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Samuel Alito, "Ghetto" Italians, and corporate-sponsored gas
[Posted 10 January 2006]

Last year, I had a contract IT (computer) assignment in New York, and was looking for an apartment. A friend suggested that I try a neighborhood in Staten Island, saying it was an old Mafia area. She thought the neighborhood was a safer area because people were afraid of the old Mafia guys.

I told her that my Italian last name didn't mean that I wanted to live anywhere near Mafia guys. I never liked those "tough guy" Italians. The Italians in my family were super-nice people, a lot of school teachers and musicians.

Then, there was last year's Columbus Day Parade. Aside from honoring an explorer who opened the Americas to MASSIVE GENOCIDE, I was especially offended by a newspaper article calling Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia a "Paisan," and praising him for marching in the Columbus Day Parade in the Big Apple. Antonin Scalia? Paisan? More like, sell-out. Scalia is an embarrassment to Italians, not anyone to be proud of. He's in the pocket of George Duh-bya Bush and big corporations -- eliminating our Constitutional rights whenever possible, approving sweeping powers for the Executive branch of government and protecting corporations at the expense of everyone else -- in other words, a sold soul. Some may even say a police state or dictatorship advocate. Gotta wonder if he loves Mussolini or something... He sure doesn't seem to be in love with the US Constitution.

Now that another crazy Italian has been nominated to the Supreme Court, I'm trying to think of a term to disown them. I've met plenty of Italians I wouldn't want to identify with over the years -- half of those were on the Long Island Railroad, I think. You know the types -- guys whose life goals are pretty much drinking beer and watching football. And supporting George Duh-bya Bush because they're too lazy to read the news, can't be bothered with more than 5 minutes of TV blather, believing it all because educating themselves takes more work than drinking beer and watching football. Yeah, I can't support senseless stupidity just because an Italian is doing it.

Yet I can't think of an appropriate word to disown Italians in a way that makes people understand WHY they're disowned. Yes, there are always words like sleazebags or scumballs, but those are generic terms that could apply to non-Italians as well. Common words don't begin to address the issue of people expecting intelligent folks like myself to support and even admire COMPLETE MORONS just because they're covered by the broad ethnic umbrella of Italian-Americans. The only term that comes to mind is something used in the African-American community -- namely, the word "Ghetto."

Let me give a couple of examples as to how the term "Ghetto" is used. Back in the 90s, I was working at the Help Desk for Prudential's Medical division in Woodland Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles. I'll describe some of the company politics for my fellow corporate techies, just because bad company politics are always kind of interesting. The manager, Ron, was kept in meetings all day by Prudential's management, and so I was the Technical Lead Analyst, the manager of the Help Desk in Ron's absence. During our tenure there, the FANTASTIC manager of the IT Department decided to take a job at Coast Savings and Loan. Because Prudential was too cheap to pay its regular employees the market rate for IT (Information Technology/Computer) techies, the old manager was able to steal some of the better technicians from Prudential, to work for him at Coast Savings and Loan. I made it clear that I wanted to stay at Pru's Help Desk with Ron, because having a boss that nice was really rare in my career. But one of the Help Desk techies took a job at Coast, and another one of our techies quit for some other reason, maybe was offered a better job, which left a couple of openings. Now, Ron was African-American, and if I was Ron's right-hand "man," then another African-American, Tony, was my right-hand man. I could count on Tony to walk people through fixing their own computer problems quickly, and he always did a good job no matter what the task. Our Help Desk, by the way, was a picture of efficiency, partly thanks to the ticket system/knowledge base that Ron and I had developed on our own. But the job openings in the Help Desk meant that Ron had to hire a couple of new guys, and he made the mistake of being too nice, giving a couple of unqualified "black brothers" a "chance."

The 2 new guys he hired were OK I guess -- one was trying to do his best -- but they really didn't have the skills, and were starting to irritate employees who called the desk. Our Help Desk supported thousands of Prudential employees with only 6 technicians at the desk, with backup technicians from other departments within IT for in-person help (Desktop Support techies, Network techies, Client Server techies). The desk was extremely high volume, and you had to be both good and fast to handle your job as call after call was automatically forwarded to your extension.

One day, an employee complained about one of the newer technicians. Ron talked to the new techie about it, and then went back into meetings. The newer technician then told me that he was going to "talk to" the woman who'd made the complaint. I was shocked. You just didn't confront "customers" (the employees we served) in a professional corporate environment like Prudential's. It could be considered harassment. I warned him that he'd better be careful, because he could easily be fired if he said the wrong thing or even if the woman took it the wrong way.

