Thursday, September 13, 2018

That Won’t Be The Worst Of It

There is nothing to stop Hurricane Florence — or any other storm, for that matter — so the best we can do is be fully prepared and safe.  What happens after, however, is completely in our hands and those of the people we’ve chosen to run things, and that’s where the real disaster can happen.

Given the current administration’s down-is-up view of how they handled things with Hurricane Maria and the fact that there’s a runway full of bottled water in Puerto Rico waiting to be distributed a year later, the people who will be impacted by Hurricane Florence had better know that they are in for a long and strenuous struggle when the winds and rains have ended.  It will be just the start.

Meanwhile, the money set aside for FEMA has been rerouted to ICE because brown people seeking asylum are a much larger danger to America than a Category 3 hurricane.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration took nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget this summer to help boost U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to budget documents shared with USA TODAY.

The revelation, just ahead of Hurricane Florence’s expected landfall in North and South Carolina, was found by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who first shared the documents live on MSNBC late Tuesday.

He told USA TODAY that after the devastation of last year’s storms, including hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma, FEMA should have the funds it needs to be prepared for another disastrous hurricane season.

“It’s almost guaranteed to happen again, so this is just incredibly irresponsible,” Merkley said.

The budgeting document, titled “Department of Homeland Security FY 2018 transfer and reprogramming notifications,” lists $9,755,303 taken from FEMA’s budget, about .9 percent of the agency’s listed overall budget, and given to support ICE.

Heckuva job, there.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day

Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

[Originally posted September 2, 2013]

Friday, August 31, 2018

Nuts ‘n’ Bolts: You Got Screwed

This doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Trump told lawmakers on Thursday he wants to scrap a pay raise for civilian federal workers, saying the nation’s budget couldn’t support it.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders, Trump described the pay increase as “inappropriate.”

“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” the President wrote.

An across-the-board 2.1% pay increase for federal workers was slated to take effect in January. In addition, a yearly adjustment of paychecks based on the region of the country where a worker is posted — the “locality pay increase” — was due to take effect.

Trump said both increases should no longer happen.

That’s because they gave it all to the rich people with the montrous deficit-inducing tax cut.  The rich got the tax cut and the rest of us — including people who make the government run — got screwed.

I wonder how many of those federal employees voted for Trump.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

One More Day

Someone got one of my credit card numbers and tried to buy something at a Citgo station in Houston on August 21 — and was declined — but the bank didn’t let me know until I tried to buy gas yesterday.  I spent a total of 45 minutes of listening to “your call is very important to us…” before I got through.

Long story short version: I need to go to my local branch and get a temporary card until they issue a new one (4-6 business days) and then change all the accounts where the card is already set up as the form of payment.

So I’m taking another day off.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

To No One’s Surprise

The rich get richer.

The Trump administration is considering bypassing Congress to grant a $100 billion tax cut mainly to the wealthy, a legally tenuous maneuver that would cut capital gains taxation and fulfill a long-held ambition of many investors and conservatives.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina this month that his department was studying whether it could use its regulatory powers to allow Americans to account for inflation in determining capital gains tax liabilities. The Treasury Department could change the definition of “cost” for calculating capital gains, allowing taxpayers to adjust the initial value of an asset, such as a home or a share of stock, for inflation when it sells.

“If it can’t get done through a legislation process, we will look at what tools at Treasury we have to do it on our own and we’ll consider that,” Mr. Mnuchin said, emphasizing that he had not concluded whether the Treasury Department had the authority to act alone. “We are studying that internally, and we are also studying the economic costs and the impact on growth.”

Currently, capital gains taxes are determined by subtracting the original price of an asset from the price at which it was sold and taxing the difference, usually at 20 percent. If a high earner spent $100,000 on stock in 1980, then sold it for $1 million today, she would owe taxes on $900,000. But if her original purchase price was adjusted for inflation, it would be about $300,000, reducing her taxable “gain” to $700,000. That would save the investor $40,000.

The move would face a near-certain court challenge. It could also reinforce a liberal critique of Republican tax policy at a time when Republicans are struggling to sell middle-class voters on the benefits of the tax cuts that President Trump signed into law late last year.

“At a time when the deficit is out of control, wages are flat and the wealthiest are doing better than ever, to give the top 1 percent another advantage is an outrage and shows the Republicans’ true colors,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “Furthermore, Mr. Mnuchin thinks he can do it on his own, but everyone knows this must be done by legislation.”

They want to get it to the point where they don’t have to pay any taxes at all.  And if it balloons the deficit, well, so what?  They only worry about that — or say they worry about that — when a Democrat is in the White House.  Then it’s the worst thing in the world and all the poor people must pay to bring it down because that’s what the poor people do.

Either that or Trump owes a huge payment to Putin and this is the only way to get the dough to make it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

$12 Billion Solution

Trump is telling the agricultural community that he’s authorizing the Department of Agriculture to release $12 billion in emergency funds to make up for the losses caused by the tariffs he’s imposed on countries that import our agricultural products.

