Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Big Talk, Little Action

For all their screaming about illegal children, the House Republicans came up with not a lot to show for putting their money where their mouth is.

House Republicans plan to vote Thursday on a bill that would provide less than a fifth of the funding the president requested to address the ongoing border crisis.

After more than 57,500 unaccompanied minors crossed the border illegally since October, President Barack Obama requested $3.7 billion to care for them, speed up deportation proceedings and attempt to deter illegal immigration. Senate Democrats proposed a $2.7 billion package. But the House GOP plan went from an expected $1.5 billion as of a week ago to less than $1 billion on Friday. On Tuesday, House Republicans announced the funding had been pared down even further to a $659 million package that was introduced on Tuesday.

“I think we should do something before we go home, and we’re working to get there,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters after meeting with Republican members.

Two-thirds of the bill’s funding would go toward border security, such as dispatching National Guard troops to the border, while one-third of the money is meant to provide humanitarian assistance. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters he was “optimistic” that the bill would get strong support from Republicans, and said the lower price tag would help attract fiscal conservatives.

In other words, the bulk of the money goes to sending the National Guard to stand around in the hot summer sun.  There’s not much else they can do; it’s not like the kids are trying to sneak across the border; they’re trying to get the attention of the Border Patrol.

Meanwhile, they’re trying to revise a law that was passed by them in 2008 and signed by President Bush that gives the refugee children from Central America legal protection.  Now that President Obama is actually enforcing it, they think it’s a terrible law, of course.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Short Takes

Ukraine: Two military jets were shot down in the same vicinity as the Malaysian airline.

Israel faces economic and political challenges; the FAA lifts the ban on flights to Tel Aviv.

Robert McDonald appears to have a lock on being confirmed as the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

It took almost two hours for Arizona to execute a condemned man.

Tropical Update:  TD Two has fizzled out.

The Tigers beat the Diamondbacks 11-5.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The New Jim Crow

A luxury condo complex in New York will have two entrances: one for the rich and one for the not-so.

Extell, which is building the 33-story complex, will build a specific door for the 55 affordable housing units it’s including in order to be allowed to build a bigger building. The low-income units, which are available to people making 60 percent of median income or less, will also be in a segment that only contains affordable apartments and that faces the street while the luxury apartments will face the river.

In New York City, this arrangement is relatively common. Luxury builders get credits to use up more square footage than they normally could by promising to build affordable units as well. Those developers can then sell the credits to cover the costs of building the low-income housing. Because Extell considers the affordable segment to be legally separate from the rest of the building, it says it is required to have different entrances.

There’s no truth to the rumor that the complex will be called Tara.

Minimum Results

Raising the minimum wage will stifle growth and put more people out of work, right?

New data show that the 13 states that raised the minimum wage this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not.

State-by-state hiring data released Friday by the Labor Department reveal that in the 13 states that boosted minimum wages at the beginning of this year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January to June. The average in the other 37 states was 0.61 percent, the Associated Press reports.

The findings could undermine the argument that raising the minimum wage hurts job growth, a view held by major conservative lobbies. The Congressional Budget Office reported earlier this year that a minimum wage of $10.10 could bring 900,000 people out of of poverty, but would cost 500,000 jobs nationwide.

Well, whatta know, the Republicans were wrong about that.  How could that be?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Short Takes

Egypt is trying to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

The U.N. is pulling staff out of Libya in the face of civil struggle.

Citigroup has agreed to a $7 billion fine for their part in the mortgage crisis of 2008.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been returned to active duty.

R.I.P. Nadine Gordimer, Nobel laureate writer from South Africa.

The Tigers are getting ready for the All-Star game tonight.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Friday, July 4, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Short Takes

Israel: The bodies of three teenagers who were abducted several weeks ago were found.

Airstrikes in Iraq are not a good idea according to a retired Army general who served there.

With immigration reform officially pronounced dead, President Obama will use executive action to bolster border security.

White House says President Obama will expand safeguards for transgender workers.

8.4 million: The number of GM cars now under recall.

Tropical Update: Invest 91L still moving up the East Coast.

The Tigers beat Oakland 5-4.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rate Shock

Some of the favorite Republican talking points against Obamacare were that it would never get people to sign up, that it would never attract younger people to balance out the needs of the older people, and worst of all, it would raise insurance premiums to the stratosphere.

