Friday, May 27, 2016

Short Takes

American special forces along with Syrian and Kurdish fighters are moving closer to Raqqa, the ISIS stronghold.

House rejected $37 billion defense bill because it included LGBT protection.

Baylor University fired their football coach and demoted President Kenneth Starr over sexual assault scandal.

Gas prices hit eleven-year low just in time for the holiday weekend.

Tropical Update: Invest 91L looks like it’s getting stronger.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

How Title IX Works

The Justice Department told North Carolina that they could lose a lot of money from their federal grants if they don’t fix or repeal their anti-LGBT law.  North Carolina’s legislature didn’t take kindly to that.

Via TPM:

Moore said that legislators are discussing next steps with their attorneys.

Senate Leader Phill Berger (R) indicated that the legislature would offer some type of response, but he was unclear on what that would entail.

“Obviously there’ll have to be some response – you’ve got the deadline – but I don’t see the legislature, as the legislature, taking any specific response,” he said Thursday morning, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The Justice Department on Wednesday sent a letter to the North Carolina government notifying the state that its new anti-LGBT law violates the Civil Rights Act. The DOJ gave the state until Monday to confirm “that the State will not comply with or implement HB2.”

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) on Wednesday decried the letter as “Washington overreach.”

It’s not “overreach.”  It’s enforcing the law.

The federal government doles out grant money such as Title I to states under certain conditions: that they follow standard accounting practices to keep track of the funds to ensure they’re spent in accordance with the designated program, and in compliance with applicable federal rules such as the Civil Rights Acts that have been on the books for more than fifty years.  If you can’t — or won’t — follow the rules, you don’t get the money.

(To be accurate, the feds don’t give states grant funds up front.  They reimburse them for expenditures when the states prove that they’ve spent their own money to implement a program in compliance with the terms and conditions of the grant.  Only then do they get the money.  No compliance, no money.  And that means the state is on the hook for paying for what they’ve spent.  Explain that to the taxpayers of North Carolina.)

You can call it bullying if you want to, but those tax dollars are collected from places other than North Carolina, and speaking as someone who both pays taxes and monitors how they’re spent, I don’t want to see my money going to a state that is more concerned about who pees where than they are about supporting their schools.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Friday, April 29, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Minimum Wage Benefits

The conservative mantra that raising the minimum wage is bad for business is being disproved.

According to a new report by Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, neither restaurants themselves nor their employees have suffered significant losses as a result of past wage hikes.

“There is no doubt that restaurateurs face higher expenses as a result of minimum wage increases, but if restaurants are raising prices to compensate, those increases do not appear to decrease demand or profitability enough to sizably or reliably decrease either the number of restaurants or the number of employees,” Michael Lynn, a co-author and professor of consumer behavior and marketing, said in a press release.

For the study, the researchers looked at wage increases in states between 1995 and 2014 to asses the impact on restaurants, finding that hikes have had “no reliable linear effect on the number of full-service restaurants or on full-service restaurant employment, even when looking at cumulative effects over three years.”

Not only that, raising the minimum wage could have an impact on crime.

Mass incarceration is failing to prevent crime, according to the Obama administration — so much so that the president’s staff is looking in a few unconventional places for new ideas on public safety.

For example, raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour could prevent as many as half a million crimes annually, according to a new report from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, a group of economists and researchers charged with providing the president with analysis and advice on economic questions.

[…]

The authors consider a few ways of reducing crime. They forecast that hiking the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $12 would reduce crime by 3 percent to 5 percent, as fewer people would be forced to turn to illegal activity to make ends meet. By contrast, spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration — a massive increase — would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent, according to the report.

It goes beyond economics: paying people a living wage is the right thing to do.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016

Short Takes

Ecuador earthquake toll passes 240.

Brazilian congress votes to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.

OPEC fails to reach agreement on freezing oil production.

Airline pilot reports drone strike near London airport.

Rough weather in the Rockies and Midwest.

The Tigers won two of three from the Astros over the weekend.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Short Takes

Nine dead from 6.4 earthquake in Japan.

Canada proposes a physician-assisted suicide law.

Microsoft sues U.S. over gag orders on search warrants.

Coal in the red: Peabody Energy files for Chapter 11.

R.I.P. Anne Jackson, legendary actor on stage and screen.

The Tigers beat the Pirates 7-4.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Short Takes

Two Russian attack planes buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic.

Verizon workers on the East Coast go on strike.

Five big banks failed to meet government criterion for security against failure.

Louisiana governor reinstates LGBT protections in the state.

Seriously?  Denny Hastert’s lawyers say he “doesn’t remember” an alleged sexual encounter with a 17-year-old wrestler.

The Tigers beat the Pirates 7-3 thanks to a grand slam by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Short Takes

Speaker Paul Ryan rules out run for White House again.  (Watch this space.)

Brazilian congressional panel advances effort to impeach nation’s president.

Deutsche Bank says “nein” to expanding into North Carolina.

U.S. Navy may charge officer with espionage.

Judge Merrick Garland met Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley.  Nothing happened.

