Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thanks, New York Times, for compromising away seniors’ Social Security income

For many American senior 
citizens, this could be the
big meal of the day, if the New
York Times and the Trump
Administration have their way.
I should have come across this sooner. Perhaps it was the Ghost of Christmas Past, trying to postpone my un-holiday-like outrage for a while, that caused me to overlook it.

I refer to a piece by the Times Editorial Board offering to bargain away part of the Social Security benefits that seniors currently receive. 

The Times began by pretending to oppose benefits cuts that Republicans are proposing to “save” Social Security. Never mind that the whole shebang can be saved for the foreseeable future simply by raising the cap on deductions.

The cap — the point at which the government stops deducting Social Security taxes from your pay check — is currently at $110,000 a year. And even the Times article agrees that “the wage cap has not kept pace with the income gains of high earners; if it had, it would be about $250,000 a year.

So just restore the wage kept to its inflation-adjusted level and everybody’s happy. Well, maybe the million-bucks-a-year corporate C-Suite inhabitant gets irked because it takes a few months longer before the withholding from his pay check is reduced. But nearly everybody lives happily ever after, right?

Not the New York Times. 

The Times instead generously offers to chip away at the already cheesy safety net, helping to lower the bar for Tom Price, the incoming head of Health and Human Services, to propose the benefit cuts he has in mind.

States the Times:

A prudent approach to reform would target the causes of the system’s shortfall with a mix of modest benefit cuts and modest tax increases. It would make sense, for instance, to trim the benefits of recipients who were high earners during their work lives, because, in general, high earners live longer than low earners and thus draw their relatively higher benefits for a longer period of time.
Price, admits the Times, “ has been a champion of cuts to all three of the nation’s large social programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. When discussing reforms to Social Security, he has ignored ways to bring new revenue into the system while emphasizing possible benefit cuts through means-testing, private accounts and raising the retirement age.”

There is no reason why America’s citizens — even the richest of us — should accept any of these cuts, nor the one the Times proposes. Social Security isn’t simply a program for the hard up. It’s an insurance program, a retirement annuity, into which every American who has ever worked for a living — and the companies that employed them — paid  regularly by payroll deduction.

Imagine if you had a private retirement annuity and the insurance company came to you and said, “Hey, we’ve decided that, despite what the contract we signed with you says, that we’re going to delay three years before beginning to pay you the money we owe you.”

Or imagine they came to you and said, “Hey, we've just decided that you’ve got plenty of money. So we think you don’t need the benefits you paid for. Thanks, we’ll keep ‘em instead.”

Or even, “You’ve still got some money. Only a dollar? Well, cat food’s plenty nutritious. And if that doesn’t fill you up, eat the cat.”

You’d be enraged. You’d be livid. Your head would be exploding. You’d demand the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of the crooks who perpetrated that ripoff. 

So start getting livid now, not only at The New York Times, but also at the mere notion of raising the retirement age again — it was 65 only a few years ago — or reducing benefits. Evidently both are on every Republican agenda, starting the millisecond Trump stumbles into the Oval Office.

As for privatization, that’s just an opportunity for the wonderful folks who brought you the Mortgage Meltdown to reach into your pocket and grab a big handful of your money for themselves.

It’s time to make an issue of this. Not a little issue. A huge, cage-rattling, booming issue. 

Seniors, sharpen your pitch forks and light your torches!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Obama, Netanyahu, the West Bank, Iran, and the sweet taste of settling the score

Just because I’m pro-American doesn’t mean I have to be pro-Trump. And just 
because I’m an enthusiastic Zionist — a believer that Israel has a right not only 
to exist, but to do so as a specifically Jewish state —doesn’t mean I have to have 
anything except utter contempt for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

That said, let me change the subject for just a moment and recall a column written 
many years ago by Jimmy Breslin for a wonderful and now defunct newspaper 
called The New York Herald-Tribune, may it rest in peace. 

Breslin told a story about a character named Marvin the Torch, who commits 
arson for money and makes his fires  look accidental.  This is regarded in some 
circles as a socially beneficial service, because it enables debt-saddled owners 
of failing businesses to collect insurance money and recover once the business
is reduced to ashes.

In Breslin’s story, Marvin got stiffed by one of his clients after Marvin burned 
down — on commission — one of the client’s businesses. So Marvin, feeling 
righteously aggrieved, then went and burned down another of his now-former-
client’s businesses, one that was making money. And, if I recall this correctly, 
Marvin made this second arson appear like the arson it was, leaving his former 
client in deep.…well, you know what.

