Thursday, January 29, 2015

Short Takes

Hezbollah launches attack against Israeli soldiers near the Lebanese border.

Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch had her first day of confirmation hearings in the Senate.

Jordan agreed to terms to trade a prisoner for a hostage held by ISIS.

The Fed cites solid job growth in the economy.

Eight lives left: a cat that was believed to be dead rises from the grave.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Short Takes

The blizzard in New England isn’t over yet.

Americans among those killed in a terrorist attack on a hotel in Libya.

A lot of people, including President Obama, showed up to pay respects in Saudi Arabia.

Consumer confidence is at its highest rating since 2007.

Mormons try to balance marriage equality and the right to discriminate.

Obamacare cost estimate keeps getting smaller.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Look What You Made Me Do

How do you say chutzpah in Kansas?

Gov. Sam Brownback blames his draconian tax cuts and budget deficits on the state legislature.  No, really.

“I proposed a flat tax with a small budget accelerator,” Brownback said Friday during an address to the Great Topeka Chamber of Commerce, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. “What I got from the Legislature was a naked tax cut with none of the pay-fors.”

Brownback added that he “took it because it was the best we were going to get.”

Yes, apparently they held a gun to his head and said either his brains or his signature would be on the bill.  What choice did he have?

Friday, January 23, 2015

More GOP Minority Outreach

Here we go with the real reason the Republicans don’t want to raise the minimum wage: those people aren’t worth it.

California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock said on Thursday that the minimum wage should not be raised because low pay was necessary for minorities and other unskilled workers who were not worth more than $7 an hour.

During an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, host Greta Brawner asked McClintock if he could get behind a presidential candidate like Mitt Romney, who is one of an increasing number of Republicans saying that the minimum wage should be at least $10.10 an hour.

But McClintock argued that raising the minimum wage would “rip the first rung in the ladder of opportunity for teenagers, for minorities, for people who are trying to get into the job market for their first job.”

Mr. McClintock sounds like an unskilled worker himself.

Friday, January 16, 2015

In Their Sights

Digby notes an interesting phenomenon: certain people get hysterical when there’s an attack that is labeled as terrorism (i.e. Charlie Hebdo).  They want to declare war against international Islam and shred up the Constitution to protect us.  Yet when there’s a school shooting (i.e. Sandy Hook) these same people get all cautious about a rush to judgment and very protective of civil liberties.

Why is that?

I can think of two reasons.  First, to them any connection to Islam — even if it’s tenuous or done by a fringe splinter offshoot of some tiny faction — makes it The Gravest Threat to America.  So the shooter could have dated a girl whose brother once bought a car from a guy who lived next door to a man named Mustaffah and all of a sudden he’s a jihadist.  Or he could claim allegiance to a radical group that is says it is rooted in Islam but is made up of three other guys who are holed up in a studio apartment in Niwot, Colorado, and making meth on the side.  It doesn’t matter; he’s a believer in Islam, therefore all Muslims are terrorists and they should be hunted down.  By that logic, all Christians should be hunted down because David Koresh at Waco claimed to be a Christian.

A school shooter, however, goes in with a gun he bought at a gun show and gets his ammo over the internet.  He shows up at a campus and slaughter ensues.  But it happens in America and he has a copy of American Rifleman sitting on his coffee table when the CSI team shows up to gather evidence.  Now he’s a lone wolf acting on his own using weapons he purchased legally, and while Wayne LaPierre says it’s a tragedy, there’s no reason to suggest that there’s any need to question his right to own thirty rifles, their barrels shined to a steely glow, and any attempt to prevent such future tragedies will destroy America’s dearly-won freedoms.  Just because he — and it’s always a he — was a card-carrying member of the NRA doesn’t mean that all gun owners are capable of mowing down school kids at thirty bullets per second.

So if it’s wrong to demonize an entire community based on the actions of one person or small group of believers, why does that apply to the NRA but not to Islam?  It shouldn’t, but then it’s a lot easier to demonize Other People than it is to piss off the base of a political party and the largest lobbying effort in Washington.

That’s the second reason.  If elected officials weren’t terrorized by the NRA, we’d have Newt Gingrich and the rest of the Chicken Hawks on cable TV demanding that Congress do something about the guns, and if the NRA doesn’t like it, well, they’d have to realize, just as Pope Francis says, that there are limits to freedom.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Life Among the Lowly

Oh, the humanity.

