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Jul 1

Looking for Mr. Hobby Lobby

Yesterday, after the Supreme Court decided that the craft store chain was exempt from the Obamacare contraception mandate, I went to my local Hobby Lobby store.

I was wondering if it would be relieved now that its religious principles had been protected from the parts of the health care law it found offensive. I was expecting to see a big smile of relief on its facade, but it looked pretty much the same as it always had. a rather drab retail building with big orange letters spelling out “Hobby Lobby” on the front.

I asked the building, “So, how does it feel to have your religious convictions upheld by the justices of the Supreme Court?” 

I admit I felt a little silly trying to have a conversation with a store, but if the Court says that Hobby Lobby is actually a person and not just another retail corporation that sells stuff, who am I to argue?

The building didn’t answer, so I went inside. My first stop was in the art supply section, the area I know best. I figured if there was any part of the store I could talk to, this was it.

"So," I said, giving the pencils a friendly wink, "How about that Supreme Court decision? You must be pleased." No response. I repeated my question to the oil paints. No answer. The brushes were equally mute. This was indeed perplexing. If Hobby Lobby cared so much that it brought this case all the way to the highest court in the land, you’d think it would be shouting with joy.

A young lady wearing a blue vest and a name tag came up to me, looking a bit nervous. She probably wasn’t used to customers talking to  the drawing pads.

"May I help you?" she asked.

"Yes, thank you, "I answered. "Are YOU by any chance Hobby Lobby, the person?"

"Uh…I just work here."

"But you aren’t the actual artificial corporate human person the Supreme Court just ruled in favor of?"

"I don’t know who that is. I’m just an employee."

"You know about the Supreme Court decision, though?" I probed.

"Yeah, I heard  about that."

"You must be thrilled that the company no longer has to provide contraception benefits in your insurance plan, in violation of your deeply-held religious principles."

"Uh, well…" she said, looking around warily. She leaned close and whispered, "I probably shouldn’t be talking about this while I’m working, but I’m not particularly religious. I liked it that my insurance paid for that. Now I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know how I can afford to pay for it on what I make here."

"Really?" I said. "I’m surprised. I assumed that since you’re part of the big happy corporate Hobby Lobby person, all the actual people here would be ecstatic that your synthetic corporate person’s religious rights have been affirmed.”

"Rights?" she said. "Maybe Hobby Lobby has rights, but the company didn’t ask ME what I want. I just work here."

"Yes, but…"

"I’m a woman, not a corporation. I don’t have rights."

The India ink said nothing.

Etta Hulme, 1923-2014

My old friend and ink-slinging compatriot Etta Hulme died Wednesday. She was 90.

Etta was one of the first women ever hired as an editorial cartoonist for a major daily newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which her cartoons livened for 36 years.

In her long career at the Star-Telegram, which spanned from the Nixon administration to the election of Obama, she lampooned her favorite targets, from Tricky Dick Nixon to Slippery Dick Cheney, with equal relish. She published her last cartoon in late 2008, one final blast at Dubya and friends before their ignominious exit. I only wish she’d stayed around long enough to take on Ted Cruz. Now, that would have been a contest to remember!

A short, plump woman with with soft Texas drawl, she could easily have been mistaken for someone’s kindly old aunt or doting grandmother until she let loose. She was her buddy Molly Ivins’ equal when it came to delivering a blisteringly funny and perfectly-timed one-liner. 

Her cartoons were a lot like her. Rendered in a soft, feathery line, her disarmingly quiet, smartly captioned drawings packed a surprisingly biting punch. An uncompromising liberal’s liberal on a conservative paper in a conservative town in a conservative state, she had to be—and was—one tough, feisty lady.

She’s been described as the den mother to all the guys (and the few lonely gals) at our annual conventions of editorial cartoonists, That description doesn’t come close to doing her justice. She was the equal of the best of us as both an artist and commentator, and more than capable of holding her own in our mostly testosterone-driven profession.

And we loved her.

Racist Owners

Poor Donald Sterling. Made a national pariah for racist remarks caught on tape, and then forced by the league to sell his beloved Los Angeles Clippers. The current hight bid, by Steve Ballmer, who apparently doesn’t know what else to do with his Microsoft fortune, is a measly $2 billion.

For his transgressions, Sterling, who paid $12.5 million for the franchise in 1981, stands to make a profit of $1,977,500,000.00, minus capital gains taxes, give or take a few shekels. Hasn’t he suffered enough?