When the new tech was out of the room I mentioned my concerns to Tony, who said he couldn't believe it. Tony assured me that he'd talk to the new tech about it. Then he gave me his assessment of the new techie's plans -- "GHET-TO". I had to laugh. "Ghetto" wasn't hard to figure out -- it meant someone who used street behavior in the work place, wasn't professional or educated. "I went to college, I know," he said.

Tony was something else. Aside from being great at his job in a strict and demanding corporate workplace like Prudential (the 13th largest corporation in America at the time), he'd even resisted baseball scouts when they wanted to take his son out of regular private school. Tony wouldn't put up with his child neglecting studies, said that baseball shouldn't be his kid's only option. I don't know what Tony said to the new techie, but amazingly the new guy wasn't fired after that. Must've worked, whatever it was.

Before I move onto the next example of "Ghetto," I should finish the story of Coast Savings and Loan's plundering of Prudential employees, and Pru's subsequent downward service spiral. After the old manager stole most of the better employees, service went way down. As Ron pointed out, because the first point of contact was the Help Desk, the Help Desk was blamed for everything. If the network went down for a while because of server failure, it was perceived to be the Help Desk's fault. Plus the two new technicians started to give us a bad reputation among those employees who reached them. And so the Help Desk was outsourced to a company in Texas, which was a disaster. It was a lot like the Help Desks in India these days, only the accent wasn't quite as bad. I wasn't immediately terminated from Prudential, because they wanted to keep me on for other things, but the place they sent me was awful. Back in the 90s, Prudential had lost a big lawsuit because of certain sales people who sold "upgrades" on life insurance to people, basically robbing existing customers of the value of their old life insurance policies. Another way of saying it is that Pru's salesmen ripped the old people off on their life insurance. I was working at the medical division, but all of the people I worked with felt bad about that. We were just employees, there for a paycheck, and didn't support any behavior that cheated customers out of their benefits.

Well, guess where I was sent after the Help Desk? To the department handling a huge optical-scan database of documents pertaining to the lawsuit -- the same lawsuit that Prudential had LOST because of the life insurance scams. The first day I went to the new department, they were in the process of losing a SERVER full of documents. For those non-techies who don't understand how much a server holds, that's like a WAREHOUSE full of records burning down, and there were actually warehouses of physical records burning down pertaining to the same lawsuit in months prior to this little incident. The Network Administrator in charge of that server -- some self-aggrandizing kid with a really crappy attitude -- claimed to have also lost the backup of that server at the same time, by rebooting in the middle of a restore. This little failure didn't seem to bother his boss in the slightest, who smirked when he told her about it. It seemed pretty fishy to me, but I was only in charge of helping another guy with broken folders and whatnot. My job there lasted a few WEEKS before I called Ron at his new job, asking to ACCEPT his ongoing offer of a job at his new company. Finally Ron came through with a job, and I could leave the big mess at Prudential.

By that time, the bigger manager (the one who smiled over losing a server) and I weren't getting along because of that young kid who lost the server. Aside from perpetually lying about long hours he was working (even when I was there late to see that he hadn't) and complaining loudly about everyone else in the company, one day he almost hit my head with a football he was tossing around the office. The manager laughed it off when I told her about the football near-miss, but I was tired of being terrorized by the man, his football, and various other projectiles he launched around the office while talking loudly about what a genius he was. He and his department were so substandard in comparison to Ron's Help Desk that I couldn't believe I was in the came company, and the only reason I'd stayed at Prudential was because Ron was such a good manager. I didn't want to stick it out at Pru to work with a complete idiot, and so I moved onto the next job. A couple of years later, I heard from an employee who'd stayed at Prudential -- the medical division where we'd worked went bust about a year later, and was sold to Aetna. The IT Department was dire after the Help Desk left, and the new IT manager (not an IT guy at all -- just another manager who'd worked his way up from the Mail Room) had brought in a bunch of inexperienced techs from New Jersey and elsewhere. Of course any bad IT department puts a drag on worker productivity, plus an underwriter confided that Pru's Senior Care program was losing money. Well, if I could see the decline, upper management should have seen it too. I don't feel sorry for them.