In other words, the arsonist is showing up in time to help the firefighters put out the blaze that he started.

And I’m sure that all the hard-core conservatives in Congress who believe that government hand-outs are the worst thing in the world and a slippery slope to socialism and state-run collectivism will rise up as one and proclaim that the free market is the American way and if the farmers can’t cut it, well, that’s a tough row to hoe.  Yeah, right.  It’ll be interesting to see how many of them who support this bail-out were totally against President Obama’s help to the automobile industry.

This is a $12 billion solution to a political problem.  The tariffs are hitting the people who who voted for Trump in the first place and he’s out to protect not them but himself.  After all, as we’ve seen — and heard on tape — Trump is always willing to pay someone off to get himself out of a mess that he caused.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Personal Piggybank

The New York attorney general has filed suit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation, alleging, among other things, that he and his family used it to pay for everything from redecorating a resort to paying for presidential campaign events.

In the suit, Attorney General Barbara Underwood asked a state judge to dissolve the Donald J. Trump Foundation. She asked that its remaining $1 million in assets be distributed to other charities and that Trump be forced to pay at least $2.8 million in restitution and penalties.

Underwood also asked that Trump be banned from leading any other New York nonprofit organization for 10 years — seeking to apply a penalty usually reserved for the operators of small-time charity frauds to the president of the United States.

[…]

Although Donald Trump’s name is on the foundation, in recent years most of its money was not actually his. Trump did not donate any money to the foundation between 2008 and 2015. Instead, its largest benefactors in recent years have been wrestling moguls Vince and Linda McMahon, who gave $5 million total in 2007 and 2009. Linda McMahon was later appointed by Trump to be head of the Small Business Administration.

Behind the scenes, Underwood said, the foundation was essentially one of Trump’s personal piggy banks — a pool of money that his accounting clerks knew to use whenever Trump wanted to pay a nonprofit organization. By law, Trump wasn’t allowed to buy things for himself using the charity’s money, even if he was buying them from nonprofit groups.

Trump could have avoided all this trouble and been shielded from the regulators if he had set himself up as a megachurch.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Steel Away

This should go over well in certain places.

Trump wants to impose a total ban on the imports of German luxury cars, according to a new report from CNBC and German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

Several U.S. and European diplomats told the news outlets that Trump told French President Emmanuel Macron about his plans last month during a state visit.

Trump reportedly told Macron that he would maintain the ban until no Mercedes-Benz cars are seen on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Shares of Daimler, Porsche and Volkswagen were lower on Thursday, shortly after the weekly German business magazine published the report.

Calling these automobiles “imports” is a bit of a misnomer.  While they may have corporate headquarters in Germany, the cars you see on Fifth Avenue in New York are assembled in places like Alabama and South Carolina.  I think the people who put the cars together there vote, too, as well as the people who buy them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sit Anywhere You Like

One of the upshots of Starbucks’ consciousness-raising over who gets to sit in their coffee houses without drawing the attention of the constabulary is that they will make it their official policy that you don’t actually have to buy something to earn a place to sit there.

That’s good to know; I’ve been doing it for years (although I usually do buy something; after all, those blueberry scones are pretty good), and the local Starbucks was my go-to place for WiFi last September after Hurricane Irma, free or otherwise.  Now I won’t have that tickling feeling of guilt when I stop in and boot up without buying a scone or a tall plain cuppajoe.

But that’s upsetting to some conservatives.  Megyn Kelly, for instance.

“They’re allowing anyone to stay and use the bathroom even if they don’t buy anything, which has a lot of Starbucks’ customers saying, ‘Really?’” Kelly remarked on her Today Show program. “Because now the Starbucks are going to get overwhelmed with people and is it really just a public space or is it not?”

“For the paying customers who go in with their kids, do you really want to deal with a mass of homeless people or whoever is in there — could be drug addicted, you don’t know when you’re there with your kids paying for the services of the place.”

For those of you who are numb to dog whistles, what she’s really saying is that Starbucks is now the equivalent of the Port Authority bus terminal and their bathrooms are open to just anyone, not just rich white people paying five bucks for a latte.  Oh, how we’ve all caved to political correctness and now she has to sit next to someone who is undeserving of being in her presence.

Or maybe she’d rather see what I saw yesterday morning when I got to the office before dawn.  It’s located in downtown Miami and there are a number of homeless people who spend the night in sheltered areas until the building opens.  As I approached the entrance, I saw a man standing outside on the wheelchair ramp where he’d spent the night.  From his stance and the fact that I’m a man who knows what a certain stance means, I knew he was taking a leak against the side of our building.  As I got near the door, he tried to mop it up with the newspapers he’d just used as his bed.  I didn’t say anything to him, but I did inform the security guard who was arriving of what I’d seen so they could get someone to hose the ramp down.  I didn’t call the cops, and if the man had asked, I’m pretty sure the guard would have let him in to use the rest room on the first floor instead of peeing on the ramp.

