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WHAT WOULD A PROGRESSIVE THINK? A union’s probe got kicked to the curb—unless you read Dahlia Lithwick: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JULY 16, 2009

Please, your ladyship—back to the sex: In this morning’s New York Times, Lady Collins decided to stay away from the sex. Bowing low as we sweep our plumed cap, we update our list of her recent topics:

Gail Collins column topics, 2009:
June 20:
John Ensign’s affair.
June 25:
Mark Sanford’s affair.
June 27:
Mark Sanford’s affair.
July 2:
Mark Sanford’s affair.
July 4:
Sarah Palin’s resignation
July 9:
Michael Jackson’s funeral.
July 11: John Ensign’s affair.
July 16: Whatever that dreck is this morning.

Pitiful. In today’s column, Collins tries to discuss the Sotomayor hearings. When we read such pitiful pap, we humbly beseech her ladyship. Your Ladyship! Back to the sex!

Elsewhere in the New York Times, Manny Fernandez offers this striking news report about the darling fourth- and fifth-graders at Blessed Sacrament School in the Bronx—children who wonder if they might be sitting at Sonia Sotomayor’s own desk! Fernandez describes some of their circumstances:

FERNANDEZ (7/16/09): The school, on a beachless Beach Avenue in the Soundview neighborhood, is home to about 280 students during the regular academic year. Nearly 200 are Hispanic. Girls outnumber boys. It is a largely middle-class neighborhood. But this is the Bronx, not the suburbs. Graffiti has scarred mailboxes, traffic signals and the walls and doors of homes and storefronts, and loops of razor wire top parts of the church’s chain-link fences.

Several students live at the Bronxdale Houses. The average household income of city public housing residents is $22,728, and the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit, subsidized by the federal government, is $299, according to the New York City Housing Authority. For students from families who are part of the Blessed Sacrament parish, the annual tuition at the school is $2,900.

Grace Chemi, Blessed Sacrament’s principal, said some parents work two jobs.

“We have a lot of single parents, moms raising children on their own,” Ms. Chemi said. “We also have children being raised by grandparents.”

Jacqueline [Garcia] said both of her parents work hard. “I don’t really see my mom because she works a lot,” she said.

Regarding Jacqueline Garcia, age 8: “Math does not frighten her, “ Fernandez writes. “She wants to be a doctor.”

As our society has grown wealthier, some help for such children has been movin’ on down. See E. J. Dionne’s column today, concerning the drift of Pell Grants. (“In 1976, the year Sotomayor graduated from Princeton, federal Pell Grants for low-income students covered 72 percent of the average cost of a four-year state institution... But by 2003, Pell Grants covered only 38 percent of the cost of attending a state university.”) Over the past three decades, wealthy elites have been reasserting control and historical norms, as Paul Krugman has explained in his columns and books.

Luckily, you’ll never read about such children in columns penned by Lady Collins. Her ladyship typically writes about sex. Then too, there’s that dreck from this morning.

WHAT WOULD A PROGRESSIVE THINK? Forever young! In recent weeks, progressive leaders have given us back our youth! They’ve done this by churning the kind of cant which led us to think about starting this site, back in the mid-1990s.

Sweet cant of youth! Back then, the mainstream press--and the talk-show right—were the ones who played these games. Now, we progressives do it too. To cite one recent example:

On July 3, Sarah Palin announced that she’d be resigning. By that evening, TPM had peddled us this. Our youthful analysts cringed and cried as David Kurtz railed against Palin’s “hagiographers.” Against five people who had dared describe Palin as a “fighter,” that is.

What an outrage! Three people had called her a “fighter” last fall; two more had done so since her resignation announcement! We rubes were supposed to get mad at the way the “hagiographers” keep pimping this gal.

If your IQ is less than 9, you might have purchased this cant.

You see, one of the “hagiographers” from last fall was Mary Mitchell, a rather feisty liberal columnist from the Chicago Sun-Times. In fact, she had called Palin a “street fighter”—and had trashed her every way but blue in the relevant column. (“Palin's on the ticket because she's a woman and she isn't afraid to engage in the Republicans' mean-spirited personal attacks,” the hagiographer noted.) Meanwhile, one of the new “hagiographers” was none other than Meghan Stapleton. As Kurtz noted, Stapleton is Palin’s press spokesperson.

Translation: We liberals are now supposed to get mad when Palin’s spokesperson compliments her! No, we don’t think TPM writers are really that dumb. We’d have to guess that they’re sometimes that lazy—or cynical.

We saw a lot of that nonsense in the 1990s—pimped to gullible conservative rubes, by the likes of Sean Hannity. Now, our own progressive intellectual leaders treat us this way too. They get us mad about sex scandals—and about sheer nonsense like that.

You will never get a progressive politics if your “leaders” treat you this way.

