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Graduation Day 2013: remember when graduating meant something?

Back when I was growing up “graduation” meant one thing: high school. Well, it could mean college, in theory, but in my old neighborhood college was generally something that happened to other people. Mainly, though, it meant that a kid had somehow stuck it out, avoiding pregnancy and resisting the intoxicating allure of a lucrative career bagging groceries or helping Dad repair HVAC systems, and completed all 12 grades.

This was a big deal for many families. And, while I hate to sound like a geezer yelling at you to get the hell out of my yard, the simple fact is that when I was a kid, graduation meant something.

CATEGORY: EducationThese days, not so much. As I was walking the dog yesterday morning they were setting up the grad ceremonies for the academy in the neighborhood. From the looks of things, this must have been an event for third graders. And why not. These days they have graduation ceremonies for middle school. And kindergarten. And sixth grade. Awesome. You know who else graduated from sixth grade? Jethro Bodine. And nearly everybody else in America.

I’m all for rewarding success, but I’m also painfully aware of what happens when everybody gets a gold star for showing up. Over-reward devalues real accomplishment, and it breeds cynicism. It makes it hard to tell the difference between actual praise and self-esteem boosting. You think the Millennial generation doesn’t know that it was patronized throughout its childhood years?

So here we are. Kids graduate from something every five minutes. Hey – you made it through SEPTEMBER! WOW! We should have a ceremony.

Or maybe we shouldn’t. Unless we’re talking about a child with a legitimate developmental disability, making it through third grade alive isn’t a big deal and shouldn’t be treated like one. We’ll have a ceremony when you actually accomplish something. I’m not going to tell you that completing all the requirements at Ledford High School in the ’70s was on a par with getting your doctorate from Oxford, but it was a valid rite of passage, a moment where one phase of life gave way to the next. It was more than a celebration for the student, it was a reaffirmation for the community, and was therefore a fitting and proper event to mark.

Sixth grade? Shut the fuck up, Jethro. We’ll see you in the fall.

So, for the graduating class senior class of 2013, we at S&R say congratulations and we wish you all the best in the next stage of your life.

Racism in football: FIFA adopts the Dr. Sammy Plan

CATEGORY: Racism in SportsA couple of weeks ago I went off on FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, over the issue of racism in world football. The impetus for that post was the racist abuse of AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli by AS Roma fans in a Serie A match. If you recall, Blatter was appalled!

I noted that racism in European football was certainly nothing new and that the sports governing bodies had done pretty much nothing about it. Specifically, I wrote:

The failure to stop an undesired action by an individual or group is a function of either a) a lack of power, or b) a lack of will. There’s not a lot FIFA can do about the racism of fans as they share a pint in the pub after the game, perhaps, but there’s a great deal they can do in the stadiums. For instance, in yesterday’s match the game could have been suspended and resumed later in an empty stadium. AS Roma could be fined and docked points in the standings. If none of these measures achieve the desired result over a set period of time, the club could be relegated to Serie B. And so on.

So imagine my surprise earlier today when fellow Chelsea FC supporter (and occasional S&R commenter) Bret Higgins forwards this item along.

FIFA racism measures could see teams expelled or relegated

Teams could be relegated or expelled from competitions for serious incidents of racism after tough new powers were voted in by Fifa.

First or minor offences will result in either a warning, fine or order for a match to be played behind closed doors.

Serious or repeat offences can now be punished by a points deduction, expulsion or relegation.

Jeffrey Webb, head of Fifa’s anti-racism task force, said the decision was “a defining moment”.

He added: “Our football family is fully aware that what is reported in the media is actually less than 1% of the incidents that happen around the world.

“We’ve got to take action so that when we look to the next 20 or 50 years this will be the defining time that we took action against racism and discrimination.”

Fifa, world football’s governing body, passed the anti-racism resolution with a 99% majority at its congress in Mauritius.