Well, they were wrong on the numbers of people signing up, wrong on the number of younger people signing up for it, and now we find out that insurance companies are not going to raise their rates; in fact, here in Florida there are some companies that are going to lower them.

Something unprecedented may be unfolding in Florida’s individual health-insurance market: None of the nine companies that have filed their 2015 rate requests so far wants an increase.

In fact, two of the companies — Molina Healthcare of Florida and Sunshine Health — actually requested a price cut.

None of the companies will talk about their filings until they are approved; and a spoiler could still pop up in the four days that remain before the deadline for plans to compete in the 2015 enrollment.

But consumer advocates are cautiously optimistic that this is evidence that the Affordable Care Act is restraining prices for individuals who don’t get coverage through a group.

“The fact is, an overall pattern of insurers not seeking rate increases — and even seeking rate decreases — is unheard of,” said Greg Mellowe, policy director for the consumer advocacy group Florida CHAIN.

The GOP is supposed to be the party of the people who know how business works; they’re the captains of capitalism and corporations who live and breathe this sort of stuff.  These are the same people who said it would be good for General Motors and Chrysler to go broke and that it would be good for the country if we let bankers run wild in the streets with sub-prime mortgages.  These are the folks who tell us it’s a dog-eat-dog world and ideas such as making insurance affordable will destroy America.

Well, look who’s wearing the Milk Bone underwear now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

That’s Rich

I imagine some Republican strategists are trying to seize on Hillary Clinton’s inartful comment about personal wealth last week and call her and the Democrats out for being hypocrites: they attacked Mitt Romney for being rich and yet here is a multi-millionaire saying that she’s not “truly well off.”

But that misses the point.  The problem with Mitt Romney wasn’t that he was stinking rich or even that he didn’t get it that most other people don’t have a couple of Cadillacs or a car elevator.  I’ve known people who were heirs to vast fortunes who lived in modest homes, drove cars bought off the lot (one even had a Pontiac 6000 LE Safari station wagon), and taught high school math.  They also spent a lot of time giving their money away to causes that truly needed it more than they did.

The difference between being a rich Republican and a rich Democrat is that most Americans know where they stand on dealing with issues that touch the 47%, and it’s going to be hard to convince them that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be in favor of raising the minimum wage.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gas Price Survey/Question of the Day

Haven’t done this for a while, and with the summer driving season upon us, I’d be interested to know what gas is going for in your part of the world.

This morning I paid $3.59 at the Marathon on the corner of SW 168th Street and Old Cutler Road in suburban Miami.  On the way in to the office I saw it going for $3.69 at a station on US 1, and yesterday morning a Chevron in South Miami had regular for $3.95.  That station seems to be the highest priced place in town; it is always forty to fifty cents higher than every other station in the vicinity.  But there are always cars at the pumps, so it must not bother either the buyer or the seller.

Speaking of driving, I might as well turn this into a Question of the Day, too:

What are you currently driving… if you drive?

Me: a 2007 Mustang convertible, and a 1988 Pontiac 6000 LE Safari station wagon on weekends or to car shows.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Short Takes

China made sure that no one openly marked the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

The Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriage in Oregon to continue by declining to put a hold on the ruling declaring the ban unconstitutional.

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran (R) will be in a run-off for his seat against a Tea Partier.

Sprint and T-Mobile agree to merger.

R.I.P. Chester Nez, 93, the last of the Navajo Code Talkers.

The Tigers lost to the Jays 8-2.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

Two trillion dollars.  That’s how much money the United States spent on a lie.  And when the final numbers come in, it could be three times that amount.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest, a study released on Thursday said.

The war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number, according to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war’s death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000, the study said.

The catch is that this story is from March 2013.  The final numbers weren’t really in then, so how much has it really cost?

Of course the true cost — lives, honor, and trust — can never be regained.  But the next time you hear some jackass braying that we can’t afford to pay for health insurance, clean air, or education, tell them that $6 trillion was enough to pay for Bush and Cheney’s lies.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Short Takes

U.S. P.OW. freed by Taliban in Afghanistan in exchange for five prisoners from Gitmo.

Six hikers missing on Mt. Rainier.

Golfer Phil Mickelson under investigation for insider trading.

Thousands march in Cyprus’s first gay pride parade.

Jesus Christ Superstar tour abruptly cancelled.

The Tigers lost to the Mariners 3-2.

