Archive for June 21st, 2006

Nice guest editorial in today’s Gazette on the minimum wage pointing out the gulf between the Republican-controlled Congress and…well…you and me.

The editorial notes that Congress has recently voted itself a pay raise of $3,300 while effectively striking down a hike in the federal minimum wage:

The House refused to block the $3,300 "cost-of-living adjustment" that will raise congressional pay on Jan. 1 to $168,500 — not counting great health benefits, pensions and perks.

Congressional pay raises between 1997 and 2007 will add up to $34,900. That's more than average workers make in a year.

It would take more than three workers to make $34,900 at the minimum wage stuck at $5.15 an hour — just $10,712 a year — since Sept. 1, 1997.

Essentially the hike was killed in the Senate, where Montana’s junior Senator voted to deny the pay raise. The House hasn’t voted on a wage hike, and probably won’t, but it did pass the House Appropriations Committee, which was a surprise, because it’s controlled by the GOP. Some procedural mess and swift politicking will keep the proposal from a House vote until after the election, but at least the issue arose. In order for it to pass the committee, several Republican Congressmen had to vote in favor of the hike:

Seven Appropriations panel Republicans voted with Democrats to approve the wage hike on a 32-27 vote: John Sweeney and Jim Walsh of New York, Ray LaHood of Illinois, Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania, Bill Young of Florida, and Mike Simpson of Idaho.

Please notice that one particular name is missing from this list, Montana’s Representative Denny Rehberg, who sits on the Appropriations Committee. That’s because he voted against a minimum wage hike.

Knowing that Rehberg voted himself a raise while voting down a minimum wage hike, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Rehberg is an enemy of the middle class. According to a Drum Major Institute (DMI) report, Rehberg has voted consistently against the interests of the bulk of his electorate. The report explains that Congressmen were graded on their support or opposition to legislation that benefits ordinary Americans.

Congress championed the wish lists of oil companies, the insurance industry, and credit card issuers over the concerns of middle-class consumers and small businesses, while making it harder for ordinary citizens to hold corporate wrong-doers accountable. 2005 was the year of the energy bill that ignored the skyrocketing fuel prices burdening the middle class while providing massive tax breaks for profitable energy corporations. It was the year that credit card issuers finally won bankruptcy legislation, squeezing more money from families so overwhelmed by job loss, medical bills and family break-ups that they could not cope with the debt. It was another year when the House passed a bill raising health care premiums for small businesses while allowing insurers to offer health plans with fewer benefits. And to top it off, it was a year when Congress put new obstacles in the path of ordinary citizens trying to hold corporations accountable for defective products, deceptive marketing or unfair employment practices through class action lawsuits.

Rehberg scored an “F” on the report card, voting against the middle class at nearly every opportunity.

In my post yesterday on Net Neutrality, Jason commented:

The Senate version (S. 2686, Communications, Consumers Choice and Broadband Deployment Act) of the bill that Net Neutrality failed to make it into in the House is due for markup in committee on Thursday. Burns is on the committee marking it up.The committee will also have the opportunity to remove a piggyback provision from the bill that would require broadcast flags for digital content, meaning that anything capable of viewing digital content would have to refuse to read anything without it. This would be an infrastructure for controlling content on everything from TVs to PCs. And it has no good reason to be there except that a couple of very powerful lobbying organizations (MPAA, RIAA) are trying to protect their benefactors increasingly obsolete business model.

Burns needs to hear from his constituents before Thursday’s hearing. He’s still our Senator for now.

Montana Jones has a dog in this race: he relies on the Internet for his livelihood. He penned letters to Baucus and Burns, and got a response from Burns’ office:

I completely agree that the Internet should remain an open and neutral medium to conduct commerce and gather information. I generally dislike Internet regulation, but I agree that the concern over large ISPs granting priority to one content provider over another has merit and should be monitored closely. Although it hasn't happened yet, the issue of large ISPs granting exclusive deals with content providers is a serious one and could have drastic effects on Montanans and Montana businesses.As you know, there is a piece of legislation that has been introduced by Sen. Snowe and Sen. Dorgan that addresses the issue of net neutrality. While I fully support the spirit and intent of this bill, I do have some concerns with how it goes about ensuring the Internet remains a free an open forum. I feel that the FCC is in a much better position to protect consumers from abuses regarding the Internet than Congress and would like to see them monitor this situation to make sure large ISPs do not grant exclusive deals and harm consumer's interest. I also have concerns with a blanket 'equal priority' because there could be serious unintended consequences due to the increase in popularity of VoIP and related emergency communication over the Internet. There could be a day when we want to ensure emergency VoIP calls have priority over downloading music or video games.

Sen. Stevens has included language in the telecommunications overhaul of 2006 which will give the FCC the tools they need to closely monitor this issue and quickly act if any large ISPs attempt to make exclusive deals with content providers. I feel this is the best way to solve this potential problem without creating any unintended consequences. Rest assured, I am taking this matter very seriously and am working hard to ensure the Internet remains and open forum and remains an effective and useful tool for Montanans.

Seems to me he’s saying he’s against Net Neutrality, doesn’t it?

One of Burns’ concerns – “…we want to ensure emergency VoIP calls have priority over downloading music or video games…” – is actually addressed in the Net Neutrality amendments presented by Markey in the House and Drogan/Snowe in the Senate. As I posted yesterday, the Net Neutrality amendments ensure that network providers can prioritize the type of information sent, but not discriminate within that type based on company or product or — *gasp* — political affiliation.

