Friday, August 22, 2014

Short Takes

National Guard leaving Ferguson.

Three Hamas military leaders were killed by Israeli attacks.

Mudslides and debris close roads in Washington state.

Two American ebola victims have recovered and been released from the hospital.

American auto industry has hit its highest level of production in 12 years.

Tropical Update: Invest 96L is out there and heading west.

The Tigers lost 1-0 to the Rays.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Short Takes

The Justice Department will conduct a second autopsy in Ferguson case.

Kurdish forces retake part of Iraq’s biggest dam.

Palestinian divisions emerge in Gaza peace talks.

New U.S. strikes in Iraq include land-based bombers.

Rick Perry defends veto that led to indictment.

The Tigers lost to Seattle 8-1.  They’re in second place and lost the lead in the wildcard race.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Roots of Ferguson — William Powell in The Atlantic says that the history of racial profiling in the Missouri town is the problem.

The civic infrastructure of Ferguson has not kept pace with its shifting demographics. In 1990, the town was three-quarters white. Twenty years later, white people made up only 30 percent of the population.

Now, Ferguson’s population is two-thirds black. Its more-than-50-person police force includes just three black officers. In 2013, black people accounted for 86 percent of all traffic stops and 92 percent of searches and arrests.

Ferguson’s figures are not much different than many municipalities in the St. Louis area—and they’re actually better than the statewide average. But residents say profiling in the city is severe.

Anthony Johnson lives in the Canfield Green Apartments, where Mike Brown lived and where he was gunned down in the street. Tattooed below Johnson’s right eye is a pair of tear drops, a tribute to his parents. His father was shot and killed when he was 10. His mom died in a car accident on Mother’s Day. Standing on the lawn of the apartment complex, he said police harassment is a regular part of life here. Cops often stop him on the street and ask where he’s going. Sometimes, they’ll pick him up by mistake, looking for a different black man. He knows not to walk around the neighborhood after a certain time at night, to avoid being stopped, interrogated, and asked for identification. “Why should I have to show ID if I’m just walking down the street?” he asked. “It just don’t make no sense. It’s sad that it took an incident like this to shed some light on the Ferguson police.”

One particularly appalling incident came in 2009, when Ferguson police picked up a 52-year-old named Henry Davis, as recently reported by The Daily Beast. He was arrested by mistake. The warrant had been for another man with the same last name. But rather than police setting him free, Davis was charged with “property damage” because he had bled on an officer’s uniform.

[...]

At a recent community forum, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson acknowledged that problem, saying his department is working on the issue. It’s a vicious cycle, he said: People get a few traffic tickets and can’t afford to pay the fines; eventually a warrant is issued and an arrest is made; a court date is missed, and on and on…

Grazida King came to Thursday’s march with his two sons, ages 9 and 11. He wanted to prove that protests can be peaceful and show his boys that it’s important to stand up for your beliefs. “I’ve been profiled before,” he says. “We call it driving while black, just pulled over for no apparent reason.” He worries about his sons having the same problem. He tries to raise them the right way, but feels like he shouldn’t have to train his children on how to avoid being harassed by police.

In addressing the crowd, even Johnson, the highway patrol captain, said he knows how it feels to be profiled. “When I was 18, I knew there were times when I was driving in my car and had to turn around,” he says. “It needs to change. It’s gotta change today.”

Trust-Busting — Thomas Frank has some suggestions for President Obama on how to wreck the GOP.  One of them is going after big monopolies.

Once upon a time, monopoly and oligopoly were illegal in America. Our ancestors believed, correctly, that concentrated economic power was incompatible with democracy in all sorts of ways. (Antitrust expert Barry Lynn and I talked this over for Salon readers a few weeks ago.) Since the days of Ronald Reagan, however, every succeeding administration has chosen to enforce the antitrust laws only if the monopoly or oligopoly in question threatened to cause big price increases for consumers — and sometimes not even then. This has come to mean that nearly all mergers and takeovers are permitted, and that achieving monopoly has once again become the obvious strategic objective of every would-be business leader.