You-know-what season starts today and runs through November 30.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Short Takes

President Obama — The U.S. will have all its forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

Ukraine — Rebels are sustaining big losses.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that IQ tests alone are not proof of mental disability in death penatly cases.  The case originated in Florida.

More deaths in Nigeria are blamed on Islamic extremists.

Price tag to clear Detroit’s blighted buildings — $850 million.

The Tigers beat Oakland 6-5.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Reading

Why Is The VA Underfunded? — Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation wants to know.

Though Republicans might not understand, it takes a lot more than bumper stickers to support the troops who fight their wars. It should be a no-brainer, but it seems like those who have determined to politicize the situation at the VA have forgotten the primary reason so many veterans are in such dire need of care to begin with, and why the scandalously cash-strapped department has been so hard pressed to provide it. As I said on Face the Nation this week, without considering the historical context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—namely, that they were both unnecessary and prosecuted with a stunning degree of ineptitude—and without considering Congress’s history of underfunding veterans healthcare, it’s irresponsible to dive-bomb the White House with finger-pointing and grandstanding speeches about who needs to resign, and when.

There’s plenty of blame to go around concerning the massive failures of the healthcare system in the Veterans Administration. Both the media and politicians are focusing on administrative failures at the top and are calling for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star general who heads the federal agency, as if such a high-profile decapitation will fix the problem.

But members of both parties agree: It will not. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told Politico, “It shouldn’t be about a political scalp. It should be: How are we going to improve care for veterans?” And Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) belittled his colleagues’ knee-jerk demand for a cabinet-level resignation: “I’ve never seen [the tactic] work yet…. I’ve only been around twenty years.” Even Bob Dole has dismissed the notion that Shinseki should be forced out. Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, wrote in a Politico op-ed, “As a disabled veteran myself, there is no one I would rather have heading up the VA now, in this turbulent time, than Eric Shinseki. In my experience, he is the best there is.” Cleland should know; in addition to being, like Dole, a genuine war hero, he also served under President Carter as administrator of veterans affairs (the predecessor position to Shinseki’s) from 1977 to 1981.

Obviously, the creation of secret waiting lists at VA facilities is horrible. There is no excuse for such dereliction of duty, especially when it again puts the lives of our brave veterans in danger after they’ve already been made to face enough. Simply put, those who are responsible for making these lists should be fired. And if their actions are determined to have been illegal, then they should be prosecuted for criminal activity.

But just as obviously, we need to recognize that those actions were not ordered by Shinseki, himself a veteran twice awarded the purple heart (and, as you might recall, the Army Chief of Staff who—presciently—dared contest the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz notion that postwar Iraq could be reconstructed with a mere 100,000 troops). Moreover, under Shinseki’s watch, the VA has cut the backlog of veterans-benefits claims by more than half. Veteran homelessness has dropped by twenty-four percent since Shinseki made it a priority in 2010.

[...]

It cannot be repeated often enough that, none of these politicians who involved us in the reckless and unjustified wars of the 2000s has ever been held adequately responsible for the massive damage they have done to our finances, international standing, military readiness, and health of our veterans. It might be convenient to pin all of the hawks’ failings (and they are legion) on Eric Shinseki’s shoulders, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson suggests, but it would be morally, historically and economically bankrupt to do so. It would suggest that we, as a nation, do not actually value the lives and health of our soldiers over the political and financial imperatives of our ruling class. It would suggest that we consider our troops to be nothing more than rent-a-cops, called in to do security for the big event, then forgotten the next morning.

Today’s lesson is quite simple: after conflicts are over, we need to fully fund the healthcare and medical needs of our veterans. Forever. Even if that means making the political and economic elite pay more in taxes. Even if that means taking politics out of the VA and focusing instead on the welfare of our veterans. That we have politicians and members of the media who need to be reminded of this is a disgrace.

Conservative Comedy and Other Myths — Frank Rich looks at why right-wing humor struggles to find an audience.

The right, like the left, has a habit of overplaying the victim card. Given that there are many out A-list Republicans in Hollywood, from Rupert Murdoch to Clint Eastwood to David Mamet to Adam Sandler, it would seem that all the paranoia about left-wing McCarthyism is unfounded. If anything, the history of networks’ canceling liberal comics, whether the Smothers Brothers in 1969 (CBS) or Bill Maher in 2002 (ABC), is more pronounced. Still, the hysteria of the anti-Colbert claque made me look at the right’s case again.

