Thursday, September 22, 2016

Short Takes

Secretary of State Kerry briefed the UN Security Council on the Syria ceasefire.

Charlotte police say the armed man shot and killed was warned several times to drop his weapon.

ISIS is on the verge of losing Mosul.

The Fed left interest rates unchanged.

Tropical Update: Karl is depressed and Lisa is still storming, but harmless to land.

The Tigers were rained out last night.  They’ll play a double header today against the Twins.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Short Takes

New York/New Jersey bombing suspect is captured after a gun battle.

The Syrian cease-fire ended.

Prosecutors say Gov. Christie knew about bridge lane closures.

Energy prices increased across the South thanks to a ruptured gasoline pipeline.

Pro-Putin parties show strength in local elections.

Tropical Update: TS Karl is going to stay clear of the East coast.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Short Takes

U.S. plans to increase number of refugees allowed into the country next year.

Hacked e-mails from Colin Powell label Trump as a “disgrace.”

Ford to move small car manufacturing to Mexico.

Arrest made in mosque attack in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Carla Hayden sworn in as new Librarian of Congress.

Tropical Update: TS Julia dumps rain on Georgia.

The Tigers beat the Twins 9-6 to move up to be 1 game back in the wild card chase.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

We’re In The Money

The Republicans have been telling us that President Obama’s economic policies would drag us into a depression and poverty would rise.

Well, they were wrong, weren’t they?

Americans last year reaped the largest economic gains in nearly a generation as poverty fell, health insurance coverage spread and incomes rose sharply for households on every rung of the economic ladder, ending years of stagnation.

The median household’s income in 2015 was $56,500, up 5.2 percent from the previous year — the largest single-year increase since record-keeping began in 1967, the Census Bureau said on Tuesday. The share of Americans living in poverty also posted the sharpest decline in decades.

The gains were an important milestone for the economic expansion that began in 2009. For the first time in recent years, the benefits of renewed prosperity are spreading broadly. And the data was released into a heated presidential race, where Democrats seized on them to promote Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and undercut Donald J. Trump’s dark assessment of the nation’s well-being.

[…]

With the presidential election looming in less than two months, the annual report provided immediate fodder.

“We lifted three and a half million people out of poverty, the largest one-year drop in poverty since 1968,” President Obama said on Tuesday at a rally in Philadelphia for Mrs. Clinton. “The uninsured rate is the lowest since they began keeping records. The pay gap between men and women shrank to the lowest level on record,” he said, adding, “Thanks, Obama.”

Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, has repeatedly cited the stagnation of household income as evidence of a broader economic malaise. He did not address the new report directly at a rally in Clive, Iowa, but he said the Obama administration’s economic policies had failed.

Wrong again, dogbreath.  Thanks, Obama.

Short Takes

Wages shot up in 2015 with the biggest hike since 2007.

U.S. bombers send message to China, Russia, and North Korea.

Florida Zika outbreak hits 70 cases.

Supreme Court rejects early voting in Ohio.

NCAA pulls tournament games from North Carolina over bathroom bill.

Tropical Update: TS Julia heads north over northern Florida into Georgia.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Short Takes

Syria ceasefire takes effect.

Clinton campaign explains mishanded health scare.

President Obama will veto the bill that allows 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia.

Brazil ratifies Paris climate agreement.

The UN reports that Iran has kept to the nuclear arms agreement.

Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama must remove proof-of-citizenship from voter ID according to a federal court.

The Tigers beat the Twins 4-2.

Monday, September 12, 2016

In It For The Money

Donald Trump’s foundation seems to have one big beneficiary: Donald Trump.  Via the Washington Post:

The Donald J. Trump Foundation is not like other charities. An investigation of the foundation — including examinations of 17 years of tax filings and interviews with more than 200 individuals or groups listed as donors or beneficiaries — found that it collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.

For one thing, nearly all of its money comes from people other than Trump. In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.

Trump then takes that money and generally does with it as he pleases. In many cases, he passes it on to other charities, which often are under the impression that it is Trump’s own money.

To quote the immortal Archie Bunker, it’s easy to be generous when it doesn’t cost you nothin’.

In two cases, he has used money from his charity to buy himself a gift. In one of those cases — not previously reported — Trump spent $20,000 of money earmarked for charitable purposes to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself.

Money from the Trump Foundation has also been used for political purposes, which is against the law. The Washington Post reported this month that Trump paid a penalty this year to the Internal Revenue Service for a 2013 donation in which the foundation gave $25,000 to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi (R).

[…]

Trump started his foundation in 1987 with a narrow purpose: to give away some of the proceeds from his book “The Art of the Deal.”

Nearly three decades later, the Trump Foundation is still a threadbare, skeletal operation.