That's Prudential's "Ghetto" story. Amazingly, another example of the term "Ghetto" came from another computer job at yet another medical insurance company. This time, the sad part is that it was an insurance company serving "celebrities" -- musicians and TV workers, mostly. It was called AFTRA H&R, for American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Health & Retirement (formerly affiliated with the AFTRA union, but now a separate entity). AFTRA H&R is one of these places that you'd expect to really have its act together, because it serves celebrities. Unfortunately, it doesn't.

First of all, a couple of years ago, their Finance Director managed to steal 1.36 MILLION dollars from the fund (a fund that finances retirement & medical benefits for radio & TV workers -- rock stars, news anchors and whatnot), and the huge amount of missing money wasn't detected until auditors found it. Then, the probe into the theft apparently only addressed the Finance Director who stole the money, not the issues of poor oversight or negligence. Only the Finance Director went to jail. The Executive Director at the time was happy to say that insurance would cover the loss to the fund, but claimed a lack of safeguards and just plain ignorance as to how the man managed to embezzle so much without attracting her interest. I can't recall working for a company where the CFO or any other accountant could steal so much money without detection. Usually the chief accountant is responsible to the owner/executive for a full accounting of finances on a regular basis. (As an aside to any existing members, as a former employee I'd strongly suggest that you keep every scrap of paper documenting your retirement contributions & medical benefits. Maybe I'll detail some of the reasons for that later in this article -- basically dealing with the potential for paperless document destruction mentioned in the Prudential story above. Personally, I wouldn't keep my money there, and don't even like having my name on their database as a former member because their data security is so loose.)

Back to the main story. When I arrived a couple of years ago, AFTRA's IT Department was a bunch of servers and cables strewn around a back room in a bigger mess than I recall seeing at any of my previous companies. But there was a good reason for the clutter -- one Network Administrator was handling almost everything, along with one assistant who was basically a Computer Operator running checks and other reports. Jason was one of these super-techies who WAS the company network -- overworked, underpaid, missing time with his family because of late nights at AFTRA. For an organization that large, I was amazed that one man could even handle it. But I have occasionally seen one-man shows who know their networks so well that they can keep it together for their company. There have been times in my life when I was that super-techie.

Eventually, though, most super-techies burn out and leave a company, often deciding it isn't worth the trouble when someone starts abusing them. And when they leave a company, they're the last person to go it alone. It always takes more than one person to replace them. I was hired just at the beginning of this process -- trouble started to brew for Jason. First, boxes of pre-printed checks arrived with duplicate numbers. I'm not sure if that's what caused the printing failure, but the computer operator of 6 years suddenly ran 2 batches of checks with jumps in the numbers, i.e. the numbers on the computer-generated printing and the numbers on the pre-printed checks didn't match about halfway through the run, and most of the checks had to be destroyed and re-printed. It was a big mess, but the employee running the job had been there 6 years. Despite the employee's longevity, for some reason Jason was pressured into firing his only assistant. In the former employee's place, two employees were hired -- a young help desk analyst just out of college, and then me. The check printing was outsourced to another company, and so we were available to help Jason handle his overwhelming job.

But as soon as I was hired, I was given away. Another manager wanted me to help write the company's HIPAA Security Policies, and so Jason was down to one assistant. While working for another manager, I heard that Jason was being abused by both a subcontractor and management within the organization. He started looking for another job, but helped AFTRA hire his replacement and tried to then train that new Network Administrator. I was involved somewhat in this process, as I was documenting server information and a few other procedures for the Network Administrator who replaced Jason.

Now, here's where Jason makes the same mistake as Ron at the Prudential help desk. There are plenty of fantastic African-American techies out there. Look at Tony from Prudential, or Jason from AFTRA, even a super-techie I worked with briefly at Con Edison, whose e-mail address I retain just in case I need to hire a Network Admin in the near future. But hiring a techie to give an African-American brother a break... Well, Jason had to learn that lesson. It was a fatal error. Not only did the new Network Admin continue to blame Jason for every problem months after Jason was gone, but there were servers failing without backup, power outages without enough UPSes to let the servers shut down properly, and things that no decent techie would EVER allow to happen. And this was after the new guy had months to supposedly bring things up to IT standards. AND, he'd been given yet another assistant -- he hired another African-American male, apparently pre-existing friends or relatives, judging by their close relationship.

