Be Batty

I spent many a childhood summer in Houston, Texas, so I know it gets plenty hot there. (Thankfully, I could cool off in the Memorial West pool that my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Don belonged to.)

But Houston had a cold snap before Christmas, and bats were dropping like flies.

Photo credit: Mary Warwick, in the Washington Post

So what did Mary Warwick , executive director of the Houston Humane Society TWRC Wildlife Center, do? She started gathering up the unresponsive bats.

She collected 138 the first day. Each night for the next several days, she rescued more. Others heard about her efforts and pitched in. These Mexican free-tailed bats are important to the ecosystem – they eat a lot of mosquitoes and other bugs.

By Christmas night, Warwick said she had more than 1,500 bats hanging inside dog kennels in her attic. 

Most folks I know — myself included — would freak out about even a single bat in our house. But Mary knew these creatures needed help and she took action. Some of the rescued bats didn’t survive, but most did, and have been returned to their colonies in Houston.

I’m sure Mary Warwick could think of several other things to do in the days leading up to Christmas. But she knew nothing was more important than saving those bats. It’s work like this that can help save the planet we all share (humans and bats alike).

If you’re not a Batman or a Batwoman, there’s still probably something you’re passionate about, where your efforts can make a difference. It could be pet rescue, or bike paths, or park preservation, or planting trees, or preserving greenspace, or _______. And when the bat-signal goes out, I hope you’ll be batty enough to take action.

[The full Washington Post story about Mary Warwick’s rescue efforts is here.]

Musk-rat Non-Love

This is funny… because it’s true:

This line is pure gold:

 “nonstop but fruitless efforts to fill the yawning chasm of his soul by seeking the attention of indifferent strangers.”

Andy Borowitz, in The New Yorker
Artist’s rendering of Elon

I probably shouldn’t be posting the entire piece from Andy Borowitz here. To make amends, I’ll mention that a subscription to The New Yorker is well worth the price (especially in Year 1, when they cut you a discount). There’s so much good content in every issue: news, features, fiction, cartoons, humor like the piece above, poetry…

In the “digital economy” I know people are used to getting their content for free. But keep in mind that most websites are siphoning your personal data and selling it to the highest bidder. So it only seems “free”… and you are the product. If you want to support quality writing, fork over a few bucks – the transaction is much more above-board. And go ahead and pay a bit more for the printed magazine… it’s a better experience, and easier on your eyes.

The only challenge I’ve found with my New Yorker subscription is that there’s so much great content in every issue that I’m constantly running a few weeks behind on my reading. A nice problem to have. Unless I break my glasses like ol’ Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone episode above.

How about Cyber-none-day?

Cyber Monday is just a contrivance.

Yet another ruse to separate you from your hard-earned money.

There’s a tradeoff for the convenience too… most of the stuff is made in China. And it’s just “stuff”… if you really want to give a gift that will be memorable, why not give of your time and talents instead? Most of us don’t need more stuff… but we do crave more human interaction. Ignore the hype – focus on the heart.

Your price-gouged “service fee” dollars at work

As a live music fan, I am duty-bound to hate Ticketmaster (a.k.a. Ticketbastard). I’ve been railing against their ridiculous fees for years, and doing everything I can to avoid them – which usually involves a trip to the venue box office during the limited hours that it’s open.

But now the cavalry is on the way to help – the Taylor Swift Army. Because hell hath no fury like a Swiftie scorned (they learned from TS herself… just listen to her lyrics).

The Taylor Ticketmaster debacle might finally break up the Live Nation/Ticketmaster monopoly – a merger that never should’ve been allowed to happen in the first place. (Hmm, combining the largest artist management and venue company with the company that sells tickets to shows… what could possibly go wrong?)

I’m not against for-profit businesses making a profit. But I am against profiteering. And when the various and sundry “fees” for a ticket wind up adding an additional 50% to the price, that seems really excessive to me.

The Royal Crescent Mob reunion shows are a Exhibit A.

[Music-heavy sidebar – feel free to skip ahead if you’re not into that sort of thing – Hi Kelly! The Royal Crescent Mob was a punk/funk band from Columbus, Ohio – their heyday was the late 80s/early 90s. They disbanded in 1994, but are reuniting to play two shows in December — one in Columbus and one in the Cincy area — as cancer research fundraisers, because three members of the band have been impacted by cancer.

With drummer Carlton Smith recently diagnosed with brain cancer (Glioblastoma), singer David Ellison, recently treated for Prostate Cancer and the loss of guitarist B’s wife, Cincinnati Attorney, Sallee Fry in May, 2022, to Pancreatic Cancer, the four band members, decided there is no time like the present to celebrate life and revel in the joy of playing music together and the healing spirit music embodies in the human soul.]

Same band, similar venues in Columbus and Cincinnati on consecutive nights. The Columbus show tickets sales are through TicketWeb (a company that is dedicated to working with independent venues and promoters). Face value of the ticket is $30. TicketWeb service fees add another $7.95… and the fees are clearly shown on the site.

Meanwhile the Cincy show (it’s actually in Northern Kentucky) is a Ticketbastard show… Face value of the ticket is $30, but fees add $14.45 to the price tag… and the fees are hidden unless you know to click on the tiny carat symbol by the price.

“Service fee”… “facility charge” (keep in mind Live Nation/Ticketmaster owns a lot of these venues)… “order processing fee”… they just make up names for the various line items to make it seem like it’s not all going into their pockets. Don’t be fooled!