I have a confession to make. I, too, am a bigot. I have a well-documented record of intolerance of right-wing zealots, birthers and gun-rights absolutists. For years my cartoons and commentaries have been full of vitriolic denunciations of abortion-clinic bombers, wing-nut militia members and neo-Nazis. I have even ordered my wife never to bring a climate change denier with her to Nuggets games (a moot point, really, because she refuses to watch basketball). Clearly, I am unfit, in the current political climate, to own a web log.

As punishment for my sins, I am willing to accept the forced sale of my blog. I paid something like $30 for the domain name two years ago. Using Sterling’s return on investment of 15,900%, assuming he accepts Ballmer’s bid, as a starting point, I will entertain any offer over $4,770.

Let the bidding begin!

Jill, Lisa and the Times

Reports are coming out that one of the reasons Jill Abramson might have been fired as editor of the New York Times is that, after discovering that she was paid considerably less than the men who preceded her in that position, she demanded that she be compensated equally.

Lisa Hartman, the smart and sassy woman to whom I am married, suggests that female subscribers ask the Times to discount the cost of their subscriptions by the same amount that Jill Abramson’s salary was discounted.

Seems only fair.

We’re Number Two!

The American middle class is no longer the world’s richest. What a relief! The guilt of belonging to the greediest bunch in the history of the world was starting to get to me. 

How did we let our society get so out of control? How did a free people allow our government to insinuate itself into our lives so thoroughly, mandating a minimum wage, a 40-hour workweek and workplace safety rules? It was painful to watch my boss struggle along on only 360 times my salary so that I could enjoy a comfortable home, two cars, the ability to educate my children, and a decent retirement.

How on earth were we convinced to create a progressive tax code that redistributed wealth from the richest Americans to programs that benefited the rest of us? How were we gulled into funding overreaching government-controlled programs like Social Security and Medicare with our own hard-earned tax dollars? Sure, not being destitute and without health care in our old age might sound good, but at what cost? 

For too long we were persuaded by politicians that taking care of each other was in our own best interests, that the common good was more important than amassing wealth. Thank goodness we no longer believe that nonsense! Fortunately, we’ve come to our senses and stopped electing people who put the so-called well-being of the American public ahead of narrow partisanship and rigid ideology.

That said, there is still much to undo. Yes, we’ve turned our backs on the long-term unemployed, who’ve been allowed to bleed the treasury for way too long. Get a job, people! Congress is finally talking seriously about destroying what remains of the insidious social safety net that has undermined personal initiative and made us so dependent on each other.

Even with the recent decline, our middle class is proving to be so resilient that almost thirty years of relentless assault have only reduced it to number two in the world. We know that Republicans in Congress and their allies in the business world (and a few frightened Democrats) will continue the noble fight to destroy it once and for all, but victory is hardly assured.

We let our president impose government-controlled health care on us, and unless we can repeal it, we’re going to be paying forever for sick people who have no business getting insurance. There’s even a foolhardy attempt to raise the minimum wage once again. You’d think we’d know better than to go down that road by now.

This November, we have another chance to vote against our own narrow self-interest and elect an unprecedented slate of politicians dedicated to rolling back our misguided experiment in prosperity for all.

Let’s not let this historic opportunity pass.

Jesus’s Wife

Archeologists who recently found what is being called the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife have made yet another startling discovery.

Just days ago, it was announced that the fragment of papyrus which contain the words, “Jesus said to them, my wife…” is in fact ancient, dating from between 659 and 859 A.D.

Now researchers say that the previously missing portion of that document has been found and translated. The complete text reads,

"Jesus said to them, my wife says either I start coming home at a reasonable hour or she’s leaving. These late-nights at the pub with the guys are getting out of hand. And what’s with this ‘disciples’ business? Of course these shnorers you hang with love you. Just because you pick up the check every time doesn’t make you some kind of deity. All they have to do is cry on your shoulder about how broke they are and you’re buying the next round. Talk about turning water into wine! Did you ever think of spending that money fixing up the house, or putting something away for a rainy day?

"Not to mention, these hangers-on you spend all your time with—what do they do all day? Don’t they have jobs? What do their wives say? The ones who have wives. A couple of them, honestly, give me the creeps. Have you seen how that Peter guy ogles the little boys? And Judas? That shmuck would sell his mother for a couple of pieces of silver. 

"And I don’t want to hear any more brave talk about giving up the carpentry shop and going on the road with this Messiah shtick you idiots cooked up after one too many. If you’re going to do it, do it and stop daydreaming about it. If you didn’t sleep in every other morning you’d have a decent business built up by now. We could use a few more loaves and fishes in the cupboard, you know. But go, do it already!