Then came the money quote from Marvin: “Professionals don’t get mad, they 
get even.”

Okay, Back to Obama and Netanyahu and Israel. Bear with me, because like 
all real-life problems in international relations, this one’s complicated and 
involves a lot of wheels and gears turning in different directions, some at the 
same time, some at different times.

In 1967, Israel found itself in a war with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The war 
lasted six days. At the end of it, Israel found itself victoriously occupying, 
among other things, the Sinai (which was Egyptian) and the West Bank.

Not terribly long after, Egypt and Israel settled the dispute and Israel returned 
the Sinai. The West Bank, however, has been an Israeli-occupied bone of 
contention ever since. I’m not going to wade too deeply into the weeds 
concerning this dispute, other than to point out that there’s no international law 
that says the winners in a war have to give back the territory they’ve captured. 
If such as rule did exist, California, Arizona,  Colorado, New Mexico and 
Texas would be Mexican states, and Donald Trump would be building his 
wall in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Not to mention that you'd need
a passport to get into the Native American City of New York. And Seminole
people might be feeding snowbirds to their pet alligators.

However, the West Bank is a useful bargaining chip that might eventually lead to 
a peaceful agreement and a “two state solution.” By building a rapid metastasis 
of settlements — and pretty big ones — in the West Bank, Netanyahu is pissing 
away that chance, while inflaming the very people he eventually needs to make 
peace with.

That’s one bone of contention between Netanyahu and President Obama. The 
other occurred in March of 2015, when Netanyahu, contrary to the wishes of the
President, gave a speech to Congress knocking the Iran nuclear deal that the 
Obama administration had set up.

The timing of this unfortunate speech had the effect of favoring one party over 
another while the  nation was warming up for the unfortunate presidential election 
we’ve just experienced.  It so infuriated Democrats that 58 members, including 
Joe Biden, who normally presides as Vice-President over all Senate meetings, 
boycotted the speech

There’s nothing wrong with a foreign state advocating for its position with the
State Department or the President. But by bringing the dispute before a highly
publicized meeting of Congress, Netanyahu interfered in the American election
process as much as the Russians did by hacking the Democratic National 

The sheer chutzpah of Netanyahu! He expected the American President whose 
party Netanyahu helped sink, to continue supporting Israel in every way 
possible. Finally, Netanyahu got the answer he deserved.

That answer was the United States simply sitting on its hands while a pro-
Palestinian resolution sailed through the United Nations Security Council.

Now Netanyahu is in it up to his neck at home. Serves him right, as well as 
the radicals among my fellow Zionists. You not only bit the hand that’s been 
feeding you, you also crapped all over the wound. Es zol shtinken fun 
deyn cupf. 

Or to put it another way, President Obama, unlike the thin-skinned hothead who 
will take possession of the White House in January, knows the philosophy of 
Marvin the Torch. Professionals don’t get mad, they get even.

Now the question is, will Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whose people hacked the 
Democratic National Committee also get the message? I wonder if President 
Obama will have time to do a bit of professional torching in the Kremlin 
before he leaves office?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Comrade Trump goes to Washington

San Francisco designer Matt Silverman, the creator
of this poster, may have put his finger on who 
Donald Trump really wants to be
What’s with the curious affinity of Donald Trump for Vladimir Putin? 

And how does this love for the communist boss square with Trump’s cabinet appointments of right wing social safety net haters— people who want not only to repeal Obamacare, but who also yearn destroy Social Security and Medicare?

One theory is, a totalitarian is a totalitarian, is a totalitarian. Case in point: a former Moscow strongman named Joseph Stalin.

Even before Hitler begin sending six million people to his gas chambers, Stalin deliberately created a genocidal famine in the Ukraine to starve the peasants who wanted independence from Moscow. At the height of it, 28,000 Ukrainians a day starved to death. 

Oh, and also worth mentioning. Before he began starving people who didn’t see things his way, Stalin started out more mildly — by rounding them up and deporting them. Sound familiar?

The thing about “strongmen” is that at heart, their only personal ideology is their own power and narcissism.

Another Matt Silverman take on Trump
So maybe Trump can be both a Putin-adoring communist and a crypto-fascist. Whatever the case, hats off to San Francisco designer Matt Silverman, who has noticed how neatly Comrade Trump fits into Soviet-style propaganda posters. 

Zdrah stuiteh Comrade Donald. I have only one question for you. Is it true that after the first year or so of your administration, Russian will become the official language of the United States?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

When a guest cat drops dead on your living room floor, you can be pretty sure it means something ominous

Buy it, and then read the story that begins
on page 101
Ordinarily I don’t interrupt the stream of political and other rants here just to recommend some light reading. But face it, the political situation in this country is so messed up we all need some light reading.

