Way to go, Economist blog.
Category Archives: Politics
Lew Bryson wants to dismantle the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board:
The PLCB exists because at the time of Repeal, Pennsylvania had a governor, Gifford Pinchot, who still ardently believed in Prohibition, and a legislature that believed Repeal may well be temporary and that Prohibition was still a strong political force — to be fair, a belief that was prevalent in the day. Few people knew that Prohibition as a political force was deader than a doornail, in a state of complete collapse.
Working with what they knew, Pennsylvania’s legislators put together a “control” system that was actually fairly common among states. They would control all sales of wine and liquor (note that beer was not included) through state-run stores. The clerks would simply deliver the bottle; they would not make recommendations of any one brand over another, a policy rooted in a brute force approach to fairness that would unfortunately lead to a total lack of any kind of service mentality. “We got it, you want it: play by our rules or get lost” was the attitude that ruled in the State Stores, and largely still does, despite the recent development of a human face.
The PLCB justifies itself by the revenues it brings in, by the supposition that it ‘controls’ abusive and underage drinking better than privately-owned businesses would, and by the money it “infuses” into the state economy by paying landlords for leases on the stores and the wages it pays its employees. It is a system that works so well that Pennsylvania is surrounded by great liquor stores across its borders.
I say we take it down.
If nothing else, you have to love Lew’s enthusiasm. He’s right, too. PA possesses some of the more archaic liquor laws around, and just about everyone in the Philadelphia area (at least, the ones who are into wine and liquor, and even beer) have headed down to Delaware and Maryland, or just across the river to New Jersey, for the better selections and (often) better prices of private liquor merchants.
Naturally, Pennsylvania, being a government and all, is slow to change, especially in regards to making drinks with alcohol more available to its residents (after all, think of the children!). So, even though Lew is getting plenty of support, this is going to take time. There are a lot of surrounding issues for privatizing liquor sales (for instance, the state employs a lot of people in those stores), but we have no doubt that between now and the Rapture, Uncle Lew will cover most of them.
Of course, the next question, the next step can only be: who is going to go undercover in the enemy’s lair?
So, a couple of days ago, there was a mini-controversy surrounding Democrat Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, who was accused of keeping his hands at his sides during the Pledge of Allegiance. In addition, while all his competitors placed hand on heart and said the pledge, Obama kept his mouth silent and shut.
As it turns out, Obama and company were merely witnessing the national anthem, and for odd, unknown reasons, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson placed their hands on their hearts, while Obama watched the anthem like, ya know, a regular person.
The real story here, though, is the performance, I think. I don’t know who this woman was, but this is one of the worst anthems I’ve heard in years. Atrocious.
Michael Nutter is Philadelphia’s mayor-elect, defeating Republican opponent Al Taubenberger in what could have been described as a clean, but unfair, fight. Nutter gathered 83% of the votes, which comes in shallow of the hoped-for 85%, but it bests the Philadelphia mayor’s race record, set by Ed Rendell in 1995 (77%).
Naturally, upon his election, criminals have lined up in front of police houses to turn themselves in, picking up street trash on their way. Bill Gates has cut a check for one-point-five jillion dollars for “Like, Philadelphia schools, and shit”; construction workers all over the city have begun to build classrooms that are green, energy efficient, and even without teachers, are able to give children a high school education by the age of 11. SEPTA has decided to put solar panels on all their regional rail trains, which not only power the trains, but provide extra energy which SEPTA has sold back to the power grid, and that money has been invested to improve the city’s public transit infrastructure. It is now possible to go from the Philadelphia International Airport to the Italian Market for a hoagie, and then to the Grey Lodge in Wissinoming for a drink from the firkin in under 3 minutes (16 miles). The city’s “citywide Internet hotspot” now works. Donovan McNabb has been possessed by the ghost of Joe Montana. The Phillies have traded Michael Bourn for Johan Santana and Greg Golson for Scott Kazmir. The city of Philadelphia is now subsidizing public health care plans for all city residents. Camden has been annexed and is now called “East Philly”, and south Jersey has likewise become the “southeast suburbs”. The next Olympics will be in Philadelphia, as will every Olympics after it. Comcast is now providing ESPNU, but no one will watch it. The crack in the Liberty Bell has been mended.
Lots of problems for Nutter to deal with. I think he’s the right man for the job–I’m not alone in this, obviously–but hopefully he’ll live up to the hype.