The most money it has ever reported having was $3.2 million at the end of 2009. At last count, that total had shrunk to $1.3 million. By comparison, Oprah Winfrey — who is worth $1.5 billion less than Trump, according to a Forbes magazine estimate — has a foundation with $242 million in the bank. At the end of 2014, the Clinton Foundation had $440 million in assets.

In a few cases, Trump seemed to solicit donations only to immediately give them away. But his foundation has also received a handful of bigger donations — including $5 million from professional-wrestling executives Vince and Linda McMahon — that Trump handed out a little at a time.

The foundation has no paid staffers. It has an unpaid board consisting of four Trumps — Donald, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr. — and one Trump Organization employee.

In 2014, at last report, each said they worked a half-hour a week.

The Trump Foundation still gives out small, scattered gifts — which seem driven by the demands of Trump’s businesses and social life, rather than by a desire to support charitable causes.

So not only is it engaging in illegal political activity, it’s pretty obvious to even the most casual observer that the Trump Foundation is at best a false front erected to make him sound magnanimous and altruistic when in reality it’s just a phony operation that does little more than three-card monte the money around so that all it gives away is basically the amount of money they find in the couch.

But the Clinton Foundation has got to be rotten because, y’know, Bill Clinton.  I mean, c’mon; nobody gives millions of dollars to fight childhood AIDS in Africa and wipe out malaria just out of the goodness of their heart, right?  They’ve got to be hiding something.

Okay, that’s enough sarcasm for Monday.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Short Takes

73 Syria aid groups suspend cooperation with U.N.

Wells Fargo hit with $185 million in fines for setting up fake accounts.

NASA launches probe to bring back pieces of an asteroid.

Car with gas cylinders near Notre Dame in Paris baffles police.

Dozens stuck overnight at 10,000 feet in the air over the Alps.

FAA issues warnings about Samsung smartphones on planes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Buying In Bulk

We know that Donald Trump paid off Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi so that she wouldn’t join in the lawsuit against Trump University.  But she wasn’t the only one.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton moved to muzzle a former state regulator who says he was ordered in 2010 to drop a fraud investigation into Trump University for political reasons.

Paxton’s office issued a cease and desist letter to former Deputy Chief of Consumer Protection John Owens after he made public copies of a 14-page internal summary of the state’s case against Donald Trump for scamming millions from students of his now-defunct real estate seminar.

That story is from June, but along with this story about Trump donating to Chris Christie around the time of a settlement regarding New Jersey casinos, and you’re beginning to see a pattern here: buy in bulk and save.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Clintonomics: We, Not Me

Hillary Clinton went to Michigan to deliver her speech on the economy.

Mrs. Clinton called for making the biggest infrastructure investment — $275 billion — since World War II, and urged aggressive spending on green energy to counter China and Germany. And she repeated her plans to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for in-state middle-class families.

And she sharply criticized important elements of Mr. Trump’s tax cut plans, particularly the elimination of the estate tax and his plan to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent; she said his plan for business owners included what she called the “Trump loophole,” which would “allow him to pay less than half the current tax rate on income from many of his own companies.”

She characterized her opponent’s economic doctrine as a “more extreme version of the failed theory of trickle-down economics” mixed with his own “outlandish Trumpian ideas that even Republicans reject.”

And she rejected Mr. Trump’s promises to ease financial regulation and do away with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which he calls detrimental to average Americans.

“Even conservative experts say Trump’s agenda will pull our economy back into recession,” and cause the loss of 3.4 million jobs, Mrs. Clinton said, pointing to an analysis for Moody’s Analytics led by Mark Zandi, who advised Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Mrs. Clinton’s remarks often transcended policy, as she sought to portray Mr. Trump as an out-of-touch businessman who would squash the working class. She talked about her grandfather’s years of labor in a lace mill in Scranton, Pa., and her father’s small drapery-printing business in Chicago.

“This is personal for me,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I am the product of the American middle class.”

The major difference that I see between what Hillary Clinton put forth and that by Donald Trump earlier in the week is that while neither of the candidates came up with radical new ideas — even Ms. Clinton’s most ardent backers will admit that there’s nothing in her speech that we didn’t hear from every other Democrat running for president since 1932 (updating the WiFi reference from the REA) — Mr. Trump focuses on the individual (I’ll cut your taxes, I’ll find you a job), Ms. Clinton’s plan requires all of us to participate.  We instead of Me.

That’s a major difference between the two parties.  The Republicans focus on merits of rugged individualism, the small business owner, and the family values as if they all existed outside of any community responsibility.  Of course it’s all right to be against gay marriage if you’re not gay or oppose reproductive rights if your wife doesn’t mind being told what to do with her body.  It’s perfectly okay to home-school your children so that they don’t find out that Jesus didn’t have a pet T-Rex.  The government shouldn’t tell you what to do, although there’s nothing wrong with you telling someone else how to live their life.  And paying taxes just takes money out of your pocket to give it to someone who will spend it on booze or worse.  Oh, yes, let’s all talk about how much I love my country, but let’s make sure that everyone agrees with me first, okay?