So get your hands on the January/February 2017 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine which is chock-full of deliciously distracting murder most foul. 

When you do, be sure to read the story that begins on page 101 entitled, “The Client, The Cat, The Wife, and the Autopsy,” another tale featuring Rich Hovanec, private, umm, well he's not licensed, so he has to call himself a "sensitive information researcher."

What? You don't have a subscription? No problem. Just go here.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Which Donald Trump is the liar?

From the December 11th New York Daily News:
President-elect Donald Trump won't blame Russia for a reported hack into the presidential campaign — but he will blame Democrats. 
Trump said Sunday, citing no evidence, he believes the CIA report of a Russian cyberattack could be conspiracy cooked up by Democrats as "another excuse" for their Election Day loss. 
His baseless blame came as his GOP supporters continued casting doubt on the CIA's findings — while some senators called for a Kremlin crackdown. 
"I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country," Trump said on "Fox News Sunday" about the report.
In short, the President-elect knows nothing. 

Russian Hacks? couldn't happen. Never heard of 'em.
Except for this: 

Friday, December 09, 2016

Kiss Medicare goodbye. While you're at it, kiss Social Security goodbye.

The long knives are out, and they're coming to slash whatever kind of security you looked forward to in your old age.

Send your thank-you notes to Donald Trump.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Sex, Greed and Phamaceuticals, or, why sex will cost you more when you’re over sixty

Why do women in Viagra ads look like
hookers? Read below and learn.
No sex for you, Gramps. Uh, not for you either, Grandma. Not if you need a pill to get yourself into sexual motion. But there is a ray of hope for both of you — if you live long enough.

For the rest of you, whose sexual plumbing is still working well enough for you to not have noticed so far, we regret to offer the following report:  

Pfizer, the manufacturer of Viagra, and Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Cialis, have been doing a  Martin Shkreli with the prices of these products. Their 2010 list prices have tripled.

In fact. these days, the list price of each drug is about fifty bucks per pill. And that has people like Dr. Elizabeth Kavaler, a sexual disfunction specialist at one New York City hospital, mournfully pointing out that, “Once you get to a certain prices point, sex becomes a financial decision” that “takes a lot of joy out of this.”

More bad news: the Associated Press reports that they interviewed six specialists in sexual dysfunction, and five of those reported that patients were giving up on sex because of prices.

If pharma companies will triple the price of optional products, such as those that make sex possible, what do you suppose they’ll do with the price of a product that you must have or you'll die? And you were upset by drug gouger Martin Shkreli? He’s just the tip of the iceberg.

All this is sad, but hardly surprising. The unmitigated greed of drug companies is driving insurance costs and other healthcare costs through the roof. It appears to be the intention of the Republican Congress  to let the situation continue. Not so for Donald Trump, who claims he wants to bring down drug prices. But who knows if he means it?

Meanwhile, drug company CEOs suck millions out of the economy and stuff the money into their own pockets. And people in need of medication suffer.

Which is not to say that the drug companies are taking  thrifty senior citizens — or any other abstainers from their products — lying down.  They’re spending big bucks like there’s no tomorrow to urge you to consume more drugs.

Kantar Media, a media measurement and monitoring service, reported that drug advertising direct to consumers topped four and a half billion dollars in 2014.  That’s more than gets spent advertising Toyota or Chrysler automobiles, or all of the various services of Verizon. They’re out to make you feel that you just gotta have it, even if you can’t afford it.

Nor should it be any surprise that the women in the Viagra ads look just a tetch too young to be the wives of likely Viagra users. For that matter, they’re too young even to be second wives of most of the male geriatric crowd. Instead, they mostly come off as looking like high class hookers on  their way to work. And don’t think that’s just a coincidence.

Back in my ad agency days, one of the lessons that got pounded into our heads about advertising to the “fifty-plus market” was that senior citizens imagine themselves looking at least ten years younger than they really are.

So if you want to talk to a sixty-five year old man, show a fifty-something year old man. By extension, it follows that if a sixty year old man imagines he's fifty-ish, maybe he could pick up — or pay for — a thirty year old, umm, escort. 
Perhaps that’s why the ads show the “fifty year old” guy and the hooker checking into hotels, or onto cruise ships. If he brought her home, his wife would throw both of them out of the house.

Okay, let’s leave further machinations relating to male geezers and their sex fantasies to the market research people at Pfizer and Lilly. But we ought to address the economics of the situation.