Wow. It’s as though FIFA leaders read my post and said “hey, that about covers it. All in favor, say ‘aye’.” While I’m just about certain that isn’t what happened, it’s still nice to see your wisdom validated every once in awhile. Suffice it to say that FIFA has gotten the policy right and they deserve major props for finally getting serious about the dark underbelly of the beautiful game.

All that remains now is to carry through with it. That, of course, could be sticky. I don’t doubt that they’d bring the hammer down in one of football’s notorious backwaters. Booting a lower division scuffer like Hansa Rostock or Hallesche FC down the food chain another notch to make a point? You betcha. I can even see them getting medieval on a big fish/little pond outfit like, say, Steaua Bucuresti.

But what about the racist ultras in some of the world’s bigger, more profitable leagues? Would FIFA and UEFA really relegate an AS Roma, one of Italy’s more prominent sides? What about Lazio, Roma’s far more virulent (and historically fascist) neighbors? As Bret said in a Facebook exchange, if FIFA is serious about this, Italy’s second division is about to get a lot bigger. Perhaps we should expect many rounds of fines and wrist-slapping before a big club is actually punished.

We’ll find out eventually. We can certainly expect a smaller club or two to be made examples early on. We won’t know for sure how serious FIFA really is until they’re faced with repeated offenses by a major side, and the smart money says that case will emerge from Italy.

For now, though, congratulations to FIFA for laying the groundwork. This policy does all the right things, and all that’s left is to enforce it.

Cost over quality: Chicago Sun-Times fires its photo staff, and journalism’s death spiral continues

That crashing sound you just heard from the Upper Midwest was the Chicago Sun-Times throwing its photography staff out the window. All 28 of them. Pulitzers and everything. The paper explained thusly:

The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.

This seems a clear and official acquiescence to the idea that the Sun-Times presence has now crossed the tipping point, that it is more about online than it is the traditional daily paper channel. And the logic about the value of video content in the online medium is solid enough if you’re a Marketing manager, I suppose. I personally don’t usually watch videos when they’re included with news stories online because the print tells me a lot more a lot faster, but I suspect I’m the exception to the rule there.

But I suspect that the official statement is more about misdirection than it is telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Apparently the S-T is going to rely on freelancers for stills, and also they’ll make their reporters more responsible for shots to accompany the stories they’re covering. Okay.

Nobody is actually saying it, but I’m also willing to bet that they’ll be “crowdsourcing” more “content” from “citizen journalists” with camera phones.

I bought my first camera and took up photography a year ago today, and since then have cultivated a tremendous respect for what pro shooters do. Unfortunately, now that everybody in the world has a decent quality little camera in their phone, our society seems to have concluded, as a culture, that everybody is a photographer. That’s just how we think here in the Postmodern age. Everybody can be a poet. Every scribble is art. And suggesting that people with experience and training are somehow better than everybody else, well, that’s elitism that borders on the fascist, isn’t it?

But the truth is that just anybody isn’t as good as a pro, especially one who’s good enough to have earned the profession’s highest honor. Pointing and clicking isn’t the same as framing a shot and understanding how light and shadow and composition can tell a compelling story.

CATEGORY: JournalismI suspect that the real story at the Sun-Times isn’t about “bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements” or “digitally savvy customers.” It’s about cash. Because these days, that’s what all large media organizations are about. Full-time professionals are expensive and freelancers aren’t. You pay them a few bucks for a shot and you’re not on the hook for salary or benefits. When you tell the reporter to bring back some shots, one employee is doing the work of two. And when you rely on that legion of citizen journalists, well, you can pimp them for free.

As Mickey Osterreicher at the National Press Photographers Association observes, “you may end up getting what you pay for.” No doubt. Some freelancers are pretty good, but since they’re, you know, freelancers, you’re not getting their full attention. Reporters grabbing a shot while they’re there? They’re not pro photojournalists, either, and when you’re trying to do two things instead of one, the likelihood is that both will suffer. And while I guess that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of iPhones would eventually reproduce the catalogue of Margaret Bourke-White, I’m not sure that’s a winning business model.