I’ve often said it would be nice if there was a Starbucks in the neighborhood, and there’s another reason now; to show a little bit of kindness and accommodation to people who don’t have multi-million dollar contracts to sneer at others on TV.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Short Takes

Oklahoma teachers continue their march to the state capital.

Pruitt under pressure: EPA chief’s problems keep growing.

Yeah right: Trump says he was unaware of payment to Stormy Daniels.

Cyclist fired for flipping off Trump sues her former employer.

New Russia sanctions go after oligarchs.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

Friday, March 23, 2018

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Kudlow: Wrong About Everything

Jonathan Chait has a concise summary of TV-pundit Lawrence Kudlow’s economic scholarship and history: He’s been wrong every time.

In 1993, when Bill Clinton proposed an increase in the top tax rate from 31 percent to 39.6 percent, Kudlow wrote, “There is no question that President Clinton’s across-the-board tax increases … will throw a wet blanket over the recovery and depress the economy’s long-run potential to grow.” This was wrong. Instead, a boom ensued. Rather than question his analysis, Kudlow switched to crediting the results to the great tax-cutter, Ronald Reagan. “The politician most responsible for laying the groundwork for this prosperous era is not Bill Clinton, but Ronald Reagan,” he argued in February, 2000.

By December 2000, the expansion had begun to slow. What had happened? According to Kudlow, it meant Reagan’s tax-cutting genius was no longer responsible for the economy’s performance. “The Clinton policies of rising tax burdens, high interest rates and re-regulation is responsible for the sinking stock market and the slumping economy,” he mourned, though no taxes or re-regulation had taken place since he had credited Reagan for the boom earlier that same year. By the time George W. Bush took office, Kudlow was plumping for his tax-cut plan. Kudlow not only endorsed Bush’s argument that the budget surplus he inherited from Clinton — the one Kudlow and his allies had insisted in 1993 could never happen, because the tax hikes would strangle the economy — would turn out to be even larger than forecast. “Faster economic growth and more profitable productivity returns will generate higher tax revenues at the new lower tax-rate levels. Future budget surpluses will rise, not fall.” This was wrong, too. (I have borrowed these quotes from my book, in which Kudlow plays a prominent role.)

Kudlow then began to relentlessly tout Bush’s economic program. “The shock therapy of decisive war will elevate the stock market by a couple-thousand points,” he predicted in 2002. That was wrong. He began to insist that the housing bubble that was forming was a hallucination imagined by Bush’s liberal critics who refused to appreciate the magic of the Bush boom. He made this case over and over (“There’s no recession coming. The pessimistas were wrong. It’s not going to happen. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). Goldilocks is alive and well. The Bush boom is alive and well.”) and over (“The Media Are Missing the Housing Bottom,” he wrote in July 2008). All of this was wrong. It was historically, massively wrong.

And now he’s Trump’s chief economic adviser.  Why?  Because he was on TV and he’s been sucking up to Trump since he got out of rehab.

Living Large

The Cabinet loves fancy furniture and flying high.

During a Cabinet meeting at the White House last October, President Trump extolled the virtues of the men and women surrounding him at the table.

“A great trust has been placed upon each member of our Cabinet,” he declared. “We have a Cabinet that — there are those that are saying it’s one of the finest group of people ever assembled . . . as a Cabinet. And I happen to agree with that.”

Less than five months later, Trump finds himself presiding over a Cabinet in which a number of members stand accused of living large at taxpayer expense — often by aggressively embracing the trappings of their high government posts.

At least a half-dozen current or former Trump Cabinet officials have been mired in federal investigations over everything from high-end travel and spending on items such as a soundproof phone booth to the role of family members weighing in on official business. On Wednesday alone, newly disclosed documents revealed fresh details about spending scandals at both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

[…]

Revelations about repeated use of chartered airplanes forced the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in September. More recently, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has continued to wrestle with the fallout of news that taxpayers covered the expenses for his wife during a 10-day trip to Europe last year — and more recently that his chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to justify the payments.

Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has faced public criticism and the scrutiny of government investigators for his own frequent first-class travels and for other expenditures he made using public funding. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that records showed a soundproof phone booth installed in Pruitt’s office cost $43,000 — $18,000 more than previously disclosed.

At the Interior Department, Secretary Ryan Zinke has faced inquiries about his travel practices, and last fall an official in the agency’s inspector general office wrote that Zinke had failed to properly document his trips since taking office.

And at HUD, public records released this week detail how Carson’s wife was closely involved in the redecorating of his office at the agency, including the purchase of a $31,561 dining set.

And they all claim they had no idea it would cost this much to redecorate or fly first class and they’re pissed and insulted that we would dare question them about it.

Wow, the nerve of some people.

This is the very definition of a kleptocracy.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Friday, March 9, 2018