Meanwhile, I was writing company policy. At first I took the new Network Admin seriously, thinking Jason had hired him, therefore he must be good. And so I'd ask for his input on the new policies. Now, there wasn't a lot of room for change in the HIPAA Security Policies. HIPAA had a Federal deadline, and was governed by Federal law meant to replace state law on the security of health care records. Specifically, HIPPA's Security Rule (vs. its Privacy Rule, dealing largely with paper records) dealt with ELECTRONIC security -- the Federal government was trying to prevent the massive leaks of private information that could only be possible in the computer age. We had a HIPAA consultant from Vermont who was an authority on HIPAA, who basically wrote the policies for us. He'd write a policy, telling me what points to cover in the procedure, and then I'd modify his policy and write the procedures to be specific to AFTRA. Because the HIPAA consultant was such an expert, about the only thing I could add was a knowledge of standard corporate procedures from all of the huge corporate IT Departments where I'd worked in the past -- some very impressive names, I might add. And so I'd throw together some standard policies -- things that places like Prudential and Disney had in place 10 years ago -- and sometimes would run them by the new Network Admin for his input. Unfortunately, his input was basically that he didn't want any extra security, or any extra work at all.

For example, he didn't want expiring passwords. At the time, no one's passwords expired, and there were rarely restrictions like a mix of letters and numbers -- something that's expected these days in any company, in order to make passwords harder to guess by hackers. (Keep in mind that celebrities' information is involved here -- social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, financial and medical information that a lot of people would love to have, or love to sell.)

He also didn't want logins to expire after a certain amount of inactivity, e.g. computers logging off automatically when employees left their desk for more than 30 minutes. At the time, I could wander around after hours and see just about any program open and available on employees' computers, logged in under various employees' IDs. (Keep in mind that the cleaning staff often propped the doors open at night, so this information wasn't necessarily secured from non-employees.) We're talking LISTS of celebrity social security numbers and other sensitive information displayed on computer screens, at various locations in the company, UNATTENDED after 5 p.m. Without expiring logins, the only thing stopping this practice would have been employee education, but the new Admin was completely opposed to educating staff about network security, or even sending an e-mail on the topic.

Backing him up was a highly suspicious MIS Director who was absolutely hostile to IT security -- a highly prejudiced and abusive older Japanese man, who thought his job was to FIGHT Federal regulations and HIPAA, not comply with them. The MIS Director was pretty bad all around, from ramblings at MIS/IT Department meetings slandering just about everyone in the company, to poison-pen e-mails calling an Administrative Assistant "crazy" simply because she dared to follow instructions from HR, saying that IT workers must punch in and out at the start and end of their work days like everyone else in the company. (This was something he strongly opposed for some reason. He fought it by having another Admin. Assistant falsify records for the male techies -- "the guys" as he called them -- clocking the men in ontime and logging them off an hour late each day, when often they were hours late in the morning and rarely really worked late. Meanwhile, I, the lone female, actually had to punch in and out with real times.) The MIS Director also used ethnic references like "the Korean kid," bad-mouthed every woman in the company who had any authority, got a long-time employee (the Director of Operations) demoted because the MIS Director didn't like being responsible to this Operations Director, and so much more... This same MIS Director called me a "cop" for simply writing the company policies I was hired to write, despite the obvious need for improvement in his incredibly insecure network, not to mention a rapidly approaching Federal deadline for those policies. I thought this was highly unusual, and honestly -- coupled with the stolen money in the past, the company going "paperless" in the midst of lost data, and system corruption -- almost criminal. I don't recall ever working in a company where management was so HOSTILE to new government regulation. At the larger corporations I've worked with, the only questions asked were how big is the budget to deal with this, and what's our plan to COMPLY with these new regulations. Fighting them isn't an option -- that's a political lobbyist's job, if the fight was considered worth it. Most of the time, if the technology is there to protect people, you'd better be using it anyway, or the civil courts would find you when something eventually DID go wrong.

But I was just there to write policies & procedures, do some technical documentation, and help them out with a PC database product that seemed to need a lot of support for some reason. So I continued to do my job. Yet true to the abusive environment that had driven my former boss out of the company, the harassment started, and then escalated.

Long and highly suspicious story short, the new Network Admin became extremely abusive toward me for no apparent reason other than my role in writing the new policies. He'd say things like "Pam, you'll be the death of me" when I'd bring the subject of new policies up. He'd also threaten my job, even though he wasn't my manager and had no hiring or firing authority, saying that a person (namely, me) who thought we needed the new HIPAA Security Policies had no place at AFTRA. And true to form, his sidekick, the new assistant who had almost no interaction with me, suddenly was hostile toward me as well.