But then, what’s a progressive to think or do in the current environment? This kind of blather is now quite common from our “intellectual leaders.” It’s hard to know what a progressive should think—about that union probe, for example, the one Dahlia Lithwick discussed.

This probe occurred in 1997; let’s change the names to protect the unionized. Long story short:

A firefighters union asked a member to conduct a safety probe of the district’s fire chief. But uh-oh! The member tasked with probing the chief was almost instantly fired! Let’s pretend this (actual) news report came from the Boise Bugle. Let’s pretend it involved a firefighter by the name of “Fred Reynolds:”

BOISE BUGLE NEWS REPORT (8/9/97): As a new firefighter with the South Fire District, Fred Reynolds did all the usual jobs left for rookies. He rolled hose, scrubbed fire engines and took care of equipment.

But Reynolds claims he did much more, teaching other firefighters about handling hazardous materials, extricating people from cars and forcing entry into locked homes.

He thought he was doing well as a probationary employee. He thought his supervisors were pleased.

He found out Friday they weren't.

In a brief meeting at the city firehouse on Randolph Road, the South Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners fired Reynolds at the recommendation of Chief Wayne S. Bartolotta.

Reynolds’ supporters in the local firefighters' union sat through the brief meeting in silence, their expressions a mix of disbelief and bitter disappointment.

[..]

Reynolds had been a probationary firefighter for about eight months. Although new to the South District Fire Department, he has eight years of firefighting experience. He was formerly a career firefighter in Maryland.

Reynolds said he has more than 58 firefighting training certificates, more, he believes, than any other firefighter in the South Fire District.

"I've tried to perform my duties in this department in an honorable way," Reynolds said during the meeting. "I had no knowledge anyone was concerned about my performance."

Reynolds was one of two South District firefighters selected to investigate safety issues when the firefighters union, Local 1073 of the International Association of Firefighters, met in July.

The union was particularly concerned about a July fire at Xavier High School. The small fire was in an area where asbestos was being removed as part of a construction project.

The union wanted to know whether firefighters were properly protected at the scene, sources said. Asbestos is a known carcinogen.

Bartolotta has defended his handling of the Xavier fire scene.

Why did “Fred Reynolds” get fired, a few weeks after the probe began? We don’t have the slightest idea. But any progressive would spot a pattern: The union selects a guy to probe the chief, and then the guy gets fired. Any progressive would be suspicious of that pattern—would tend to sympathize with the guy who got canned while conducting the probe.

Who knows? That may be why Dahlia Lithwick dumped that part of the tale.

“Fred Reynolds,” you see, is really Frank Ricci, the New Haven firefighter who will appear this week at the Sotomayor confirmation hearing. The “Boise Bugle” is really the Hartford Courant, which published that news report on the date we’ve cited. We don’t yet know what Ricci will say when he appears at the hearing; we hope he’ll be sensible and fair. But Lithwick was hacking away last Friday, helping us rubes get pre-angry.

Indeed, note what Lithwick forgot to include when she told this part of Ricci’s story. She jumps to 1998 (nothing wrong with that), when an official state probe cleared the chief of wrongdoing:

LITHWICK (7/10/09): In 1998, Ricci was talking about filing lawsuits again, this time over a dispute with his new employer, Middletown's South Fire District—which had hired him in August of 1997 [sic]. According to a Hartford Courant report of Aug. 11, 1998, Ricci was dismissed from the Middletown fire department after only eight months. He promptly appealed his dismissal, claiming that fire officials had retaliated against him for conducting an investigation into the department's response to a controversial fire. A story in the Hartford Courant dated Aug. 9, 1997, has Ricci vowing "to pursue this to the fullest extent of the law."

In August of 1998, a state Department of Labor investigation cleared Chief Wayne S. Bartolotta of any wrongdoing in the firing. The Aug. 3, 1998, letter from the state Department of Labor indicated that the case was closed with a finding of no violation. “After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the South Fire District did not discriminate against Mr. Ricci." Ricci's response? According to the Courant, Ricci contended "Their decision was political, it has nothing to do with who was right and who was wrong." He told the paper he would "pursue the matter in civil court.”

Why was Ricci fired? We have no idea. But Lithwick forgot to mention the fact that he’d been conducting that investigation on behalf of the union. (This fact was included in the news report she was quoting.) It makes Ricci sound a little kookier if you make it seem like he was probing the chief on his own. And uh-oh! As she continues, Lithwick dumps another Ricci-friendly fact, even as she blubbers and cries about his rude misconduct:

LITHWICK (continuing directly): Ricci also tried to discredit his former boss, Chief Bartolotta, by disparaging his professional credentials. His fight over access to Bartolotta's professional training records was resolved between the two of them a week before the matter was slated to be taken up with the state Freedom of Information Commission, according to a Jan. 13, 1998, report in the Hartford Courant.