"And for God’s sake, if you’re really serious about this religious revival road show nonsense, make sure you include some women. Every time you men get going on something without consulting the wives, it’s a disaster. It’s bad enough what the priests are doing around here with the money lending and the corruption without you and your boyfriends adding a whole bunch of new problems. If anybody had paid attention to the women I guarantee we’d have put a stop to this nonsense a long time ago. But no, you macho guys are going to fix it all by yourselves. Good luck with that.

"For once in your life, Jesus, listen to your wife. This is not going to end well. You’re either going to get the authorities really pissed off, or more likely, you’re going to starve. Either way, If you keep going like this you’ll be dead by the time you’re 35."

Apr 5

Write Your Congressperson’s Donors

Dear Big Political Funder,

I read that, now that the Supreme Court has basically eliminated campaign finance limits, both political parties are asking their 500-700 biggest contributors to ante up even more.

That puts maybe 1,000 patriotic Americans  (you know who you are, even if the rest of us don’t) pretty much in control of who gets into Congress and how they vote, meaning you’re calling all the shots. (Full disclosure: I gave $25 to a candidate for the Colorado House last year.)

Since you are now in charge of the country, I figure it’s mostly pointless to continue writing to my Senator or Representative. Even if technically they’re supposed to be my employees, they report to you. So, I’m writing to you instead.

Like many Americans, I’m deeply concerned by this country’s growing income inequality. I know it’s probably not a subject you’re really interested in, given that you’re likely one of the biggest beneficiaries of the trend, but I’m appealing to you as a loyal American to do something to reverse it. Income inequality at historic levels might be really good for you, but it’s bad for the country as a whole.

Honestly, it wouldn’t be that hard to fix. Increasing the minimum wage would be a really good place to start. It’s fallen way behind inflation in recent years, and would help give working people a living wage and the dignity they deserve. With so many folks out of work for so long, finally restoring long-term unemployment insurance would help millions of people out. I’m almost reluctant to bring this up, but raising the top income tax rate on multi-millionaires like yourself is a really good idea. So is restoring a higher tax on capital gains, at least as high as the tax on income earned by working, and taxing inherited wealth at a higher level would help prevent the accumulation of riches in just a few hands. Oh, and while we’re at it, could you persuade the Congresspersons in your employ to keep working to perfect Obamacare rather than destroy it, so that all Americans can have affordable health care?

I know that all of these changes, while supported by most Americans, might reduce your own wealth somewhat, and that it’s probably pretty cheeky of me to be asking you to do that, but honestly, I don’t know where else to turn. My Representative and Senators don’t have time for me any more; they’re too busy asking you for money.

Look on the bright side when considering my request: if you get Congress to do what i’m asking, you’ll have less money to give to them, and they won’t be pestering you all the time for more. 

Sincerely,

Ed Stein 

Apr 4

Opening Day

Today is opening day at Coors Field. My Colorado Rockies take the field today, the bright promise of the new season already tarnished by the loss of three of their first four on the road to a mediocre Miami team. All the issues that bedeviled this team for the last three seasons have already made early appearances. The starting pitchers exited early, the relief pitching was cringe-worthy, and the supposedly high-powered offense couldn’t produce a timely hit.

After four games, the confident declarations of spring training (“With our talent, we should win at least 90 games”) are already being replaced with the usual excuses. We’re a mid-market team, we can’t match the payroll of the Dodgers or the Yankees, etc, we’ve put the best team on the field we can afford. etc. Many folks have pointed out that other payroll-limited teams seem to make an occasional splash in the post-season. Oakland and its Billy-ball system of finding undervalued players is often mentioned as a possible model for Colorado.

The team that’s often surprising left out of this conversation is the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards, one of baseball’s storied franchises and last year’s NL champion, somehow thrive in a market strikingly similar to Denver’s. In fact, by a number of standards, Denver’s fan base is larger, more robust and wealthier than the St. Louis market. St. Louis is a shrinking city, with a population of about 317,000, compared with Denver’s 650,000 and growing. The greater St. Louis metropolitan area and the greater Denver area are both in the neighborhood of 3,000,000. Denver has the advantage of a healthier economy, with the average household earning north of $61,000, compared to $52,000 in St. Louis.

