in congressional Republicans.

Certainly over 50 years PBS has provided us with some fine upscale programming (though the only time I saw any of Conan the Barbarian was curiously on a PBS station; I think there was some nudity, thank goodness). The issue is not whether they have some fine programming, the issue is who benefits. Let us be honest: people residing in Section 8 housing, various urban projects, and trailer parks aren’t glued to their radios listening to the Splendid Table (“…public radio's culinary culture and lifestyle program that celebrates food and its ability to touch the lives and feed the souls of everyone”) or animatedly guessing the value of that painting found in grandma’s attic on the Antiques Roadshow. The audience and demographic for the vast majority of PBS/NPR programming is certainly composed primarily of the wealthy and educated. Hence, a reasonable question is, are the rich deserving of tax-subsidized entertainment?

Last week I was up in the Adirondack Mountains south of Canada doing some house renovation work and was not well “connected.” On Thursday morning I did check e-mail and news and learned of the very newsworthy shooting of the house Republican Majority Whip and others. Seeking updates in an area of sparse radio coverage I reluctantly tuned in to the dreaded NPR morning programming, with the nauseatingly saccharine timbre, tone, and cadence of the announcers; as obnoxious as any equally saccharine pre-recorded Bible studies one hears on Christian radio. The half hour news summary finally came on and, just 24 hours after the shooting, the lead story was not the shooting but the continuing saga of the Trump/Russia investigation. The NPR editors placed the story of the attempted assassination of the Majority Whip in the second slot and pointedly emphasized authorities were examining possible motivations, failing to even mention the perpetrator wore his leftist progressive angst on his sleeve for all to see.

For NPR News, as with what is collectively called the mainstream media, maintaining the progressive narrative takes precedence over actual news reporting. Therefore it can only be Republicans and conservatives strutting about like Brown Shirts in 1920’s Munich looking to beat down people who look, sound, or think differently from themselves. The minds of progressives are so filled with happy thoughts that Love is Love and Love Trumps Hate that James Hodgkinson certainly could not have been motivated to murder by his progressive politics; there must have been another reason. Needless to say, if the victim had been a Democrat and the shooter politically motivated by right wing leanings, it would have consumed the NPR news cycle, with emphasis on the right wing part.

We’ve entered an unfortunate age where gross slanting of news by organizations traditionally considered objective is common. Nevertheless, subtle slanting- nuanced prioritizing of stories, things deftly said, implied, or omitted so as to obfuscate the facts at hand, etc, remains effective. It doesn’t take great talent to do this but somehow its practitioners are held in high esteem, much like Miley Cyrus is heralded as a “music artist.” PBS and NPR are exceedingly adept at this and understandably so: their biases are shared by their target audience, wealthy and educated progressives, who prefer to remain comfortable in the warm bosom of their cultural and political narratives.

The CPB/PBS/NPR franchise is like the Christian who fornicates on Saturday night then shouts “Praise Jesus” louder than anyone else in church the next morning. It’s not the adultery that is so exasperating per se, it’s the hypocrisy:

The myth that they are commercial free when in fact they run ads just like everyone else, with sponsors including massively wealthy corporations, elite progressive foundations and, depending on the program, local businesses. That they usually run the ads preceding or following their shows doesn’t mean they are not crass commercials, despite always being capped off by the quaint, “and viewers like you."

Undeniably they have at times aired excellent programs, including child oriented shows such as Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and perhaps Sesame Street. While I admittedly have not had success researching PBS/NPR demographics (one related stat I found is interesting- Thomas Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits Of Wealthy Individuals,” found only 6% of the wealthy watch reality shows, while 78% of the poor do), it is doubtful the ostensible targeted audience- the masses- are significant consumers. Rather, support and occasional watching or listening to PBS/NPR has become essentially a litmus test for progressive acceptance.

While our cultural mindset is that receiving government funding somehow imparts legitimacy, PBS/NPR should be able to stand on its own or be fully propped up by its vocal and wealthy proponents. Let’s not fool ourselves- rich people, including the many who refuse to acknowledge their wealth, like to spend money on Self, generally to the exclusion of Others. The tax monies received by the CPB are not insignificant but could easily be replaced by its supporters, if they really believed in action versus utterances, and we could blessedly be free of this tedious funding debate. What the heck, if we finally end government funding I’ll make a pledge at the $60 level, and they don’t even have to send me the Kings of Dew-Wop CD collection.

It is a fantasy that CPB/PBS/NPR, being “non-profits,” are operated by benevolent people who are willing to sacrifice their material wealth for the greater good of their mission. Like televangelism, there is serious money to be had in the world of “non-profits.” Rather than taking the effort to place financial stats in prose form, I simply end with a listing of some examples of salaries-

Gary Knell, recently made the CEO of National Geographic, first began working for Sesame Street Workshop in 1989, became the COO in 1998, and CEO in 2000 until 2011, then CEO of NPR until 2013. In 2008 he was paid $956,513, and according to the 2013 IRS form 990 $743,575 for the covered year.

The form 990 for 2014 shows the CEO of the CPB was compensated with $418,574 during the pertinent year. Additionally, there were at least 15 other CPB officers that made at least $200,000 per year.

The PBS CEO was paid $962,594 for the period covered by the 2013 990.

Note these are compensation amounts at just the national level. There are hundreds of affiliate stations paying generous salaries: the 2014 990 for the Detroit PBS local shows the CEO making $378,343 and the Assistant Secretary $215,823; in 2010 or 2011 14 employees at the Boston affiliate WGBH made more than $200,000.

Lastly, a headline from the March 20, 2017 edition of USA Today:

Could Trump's 2018 budget kill Sesame Street's beloved Big Bird?

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hillary-clinton-concession-speech

by Reid Fitzsimons

Nobody knows how the Trump presidency will unfold. Perhaps he’ll enjoy the celebrity aspects of the office and leave the actual governing to (hopefully capable) advisors and administrators. Certainly there are conservatives who worry he’s in reality an in-the-closet progressive. He might prove to be erratic in word and action and need to be constrained by constitutional check and balances that all but disappeared during the Obama years, facilitated by feckless Republicans. Or perhaps he’ll prove to be a principled conservative, holding a gentle but steady hand on the rudder of state. Nobody knows at this moment, perhaps not even Trump himself.

What we do know is that on January 20, 2017 we will not have to be subjected to a shrill voice proclaiming, “We are women, and from shore to shore the entire world heard us roar,” or some such inanity that flows so readily from the mouth of Hillary Clinton. We can take pleasure in the knowledge that any number of despots and obscure manipulators of money and power will not be receiving the return on their investment: “for a ‘donation’ of xx million dollars to the Clinton Foundation, I can assure you when I’m in the White House I will…” Hillary and Bill will always have enormous amounts of money and with it will maintain a cadre of people to tell them they are wonderful, but absent power no one will have to listen to them.

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