My S&R colleague Dr. Denny has been tracking the decline of journalism since we launched over six years ago, and if you’ve followed his reports and analysis there shouldn’t be anything here that surprises you. We can also expect other agencies around the country to follow suit, so if you’re a staff photographer at the New York Times or the Denver Post or the Winston-Salem Journal or the East Bumfuck Picayune, you need to get that résumé updated (although I don’t really know where you’re going to send it). The union is going to file a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, but I think we know how that’s going to turn out, don’t we?

Denny has been telling us for years that eroding the integrity of the product you’re putting on the streets has a direct long-term effect on the success of that product (to say nothing of how it impacts the public’s knowledge of the important issues that shape our shared social lives). Once again, a major news agency is significantly compromising the quality of its journalism. It may produce more “content” and it may do so more cheaply, but when news organizations are driven by their Marketing and Finance departments, the result are predictable.

In the end, understand that a major US daily just fired a Pulitzer winner. It remains to be seem how many Pulitzers the new structure will win, but the over/under is zero.

Hey, football fans: I may have been wrong about Romelu Lukaku

I first saw new Chelsea signing Romelu Lukaku play last summer on the team’s US tour stop in Seattle. My initial take was mixed. On the plus side, he’s obviously gifted physically and is going to make a nice living for himself playing somewhere.

I wondered, however, if that place was Chelsea. The Blues were moving in the direction of a tika-taka, Barcelona-inspired style of play (because in sports, everybody copies whatever is winning at the time), populating the squad at every opportunity with twinkle-toes Brazilians and Spaniards and Eden Hazard, a Belgian who plays like he thinks he’s a Brazilian or Spaniard. Continue reading Hey, football fans: I may have been wrong about Romelu Lukaku

Atheists in heaven? Vatican spin machine leaps into action

CATEGORY: ReligionRemember back in the ’80s when Ronald Reagan would ramble on in front of a crowd, saying all kinds of crazy shit? And immediately after, the reporters would turn to his handlers, who would explain that the president hadn’t said what he just said, that he had in fact said the exact opposite? That’s where the term “spin” came from, and boy, were those the days. Continue reading Atheists in heaven? Vatican spin machine leaps into action

IRS/Tea Party controversy: progressive groups “targeted,” too, and corporate media once again refuses to tell Americans the whole truth

CATEGORY: TaxationLate Saturday we posted a Scrogues Converse Roundtable looking at the IRS/Tea Party controversy. The debate got started when our colleague Dr. Sid Bonesparkle suggested that perhaps the IRS wasn’t out of line in taking a good hard look at organizations dedicated to undermining the tax system trying to organize using 501 status, which is reserved for social welfare oriented nonprofits.

Perhaps Sid was, if anything, too generous regarding the alleged facts of the case. Surprise, surprise: The version of the story that, thanks to the slothfulness of our corporate media establishment, has now been accepted as gospel turns out to be inaccurate.

In short, the IRS did not “target conservative groups.”

The corporate media is blasting out the story that the IRS “targeted conservative groups.” Some in the media say there was “IRS harassment of conservative groups.” Some of the media are going so far as claiming that conservative groups were “audited.”

This story that is being repeated and treated as “true” is just not what happened at all. It is one more right-wing victimization fable, repeated endlessly until the public has no choice except to believe it.

Conservative Groups Were Not “Targeted,” “Singled Out” Or Anything Else

You are hearing that conservative groups were “targeted.” What you are not hearing is that progressive groups were also “targeted.” So were groups that are not progressive or conservative.

All that happened here is that groups applying to the IRS for special tax status were checked to see if they were engaged in political activity. They were checked, not targeted. Only one-third of the groups checked were conservative groups.