The Tigers beat the Pirates 8-2.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bernie the Bernie Bro

Paul Krugman wonders if Bernie Sanders is starting to believe his followers.

From the beginning, many and probably most liberal policy wonks were skeptical about Bernie Sanders. On many major issues — including the signature issues of his campaign, especially financial reform — he seemed to go for easy slogans over hard thinking. And his political theory of change, his waving away of limits, seemed utterly unrealistic.

Some Sanders supporters responded angrily when these concerns were raised, immediately accusing anyone expressing doubts about their hero of being corrupt if not actually criminal. But intolerance and cultishness from some of a candidate’s supporters are one thing; what about the candidate himself?

Unfortunately, in the past few days the answer has become all too clear: Mr. Sanders is starting to sound like his worst followers. Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.

[…]

What probably set that off was a recent interview of Mr. Sanders by The Daily News, in which he repeatedly seemed unable to respond when pressed to go beyond his usual slogans. Mrs. Clinton, asked about that interview, was careful in her choice of words, suggesting that “he hadn’t done his homework.”

But Mr. Sanders wasn’t careful at all, declaring that what he considers Mrs. Clinton’s past sins, including her support for trade agreements and her vote to authorize the Iraq war — for which she has apologized — make her totally unfit for office.

This is really bad, on two levels. Holding people accountable for their past is O.K., but imposing a standard of purity, in which any compromise or misstep makes you the moral equivalent of the bad guys, isn’t. Abraham Lincoln didn’t meet that standard; neither did F.D.R. Nor, for that matter, has Bernie Sanders (think guns).

And the timing of the Sanders rant was truly astonishing. Given her large lead in delegates — based largely on the support of African-American voters, who respond to her pragmatism because history tells them to distrust extravagant promises — Mrs. Clinton is the strong favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Is Mr. Sanders positioning himself to join the “Bernie or bust” crowd, walking away if he can’t pull off an extraordinary upset, and possibly helping put Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in the White House? If not, what does he think he’s doing?

This dust-up between Mr. Sanders and Hillary Clinton — which, compared to the shitstorm the Republicans are fomenting is the equivalent to two kids squabbling in the back seat of the station wagon — will all too easily feed the perpetual “Democrats in Disarray” meme that the Very Serious Village People will stroke their chins and shake their jowls over on Sunday morning.  More importantly, though, it does make you wonder if Mr. Sanders does have more substance to his policies than what will fit into a Facebook post.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Nothing To Boycott

When North Carolina passed a bill that basically allowed discrimination against the LGBT community, the response by corporate stakeholders was swift and determined.  A lot of large corporations have holdings in the state and they let it be known that they were displeased with this bigotry and they said so.  One — PayPal — put their money where their umbrage is by announcing that they were cancelling plans to expand their facilities in the state.

Other states took notice.  When the Georgia legislature passed a similar law and the boardrooms reacted negatively, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the bill.  He did it while noting “[o]ur people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities.”  Emphasis on “work.”  If big companies pull out of the state because of intolerance, that’s bad for business, and business beats Jesus every time.

Now that Mississippi has passed and signed into law an even more broad bill enshrining “religious liberty,” will there be a move by corporations to put the squeeze on the state?  Probably not.  It’s not that the fire has gone out to defend the rights of the LGBT community, or, for that matter, the straight folks who have a little on the side.  It’s because when it comes to Mississippi, there’s not a whole lot to boycott.

The economy in Mississippi is different from those many other states that have recently addressed legislation impacting the LGBT community. The state, which has one of the lowest GDPs in the country, is not home to any Fortune 500 companies, lacks a significant tech sector, and has no major pro sports teams.

With relatively nascent LGBT movement, Mississippi was not ripe for the kind of backlash the country has seen recently in Georgia and North Carolina, where Atlanta and Charlotte house major national corporations, more established LGBT communities, and cosmopolitan attitudes. Mississippi has no major metropolitan area.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a LGBT advocacy group that does work in Mississippi and North Carolina, told TPM that Mississippi lacks the “nexus where the corporate world meets the political world meets the cultural world” that exists in states like Georgia and North Carolina.

“We just see a very different economic climate there and a very different network of relationships between the corporate sector, the political sector, and advocates,” she said of Mississippi. She said it’s challenging for LGBT people to work their way up the corporate ladder in Mississippi, which she said “creates one further level of impediment, one further reason why a major employer wouldn’t be able to sort of very nimbly pivot in a moment like this and speak out politically.”

So the legislature of Mississippi, with no corporate cudgel hanging over their heads, didn’t have any problem enshrining religious bigotry into law because there would be no backlash, at least from anyone that mattered.

The problem with that is that there are probably just as many LGBT people per capita in Mississippi as there are, on average, in states like North Carolina or Georgia, or anywhere else in America.  Not all queer folk live in Key West or San Francisco.  They may gravitate to gay meccas, but I know first-hand that there are LGBT communities in small towns and rural America, quietly living their lives and working side by side with straight people.  They may not be out to their co-workers and neighbors because that’s just not who they are.  Their private lives are just that: private.  They may not want to call attention to themselves not because they’re ashamed but because they just don’t feel like it’s anyone else’s business, or they just may not want to make a big deal about it.  They would rather have their ordinary lives remain just that: ordinary.