Whiny BabyJPMorgan Chase & Co, the biggest U.S. bank by assets, reported a 6.6 percent drop in quarterly profit as legal costs exceeded $1 billion in the wake of government probes, leading Chief Executive Jamie Dimon to claim banks were “under assault.”

JPMorgan agreed in November to pay $1 billion in penalties over its conduct in foreign exchange markets. Investigations into that and other areas of the bank’s business, including alleged manipulation of Libor interest rates, are continuing.

“Banks are under assault,” Dimon said on a call with reporters, responding to a question about legal costs.

“We have five or six regulators coming at us on every issue,” he said, taking a less conciliatory tone after admitting last year that he had a “tin ear” when dealing with officialdom.

However, while legal expenses rose to $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter, from $847 million a year earlier, total legal costs of $2.9 billion for the year were far less than the $11.1 billion recorded in 2013.

Poor Jamie.  He’ll have to sell off one of the houses in the Hamptons to pay for his lawyers.  How can he live like this?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015

Easy Street

Oh, how rich:

There is little empathy at the top.

Most of America’s richest think poor people have it easy in this country, according to a new report released by the Pew Research Center. The center surveyed a nationally representative group of people this past fall, and found that the majority of the country’s most financially secure citizens (54 percent at the very top, and 57 percent just below) believe the “poor have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.” America’s least financially secure, meanwhile, vehemently disagree — nearly 70 percent say the poor have hard lives because the benefits “don’t go far enough.” Nationally, the population is almost evenly split.

Why the surprising lack of compassion? It’s hard to say. At the very top, the sentiment is likely tied to conservatism, which traditionally bemoans government programs that redistribute wealth, calling them safety nets. Some 40 percent of the financially secure are politically conservative, according to Pew. And conservatives are even more likely to say the “poor have it easy” than the rich — a recent Pew survey found that more than three quarters of conservatives feel that way.

More broadly, the prevalence of the view might reflect an inability to understand the plight of those who have no choice but to seek help from the government. A quarter of the country, after all, feels that the leading reason for inequality in America is that the poor don’t work hard enough.

Madame Defarge, stick to your knitting.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Off To A Great Start

The paint is still wet on the new Congress and the GOP is already at work undermining Social Security.

The incoming GOP majority approved late Tuesday a new rule that experts say could provoke an unprecedented crisis that conservatives could use as leverage in upcoming debates over entitlement reform.

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine; the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Tuesday that they had been made 11 times. The CBPP added that the disability insurance program “isn’t broken,” but the program has been strained by demographic trends that the reallocations are intended to address.

Who said this was going to be a “do-nothing” Congress?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Gas Price Survey

This little sign is now delightful rather than painful.

Gas PricesThe average price for regular across the country is below $2.20 a gallon and there are a lot of places where it’s below $2.

I paid $2.25 at the Marathon on the corner of SW 168th Street and US 1 in Palmetto Bay, Florida, yesterday morning.  As I drove into town, though the prices went up; the next big intersection it was $2.49, and the highest prices I saw were at a Shell station across from the University of Miami where regular was $2.69.

What are you paying in your town?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back/Looking Forward

The tradition continues:  it’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

– Despite the terrible roll-out and start-up of Obamacare and the opportunity it handed the Republican campaign strategists, the healthcare law will not be as big an issue in the 2014 mid-terms that all the Villagers say it will be.  By the time the campaign hits the final stretch, the law will be so entrenched that even the people who claim they hate it — even though they support what it does — will have a hard time trying to run candidates who promise to repeal it.  Still, the GOP noise machine and Tea Party hard-core is locked in on re-electing their safe base and the morning after the 2014 mid-terms will show a House still in the hands of the GOP and the Senate closer to 50-50.

I got most of that right: Obamacare was not a campaign issue but I didn’t count on the Democrats running away from it like it was an Ebola-soaked sponge.  The Republicans didn’t win the Senate so much as the Democrats lost it.

– Immigration reform and gun control will go nowhere because it’s the same Congress we had in 2013 and they didn’t do jack-shit.

Too easy, more’s the pity.