Once again: Only one-third of the groups checked were conservative groups.

Conservative groups were not “singled out,” were not “targeted” and in the end none were denied special tax status – even though many obviously should have been.

Bloomberg details three progressive groups that were probed, noting that one of them had its application rejected.

The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.

One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.

Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries. [emphasis added]

All told, the IRS’s poking about seems to have been extensive and non-partisan.

…agency officials told lawmakers in a briefing yesterday that 471 groups received additional scrutiny, a total that indicates a crackdown on politically active nonprofit groups that extends beyond the Tea Party outfits.

A look at the questions presented to Progress Texas suggests that if the Tea Party was being “harassed,” so were they.

“Progress Texas and the Tea Party strongly disagree on the role of government,” the group’s executive director, Ed Espinoza, said in a statement. “Yet, when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that Tea Party groups are complaining about. The similar treatment indicates the IRS was likely addressing a flood of 501c4 applications after Citizens United, and undermines the paranoid notion that Tea Party groups were singled out.”

The questions resembled the list of 35 questions (PDF) sent to the Liberty Township Tea Party, which has complained of IRS harassment.

The real culprit here is the infamous Citizens United decision.

The year 2010 began a busy period for the IRS office in Cincinnati, the home of the tax-exempt determinations unit. That January, the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision, which loosened the rules governing contributions to political causes and candidates. Applications flooded in to the office from groups seeking tax-exempt status, many with a political agenda.

The IRS has admitted it flagged applications from groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. But applications from other groups were closely scrutinized as well.

An Austin, Texas-based progressive group, Progress Texas, was one of them. Its executive director, Ed Espinoza, says it took almost a year and a half for the IRS to review the application from his organization.

In 2010, some 1,700 applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status came into the Cincinnati office. That number nearly doubled by 2012. Yet according to the IRS Inspector General’s Report, just one person was originally given the task of sifting through the applications deemed politically sensitive.

Another application that seemingly got caught up in the backlog came from a group of journalists in Chicago. The Chicago News Cooperative provided news for the Midwest edition of The New York Times. The co-op also sought tax-exempt status. Veteran journalist James O’Shea, a former managing editor of The Chicago Tribune, was in charge.

“There were political organizations trying to get these exemptions, and I think the IRS was concerned — and probably appropriately so — that some of these news organizations were really political organizations,” he says, “and so they were examining that, and we just got caught up in that.”

For more than two years, the Chicago News Cooperative waited for an IRS ruling. But without tax-exempt status, foundation support dried up, and the cooperative went out of business. [emphasis added]

The final score, then: Conservative groups “targeted” accounted for about a third of the total. None were denied nonprofit status. Meanwhile, at least one liberal group was turned down and at least one innocent bystander was forced out of business.

All thanks to a pro-corporate, pro-conservative Supreme Court ruling.

It’s probably not fair to assume that big money media organizations are always wrong, but you have to be positively daft to assume that you’re getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from them.

Forewarned, forearmed.

Profiling the Tea Party: In defense of the IRS. Sorta. Or not.

You’ve probably noted the controversy surrounding the Internal Revenue Service’s apparent “profiling” of groups aligned with the Tea Party. A discussion on the issue broke out here at S&R this week, with our colleague Sid Bonesparkle suggesting on our internal e-mail forum that perhaps such action, even if it only involved a couple of “rogue” agents, might not be entirely unwarranted.

As is often the case, not everyone agreed with Dr. Sid. In the interest of fostering some debate on the larger issues surrounding the case, we have decided to share out internal discussion with our readers as part of our ongoing Scrogues Converse series.

Dr. Sid Bonesparkle

First, a caveat or two. I’m not a huge fan of the IRS. In general large bureaucracies with minimal oversight make me nervous. This isn’t an anti-taxation thing, it isn’t an anti-government thing, and I can’t say that I’ve ever had any personal issues with them. Call it philosophical.