This culminated in what I'd call "corporate-sponsored gas." The new Network Admin AND his new assistant decided to walk past my desk dozens of times a day, parading back and forth over and over again for no apparent reason, until they'd pass gas. After a while, I realized it was an ongoing harassment scheme, and so I brought an old fan in, a machine called "The Blizzard." It was an especially powerful fan, purchased at an office supply store, fairly expensive for a fan at the time. The Blizzard kept most of the smell away despite the two men's frequent and unexplained stops in and around my cubicle, while passing gas. Sometimes the Network Admin's assistant would stop there to make personal calls from my telephone, despite having his own phone at his own desk. Eventually, there were certain days where the smell was just intolerable, and I'd have to get up and wander around for a while. After MONTHS of putting up with this kind of abuse, aside from the slander and regular abuse from the MIS Director (who'd managed to fire 8 or 9 people in less than a year, out of department of about 10, including temps -- all the while throwing around more abuse than I could possibly document here, especially toward women), I finally said something to the HR Department. They never took a single measure to monitor or relieve the harassment.

One day the smell made working intolerable, and the HR Director was out. By this time, I was tired of having to wander around the company doing nothing for half the day, and decided to mention it to the Executive Director. It was a risky move, but HR wasn't doing anything, and the harassment made it very unpleasant to work at all. Instead of taking it seriously, the Executive Director was instantly hostile, claiming that the Network Admin, the MIS Director, and their assistant couldn't possibly be harassing anyone. (Keep in mind that the MIS Director had sent e-mails around the company slandering people, and the HR Director mentioned she was AWARE OF THEM when I'd brought them up weeks earlier. So was the Executive Director really kept out of the loop about her Director's bad behavior, or did she just have the habit of looking the other way when employees were being harassed... or when people were stealing millions of dollars from the retirement fund?) I was fired within a few days of mentioning the problem to the Executive Director -- the same older woman in place while the former Finance Director embezzled over a million dollars from the company. This was nothing more than retaliation for a complaint of harassment, which I've been told is illegal in New York State. (Notably, I was the only woman in the IT Department until the week that I was fired, when they hired a new female temp just days before letting me go.)

I did manage to get a few things done for AFTRA's members before I left, though. Despite the MIS Director bad-mouthing me to the HR Director and Operations Director so much that those two employees (otherwise seemingly honest workers) told me that they could see his point that I was a "cop" for writing the new policies, I managed to get most of the policies I wanted signed by the same Executive Director who later had me fired. And then the Operations Director authorized me to hold employee classes on the new policies, basically training every company employee on them. I accomplished this miracle simply by NOT running things past the Network Administrator or MIS Director after they displayed so much hostility. It wasn't necessary to include them anyway, since the Operations Director and Executive Director were in charge of the new policies, and were familiar with the type of rules typically included in any company policy. The Director of Operations and AFTRA's Attorneys struck down a few points, but by the time the MIS Director saw them, the policies were written. Then, when the MIS Director complained to me, I told him that similar policies were standard IT policies on the books at most other companies 10 years ago -- why couldn't he handle 10-year-old standards in the industry? He finally admitted to the other Directors that there was nothing in the new policies that he couldn't comply with. Yeah, sometimes I actually care about my job enough to do the right thing. Plus I never like to do a half-assed job, even when I'm in a really half-assed company. I always try to keep at least a minimum standard when circumstances allow it. And the unaddressed harassment made it pretty clear that I wouldn't be there long enough to worry about my job anyway, especially with so many good techies being fired around me for no apparent reason.

In other words, the password requirements, expiring logins, encryption, and many other standard security measures were approved by AFTRA's counsel, signed by the Executive Director, and on the books when I left the company. The MIS Department may not follow any of them, but at least AFTRA's polices are no longer Dark Ages IT. Their HIPAA Security Policies are almost exactly what their consultant wanted, with watered-down versions of Prudential's policies used as the model for corresponding procedures. (Keep in mind that Prudential's procedures were a million times stricter than AFTRA's policies though -- and Prudential's were in existence AND strictly followed ten years earlier, before HIPAA was even written or passed into law.) If AFTRA actually follows its new policies and procedures in the future (who can tell if THAT will ever happen), AFTRA's data should be SOMEWHAT secure.