Philadelphia was once given the nickname The Cradle of Liberty, because it is where the United States began, philosophically. In recent years, this city has taken a turn for the worse. This is our second entry looking at the violent crime in our hometown. The first is here.
Three Philadelphia police officers were shot this week. The third among them, Charles Cassidy, was killed when he was shot through the forehead as he walked into a Dunkin Donuts. Philadelphia’s police commisioner, Sylvester Johnson, said that Cassidy was coming into the doughnut shop on a routine check, as the shop had been robbed on September 13th. Frankly, I don’t think his presence needs to be justified or explained. If he went there for the stereotypical doughnut and cup of coffee, that’s fine with me. Police have tough jobs, especially in this city, lately. If they need some food and caffeine, that’s fine by me. Hell, let the city pay for it, even.
The thought is that, with the murder rate so high, thugs have stopped considering whether or not they’ll get caught. They have no hesitation to just turn and shoot a police officer. There’s a million things that need to be done to stop this.
Philadelphia’s mayor is John Street, who is the worst mayor of any major city in the country. He is corrupt. He is arrogant. He is offensive. He never gets into the news because he’s making some kind of grand announcement about new businesses or events in Philadelphia, or for bragging about some of the great things in Philadelphia. No, he makes the front page of the papers because just about every member of his staff has gone down around him, arrested by the feds for various forms of scandal and corruption. It’s incredible that he hasn’t been arrested, too. He makes the local news for wasting a day in line to buy an iPhone (he couldn’t send an intern?). Or for spending a day in a wheelchair–instead of coming off compassionate and interested in the challenges that the handicapped undergo–he comes off as stupid and lazy. John Street, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t killed a soul, but if anyone is to blame for allowing this epidemic of murders to occur in Philadelphia, he’s at the top of the list.
Thankfully, Street’s incompetence will be soon replaced by Michael Nutter. Nutter, like every “serious” mayoral candidate in Philadelphia for past 40 years, is a Democrat. Nutter grew up in West Philadelphia, where he still lives. He went to the University of Pennsylvania. He has spent his life in this city, as part of this city, and as this city is bleeding, we are desperately turning to him now. He can’t take office soon enough. The election is next week. He takes office in January. Nutter “won” the mayoral race back when he won the Democratic nomination, in the spring. He won the nomination because he came across not only as intelligent, reasoned, and articulate, but he came off as willing to do everything necessary to combat the city’s problems. (Full disclosure: Mrs Thursday works for Nutter, but we were big fans of his anyway).
The hallmark of this determination is his “stop-and-frisk” program. Under Nutter’s leadership, the Philadelphia police department will have the right to stop and frisk anyone at their discretion. If anyone frisked it found to possess an illegal weapon (or, I imagine, any other illegal nonsense) they can be arrested. Most of (if not all) of his Democratic challengers opposed such a plan of action, defending the rights of citizens. They lost, because there are two types of people in Philadelphia right now: people with something to hide, and people with nothing to hide. If you defend the right of privacy and convenience as you oppose something that might stop crime, then you support the crime itself. That is how bad things have gotten.
I do wonder, however, how viable Stop’n’Frisk is if the city’s thugs have no discretion about shooting cops. If some clown–like the one who shot Charles Cassidy–is stopped for frisking, what’s to prevent him from avoiding the search by pulling his gun on another officer? There’s certainly a hope that people who own illegal weapons will carry them around less, but if Philadelphia starts using this technique, I truly hope it is with caution and vigilance.
Some people blame the US Government, which has taken money away from local law enforcement in order to combat terrorist attacks. You’ve seen 24? Yeah, well, Jack Bauer’s paycheck is preventing police from being able to do their jobs properly. In school, children are taught to wear their seatbelts all the time, even on short trips to the store, because most car accidents happen within a couple miles from home. This, of course, is common sense, as most of the driving people do is within a couple miles of their home. Short drives to the store, the movies, to school, to the bank, to church. Likewise, you know who’s going to murder people in Philadelphia? People in Philadelphia already. Terrorists, to the best of my knowledge, are responsible for zero deaths in the city of Philadelphia this year. By June, Philadelphians had killed well over 200 of each other, and I have no idea how high that total is by now. The stupid, violent people that are already here are going to be the people who fire stray bullets that hit children and parents and students and cops and, I don’t know, cab drivers. Just random people going about their days. Philadelphia does not have a terrorism problem. It has a regular, old-fashioned, horrific local-violence problem. Money, time, energy, manpower and brainpower need to be spent to combat first the symptom, and then they need to vigorously attack the structural causes of this problem. (Update: 339 homicides in Philadelphia as of 11/02/2007).