I’m also not a huge fan of government employees usurping extralegal powers for themselves, although I recognize that expansionism is as natural to a bureaucracy as sucking eggs is to a weasel.

All of which is to say that I am not endorsing or advocating roguery by individuals working within the IRS or any other government agency.

That said, I’m a lot less bothered by these charges than everybody else seems to be.

I know there’s no way that Obama can use this messaging, but I do think there’s a fair question here: Aren’t law enforcement officials well advised to keep a close eye on those who advocate positions that aren’t in line with the law?

For instance:

  • If you insist on your right to stockpile military grade weapons and you advocate overthrowing the government, aren’t the FBI and ATF justified in surveilling you?
  • I’m guessing all kinds of agencies, from local police up through the Justice Dept., pay attention to those who want to legalize drugs.
  • If you’re the cops and you find out that the newly elected president of NAMBLA lives in your town, you might be interested in that.
  • What about eco-terrorists? You don’t think the law in the vicinity of pipeline development is interested in them?

And so on. The Tea Party’s stated raison d’etre is all about taxation. Now, their propaganda hacks might shape the rhetoric in a way that suggests the civic side of the word “reform,” but if you’ve been paying attention for the past few years (and by “few” I mean 35) you know that in their view ALL taxes are evil. We see corps making billions and paying no taxes. We see the hyper-wealthy hiding their money offshore. We see Tea Party politicians willing to shut down the government – especially the parts that administer those nasty social programs – in order to further trim taxes on their rich donors.

All of which is to say that the IRS might be justified in keeping a close eye on certain groups, especially when those groups are organizing under 501(c)(4) statutes. Tell me, does this sound like the Tea Party groups with which you’re familiar?

Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.

Despite pretending to be a grassroots movement of concerned citizens, we now know that the Tea Party is nothing of the sort. It was from the start an astroturf put-up job funded by the billionaire Koch brothers that emerged from decades of deep planning by the tobacco industry, and if you’re going to allow it to organize and operate under the 501(c)(4) umbrella you might as well let the Democratic Party and Exxon organize as charitable non-profits.

In other words, the groups “targeted” by the IRS were and are and always will be, in their DNA, dedicated to undermining our revenue system. This doesn’t make them criminals automatically – certainly one can work to change laws that one disagrees with – but when your methods are overtly built around gaming the system, it’s not my fault if I’m wary of you. If you don’t want to be treated like a sneaky egg-sucking weasel, then don’t sneak around the henhouse when you think I’m not looking.

Just saying.

Cat White

Absolutely.

This is the reason I have been skeptical of this particular outcry. The Parties (intentionally capitalized) questioned are political in nature, back candidates, and are anti-tax. Where’s the “social welfare” aspect? It’s in our collective best interests to do away with all taxes? I don’t think so.

Talk about being able to identify a duck from its characteristics.

Oh, but in this case it’s not a duck because it wants to be a cow.

Ok, sure.

Otherwise

I’m nervous about this one. We have enough problems controlling the FBI, et al. Not sure we want to encourage political activism by other groups as well. Understand what is really happening. The IRS is in part doing its job, but it’s also doing a Ruby Ridge/Waco, squashing opposition to government per se. The desire to protect the institution is nonpartisan.

I personally think this is really bad for Obama. It’s the Manny Ramirez thing. If he fakes an injury, he’s just Manny being Manny. If anyone else does it, they’re assholes. Obama has the narrative going. Yeah, Karl Rove is a liar, but it’s just Karl being Karl. Yes, Tom DeLay rigged elections, but it’s just Tom being Tom. Yes, Mark Sanford is an idiot, but he’s better than a woman librul. Wait, I lost the thread on that last one.

Anyway, this doesn’t fit with Obama’s narrative, which is exactly opposite: “I’m above partisanship, trying to do the right thing. Those guys are the one politicizing everything.” Of course, as Alex said in her post the other day, Boehner’s outrage is feigned because he’s party to worse. But being no worse than Boehner is not what Obama promised us. (It’s what Bill Clinton promised us, but not Obama.)