To be fair, it hasn’t always been that way with the Republicans.  They used to be very community oriented and it was a Republican president who spent the most money on a government infrastructure project — the interstate highway system — in the history of the country.  (The fact that the underlying idea behind the interstates was to provide the military with unfettered coast-to-coast highways to defend against the Red Tide was only a minor selling point.)  But in the last forty years, the GOP has turned into the What’s In It For Me? party, and Donald Trump is the unabashed symbol of it all.

The Democrats would rather get us all involved, even if we might have different family structures or ambitions.  As their nominee once wrote, it takes a village — we all participate — and as we work together, nothing can stop us from achieving greatness.  Yes, we have to pay our taxes, but that keeps the roads and schools open, and if we help those with the least, it benefits us all.

There have been some notable failures and unintended consequences in those noble if sometimes naive plans to help us all, but what matters is that the motives were to support the community and all of us and appealing to the better nature in us to help the other person first.  It’s why we have a police force and a fire department and a water and sewer system that are publicly operated, not relying on an AR-15 and a garden hose next to the outhouse.

Our economy has swung from the right to the left — the robber barons of 1898 vs. the New Deal of 1933 — and back again — The Great Society of 1965 vs. Trickle-Down of 1981 — and spent most of it somewhere in between.  Based on what we’ve heard from Mr. Me Trump and Ms. We Clinton, we’re better off going with Us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Trumponomics: The 2016 Edsel

When the Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel in September 1957, they made a huge deal about claiming it was a totally new car with features never before offered on an automobile and styling that defied convention.  The company created a separate division for Edsel, invested millions of dollars in advertising and ballyhoo, and the world waited with bated breath to see this revolutionary new car.

Well, we all know what happened.

1958 Edsel Bermuda

1958 Edsel Bermuda

The 1958 Edsel was basically a redressed Ford or Mercury depending on which model was ordered, and the revolutionary new features turned out to be either gadgets that could be picked up from the J.C. Whitney catalogue or gimmicks such as the floating-dome speedometer and the push-button transmission mounted in the steering wheel hub that were a distraction and a danger to the driver.

And the car was not very well-built.  It was rushed into production and had flaws as it came off the line.  So despite all the pre-sale hoopla, it turned out to be just another car with an appeal to no one.

The Edsel came to mind when I read what Donald Trump’s “major economic policy” had in store.  Delivered at the Detroit Economic Club and read from a Teleprompter, Mr. Trump revived tried-and-failed economic ideas that were clunky old GOP policies such as massive tax cuts for the rich, simplifying the tax code, and ballooning the deficit, all paid for by the yuuge number of jobs that would be created out of thin air; nothing we haven’t heard from Republicans from Herbert Hoover to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  The difference yesterday was that, like the Edsel, it was dressed up in Trump drag with the usual promises of being the greatest economic restoration since the New Deal.

Mr. Trump also promised to reduce regulations on business — another oldie but a goodie from the 1950’s — and bring back coal and oil as energy sources.  (At one point I had to laugh out loud when he said that Hillary Clinton, who supports renewable energy, represented the past while he, the advocate of coal and oil, represented the future.  That would be true if this was 1816.)  He also wants to wall us off from the world in terms of trade — an idea that runs counter to most of the Republican mantra of free trade — and slap tariffs on countries such as China.  Gee, I wonder how China would retaliate?

We have seen the results of Mr. Trump’s economic ideas.  They were the backbone of Ronald Reagan’s administration which resulted in a massive deficit and eleven tax hikes during his term.  The first Clinton administration was able to pull it back and hand George W. Bush a surplus, which he promptly pissed away just in time to trigger the 2008 recession from which we’re barely recovered.  It’s also been done in microcosm in the state of Kansas where Gov. Sam Brownback has turned a prosperous state into a prairie version of the Great Depression.  (When Gov. Brownback launched his plan, he boasted that Kansas would become a model for other states to follow.  Yes; watch what he did and do the exact opposite.  Good modeling.)

It didn’t take the Ford Motor Company more than about six months to realize that the Edsel was a disaster.  The Edsel Division was merged with Lincoln and Mercury and the 1959 models were cut back to one basic car with different trim levels, and by the time the 1960 model year came around, it was nothing more than a Ford with different trim.  The plug was mercifully pulled a month after the 1960’s were rolled out and Edsel became a synonym for a colossal failure on every scale: scope, objective, and results.

But at least Ford knew when to get out.  The Republicans keep badge-engineering their 1958 models with new gimmicks, hoping that there’s an electorate that will fall for it yet again.