What are the problems in Philadelphia? Economy, for one. There are a lot of poor people Philadelphia. Education, for another. 48 percent of Philadelphians do not graduate from high school, well above the national average. Only 18 percent of Philadelphians have college degrees, well below the national average. Education is a mechanism for upward social mobility. In a city like Philadelphia where jobs are not easy to come by, the amount of education an individual has can make or break their future. Philadelphia used to be a blue collar town where high school drop outs could still expect to advance in their industries. Now as service has trumped manufacturing as the major industry in Philadelphia, those high school drop outs are turning to drug trafficking and theft.
Transportation is another problem. Philadelphia is a vast city. From West Torresdale in the farthest reaches of the Great Northeast, to Eastwick, way down in Southwest Philly spans more than 25 miles. From the Delaware River in the East to Chestnut Hill in the west, another dozen miles pass. Philadelphia has two subways: the Blue Line, which follows Market Street from 69th Street until Front (1st) Street, and then heads north along Front and then Kensington Ave; and the Orange Line, which follows Broad Street from Olney in the north to Pattison Ave and the stadiums in the south.
God willing, that link will take you to a map of Philadelphia. If it does, you should be able to see three lines on it. The big dark line is a very rough boundary of the city. I well aware that in a few places I’m off by a number of blocks–I’m just trying to give the rough idea. The blue line is, you guessed it–the Blue Line Subway. Likewise, the straight orange line is the Orange Line. Now, if you live in the city of Philadelphia, and you don’t live within a few blocks of one of those two lines, you have TWO options for getting around. The slow, expensive, and infrequent trains that run throughout parts of the city (perhaps we’ll draw a train map another time), or the superslow, somewhat cheaper, totally unreliable bus system. Well, I guess there’s a third option: own a car. I’m convinced this keeps poor areas of the city poorer, and, for that matter, more dangerous. If you people can get to a place cheaply, easily, and rapidly, then they’re more likely to go there. There’s a fantastic cheesesteak place way up in Torresdale (the place, Chink’s, is about a mile past the northeast end of the Blue Line), and I’m not going there too often because the commute is a bitch. The lousy transportation breaks the city into tiny communities (which is normal) that have, frequently, little interaction with each other (not normal). If the community is violent, then it’s likely to stay violent.
I love this city, but it has a lot of problems. Today, Michael Nutter was planning to have a rally to get his constituents excited before the election. With three city police shot in 4 days this week, the message changed from “Ra-ra, let’s go Nutter” to “Something will be done”. Unsurprisingly, neither John Street, nor outgoing police commissioner Sylvester Johnson were invited. In just a couple of months, Michael Nutter will be made responsible for the future of this city. Frankly, Mayor Nutter can’t get here soon enough.
In a show of support for our police forces, WMMR, a local radio station, is encouraging local businesses to display the above sign. We, at the Curious Mechanism, agree with this message and would like to pass it along. Please show your support for the men and women who serve our city.
Tim Russert: Welcome one and all to Philadelphia. It is a beautiful day here at the racetrack. The sun is shining, there’s a little briskness from a fall breeze, and the candidates are parading around the track before the race begins.
Brian Williams: Yes, Tim. All the candidates seem to be getting ready for quite a race tonight. It should be fun to watch. Please put the white board away, Tim. It’s not election night yet.
Tim: I sorry. I just get so excited.
Brian: Right. Anyway, on a sadder note, last night, candidate Mike Gravel was brought out back a shot prior to today’s race. Apparently, he hasn’t been performing as expected. That’s always a tough decision for any owner to make, isn’t it Tim?
Tim: Yes it is, but his owner, Tim Robbins, also owns candidate Dennis Kucinich and has decided to not continue Gravel’s suffering. A brave decision, I think.
Brian: On that note, let’s introduce the remaining candidates. Starting in the far left stall will be Chris Dodd. Chris was born and raised in Connecticut and is an underdog in this race. Unfortunately, because Dodd was born in Connecticut, he seems to face an affliction many inbred CT candidates face and often runs in circles. Dodd’s manager is really going to have to rein him in.
