WEEK IN REVIEW 20 October 2011

by by by Andrew Kaplan, Kate Welsh & Berry Elkinton

illustration by by Cecilia Salama

Plumber Credentials

Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, better known as media sensation “Joe the Plumber” of the 2008 presidential campaign trail, has returned to the political spotlight, this time exchanging his overalls and wrench for a suit and tie.  The Ohio native filed papers on October 6th stating his candidacy for the next House of Representatives election for the 9t h Congressional District of Ohio.

Wurzelbacher became a focal point of the last presidential election, when he questioned the effect Barack Obama’s tax plan would have on small businesses at a campaign stop in Ohio.  While Conservatives hailed him as a veritable American hero and a proponent of the ever-elusive American Dream, Wurzelbacher enjoyed brief fame as a poster boy for the average American, hence the ubiquitous name “Joe the Plumber.”

Speaking about his own candidacy, Wurzelbacher has a simple message: “It comes down to jobs.”  Although he has not described a specific plan, Wurzelbacher believes that he can effect change.  “The reason I would want to run for Congress is to show the American people and show Ohio that someone can run and serve without compromising their integrity.”

Yet, despite the moniker, Joe the Plumber may not be all that he seems.  “I don’t think he’s actually licensed,” Charlotte Perham, senior director of communications for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, told  She adds, “He’s not a member of our organization.”  As it turns out, Wurzelbacher masquerades as a practitioner under the license of his boss.

Indeed, far from receiving support from his hypothetical coworkers, Wurzelbacher has been the object of a violent outcry amongst the plumbing community.  “‘Joe the Plumber’ does not represent the United Association nor our union members in any way,” says Rick Terven of the United Association of Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry.  “This is someone who appears to care more about being a celebrity than actually helping working families.” Terven urges all plumbers to vote for “either [of the two] Democratic nominees, not Joe the Plumber.”  Wurzelbacher is fighting an uphill battle, as he is running against the incumbent Marcy Kaptur and the hopeful Dennis Kucinich, two well-known Democrats.

Wurzelbacher’s chances at becoming a full-fledged member of Congress, however, have not been flushed down the proverbial toilet.  He enjoys support from Tea Party activists who consider his views similar to theirs, though an endorsement from Senator McCain or Sarah Palin, is notably lacking.  Stranger things have happened in the political sphere (see: Herman Cain’s current position in the polls), so perhaps 2012 will be the year for “Joe the Congressman.”


Joey Quits!

If only we could all say “fuck you” with an accompanying brass band.

That is essentiall what Joey DeFrancesco, a (former) employee of the Renaissance Providence Hotel did when he enlisted some of his band mates from the 19-piece What? Cheer Brigade to help him make a flashy exit from a job he had held for three and a half years.

A friend filmed as Joey announced outside the hotel that he was going to quit the job where “they treat us like shit!”  The group then snuck in though a staff door in the hotel and waited for Joey’s manager to appear from behind the corner.  When he saw the motley group, like a scene from Oliver Twist, he puffed up his chest and shouted, “All of you!  Out!”  The band began to play as Joey announced that he was quitting, tossed his manager his letter of resignation, and marched out triumphantly.

Since being posted on YouTube a week ago, the video has gotten almost a million hits.  Joey and What? Cheer have been interviewed on Good Morning America, and in the coming week will be featured on Anderson Cooper.

The YouTube post includes a note from Joey, who explains that the hotel had notoriously bad working conditions and punished or fired any workers who attempted to unionize.

Joey and What? Cheer have joined the ranks of other employees who have quit in spectacular fashion.  For example, the JetBlue flight attendant who swore at a passenger, grabbed a beer, and slid down the emergency slide, and the Whole Foods employee who sent a scathing mass e-mail to the company, calling the grocery store, among other things, a “faux hippy Wal-Mart.”


More Opium

espite ongoing eradication efforts, opium production in Afghanistan increased considerably this year. Last week the UN reported a seven percent increase in agricultural acreage devoted to opium poppies. Due to excellent crop yields this growing season, total opium production in Afghanistan rose 61 percent. The large harvest, when combined with rising opium prices, brought in am estimated 1.4 billion dollars to the country, accounting for nine percent of its national GDP.

This increase presents a serious setback to anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan and across the globe. Afghanistan produces around 90 percent of the world’s supply of illicit opium, so a large harvest in Afghanistan correlates with an increase in the availability of opium and heroin domestically and globally. Since the US invasion in 2001, opium addiction rates have soared in Afghanistan. With an estimated 1.5 million opium addicts, Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of opium addiction in the world.

The Afghan government and US-led coalition are particularly concerned about the demonstrated financial link between opium production and the Taliban insurgency. The vast majority of Afghan opium is grown in the southern regions of Afghanistan where the Taliban is strongest. The Taliban explicitly encourages and sometimes even coerces farmers to grow opium by supplying seed, credit, protection, and facilitating distribution. According to the UN, the Taliban will likely net up to 700 million dollars from opium sales this year, making opium a financial lifeline of the insurgency.

The reported increase of opium production comes as a stinging and embarrassing blow to the eradication efforts of the US-led coalition and Afghan government. While the US has aggressively eradicated cocoa crops in Columbia, they have been reluctant to destroy opium crops in Afghanistan. Instead they have tried to create programs that provide incentives for farmers to grow crops such as wheat, pomegranates, and saffron, reasoning that outright destruction would further impoverish farmers, and make them more likely to embrace the Taliban.

Nonetheless, farmers in the war-torn villages of rural Afghanistan continue to see opium as one of the few ways to make a living in a period of severe instability. One farmer, Ismael Iyas Khail, described the difficulty of his situation to NBC’s Sohel Uddin. Khail said that six years ago, an NGO working with the Afghan government had promised him seeds, a tractor and funding to grow saffron instead of opium. Khail tried the program, but corrupt local police diverted most of the funding into their own pockets. Deep in debt, Khail started growing poppies again this year. “We have tried to be good and understand that opium is bad, but I don’t have a choice now,” said Khail. “We have to survive.”

- BE