Specifically, if customers are dropping out of the boner pill market because they can’t pay that kind of money, doesn’t that hurt drug company income and profits?

Not necessarily. In fact, the opposite can be true. Let’s say it’s 2010 and ten senior citizens go out and buy one Viagra pill each for $17 a pill. That produces $170 in sales.

Now let’s say it’s 2016, and the price has roughly tripled to $50 a pill. That’s so expensive that five of the original ten customers despair and decide to live without sex. That leaves five customers, at $50 a piece, or a total of $250 in sales. That’s $80 more income than the company made in 2010. 

Now suppose that instead of ten customers we’re talking about millions, each of them consuming several pills a month.  Do the math. It can be considerably more profitable to sell fewer pills at a higher price.

But don’t despair. The AP also reports:
Now, a little relief is coming. Late next year, Viagra and Cialis will get at least one generic competitor costing slightly less; prices will plunge later when more generics reach the market. For women, an Addyi rival is in late-stage testing. A few other products now have generic versions, and other options are in development.
Which means if you live long enough and the “other options” get developed, you might save enough over time to actually pay for one of the hookers in the Viagra ads.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Hmm,Trump's people oppose a recount. I wonder why?

Is there monkey business going on in some
Republican smoke-filled room?
From an article in The New York Times:
LANSING, MICH. — Supporters of President-elect Donald J. Trump have filed legal challenges in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan in a suddenly robust effort to stop the presidential election recount efforts there. 
Bill Schuette, the attorney general of Michigan, said that the recount, initiated by Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, put Michigan voters at risk of "paying millions and potentially losing their voice in the electoral college in the process." 
"This court cannot allow a dilatory and frivolous request for a recount by an aggrieved party to silence all Michigan votes for president," Mr Schuette, a Republican, said in a court filing.
Shucks, Mr Shuette, if a majority of Michiganders actually voted for Donald Trump, a recount won't silence them. It will only validate them. So what's the real reason you oppose a recount?

Only asking.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Care for a nice smallpox epidemic, anybody? Well then, how about a "refreshing" case of polio? The anti-vaxxers are counting on Trump.

A smallpox victim. Photograph from the website of
From Stat News, “Reporting form the frontiers of health and medicine.”
The discredited researcher [Andrew Wakefield] who launched the anti-vaccine movement met with Donald Trump this summer — and found him sympathetic to the cause. Now, with Trump preparing to move into the White House, leaders of the movement are newly energized, hopeful they can undermine decades of public policy promoting childhood vaccinations. 
At the most basic level, they’re hoping Trump will use his bully pulpit to advance his oft-stated concern — debunked by an extensive body of scientific evidence — that there’s a link between vaccines and autism. 
former doctor whose medical license was revoked, Wakefield launched the movement to question the safety of vaccines nearly two decades ago with a fraudulent study (which has since been retracted) suggesting that a widely administered vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella can cause autism. 
Wakefield and a small group of like-minded activists spent nearly an hour with Trump in the closing months of the presidential campaign. “I found him to be extremely interested, genuinely interested, and open-minded on this issue, so that was enormously refreshing,” Wakefield said.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

David Brooks’ goes off the political deep end

David Brooks' idea of a
crazy, left-wing, wild-eyed,
radical modern leftist
Normally, I ignore my fellow progressives when they foam at the mouth about David Brooks, the New York Times columnist who is sort-of, not-quite-exactly, more-or-less-rightish-leaning,  semi-kinda-conservative.

Not that I’m likely to recruit an army to march behind him. As a general rule, Brooks makes bland but not really offensive comments that are well short of outrageous, and likely to have all the impact of a marshmallow colliding in outer space with a powder puff.

But today he made my head explode. 

Brooks first observed that the traditional political power centers are fracturing.  Then he speculated. “Instead of just R’s and D’s there will be a Trump-dominated populist nationalism, a more libertarian Freedom Caucus, a Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren progressive caucus, a Chuck Schumer/Nancy Pelosi Democratic old guard.”

Fine, so far. But then he pressed the detonator button that blew up my brain by declaring, “The most important caucus formation will be in the ideological center. There’s a lot of room between the alt-right and the alt-left, between Trumpian authoritarianism and Sanders socialism.”

What!  Huh? Bernie Sanders is “alt-left?” Brooks has the blind temerity to tell me that Sanders and Warren are the over-the-top equivalent in extremity of neo-fascist, race-baiting, torture-supporting, mass-arrest favoring,  gun-toting, Medicare and Social Security-busting, business-deregulating Trump supporters?