Ultimately, Jason is right. Call Burns. Drop him notes. Let him know that Net Neutrality is important to Montanans.

And I still haven’t heard back from Baucus. Neither has Montana Jones. Hello? Baucus, you have a constituency!

It started with a 215-year-old document that historians claim is the oldest reference to baseball, a 1791 ordinance that prohibited anyone playing the game within 80 yards of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, meeting house.

Pittsfield is my birthplace and the county seat of my home town, Lanesborough, where my parents still live.

Like many small towns across the country, Pittsfield is eager to put itself on the map and has audaciously claimed itself the birthplace of baseball, elbowing Cooperstown from the hallowed spot.

The Pittsfield group hopes their find puts to rest once and for all the debate about the game's origins. "Pittsfield is baeball's Garden of Eden," Mayor James Ruberto said.


Pittsfield might be a sensible home for the sport. Some historians have documented "the Massachusetts game" as a precursor to modern baseball, where runners were thrown out if they were hit by a ball.

[Jim] Bouton, whose decade-long career as a pitcher included stints with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros, lives in nearby Egremont and is helping to restore Pittsfield's Wahconah Park, the former home of several minor league teams. He hopes the discovery helps bring attention to the project.

"We thought this was a lucky stroke," said Bouton, whose 1970 book "Ball Four" offered a scandalous look behind the scenes of professional baseball. "I'm sure Pittsfield will live off this for a while."

And this article from the Red Sox’ website has a classic quote by Bouton:

"Cooperstown used to brag about inventing baseball in 1839. Heck, by 1791, baseball was already a nuisance in Pittsfield."

Naturally, the city and county are doing everything to promote the idea that baseball was born in Pittsfield. Enter the “Art of the Game” project:

[Pittsfield’s] rich [baseball] heritage will be celebrated the next couple of years by Art of the Game, an art and baseball project produced by a unique collaboration of public organizations and private groups, including The Berkshire Eagle. Front and center are 100 large and imaginatively decorated plastic baseball gloves, 80 of which are in Pittsfield, with 42 of those on North Street. The gloves, as different from one another as snowflakes, are in the tradition of the colorful sheep from the city's popular Sheeptacular exhibit.The Art of the Game also features 23 baseball-related works by local artists and a storefront exhibit of baseball art, "Windows on Baseball," will be exhibited later this summer. The project details can be found on the Art of the Game Web site at

My old man, a natural-born curmudgeon, finds the whole promotional project faintly ludicrous. So just yesterday he wrote me about a letter he wanted to write to the county paper, the Berkshire Eagle, with an idea on how the city could further its claim as the incubator of ideas for our nation’s pastime. The letter would combine my dad’s belief in the inherent laziness of baseball players and his disdain for Pittsfield’s “Art of the Game” project:

I think we should go further and make the next development in the future of baseball and change the rules to operate like the NFL, i.e. offense and defensive teams. If the footballers can be so out of shape that they need to go to the sidelines to sniff oxygen after a hard 20 yard run, baseball players should have their rest as well. I am proposing a defensive (fielding) team of 9 players, and another nine offensive (batters) players to do the hitting. When this concept takes off, we (Pittsfield) can take credit for that as well. After all it is only taking the DH role a little further. What do you think??

Do you think the readers would take me seriously?

Pops: (a) I think it’s a terrible idea. (b) Yes, people would take you seriously. It might be worth submitting, though, just to read the responses from subsequent letter writers.

Ultimately, I admire my old man’s pluck and ironic approach to sports. He enjoys watching the games more to criticize the players’ energy and performance than for the outcome. To him sports isn’t about the competition, but the execution of the players’ soldierly roles. He mocks the games as he watches. After all, this is a man who drafted his fantasy World Cup squad (yes, we’re pathetic) based on alphabetical order. His roster includes the three Als, the Saudis Mohammed Al Anbar, Mohammed Al Deaya, and Hamad Al Montashari. He may be last in our league, but it’s fun checking his results every morning.

Sure he’s playing the game, but with a little contempt for it as well.

Let's hope that he submits the letter. If so, we'll be sure to follow its progress here on 4&20…


Burns’ disapproval rating going through the roof. It’s now at 60 percent. Yes, you read that right. Sixty percent.

Wonder why we’ve been seeing warm weather the past couple years?

Suskind claims that the US deliberately bombed Kabul’s al-Jazeera office.

More right-wing blogger attacks on families of fallen soldiers.

And all the trumpeting and strutting and chest-thumping by the GOP last week on Iraq didn’t fly with the American people.

John at Blogenlust thinks Dems shouldn’t frame an Iraqi policy around troop withdrawal. I’m torn on this: after all, we broke the d*mn place. On the other hand, would staying accomplish anything? This question probably deserves its own post.

The Brits, however, have started their withdrawal.

What does it say about the Bush presidency that most of the world views the US as big a threat to world peace as Iran? Which is probably why al Qaeda wanted Bush re-elected in 2004.

The top three GOP ’08 presidential candidates are adulterers. Maybe social conservatives should mull that over before attacking lefty politicos for their pecadillos.

White House pal of Abramoff – David Safavian – convicted. Let’s hope the Abramoff net catches some local fish.

Another AT&T spy room, this time in St. Louis. They’re cropping up like mushrooms.

University of Montana men’s basketball coach, Larry Krystkowiak, is leaving for an assistant’s position in the NBA. It seemed inevitable, but it would’ve been nice to have one more year together.

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