The consequences of this policy shift have been huge, both in our everyday economic lives—where we face off against unchallengeable power everywhere from beer to bookselling—and the gradual fraying of society. Unrestrained corporate power naturally yields unrestrained wealth for corporate leaders and their Wall Street backers. In a recent essay in Harper’s Magazine about inequality (once Obama’s favorite subject), the economist Joseph Stiglitz declared monopoly to be one of the main culprits:

“The most successful ‘entrepreneurs’ have figured out how to create barriers to competition, behind which they can earn huge profits. It is not a surprise that the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, earned his fortune through a company that has engaged in anticompetitive practices in Europe, America, and Asia. Nor that the world’s second richest, Carlos Slim, made his fortune by taking advantage of a poorly designed privatization process, creating a virtual monopoly in Mexico’s telecom industry. . . .”

Barack Obama could change the entire thing—could bend the inequality curve itself—merely by deciding to enforce the nation’s antitrust laws in the same way that administrations before Reagan did. The laws themselves were written a century ago, so our current, useless Congress would have no say in the matter.

I asked Barry Lynn what this would look like. “The administration can begin tomorrow to attempt to enforce antitrust law exactly as the Johnson Administration enforced it in 1967,” he wrote me. Obama and Co. would encounter obstacles here and there, of course—the companies singled out by the Justice Department would fight like hell, for example. But there would be little the House of Representatives could do to stop the administration, Lynn says, short of “cutting off funds for enforcement or declaring monopoly legal.” Either of which would, of course, be fatal to the right.

“There’s nothing here,” Lynn concluded, “that a bit of courage, combined with a bit of smarts, wouldn’t fix.”

For Obama to launch a FDR-style crusade against economic feudalism would push just about everything short of war off the front pages and would also put the GOP in the uncomfortable position of defending monopoly power. It would also remind voters of the original, more hopeful Obama crusade of 2008, when the Senator from Illinois traveled the country promising to restore competition to agricultural markets—back before he decided to just drop the whole thing.

Lastly, a fight against our modern-day octopi might put small-business people, the right’s most motivated constituency these days, back onto the political fence. Antitrust is their issue, after all: let’s see them get out and work their butts off for Boehner when he’s standing tall for the multinational that just drove them out of business.

Ridiculous — Jonathan Chait says the indictment of Rick Perry will go nowhere.

I do not have a fancy law degree from Harvard or Yale or, for that matter, anywhere. I am but a humble country blogger. And yet, having read the indictment, legal training of any kind seems unnecessary to grasp its flimsiness.

Perry stands accused of violating two laws. One is a statute defining as an offense “misus[ing] government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.” The veto threat, according to the prosecutor, amounted to a “misuse.” Why? That is hard to say.

The other statute prohibits anybody in government from “influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty.”

But that statute also specifically exempts “an official action taken by the member of the governing body.” The prosecutors claim that, while vetoing the bill may be an official action, threatening a veto is not. Of course the threat of the veto is an integral part of its function. The legislature can hardly negotiate with the governor if he won’t tell them in advance what he plans to veto. This is why, when you say the word “veto,” the next word that springs to mind is “threat.” That’s how vetoes work.

The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves. Perry may not be much smarter than a ham sandwich, but he is exactly as guilty as one.

Doonesbury — Rough life.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Old Money

I went to the post office yesterday to help Mom mail some stuff, and I pulled out my wallet to pay for a stamp. Among the bills was a $1 silver certificate, one of the 1957 series that was replaced in 1963 by the Federal Reserve note that we all use today in the U.S. as regular currency.

??????????

I noticed what it was before I handed it to the clerk and replaced it with a newer bill. The bill is in rough shape, and even if it was in good condition it isn’t worth much more than its face value, but it was a real flashback; I don’t think I’ve seen one of them since I was a kid.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Short Takes

72-hour ceasefire announced in Gaza.

G.O.P. craters border bill.

What a shock: C.I.A. finds that they did break into Senate computers.

Emergency efforts in Africa to combat ebola.

Stocks fall on weak economic data.

Tropical Update: We now have Tropical Storm Bertha in the North Atlantic.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 7-4, but landed pitcher David Price from Tampa Bay.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

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.