This is one reason I’m not entirely comfortable with boycotts.  I think they tend to do more for the boycotters than the boycottees. It makes them feel good that they’re sticking it to the homophobes or the racists or the ignorant, but it also removes any kind of leverage they might have in swaying the local politicians or communities to change their ways.  You can’t change someone’s mind if you’re not there to make your case for inclusiveness.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Short Takes

Wisconsin primary results.

Lawmakers move to impeach Alabama governor.

Iceland PM Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigns over Panama Papers scandal.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) under investigation by House Ethics Committee.

Southern strategy: Mississippi governor signs bill enacting gay-bashing; Pay Pal bails on North Carolina over anti-gay discrimination.

UConn women win their fourth straight NCAA basketball title.

The Tigers won their season opener against the Marlins 8-7 in 11.

Monday, April 4, 2016

No Thanks, Obama

The New York Times has a piece about the great economic recovery going on in Elkhart, Indiana.  So who gets the credit?

Seven years ago President Obama came to this northern Indiana city, where unemployment was heading past 20 percent, for his first trip as president. Ed Neufeldt, the jobless man picked to introduce him, afterward donned three green rubber bracelets, each to be removed in turn as joblessness fell to 5 percent in the county, the state and the nation.

It took years — in 2012, Mr. Neufeldt lamented to a local reporter that he might wear his wristbands “to my casket” — but by last year they had all come off. Elkhart’s unemployment rate, at 3.8 percent, is among the country’s lowest, so low that employers here in the self-described R.V. capital of the world are advertising elsewhere for workers, offering sign-up bonuses, even hiring from a local homeless shelter.

Mr. Obama, whose four trips here during 2008 and 2009 tracked the area’s decline, is expected to return for the first time in coming weeks, both to showcase its recovery and to warn against going back to Republican economic policies. Yet where is Mr. Neufeldt leaning in this presidential election year? He may keep a photograph of himself and Mr. Obama on a desk at the medical office he cleans nightly, but he is considering Donald J. Trump.

“I like the way he just won’t take nothing off of nobody,” Mr. Neufeldt said, though days later he allowed: “He scares me sometimes.”

Billboards proclaim, “Hiring: Welders. Up to $23/hour,” but for all the progress, many people here — like Americans elsewhere — harbor unshakable anxiety about stagnant wages, their economic future and the erosion of the middle class generally. Antigovernment resentments over past bank bailouts linger, stoked by candidates in both parties (though taxpayers got their money back, with dividends). And social issues such as abortion, gun rights, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act and immigration loom larger than any other for some voters.

It never ceases to depress me how people are scared by the distant possibility that the couple down the street may be gay or that someone across town may need an abortion, but things that can have a direct impact on their life such as a job or healthcare are less important at the ballot box.  They would vote for a candidate who would send their job to China but save them from two men holding hands at the Kroger.  Of course they’d vote for Trump: he loves the lower-educated people.

There’s also a certain strain of something else that runs through this mindset that might be, um, coloring their judgment.

Brian A. Howey, publisher of the Howey Politics Indiana newsletter and once a reporter in Elkhart, sounded stumped, even allowing for the state’s conservatism: “I’m a lifelong Hoosier. I’m just amazed that not only do people not appreciate what happened in ’09, but there’s a lot of hostility toward Obama. I think part of it is racial and a lot of it is political.”

In other words, if Barack Obama was a white Republican, the good people of Elkhart would be clamoring for him to run again.

Follow The Money

This could be fun to watch.

A massive leak of documents exposes the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and reveals how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies.

The leak also provides details of the hidden financial dealings of 128 more politicians and public officials around the world.

The cache of 11.5 million records shows how a global industry of law firms and big banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars.

These are among the findings of a yearlong investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other news organizations.

The files expose offshore companies controlled by the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the king of Saudi Arabia and the children of the president of Azerbaijan.

They also include at least 33 people and companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of evidence that they’d been involved in wrongdoing, such as doing business with Mexican drug lords, terrorist organizations like Hezbollah or rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.

One of those companies supplied fuel for the aircraft that the Syrian government used to bomb and kill thousands of its own citizens, U.S. authorities have charged.

If you really want to know the truth about someone, find out where they keep their money and what gets done with it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Short Takes

Capitol Hill shooting — One police officer slightly wounded, gunman in custody.

Prosecutors in Belgium released the one suspect in custody in the bombing last week for lack of evidence.

California goes for the $15 an hour minimum wage.

Idaho allows those 21 and older carry a concealed gun without a permit within city limits.

Now we have “induced earthquakes.”  I wonder what the frack is causing them.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Short Takes

Report: U.S. bombs terrorist camp in Somalia; over 150 killed.

Bloomberg’s off the trail: Former NYC mayor rules out a presidential run.

Senate Republicans said the Budget Committee will delay considering the budget.

The Supreme Court overturned Alabama court ruling against gay adoption.

The Florida Legislature re-wrote the state’s death penalty law to conform to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.