But the fees for a club show are chump change compared to the large venue shows like T-Swizzle and Bruce Springsteen. For a Bruce arena show in Columbus, the Ticketbastard “service fee” on a $518 ticket is a whopping $76.65. Oh, and don’t forget that order processing fee of $6. $82.65 for Ticketmaster to perform the same services that they were willing to do for a paltry $14.45 for a club show. Talk about paying the cost to be see the Boss!

(We’ll save the topic of “dynamic pricing” for another post…)

How does Ticketmaster get away with it? You don’t need a top hat and monocle to see the answer:

Apparently the Justice Department has been investigating Live Nation. I say it’s long overdue.

Story is here

They claim the investigation predates the Taylor fiasco, but Taylor’s travails will certainly add a bright, hot spotlight to the investigation. Ticketmaster has been ripping off customers for years… something music fans know “all too well.”

A green wave

The 2022 midterm elections are over (for the most part). So who won the races?

Well, the Democrats will probably still control the Senate… they might pick up one or two extra seats.

The House is still divided, but Republicans will probably have a very slim majority there.

It was the most expensive midterm election ever, according to the non-partisan group Open Secrets. So forget about a “red wave” or a “blue wave”… it was a green wave, and the real winners were political consultants and TV station ad salespeople.

$16.7 billion dollars... to bring us the same gridlock we’ve experienced the past few years.

In Ohio, U.S. Senate candidates J.D. Vance and Tim Ryan combined to spend more than $100 million (if you include outside spending, most of it “dark money” from anonymous sources… which is where the lion’s share of Vance’s money came from). $100 million… for a job that pays $174,000 a year.

Here’s the most telling stat of all:

Outside groups spent about $1.9 billion to influence federal elections through Oct. 31, blowing past the 2018 midterm outside spending record of $1.6 billion, adjusted for inflation. The biggest outside spenders are super PACs aligned with Republican and Democratic congressional leadership. 

Source: https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2022/11/total-cost-of-2022-state-and-federal-elections-projected-to-exceed-16-7-billion/

When candidates get that much cash pouring into their coffers, you know they’re beholden to these special interest groups. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Is your lone-vote voice really being heard over the whir of the money machine?

We need election reform. Get rid of dark money. Truly “drain the swamp” of lobbyists. Put non-partisan citizen panels in charge of redistricting to eliminate the ridiculous gerrymandering that makes most districts “safe” and therefore encourages the most radical elements from both parties to come to the forefront. Institute ranked choice voting to encourage candidates to appeal to a broader swath of their constituents, instead of playing to their base.

Until we do that, it’ll be a green wave every time.

It’s getting dark, too dark to see…

If you don’t think campaign finance reform is long overdue, please read this post from Judd Legum on his Popular Information site. (Which, IMHO, is well worth the subscription, btw.) A few excerpts are below.

One of the most powerful groups in the 2022 midterm elections is the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), the Super PAC controlled by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). 

In September, the SLF spent a total of $82 million on campaign ads. Meanwhile, all Republican Senate campaigns combined spent just $33 million.

But the largest donor, by far, to the SLF is One Nation. Through June 30, 2022, One Nation donated $33.5 million to the SLF. What is One Nation? Like the SLF, One Nation is run by Steven Law, a former Chief of Staff to McConnell. But unlike the SLF, One Nation is organized as a 501(c)4 non-profit organization. That allows One Nation to keep its donors secret. One Nation can collect unlimited donations from corporations and individuals, keep their identities secret, and then pass the money on to the SLF. 

If the same corporations and individuals donated directly to the SLF, their identities would have to be disclosed. It seems that many supporters of the SLF’s efforts are interested in maintaining their anonymity. Donations to 501(c)4 groups are not tax deductible. The only benefit, from a donor perspective, is secrecy.  [emphasis mine – DD]

Republicans have a similar structure to finance their efforts to retake control of the House of Representatives. The dominant Republican Super PAC running ads in House races is the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF). The top donor to the CLF, by far, is the American Action Network, a 501(c)4 non-profit run by the same people as the CLF. Through September 12, 2022, the American Action Network has donated $38.1 million to the CLF this cycle. The people or organizations that are donating to the American Action Network remain secret. 

This tactic is not limited to Republicans. On the Democratic side, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)4 non-profit, donated $57 million to Super PACs supporting Democratic candidates, including Future Forward USA, American Bridge 21st Century, Priorities USA Action, and Unite the Country. The Sixteen Thirty Fund’s direct political involvement appears to have scaled back in 2022, donating about $6 million to date to political committees. The group says it supports legislation that would make political donations more transparent, including bills that would require the Sixteen Thirty Fund to disclose its donors. For now, however, the Sixteen Thirty Fund says it will use “the legal rulebook in place today.”

Let’s run those numbers again. $82 million. $38.1 million. $57 million. All “dark money.” All in secret. It’s a shell game. It’s three-card Monte, and Joe and Jane Citizen lose every time, because the cards are stacked against them.

Undue influence. Burning money on a surfeit of attack ads that fuel the fires of political polarization.

If the goals of these donors were noble, wouldn’t they want to be transparent about it?

One of the comments on the post has it exactly right:

Most people would not want to submit to being controlled by the extremely wealthy & corporations who almost always use their money and influence for their own benefit but not the benefit of the larger good… By basically equating money with free speech, Citizens United was a terrible blow to fairness and democracy in this country… It just keeps getting worse as both parties have to crank up the spending. 

Citizens United was — and is — awful.

Campaign finance reform — and in particular getting rid of dark money — is long overdue. If these wealthy individuals and corporations want to keep pouring millions into political campaigns, they should at least have the guts to put their names to it.

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