Eventually, Ricci made his way back to the New Haven Fire Department, where he famously aced his promotions test, then sued, yet again, in 2004.

Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! Ricci had even tried to “disparage” and “discredit” the boss! No wonder all good upper-class progressives should despise this guy! But what did Lithwick forget to include, as she taught us rubes to sneer at a man who would try to “discredit” a chief? She forgot to say that Ricci’s claim about those training records actually was “taken up by the state Freedom of Information Commission”—and that the commission ruled in Ricci’s favor! Concerning access to those training records, Ricci had been right—and the chief had been wrong. This is part of the (very) short news report Lithwick cited:

HARTFORD COURANT (1/13/98): Ricci had been pushing to see Bartolotta's training history since he was terminated as a probationary firefighter last August. Bartolotta repeatedly refused Ricci's requests.

Bartolotta said Monday he considered Ricci's request an invasion of his privacy. Bartolotta eventually gave Ricci the records he was seeking on Dec. 2, a week before the matter was to be heard before the state's Freedom of Information Commission.

The commission ruled on Dec. 15 that the records were indeed public under the state's Freedom of Information law.

Ricci had been right—and the chief had been wrong—about access to those records. The chief had finally turned them loose, shortly before being forced.

Why did Lithwick drop that fact, even as she boo-hoo-hooed about the way this vile young man had tried to discredit/disparage his boss? We have no idea, of course. But we’ve seen Sean Hannity play such games a million times. This is how low-IQ tribal discourse now works in our culture.

Guess what? There was nothing “wrong” with Sotomayor’s decision in the Ricci case. But there was also nothing “wrong” with the fact that Ricci, and 19 others, challenged that Second Circuit ruling. There’s nothing “wrong” with the fact that Ricci is going to appear before the Judiciary Committee, until such time as he says something foolish—which he hasn’t done yet. Sotomayor, who is an adult, spoke up yesterday on Ricci’s general behalf.

Some believe there is something wrong with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in this case. (We’re not legal eagles ourselves.) Lithwick could have argued that. Instead, she took an easier, dumber, more Hannity-esque approach to Ricci’s forthcoming appearance.

Ricci conducted a probe for the union—and he quickly got fired. He challenged the chief about some records—and in the end, he was judged right. Lithwick seemed to know that facts like those belong in no progressive report! Instead, we’re supposed to get upset that Ricci talked about filing a lawsuit!

Darlings! A vile young man from the working class had dared to challenge a boss—a chief! He’d even tried to disparage his credentials! An amazing amount of pseudo-progressive thought is now shaped by such weird patterns of thought. What should a progressive think about such “intellectual leaders?”

About that original suit: In the end, Ricci didn’t bring a suit about his firing. Lithwick wanted us to be mad just because he’d discussed such a thing.

Earlier in his career, however, the fellow had brought an actual suit—a suit he essentially won. Here’s the way Lithwick explained it. Warning! Snark ahead!

LITHWICK: According to local newspapers, Ricci filed his first lawsuit against the city of New Haven in 1995, at the ripe old age of 20, for failing to hire him as a firefighter. That January, the Hartford Chronicle reported that Ricci sued, saying "he was not hired because he is dyslexic." The complaint in that suit, filed in federal court, alleged that the city's failure to hire Ricci because of his dyslexia violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Frank Ricci was one of 795 candidates interviewed for 40 jobs. According to his complaint, the reason he was not hired was that he disclosed his dyslexia in an interview. That case was settled in 1997 with a confidential settlement in which Ricci withdrew his lawsuit in exchange for a job with the fire department and $11,143 in attorney's fees.

Lithwick snarks at Ricci for daring to file a discrimination suit “at the ripe old age of 20.” Left unclear, especially since he essentially won his claim: The age at which a prole like Ricci is allowed to do such a thing. But something else is left unclear—the basis on which the city decided to settle this case. Had Ricci actually had a good case? On what basis had he complained? As a legal reporter, Lithwick might have shed some light on that (although it’s not clear why we should care). But she didn’t bother.

Lithwick’s piece is designed to make us sneer at Ricci for filing a suit—for even talking about such things. Why are we supposed to get mad about this? Lithwick offers a remarkably thin reed of justification as she starts her piece. In truth, her piece was pure/perfect tribal blather—the kind of blather in which one side is urged to hate those who belong to the other. We’ve seen Hannity do this a million times. Increasingly, our own “intellectual leaders” play this silly game now.

There’s nothing wrong with what Ricci did. There’s nothing wrong with what Sotomayor did. As a matter of fact, there was nothing wrong with any of this—until Lithwick got that fax last Friday from People for the American Way! Increasingly, “intellectual leaders” of the pseudo-left just seem to like running us rubes.

Perhaps we’re all Sean Hannity now! But you’ll never see a progressive politics as long as upper-class simps like Lithwick type in such silly ways.