Tim: To Dodd’s right will be Biden and then ….Edwards! Look at that hair! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautiful head of hair on candidate since JFK.
Brian: Well, Edwards did get into a bit of trouble a few weeks ago when the press got wind that his trainer spent $400 a pop on cutting his hair. It does look flawless though.
Tim: We’ll see if he musses it up a bit in the upcoming race. Next to Edwards is the indomitable Clinton. She stands a bit taller than all the boys. Oh, and is that, yes, it’s her husband, the two-time winner The Bill Clinton, standing in the shadows behind her. He was much more of a force earlier on in her training, but he appears to have backed off.
Brian: There were some early indications that this might be an ugly race especially for Madam Clinton. I mean, if you look closely, you can already see candidates Edwards and Obama stepping on her toes in the starter gate. We’ll see what becomes of this.
Tim: And speaking of Obama, he is up next to Clinton. Obama, an early favorite in these races, has come up disappointing. He has trailed Mrs. Clinton and has come in second in almost every race. He can’t seem to get that final push as the end of the race to push himself past the push reigning debate queen’s push. Right, Brian?
Brian: Candidate Obama has a tough choice to make during this race. Will he remain safely behind Clinton and try to ride her coattails to a position in her administration or does he come out, teeth biting and feet kicking, and try to take down the bitch?
Tim: We shall see. Looks like they’re getting ready to go with Kucinich and Richardson to the right of Clinton….AND THEY’RE OFF!
Brian: Oh no! In a tough break for Tim Robbins’ camp as Kucinich is distracted by an unidentified flying object and wanders off the track in search of it.
Tim: It’s always a shame to see a candidate beat himself like this.
Brian: The rough housing against Clinton has seemed to continue as Edwards and Obama have flanked her and are pushing against her on either side. She’s definitely fighting back though!
Tim: Yes, she is. Clinton has proven again and again that she can out run any of these guys in a one-on-one race. However, I don’t know how she’ll keep her stamina up with these two fellow candidates pounding her from either side. Not to mention, the Republicans, who had a race earlier, are throwing cups and food at her from the sidelines.
Brian: This is definitely getting ugly, Tim.
Tim: Brian! Why did you just throw a cup at Clinton???
Brian: Oh, I didn’t even realize. Just got caught up in the moment. Anyway, the candidates go around the bend. It’s Clinton up front followed immediately by Obama and Edwards. Richardson is trailing a little behind with Biden and Dodd taking up the rear. Kucinich is now in the woods singing a folk song about Energy policy.
Tim: And what is this? I can’t believe what I’m witnessing. It appears that Richardson has crept up behind Clinton and is…is…
Brian: He is licking her asshole.
Tim: Uh, yeah! I think that’s called a rimjob.
Brian: Apparently, he has already conceded. Actually, I don’t even think Clinton notices. In another note, Biden seems to be yelling. Did you notice that, Tim?
Tim: Yes, Brian. He’s been yelling for sometime now about “Iran” and “Experience” and no one really seems to be listening… So they’re around the final bend now. Biden is skipping now and Dodd has starting smoking some of his “legalized” marijuana. He slowed down considerably since he started doing that.
Brian: That shit’ll mess you up.
Tim: Yes, indeed, Brian. So it’s Clinton, Edwards and Obama up front now. And oh my God! Clinton stumbles! Eliot Spitzer runs aimlessly onto the track and falls under her feet! THIS IS SO EXCITING!!!
Brian: Calm down, Tim! Anyway, Clinton stumbles. This is a chance for Obama or Edwards to catch up. They’re running…..oh no. They seem to be running into each other so much that they’re slowing each other down. Clinton has gotten up and just sprinted around them aaaaaaaaand Clinton wins.
Tim: Now that was an exciting end to this race!
Brian: You have some goo on your lapel, Tim. From all of us here at NBC, thanks for watching and we’ll see you at the next race.
In Which We Explain Ourselves
Yes, yes, I know. Islamofascism is a word that became popular 4 years ago and is already dated, irrelevant, and gathering mildew in the dank basement of some aging linguist. I know. But (there is always a “but”), I just learned that last week was Islamofascism Awareness Week, ya know, somewhere, and this allows me to talk about two (or three, depending on how you count) of my favorite subjects: Language (specifically in relation to the fantastic word Islamofascism), and the one-and-only Rick Santorum.
