Federal Times Blogs

Daily Show: GSA’s lame trinkets ‘a disgrace to corruption’

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Last night, the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart weighed in on the General Services Administration’s conference spending scandal and zeroed in on what may be its most appalling angle: The sheer lameness of the crap GSA bought with $822,000 in taxpayer dollars. Said an outraged Stewart:

Canteens, clowns and bicycles? You’re in Vegas! Unless those canteens were filled with cocaine [...], you are a disgrace to corruption everywhere. I think I’m less upset about the waste of money than I am with the waste of opportunity.

[...] Yearbooks! They got yearbooks! The people in government known for efficiency and cost-cutting made sure they had physical evidence of the boondoggle they had in Vegas.

Stewart then shows a mock yearbook photo of former GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and dubbed her “Most likely to resign over an event that betrays an almost comical misunderstanding of the agency’s mission.”

The language, though bleeped, gets pretty salty at times, so be warned.

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Friday Fun: Saxophones, elephants and ‘AFGE and Me’

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The American Federation of Government Employees today dug up a gem of a recruitment video from its archives. Behold: “AFGE and Me.”

It’s got literally everything one could hope for. Saxophone riffs paired with footage of union members playing a cheap toy sax. Elephants and horse-riding Border Patrol agents. Hawaiian shirts. Astronauts. Little kids. And best of all, a maddeningly addictive earworm of a chorus.

It looks and sounds 80′s-tastic, but AFGE spokesman Tim Kauffman says it was actually made around 1994. So, who wants to make the inevitable dubstep remix?

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Defense employee raps in Pizza Hut Super Bowl ad

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Keep an eye on the Super Bowl ads this Sunday, feds, because you might see one of your own. The Washington Post reports that David Johnson, a switchboard operator at the Defense Department, will be rapping about the joys of Pizza Hut pies in the company’s 30-second spot.

Johnson won Pizza Hut’s Top This! contest with a rap he wrote. Pizza Hut then flew him first-class to Santa Monica to record it over a track built from samples of the company’s old “makin’ it great!” jingle. I think my favorite line is, “It’s not about the Benjamins/Just ten George Washingtons” — which one do you like?

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And here’s a short “making of” video showing Johnson recording in the studio and on the soundstage filming the ad.

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Barack Obama: Live at the Apollo

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(Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama last night delivered an unexpected surprise during a fundraiser at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater: A short rendition of the soul classic “Let’s Stay Together.” The Rev. Al Green, who originally recorded the song in 1971, was in the crowd, and Obama clearly relished the chance to tease him. “Don’t worry, Rev.,” he said. “I cannot sing like you. I just wanted to show my appreciation.”

Obama also noted that “The Sandman did not come out” and sweep him off the stage, the way the late Howard “Sandman” Sims disposed of Apollo acts that bombed. But even if the Sandman were still alive, I doubt he’d want to cross the Secret Service agents to give Obama the hook.

That one line he sang wasn’t bad, and the crowd of 1,400 clearly loved it. But if Obama really wanted to bring the house down, he’d have pulled out James Brown’s cape routine during “Please, Please, Please,” the way the Godfather of Soul did while recording 1968′s “Live at the Apollo: Vol. II.”

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Friday Fun: Arts group plans monument to VA’s Harvey Pekar

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"American Splendor" writer and retired fed Harvey Pekar

Most public servants with monuments dedicated to them tend to be presidents, generals, or other great leaders. But Kickstarter, an online organization that raises money for independent and off-kilter art projects, is trying to raise money to honor an unlikely hero: the late comic book writer and Veterans Affairs Department file clerk Harvey Pekar.

The sarcastic and irritable Pekar chronicled his misadventures at the Cleveland VA in his long-running autobiographical series American Splendor until he died July 12, 2010. Oscar-winning actor Paul Giamatti played him in a 2003 adaptation of his comic.

Kickstarter wants to raise $30,000 to fund the Pekar monument at the Cleveland Heights Public Library where the writer sometimes liked to work. It would be a desk at which members of the public could sit and work on their own comics, and a bronze sculpture of Pekar stepping out of a comic book page.

So far, donors have pledged more than $6,000, and the project has until Dec. 5 to raise the remaining amount. Kickstarter is promising perks for the die-hard fans who donate thousands of dollars, such as a “near-complete” collection of Pekar’s comics, clothes worn by Pekar or Giamatti in the American Splendor movie, or a phone call from his widow.

If it works, this wouldn’t be the first unusual statue Kickstarter funded. Earlier this year, the organization raised more than enough to erect a Robocop statue in Detroit.