So, what’s the difference? One is the willingness of ownership to spend more on players. The 2014 St. Louis payroll is $102 million, 14th in the majors, about middle of the pack, while Denver’s is an anemic $71,000,000, 25th out of 30 teams. The $31 million difference is a lot of money, but it hardly puts the St. Louis franchise in the company of New York, LA or Boston. They clearly can’t pay the premium for superstars the big-market teams can afford, yet the Cards have had success comparable to those teams. Apparently, they know a secret for finding and keeping players that has eluded the Denver management.

Since 1999, when the Rockies made Dan O’Dowd their general manager (you can, I hope, see where this is heading), the Cards have been in the playoffs ten times, won seven division titles, four National League pennants, and the World Series twice, in 2006 and 2011. The Rockies? One miraculous October and a World Series appearance. In that 15-year span, the Cards are 280 games over .500 during the regular season. The Rockies are minus 161, or 441 games worse than the Cards.

Despite that record, the management of the Rockies chose to renew O’Dowd’s contract after last season’s third consecutive last-place finish, praising him as the perhaps best GM in baseball. 

As much as I enjoy a summer night at Coors Field, sipping a cold brew and watching something that on occasion resembles major league baseball, perhaps it’s time to forego that pleasure until the ownership decides to go in a different direction. 

 

Child Obesity Rate Plummets

Federal health officials reported on Tuesday that the childhood obesity rate in this country has dropped a whopping 43% in the last decade. 

According to the survey, the obesity rate among children between the ages of 2 to 5 has plummeted. This is particularly welcome news, as scientists believe that the tendency toward obesity takes root at very young ages.

A number of factors may explain the surprising findings. A combination of state, local and national anti-obesity programs may be starting to have an effect in reversing a decades-long trend toward fatter Americans. First Lady Michelle Obama’s crusade to change eating and exercise habits may also have taken hold.. Children now consume fewer sugary beverages, and fewer calories overall, and they are getting more exercise.

Not so fast, counseled spokesmen for conservative political groups. It’s too early to credit the First Lady, whose efforts began after the trend to slimmer kids had already begun, said a leading Tea Party Republican strategist. And other factors may better explain the decline.

"We started cutting nutrition programs long before the Obamas got interested in the issue. Our push to reduce food stamps and unemployment benefits all had a big effect, too. And don’t forget the last six years of austerity that kept so many parents from getting back to work. Our program has succeeded where so many well-meaning but misguided initiatives by liberal do-gooders have failed.

"Nobody’s every found a weight-loss program that works as well as starvation." 

Feb 3

Super Bowl XLVIII: An Ungentlemanly Performance

Their parents should be ashamed. The Seattle Seahawks are no gentlemen.

Throughout the game, the Seahawk defenders persisted in hitting Bronco players when they were trying their best to make plays. They blasted receivers, gang-tackled running backs and repeatedly harassed quarterback Peyton Manning, a shockingly inconsiderate treatment of a future Hall of Famer.

Despite the fine example set by the Denver team on the other side of the ball, the Seattle players refused to adopt a more genteel approach. Denver gave Seattle receivers ample space and allowed quarterback Russell Wilson both the time and the throwing lanes to make completions. They never even attempted to disrupt the timing of the Seattle offense, or to take the ball away.  At the beginning of the second half, Denver smartly escorted kick returner Percy Harvin the length of the field to the Denver end zone. True, one Bronco player accidentally made contact with the fleet receiver during the return, but was seen apologizing afterward.

You’d have thought that Seattle, having been shown how the game is played by well-bred young men, would have adopted a less confrontational style, but the brutes ignored the display of proper decorum set by the Bronco eleven. They never allowed Mr. Manning, perhaps the greatest quarterback ever too don cleats, nor his record-setting cadre of talented receivers, any opportunity to showcase their formidable talents, and they rudely took the ball away on numerous occasions. 

Perhaps most egregious of all, the officials appeared to condone the mayhem on the field, turning a blind eye to the repeated incidents of churlish and violent behavior committed by the Seahawks. As a result of the indifference of the referees, a number of players sustained minor injuries. It’s a wonder more participants were not severely injured, given the complete lack of concern for the safety of the contestants.

I’m confident that as the years go by, despite the lopsided score, the Broncos will be remembered fondly as the team that refused to succumb to the temptation to meet violence with violence, and remained true to their refined natures despite the extreme provocation by the Seattle bullies.

One hopes that the National Football League, if it truly wishes to reform the game and to continue to distance it from its barbarous past, will take note of the gracious and dignified style the Broncos steadfastly maintained throughout the contest. They may have lost on the scoreboard, but they won a victory for civility.