Sam Smith

Well, this is an interesting question. Were these IRS agents targeting suspicious anti-IRS groups because they were suspicious or because they were anti-IRS? No way to know that, and I’m not sure it matters. The issue for me is whether the groups were acting legally or not. If their actions are structured so as to subvert not only the law as written, but the clear intent of the statute, then the IRS is probably not out of line in having a look, right?

Cat White

Whoa – this isn’t Waco or Ruby Ridge. Yes, Nixon did use the IRS as a blunt instrument. And yes, it can be heavy handed on its own. But if the IRS were going after people who espouse anti-government rhetoric, they’d have to target a large sector of the GOP and THAT ISN’T HAPPENING or their reaction would be nukular compared to this.

Otherwise

Not sure on that. Partial discrimination is still discrimination. If there’s a documented history of teabaggers faking not-for-profit, then it should be a national policy. If not, it was discrimination. My argument is it might not be polical but rather the natural antipathy of those inside the institution for those who criticize of it.

Sam Smith

I don’t personally care about the Obama PR angle at all. He’s working hard to cement his legacy as “not quite as bad as Bush was, except for all those civil rights issues.” Really, my only concern is whether the agency is operating more or less efficaciously. Whether you like the point Bonesparkle is raising or not, Cat is dead on the money. She even understates the case a bit, I think.

Lex

Didn’t the GAO say that there’s no evidence that there was targeting? Caveat for protecting your own and whatnot.

In any case, while people spin over the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, we’re not paying close enough attention to far more worrying actions by the administration, like tapping the AP’s phones for two months because it was mad at journalists for doing their jobs. And now we have the President and AG saying they didn’t know it was happening. Right, that was Reagan’s favorite trick and it’s almost certainly true only in the sense that there’s no paper trail.

Nonetheless, it’s comical that when shit like this happens to the Right it’s a national travesty. Seems to me that the Feds have been harassing the Left for a good many decades. To the best of my knowledge the only thing the CIA’s ever infiltrated was the American Left.

Otherwise

Actually I think they’ve done a good job getting the patriots. Again, they don’t mind anti-people (Klan, abortion clinic bombers) but they hate anti-government.

Sam Smith

I’d love it if we could develop some context around how various factions use the government as a hatchet against those they don’t like. Let’s see here. ACORN. Shirley Sherrod. Oh, and this. Hmmm. What else?

Meanwhile, Obama trips all over himself apologizing for this horrific breach of IRS trust. How dare they profile groups that are working the letter of the law and ignoring the hell out of its intent.

Bonesparkle

I giggle every time I see that word “profiling,” by the way. If a convicted pedophile applied for a license to open a day care center, would it be wrong to “profile” him?

Goddamned wasteful gummit spending: Who’s the highest (over)paid “public servant” in your state? (WTF?)

A Special Guest Commentary From Randy Wayne Boudreau, Grand Dragon of the Alabama Tea Party

All right thinking citizen patriots hate gummit. Wasteful bureaucrats living off hard workers like you and me. Might as well be welfare queens.

And now, thanks to the good folks at Deadspin – private, non-union workers, I should note – we know who the highest paid gummit bloodsuckers around the country are.

Continue reading Goddamned wasteful gummit spending: Who’s the highest (over)paid “public servant” in your state? (WTF?)

Squirrel!: Welcome to the Ricky Bobby School of Management

BusinessPart two of a series.

Ricky Bobby is not a thinker…He is a doer. – Talladega Nights

In part one of this series, we talked about a new analysis that explains how important stupidity is to the modern corporation. Today we’re going to have a look at what this means for you.

In short, despite what you’ve been told your whole life, being smart may not be good for your career. Continue reading Squirrel!: Welcome to the Ricky Bobby School of Management