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Colbert unveils ‘Farewell to Postage’ stamp

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Colbert's commemorative "Farewell to Postage" postage. (from colbertnation.com)

Stephen Colbert summed up the dilemma facing the U.S. Postal Service beautifully in this Wednesday night segment: “The survival of the Postal Service depends on swift congressional action … goodbye.”

Besides laying into Ben Franklin and the Forever Stamp, Colbert also announced his own line of custom stamps tweaking the Postal Service. (Though some in the agency would probably call it kicking them while they’re down.)

One talking head in the first video lets loose with the head-slapping inaccuracy that the Postal Service is funded with taxpayer dollars (its money actually comes from stamp revenue and other products it sells). But the second video — featuring an interview with former letter carrier and author Phil Rubio — is informative, and Rubio delivers a thoughtful defense of the Postal Service’s universal service mandate.

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Conan on USPS: ‘Please ignore the stench of death’

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Forget “neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night.” Conan O’Brien on Wednesday unveiled a blackly comic new motto for the flailing U.S. Postal Service — one suitable for its current financial death spiral:


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Survive the zombie apocalypse, the Army Times way

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What every fashionable zombie slayer will be wearing this fall. (Photo by Rob Curtis)

Hats off to our sister Military Times papers for their hilarious “zombie deployment guide,” which gets into the nitty-gritty of countering a walking dead outbreak. It’s got advice on everything — large-scale military tactics, hand-to-hand combat, clothing to protect against infection, transportation, and most importantly, weapons.

There’s a fair amount of debate among experts over the relative merits of the AK-47, M4 carbine, katana, or good old fashioned baseball bat. The most awe-inspiring? Lauer Custom Weaponry’s LCW15 Zombie Eliminator (which, Staff Writer Jon Anderson drolly notes, features “the arrow gun attachment and Beta-C 100-round ammunition drum”).

The guide, published in this week’s issue of OffDuty, takes a cue from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own zombie preparedness guide, which we covered here in May. And the American Copy Editors Society today highlighted the excellent work done by our designers, artists and photographers to bring it to life. We hope it gives you a laugh as you head into the weekend.

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Welcome to the semantic jungle

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Slash really is everywhere. (Ed Jones, AFP/Getty Images)

A reporter sparred with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today over possible reductions to Social Security — which might also lead to lower COLAs for federal retirees — and kicked off this surreal semantic debate:

CARNEY:  The President is interested in strengthening Social Security for the long term in ways that preserve the promise of the program and don’t slash benefits. [...]

Q: So the inflation adjustment measure is off the table because it would slash benefits, right?

CARNEY:  I’m not going to talk about individual items about the President’s policy that he enunciated back in January. [...]

Q: What does “slash” mean?

CARNEY:  Haven’t you got, like, a dictionary app on your iPhone?

Q: Well, it’s a word that you use instead of “cut.”

CARNEY:  “Slash” is, I think, quite clear.  It’s slash.  It’s like that.  (Laughter.)  It’s a significant whack.  (Laughter.) … I’m not going to put a numerical figure on it.

Q:  So it means a significant cut.

CARNEY:  I think slashing is a pretty sharp, direct –

Q: It’s not the same thing as cutting — the point is, it’s not the same thing as “cut.”

MR. CARNEY:  It’s slash.  (Laughter.)  And I don’t mean the guitarist.  (Laughter.)

Oh, OK. Thanks for clearing that up, Jay.

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CDC publishes … zombie survival guide?

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has finally stopped wasting our time with swine flu and given us advice we can actually use: How to survive a zombie apocalypse.

CDC’s “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” blog — written by Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan — briefly discusses the history of zombies and the viruses that could cause the dead to rise and start snacking on brains. It then segues into serious advice on how to make an emergency kit and evacuation plan, which would also be useful for hurricanes, earthquakes and other non-undead emergencies.

But the blog gets really funny when it seeks to reassure us that CDC would have matters well in hand if there were a zombie outbreak. CDC said it would help cities, states and other nations with lab testing and analysis, patient management and care, tracking of contacts with the infected, and quarantining those who have been exposed:

Not only would scientists be working to identify the cause and cure of the zombie outbreak, but CDC and other federal agencies would send medical teams and first responders to help those in affected areas. (I will be volunteering the young nameless disease detectives for the field work.)

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Oh, please. Anyone who saw the season finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” knows that [SPOILER ALERT] within a few months of the zombie apocalypse, CDC’s Atlanta staff will be down to just one alcoholic researcher, gradually succumbing to suicidal depression. Trust FedLine: You’d be better served by stocking up on baseball or cricket bats, axes and shotgun shells than waiting for CDC to save the day.

But there’s clearly a pent-up demand from the public for this kind of information: Zombie-related traffic crashed CDC’s public health blog Wednesday.

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