*

Footnote for antique car fans: A vestige of Edsel survived when Ford brought out the Comet in 1960.  Originally intended as the Edsel version of the compact Ford Falcon, the Comet was a stand-alone brand sold through Lincoln-Mercury dealers and was an instant success, selling more in the first year than all the Edsels in its three-year run.  In 1962 it became the Mercury Comet and was sold in various generations until 1977.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Short Takes

Khizr Khan says Donald Trump lacks “moral compass.”

Muslims go to church in France to show solidarity in light of attack.

Florida Zika virus cases came from local mosquitoes.

Deadly flooding hits Maryland.

Someone in New Hampshire won $487 million.

Tropical Update: Invest 97L shows up in the Caribbean.

The Tigers swept the Astros, making two sweeps in a row.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Short Takes

Trump appeals to Russia for help in his campaign.

All charges against police dropped in Freddie Gray case.

Apple says it has sold 1 billion iPhones (but not to me).

President Obama has chosen a historic Chicago neighborhood for his library.

John Hinckley to be released.

The Tigers swept the Red Sox 4-3.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Friday, July 1, 2016

Short Takes

Transgender men and women will now be allowed to serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Iraqi airstrikes hit 200 vehicles carrying ISIS fighters.

Turkish police arrested 13 people in connection with the attack on the Istanbul airport.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson dropped his bid to run for prime minister.

R.I.P. Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock that basically predicted where we are now.

The Tigers rallied in the ninth to beat the Rays 10-7.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.  Oh, and happy new (fiscal) year.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Short Takes

Multiple deaths reported in suicide attack at Istanbul airport.

Deadly train crash in Texas.

Senate Democrats block G.O.P Zika “poison pill” bill.

Trump promises to confront China over trade pacts.

NASA’s Juno probe approaches Jupiter.

R.I.P. Pat Summitt, winningest coach in Division 1 basketball.

The Tigers beat the Marlins 7-5.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Britain Exits

Via the Guardian:

The British people have voted to leave the European Union after a historic referendum in which they rejected the advice of the main Westminster party leaders and instead took a plunge into the political unknown.

The decision in favour of Brexit, following a bitterly close electoral race, represents the biggest shock to the political establishment in Britain and across Europe for decades, and will threaten the leaderships of both the prime minister, David Cameron, and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The value of the pound swung wildly on currency markets as initial confidence among investors expecting a remain vote was dented by some of the early referendum results, triggering falls of close to 10% and its biggest one-day fall ever. Jeremy Cook, chief economist and head of currency strategy at WorldFirst, said: “Sterling has collapsed … It can go a lot further as well.”

By 4am, a series of key results signposted a likely leave victory. After a lower-than-expected margin of victory for the remain campaign in Newcastle, where it won the backing of 54% of voters, there was a jolt after midnight when leave captured Sunderland with 61.3% of the vote in a city that has traditionally been a Labour stronghold.

Stock markets reacted negatively, with some off as much as 10%, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, who called for the vote, announced that he will step down by October.

Quoting a friend who has lived in Britain since the 1970’s:

I’ve kept out of this until now, as I am not eligible to vote in the UK, but I’ve watched it all unfold with great interest, and I’m very unhappy to see this result. The UK has now given power to the far right. Petty little Fascist pricks like Nigel Farage and others like him will now be calling the shots. I don’t see good things coming of this, socially or economically. Too late to change your minds now. A very sad day in history.

As one BBC news reader said, “Yeah, well, there you have it.”

Curtain Comes Down On New Theatre

Yet another vibrant but financially-strapped South Florida theatre goes dark.

New Theatre Logo Crop 06-24-16New Theatre, one of the most high-profile Florida theaters for 30 years and developer of the Pulitzer-winning Anna in the Tropics, is closing, its board of directors announced Thursday.

The cause appears to be economics although the specifics have not been disclosed.

It came to a head several weeks ago when the board asked Artistic Director Ricky J. Martinez to work this summer without pay.  Martinez resigned May 23, a disclosure delayed until Thursday because Martinez wanted to give the board time to get “the financials in order,” he said in an interview Thursday.

[…]

Thursday’s news hit the theater community hard because so many people had worked at the company.  While numerous companies have opened and even thrived in recent years, the closing is the latest in a series of crippling hits: Florida Stage in Manalapan/West Palm Beach closed in 2011, Promethean Theatre in Davie in 2012, Mosaic Theatre in Plantation 2012 and Women’s Theatre Project in Fort Lauderdale/Boca Raton in 2015.

The theatre has also produced four of my ten-minute plays and had my new full-length in their schedule for the upcoming season.  I’m sorry for the people who have put so much of their time and effort into bringing new and vibrant theatre to Miami.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016