That’s beyond outrageous! That’s teetering on the edge of criminal libel.

What does Sanders favor? He favors income redistribution by creating well-paying jobs that would more closely resemble what we had in the 1950s and 1960s, before America ceased being “great again.”

He favors free public education, such as what we used to have at the City College of New York — once "the poor man's Harvard" and at  other public institutions.

He favors Medicare, including Medicare for all. And he favors regulating corporate power so that a handful of people cannot control — not to mention strangle — Democracy.

He favors conservation and the environment over private and corporate interests.

Know who first came up with that stuff in America? President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, at the dawn of the 20th Century. It’s about as far left radical as your great grandmother's rocking chair.

What has happened is, this country has lost its mind and moved so far to the right that we can’t even see any more where we used to be without a high powered telescope So shut up and listen, David Brooks.

There is no left wing in this country any more, assuming there ever was one with any serious power. Sanders is the center. Schumer and Pelosi are somewhere to the right of that. The  Conservatives, and the “Freedom” Caucusers, and the Neo-Conservatives and the Neo-Nazis around Trump are off the right  edge of the right wing, floating in crazy whack-o land.

And evidently, so these days, are you, David Brooks. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Memo to Mayor Bill DeBlasio: Here’s how to deal with Donald Trump’s threat to punish 8.4 million New Yorkers

So Bill, as one of your fellow New Yorkers, there are some things 
One of New York City's
best weapons against
Donald Trump is his New
York City real estate.
I like about you and others I don’t. Notwithstanding the negatives, I feel for you trying to deal with The Trumpster’s threat to whack the city on our collective butt if we continue providing sanctuary to undocumented aliens.
"Block funding for sanctuary cities ... no more funding. We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths," Trump said in Phoenix. "Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities.”
Given that a significant chunk of New York’s budget comes from the Federal Government (although even that is a  mere fraction of what New York and its citizens give to the Washington) you might be tempted to cave in and start rounding up foreigners for transport to….wherever.

Don’t fall for it, Bill.

In the first place, if the Federal government under Trump wants to round up immigrants, let them do it on their own dime. The cops in New York have enough problems rounding up real crooks and keeping traffic moving. The last thing they need is to stop everything and deplete the city’s resources to bust some kid because his parents brought him here when he was six months old.

Every time a local cop has to arrest and then process an undocumented immigrant, he’s saving the Feds from the expense of doing it themselves. This is especially critical to Republicans and The Trumpster, who plan to drain the Federal treasury by slashing and hacking away at the taxes on the rich.

Besides, New York has powerful weapon. The Trumpster not only lives here, he evidently plans to spend a good deal of time here.

Now that he’s president, his presence means that Fifth Avenue gets blocked off by our cops as part of his security. Cops erect barriers in front of 725 Fifth Avenue, the address of Trump Tower. They move sand-filled dump trucks into position around Trump Tower, taking them out of service for the duration of The Trumpster’s stay. They have to deal, at great cost to New Yorkers, with traffic jams, delays, and police overtime.

“Well from now you,” you can tell Trump, “Fuhgedaboudid.” You can be very nice to him while you say it, Bill. You can gently say, 

“Aw shucks, Mister President, now that you’ve cut so deeply into our operating budget by slashing our funding, we just don’t have the money for your security any more.”

You won’t even be setting a precedent, Bill. Rudy Giuliani, who seemed to have his own personal foreign policy when he was mayor here, set the precent back in 1995. That’s when he not only refused to provide security for visiting PLO head Yasser Arafat, but also booted his butt out of a Lincoln Center concert.

I’m not suggesting grabbing the Trumpster by the collar and kneeing his backside until he’s back on Air Force One (or will it be Trumpster One?) I’m simply suggesting that he should get no special consideration that costs the city as much as two cents.

While we’re at it, you know all those buildings with the name Trump on them? Not only the Trump Tower where President Donald will be spending much of his time at 725 Fifth. Also the one that houses one of his hotels at Columbus Circle. And the other opaque black monstrosity on First Avenue over near the UN. And the Hotel at 59th Street. And office buildings like the one one Wall Street, and on and on.

Bill, it might just occur to you, if necessary, that the city’s tax assessment on those buildings need a bit of an upgrade. After all, they’re part of the private empire of the President of the United States. That ought to add a heck of a lot to the desirability of the space they occupy and the spaces they offer. Hence, increased value. 

Up his assessments. Cut his security. And if he doesn’t pay the assessments?

Well, let's not rule out foreclosure.