And at first glance, there is something to it. Conservative comedy is hard to find on television once you get past the most often cited specimen, Dennis Miller. But is this shortfall the fault of a left-wing conspiracy to banish brilliant dissident talent from pop culture’s center stage? As a conservative Christian stand-up, Brad Stine, has argued, people think “the left is funnier than the right” solely because the right hasn’t been “given the same options.” Or are conservative comedians languishing in obscurity because they just don’t have the comic chops to compete with Colbert, Jon Stewart, and their many brethren? What do conservatives find funny, anyway? Is the very notion of a conservative comedian an oxymoron, given that comedy by definition is often the revenge of underdogs against the privileged? If the powerful pick on the less powerful, or worse, the powerless, are the jokes doomed to come off as bratty, if not just plain mean?

[...]

Anger is a mighty source of humor, but it takes talent to refine a crude gusher of rage into comic fuel. Eric Golub, a fringe comic so far right he actually glories in the label conservative, has figured this out. “To blame Hollywood liberalism—which does exist—is an excuse,” he told Politico last year. “Maybe some of the conservatives that are trying are just not that talented.” To see Golub’s point, sample the comic stylings of one vocal complainer about Hollywood’s suppression of non-liberal humor, Evan Sayet, a former Maher writer who turned right after 9/11. His stand-up may have killed at the Republican Jewish Coalition banquet in Santa Monica, but it’s not remotely ready for prime time except as a vanity presentation on public-access cable.

Good Luck, Grads; You’re Gonna Need It — Thomas Frank on the woes of commencing life with a degree and debt.  (PS: The only people worse off than you are your teachers.)

Welcome to the wide world, Class of 2014. You have by now noticed the tremendous consignment of debt that the authorities at your college have spent the last four years loading on your shoulders. It may interest you to know that the average student-loan borrower among you is now $33,000 in debt, the largest of any graduating class ever. According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, carrying that kind of debt will have certain predictable effects. It will impede your ability to accumulate wealth, for example. You will also borrow more for other things than people without debt, and naturally you will find your debt level growing, not shrinking, as the years pass.

As you probably know, neither your parents nor your grandparents were required to take on this kind of burden in order to go to college. Neither are the people of your own generation in France and Germany and Argentina and Mexico.

But in our country, as your commencement speaker will no doubt tell you, the universities are “excellent.” They are “world-class.” Indeed, they are all that stands between us and economic defeat by the savagely competitive peoples of Europe and Asia. So a word of thanks is in order, Class of 2014: By borrowing those colossal amounts and turning the proceeds over to the people who run our higher ed system, you have done your part to maintain American exceptionalism, to keep our competitive advantage alive.

Here’s a question I bet you won’t hear broached on the commencement stage: Why must college be so expensive? The obvious answer, which I’m sure has been suggested to you a thousand times, is because college is so good. A 2014 Cadillac costs more than did a 1980 Cadillac, adjusting for inflation, because it is a better car. And because you paid attention in economics class, you know the same thing must be true of education. When tuition goes up and up every year, far outpacing inflation, this indicates that the quality of education in this country is also, constantly, going up and up. You know that the only way education can cost more is if it is worth more.

In sum, you paid nearly sixty grand a year to attend some place with a classy WASP name and ivy growing on its fake medieval walls. You paid for the best, and now you are the best, an honorary classy WASP entitled to all the privileges of the club. That education your parents got, even if it was at the same school as yours, cost them far less and was thus not as good as yours. That’s the way progress works, right?

Actually, the opposite is closer to the truth: college costs more and more even as it gets objectively worse and worse. Yes, I know, universities today offer luxuries unimaginable in the 1960s: fine gymnasiums, gourmet dining halls, disturbing architecture. But when it comes to generating and communicating knowledge—the essential business of higher ed—they are, almost all of them, in a frantic race to the bottom.

According to the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty, only about 30 percent of the teachers at American colleges these days are tenured or tenure-track, which means that fewer than a third of your profs actually enjoy the security and benefits and intellectual freedom that we associate with the academic lifestyle. In 1969, traditional professors like these made up almost 80 percent of the American faculty. Today, however, it is part-time workers without any kind of job security who are the majority of the instructors on campus, and in general these adjuncts are paid poorly and receive few benefits. That is who does the work of knowledge-transmission at the ever-so costly, ever-so excellent American university: Freelancers. Contract laborers.

Doonesbury — Labor pains.