But policies won't protect the data from insider theft or negligence, and it makes me pretty nervous when a company like that tries to go paperless. While I was there, I also worked on correcting data errors for their planned paperless medical claims system. Meanwhile, there was a simple power failure (something that happens to any company several times a year). Because there weren't enough UPSes (supposedly unknown to the Network Admin, who'd been working on those servers for months prior), no one at the weekly IT meeting could assure the MIS Director that there wasn't data corruption across all of their databases and other systems. Plus their optical scan database was constantly going down because the server was too small, and neither the Network Admin nor his pricey consultants were able to configure a larger space well enough to keep that particular server from bringing the network down periodically. So who knows how many scanned documents and other data may have been lost so far? Doing a comparison with old data backups wasn't even considered at the IT meeting dealing with the lack of UPSes and power failure. (By the way, the MIS Director said that UPSes are "very expensive," and therefore they wouldn't be able to afford enough of them. HUH? UPSes are pretty cheap these days, and that guy spent money on all kinds of silly projects.) That's a convenient way to lose records, isn't it? And with no paper backup. (I'm not even covering servers that failed under the new Network Admin, some without backups -- with partial data recovery due to luck only.) Good thing I don't have money in the fund, because the only person overseeing the MIS Director is an Executive Director who already missed the Finance Director's million-dollar theft scheme.

In the end, AFTRA was a miserable place to work all-around, and so it was almost a relief to be fired. I felt sorry for most of the employees left behind, on top of the celebs who think the organization is keeping their data safe somehow. One thing that impressed me as almost comical was their coffee situation. They paid for coffee on the 7th floor, where their executives had offices, but not on the 8th floor, where most of the other employees worked. And so I decided to buy coffee for the 8th floor, because buying pre-made coffee for myself daily at a deli or Starbuck's was just as expensive as coffee from the grocery store for everyone. A couple of times, we were almost out of sugar or creamer, and so I'd send an e-mail around the office saying that I was sorry, but couldn't get to the store again until after the weekend. I'd then receive e-mails from management saying that they did indeed buy coffee for employees, and they didn't like the implication that someone other than AFTRA was buying the coffee. Well, I was buying the coffee, so what did they want me to do, lie to everyone? Eventually, the Mail Room Manager (one of the women constantly slandered by the MIS Director, because she was a woman of some authority and longevity within the company) decided to start ordering coffee for us. I still had to buy the sugar and creamer, though. And management's excuse for not buying coffee for the 8th floor? That no one was willing to make it. Well, let me tell ya, people were making it even when we were down to only half a packet of coffee, and they had to put up with coffee as weak as tea until more was ordered. There was even a super-nice lady who'd make coffee for everyone before I was scheduled to come into the office mornings, and she made it EVERY DAY. I could barely keep up with coffee consumption by the time the mailroom started ordering it, and was grateful for the boost in purchasing power. Lugging those big cans of coffee on the subway wasn't a picnic, either.

Also, there were rarely snacks for employees, for example doughnuts or other treats you'd find provided occasionally in other companies. Management said they couldn't buy snacks for employees because they were a government-regulated fund and their expenditures were closely watched. (So tell me again how the accountant managed to steal over $1 million, when even doughnut expenses would be disallowed?) But lack of funds aren't an excuse for management. I wasn't a manager there, but I could still afford a periodic $20+ purchase of Dagoba chocolate bars for my fellow IT staff -- a brand they really enjoyed by the way, with the lavender and rose infusions making the chocolate extra yummy. So why couldn't other managers occasionally buy doughnuts for their departments? AFTRA rarely did anything special for its employees.

And their celebrity members didn't get anything special that I could see. Aside from not wanting to take extra security precautions (much less even standard precautions) with data because it involved celebrities, AFTRA denied certain treatments like everyone else in the insurance industry. I was also present at meetings where standard insurance talk went on, sometimes saying essentially that they resented bending their rules for members because of "who they [their members] are." Namely, they didn't like the fact that some of their members had the power to mention any bad experiences with AFTRA on their TV show the next day. They did bend the rules a few times because of this particular concern. In the end, they were just insurance people, nothing special there.