For those of you who aren’t from ’round here, or just don’t follow politics, Rick Santorum used to be a US Senator from Pennsylvania. He was wildly insane. Well, he’s still alive, and I’d imagine he’s still insane, but, politicians who aren’t re-elected are a much more benign sort of crazy, and, frankly, I stopped paying attention to him. And then, this morning, I found the most wonderful thing while trolling the Tubes. Crazy-Pants former Senator Rick Santorum was scheduled, to speak about Islamofascism at Temple University, Penn Sate, and UPenn last week. If I had known about this, I might have gone. Really.
Islamofascism is a compound word, of course, gracefully compounding one of the world’s most populous religions, Islam, and Benito Mussolini’s coinage, fascism. So, we’ll have some fun and deal with “Islam”, with “fascism”, and then finally, we’ll have a whiz-bang conclusion with Rick Santorum and “Islamofascism”.
Islam is a word derived from the Arabic word “salaam”. Salaam, like many Arabic words, doesn’t have an easy translation to English, but is most commonly interpreted as “peace”. Another nuance of this word’s meaning, though, reveals that “submission” is a possible translation, as in “submission to God”. Thus, a Muslim is one who “submits to God”, and Islam is a religion of “submission to God”. The religion, historically, dates back to the 7th century, AD, and we can assume that “Islam”, in some form, appeared at the time.
Fascism is, as mentioned already, a creation of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The word comes from the Latin “fasces”. A fasces was the symbol of authority of the highest level of Roman magistrate. It consisted of a bundle of sticks, bound tightly together, and amongst the sticks rested an axe, as in the picture on the right.
Fascism, of course, is a system of government–sorta–in which individual opinions, desires, and rights are suppressed at the expense of the will of a dictator. In the most effective fascist states, nationalism is promoted to a feverish pitch, which creates a heavy and violent bias against foreign nationalities, religions, and creeds. Despite Mussolini’s coinage, Adolf Hitler is most frequently cited when discussion of fascism and fascist dictators crop up.
Because Hitler and the Nazi party are most frequently used in discussion of fascism, some distortion has occurred in the word’s meaning. Hitler, of course, is known less for his elevation of Germany (out of economic depression and into status as a world power), and for the nationalism and national pride he inspired in his people, and far more for World War II and the Holocaust.
This chain, connecting fascism to Hitler and Hitler to dictatorial mass violence, leads to a colloquial connection between overt, mass violence and fascism. That is, there is currently an implication that the end product of fascism is violence, whereas originally violence was either a side-effect.
So, sometime after 9/11, some newspaper writer started trying to find a good and succinct way to talk about the Islamic terrorists who crashed airplanes into buildings. During the Polish coup of 1981, Susan Sonstag used a phrase that would become famous: “fascism with a human face”. This phrase was co-opted by Christopher Hitchens, an Atlantic Monthly writer, as “fascism with an Islamic face” to describe the attackers. Over the next 2 or 3 years, this became the staggering “Islamic fascism”, and then became the better flowing but aesthetically mediocre “Islamo-fascism”, and then, finally, Islamofascism.
This word gained a lot use by war supporters, as it gave a name to the enemy. The war opponents, naturally, just want the Islamofascists to win. Or something. Rick Santorum, kickass insane Senator, advocated on behalf of the War on Islamofascism. As with everything, however, there was backlash.
Islam–devotion to God–is a religion of peace. So says Mohammed, and so says every prominent Muslim with 2 minutes on cable network news in the early years of the current war. Thus, creating a word that unites a religion of peace with a fundamentally violent form of government was, at a basic level, self-contradictory. At a grander level, it’s terribly offensive. Those Muslims who completely believe in the peaceful nature of their beliefs were appalled to find the US government using the name of Islam to describe a violent group of heretics.
Naturally, because of this, President Bush and most other war supporters dropped its usage. Newstations reported that the Republican party was quietly telling its members to stop using the phrase. Undaunted, however, was Rick Santorum.
Islamofascism was a lousy word to describe the enemy because it’s not an enemy. During WWII, the Germans were the enemy. For the Romans, the Carthagians were the enemy. For us, the ambiguously unidentifiable Islamofascists were the enemy. No good, at all.
I don’t know if Islamofascism Awareness Week will come around again next year, or if it was just a one-time thing, but here’s hoping that Santorum can stay as keynote speaker for years to come.