– By December 31, 2014 it will be a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton will be running for president.  Joe Biden will play coy with the Villagers about running, but in the end he’ll demur to Ms. Clinton.  The Benghazi! non-scandal will be long gone except for the nutsery who still think Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  The GOP will be lining up its merry band that includes Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, and just for laughs, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee.  President Obama’s approval numbers will be back up in the 50% range.

Nailed that one.  Even the GOP House report says Benghazi! is a nothingburger, and President Obama’s approval numbers are going up.

– Florida Gov. Rick Scott will lose his re-election bid to Charlie Crist, the newly minted Democrat, and Marco Rubio’s star will be as faded in GOP national politics as Pauly Shore’s is among Oscar voters.  He’ll pick up a primary challenge from the far right, but he’ll be safe in 2016 because the Democrats have nobody to run against him.

– Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania will all face tough re-election campaigns, but Mr. Kasich and Mr. Snyder will probably squeak by.  Mr. Corbett is out, and just for laughs, the people of Maine will toss their gaffe-prone Tea Party guv Paul LePage.

Still pissed that Florida and Maine re-elected those clowns.

– The national economy will continue to expand and the drive for the living wage movement will take hold.  The unemployment numbers will finally get below 7.0% and stay there.

Yeah, that was an easy call.  The minimum wage is going up all over the country.

– Marriage equality will spread to more states as more cases based on the ruling by the Supreme Court in 2013 are heard.  Indiana will vote on a ban on same-sex marriage in November 2014, and it will lose narrowly. But same-sex won’t be the law of the land yet, and I predict that unless the Supreme Court issues a sweeping ruling, Texas will be the last hold-out.

– The Supreme Court will rule 5-4 that Hobby Lobby or any for-profit non-religious corporation does not have the right “to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.”

Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that marriage equality would take hold like it did this year.  Thirty-five states now allow same-sex marriage, many based on rulings by courts that hold that banning marriage equality violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution.  There are several cases that are making their way to the United States Supreme Court.  But the court may have tipped its hand.  In October the Court declined to take action on five cases submitted for hearing during the 2014-2015 session.  This allowed the lower court rulings that struck down the bans in those states to stand.

Feh on the Hobby Lobby ruling.

– This will be a rebuilding year for the Detroit Tigers now that Jim Leyland has retired.  They’ll do respectably well and may even win the division again, but it’s time for a breather.

Yep.

– Fidel Castro will finally hop the twig, and the slow thaw between the U.S. and Cuba will begin as the generation that is as old as Castro continues to fade away.

Fidel is still alive, but Alan Gross is free and diplomatic relations are being restored.  About time, too.

– We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

Losing Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both by their own hand, made this year especially painful.

– Personally, life will continue at its gentle pace in good health and good spirits.  In September I will turn 62 and begin the first steps towards eventual retirement, but that won’t be for a long time yet.  I’ve already started on my paper for the William Inge Theatre Festival in March, and I continue to write and produce blog posts.  My parents are happily settled into their “life enrichment community,” and I hope to visit them this summer.  I might even get a smartphone this year, but don’t bet on it.

I’m already working on my paper for the William Inge Festival in April, and I had two one-act plays produced, including one entitled A Life Enriching Community, thanks to my visit to my folks in Cincinnati.  No, I don’t have a smartphone.

Now the predictions:

– Now that we have a Republican House and Senate and a president who isn’t running for re-election, get out the popcorn, and I mean the good stuff.  The GOP will try to do everything they can to destroy the legacy of Barack Obama, but they will end up looking even more foolish, petulant, infantile, and borderline nuts than they have for the last two years, and that’s saying something.  Repeals of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and recharged attempts to investigate Benghazi!, the IRS, and the VA will be like the three rings of Barnum & Bailey, all of which President Obama will gleefully veto.  As Zandar noted at Balloon Juice, “Over/under on when a Republican declares on FOX that Obama’s veto is  “illegal”, Feb 8.”

– Hillary Clinton will announce that she is running for president by March 2015 at the latest.  Elizabeth Warren will not run, but Bernie Sanders, the Gene McCarthy of this generation, will announce as an independent and become a frequent guest on MSNBC.  Jeb Bush, after “actively exploring” a run in 2016, will announce that he is running and quickly fade to the single digits when the GOP base gets a taste of his views on immigration and Common Core.  He may be popular in Republican polls, but those people don’t vote in primaries.  The frontrunners for the Iowa caucuses a year from now will be Rand Paul and Chris Christie.