But it's time to get back to the term "Ghetto." There I was in New York, thousands of miles away from Prudential in Southern California, and nearly ten years later. Yet as soon as I told one of my African-American friends about the gas-passing co-workers and other ordeals at AFTRA, the first word out of his mouth was "GHETTO!" The term was applied in the same way as at Prudential. Basically, "ghetto" meant the people in question couldn't handle being professional, had to use street tactics like threats and abuse.

And the term is applied so consistently and confidently -- people using it know exactly what they mean, and don't feel threatened by it in the least. I think Italian-Americans need a similar term for unworthy Italians, too. At minimum, I don't want any Italian telling me that I have to support some crazy sell-out just because his ancestors were from Italy. Alito and Scalia were NEVER appointed because they represent anything wonderful. Their appointments were granted because they're political EXTREMISTS who will do the bidding of power-hungry politicians and money-hungry corporations. There's nothing to be proud of there -- if anything, there should be shame. Italian-Americans need to learn something from African-Americans here. I've never heard any African-Americans praising Clarence Thomas. Maybe they do exist, but I've never come across a single person who said that he or she admired Clarence Thomas because of his ancestry, or for any other reason. So why would anyone feel proud of Alito and Scalia? Being proud of sold souls like Scalia and Alito is like praising any other person who prostitutes his soul for money, power, or a place in history -- even a really bad place in history, as anyone affiliated with the Bush Administration provides. Their ideology matches that of the war criminals who appointed them. Is that anything to be proud of? Stealing an election for a MORON?

And that's how you get appointed to the Supreme Court -- not by being at the top of your field, or being intelligent, or being anything other than willing to cover for the criminals who appointed you. The kind & generous type of Italian (like my father) DOESN'T get appointed to the Surpeme Court.

Alito has the added distinction of being appointed at a time meant to deflect attention from Libby's indictment on watered-down charges, as well as serving the purpose of REDUCING representation of women and minorities on the high court. The humiliation of good Italians aside, the danger with Alito is allowing our rights to slip away. That's the problem with "ghetto" quality Italians of national power -- instead of abusing one co-worker with corporate-sponsored gas (which is bad enough), MILLIONS of people suffer with every bad ruling the Supreme Court makes.

Of course, the most prominent right Alito threatens is the right of a woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. There are so many arguments pro and con that I'm not going to cover them, except for saying that a majority of women want that right to remain on the books, whether or not they intend to use it. Despite Bush's view of the world, this includes a lot of Republican women -- just about everyone except a small number of extremists. O'Connor recognized this right, probably because she was a WOMAN, mentioning in one of her decisions that society imposes a huge commitment on the part of the woman to carry a pregnancy to term, and it was the woman's individual right to make a decision on whether to make that commitment. It's basically the issue of a woman's right to control her own body, to decide whether to reproduce, when and with who, whether or not her body can be used as a baby machine for a rapist and such.

Yes, Bush did try to appoint a woman prior to Alito -- a woman who he thought would swing his way on issues. But she didn't have any experience on the bench. Even for a right-winger like Harriet Meier, Republicans in the Senate weren't buying it. And so instead of appointing a different woman who was actually qualified, Bush decided to just go for another crazy Italian, no doubt hoping for another wingnut like Scalia. The fact is, being a woman makes a difference for women, and Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, by design so that they can make rulings without having to answer to the other two branches of government. That's why Justice David Souter was able to rule that we DID have the right to have our votes counted in the 2000 election, despite being appointed by the elder Bush. Republican Senators don't want to take that chance this time around -- they want crazy ultra-conservative white males on the court only.

There are a number of other issues concerning women, including civil rights, equal pay, all sorts of things we now take for granted in our legal system -- now in grave danger thanks to Bush and his new appointee. And there are plenty of other issues that Bush and Cheney are counting will swing their way with Alito, or else Alito wouldn't have been appointed. Bush wants sweeping Presidential powers, the right to torture, spy on citizens, make war anywhere and anytime he wants, hold political prisoners indefinitely, perhaps reinstate slavery, ban elections -- anything is possible when you own the Supreme Court, right? At the moment, the balance is tipping into the crazy zone, so don't be surprised as the country falls apart and into a dictatorship of the terminally ruthless and unintelligent.

And so, I'll NEVER be PROUD of "Ghetto" Italians like Alito and Scalia. They're only appointed because they reside in the wingnut zone, willing slaves for their ruthless and greedy masters -- NOT because of any intelligence, moral character, or credentials. Anyone who cares about America and its system of Constitutional law would demand better for the Supreme Court, regardless of ethnic background.

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