– The war in Afghanistan is officially over as of December 2014, but there will be U.S. troops actively engaged in combat in what is left of Syria and Iraq in 2015.

– The U.S. economy will continue to improve at a galloping pace.  The Dow will hit 19,000 at some point in 2015 and oil will continue to flood the market, keeping the price below $60 a barrel and gasoline will sell for under $2 a gallon, and finally wages will start to catch up with the improving economy.  I blame Obama.

– The Supreme Court will rule that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution.  They will also narrowly uphold Obamacare again.

– The embargo against Cuba will end on a narrow vote in the Senate thanks to the overwhelming influence of Republican donors who see 11 million Cubans starving for Dunkin Donuts and car parts and don’t care what a bunch of domino-playing dreamers on Calle Ocho think.

– The Tigers will win their division again.

– We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.

– I technically retired on September 1, 2014, but my last day at work will be August 30, 2019.  (It’s complicated.)  I’m planning a return trip to Stratford this summer — more on that later — and I’ll get more plays produced.  I will finish at least one novel in 2015.

– And of course, the usual prediction: One year from now I’ll write a post just like this one, look back at this one, and think, “Gee, that was dumb.” Or not.

Okay, readers, it’s your turn.  What do you predict will befall us in 2015?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Beach Reading

I’m going to divert from my vacation posting to direct your attention to this mirthful posting by Charlie Pierce about how the IRS could make the Republicans go even nuttier than they already are.

Over at Bloomberg Politics, Margaret Talev has lit the fuse by which dozens of heads may go supernova all at once. I mean it, this woman is calling for the mother of all cable-news tantrums. She may also be calling for the immediate spontaneous combustion of Darrell Issa and anyone standing within a 15-foot radius of him. Amid other suggestions as to how the president can continue to do the job he was elected (twice) to do, and fck with the minds of the opposition at the same time, both laudable goals, she drops the big one.  I like her style, I must say.

So-called dark-money nonprofits, such as those affiliated with the Koch brothers, could find it much harder to muck around in elections. Under current practices, up to half of these groups’ money can be spent on politics. Changes to the Internal Revenue Service regulations governing 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations could shrink the percentage they can devote to election activities such as advertising. Overall, the aim would be to make it more difficult for any nonprofit group to engage in campaign politics; in practice, it would likely be perceived as a disproportionate handicap of conservative donor-backed organizations. These are among the reforms that the administration, regulatory groups or Congress could take on if so inclined (which Congress probably is not).

Oh, my sweet Jesus H. Christ on a Vespa, if the IRS were to adjust its regulations so as to end the laughable farce that Citizens For Limited Whatever is actually a  social-welfare organization, and not a well-financed exercise in ratfcking, a regulatory adjustment that is only overdue by about 20 years, it would take the jaws of life to get our pals from True The Vote off the ceiling. Not only is this excellent public policy, because it goes at least some distance toward rendering our elections less of a plutocratic puppet show, it’s also a remarkable political kick in the nuts.  My god, what a wonderful idea this is. Do it now.

Okay, back to the beach.

The Beach 2

Friday, December 19, 2014

Thanks, Newt Voters

When Newt Gingrich ran for president the last time, he said that if we voted for him, he’d get gas prices below $2.50 a gallon.

Well, it worked.  The ten or so people who voted for him must have worked their magic because the nationwide average fell to $2.47.

Just for comparison, that’s equal to $0.38 a gallon in 1969 when I first started buying gas for my first Mustang.

HT to Steve Benen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kansas Karma

I feel sorry for my friends who live in Kansas and have had to suffer under the rule of Gov. Sam Brownback.  He’s basically gutted the state budget in the name of Tea Party fiscal purity.

The state began bleeding when the governor and his party stalwarts cut taxes to practically nothing and the expected resurrection of Ronald Reagan did not happen, defying the prophecy that he would magically shower the state with money.  Of course they refused to implement anything to do with the evil federal government plans to socialize their healthcare.

But reality has arrived and now the state facing a massive budget deficit.  And it seems that the only way to fix it is through Obamacare.

Ah, the freude is especially schaden today.