Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A modest proposal to help protect our school kids, and reduce the budget imbalance, with the patriotic help of America’s kindly gun owners.

Good for Wayne LaPierre, the head honcho of the National Rifle Association!

After a godawful silence concerning the Sandy Hook gun massacre of innocent children and their teachers by a gun maniac (who killed his own mother with her licensed guns), although before the massacre of firemen by yet another unhinged nut in upstate New York, LaPierre finally had something to say that we can wrap our minds around – not to mention our teeth.

We should have more guns in schools, he said. In fact, he insisted, we should have an armed guard at every school. He made no estimate that I’m aware of the cost of doing this, although others estimate that it would be a bare minimum of $5,500,000,000 (that’s five billion, five hundred million dollars) a year.

Who’s supposed to pay for it? Why, you and me, of course.

“Waiter! This is not my check!
Please send it over to Mr. LaPierre's table.”

But why should any taxpayer who doesn’t want to own a gun, or who is horrified by the proliferation of guns, pay for protection against the misuse of an arsenal of guns owned by his cranky neighbor with the slightly off-kilter son, the one who lives in the attic and really hasn’t held a steady job since he got fired from a fast food joint for general insubordination and surliness?

Hold that thought while I mention this:

So, uh, I own the home I live in. And whaddya know – surprise, surprise! – I pay taxes on it.

It’s called a property tax because
governments can tax your property

Not only do I pay annual real estate taxes. If I sell my home at a profit  I’ll have to pay capital gains taxes. People complain about taxes on their homes, of course. Doesn’t matter. There’s an old principle of law that says, “If you own property, you owe the government.” Goes back to the founding of the Republic in this country. And to the English Crown under the legal system on which our legal system is based.

In fact, some states, like Connecticut, have a general property tax. You pay tax not only on the assessed value of your home, but also on your car. And of your snowmobile or your horse if you happen to own any of those, as some Connecticut citizens do. [Connecticut taxation statutes, chapter 203 - Sec. 12-71)]

Which brings me back around to, uh, guns. And to bullets. And to high capacity magazines. They’re personal property. And they’re personal property designed to kill people, and sometimes to kill large numbers of people in a very short amount of time, which they are doing with increasing regularity.

Which means any government in whose jurisdiction you reside, or in whose jurisdiction you keep your weapon, has the right to tax you even if you don’t personally ever shoot your weapon – just as you might not ride your snowmobile or your horse.

Introducing the Guns, Bullets,
and High Capacity Magazine Tax

Could these be budget balancers?

So why not charge gun and ammunition owners with a federal, and state, and local “Guns, Bullets, and High Capacity Magazine Ownership Tax?” That would put the cost of all those armed guards in schools right where it belongs – in the tax bills of those who are the source of the problem.

Hey, I cross a bridge, I pay a toll. I go through a tunnel, I pay a toll. I use the Pennsylvania Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway, or the New York State Thruway, I pay a toll. It’s a user tax.

What’s that? You say you never use your weapon? Listen, even if you keep it locked in a safe and only want it to ward off a violent home invasion, or you hang your automatic rifle on the wall in your den as a decoration, you’re using it for that purpose. So you’re a gun user. If you live in Connecticut, you can't escape the tax on your horse and snowmobile by demonstrating you never ride either the vehicle or the animal. If you own it, that's enough. Pay up, dude.

Or don’t pay and go to the pokey

How would we enforce a guns, bullets, and high capacity magazine tax? The same way we enforce income and other taxes. Willful failure to pay taxes – say, by not registering and reporting your guns, bullets and high capacity magazines – is a felony, punishable by fine and imprisonment.

With other taxes, we don’t catch every tax cheat, but we catch and punish enough of them to keep most citizens honest. If we can have honest business owners, doctors, and ribbon clerks, there’s no reason we can’t have honest gun, bullet and high capacity magazine owners.

Ultimately, the only thing that will reduce the amount of gun-and-bullet violence in this country is to get rid of, or largely get rid of the guns and bullets. But until we can have that, let’s at least make the people who manufacture, distribute, sell, keep, and play with lethal weapons pay to keep all the rest of us safe from their....oh, call it a pastime.

It’s perfectly legal. And it will lay the cost of protecting our kids – with a plan the representatives of the gun owners themselves are calling for – right at the feet of the cost creators.

Cross-posted at the No More Mister Nice Blog

Friday, December 21, 2012

We did so have a Mayan Apocalypse. Fortunately, only one man got caught in it.

Given the insanity in politics, and particularly the insanity in Republican politics these days, I'm not saying this is a sure thing. However, I suspect that after the rejection of his "Plan B" by fellow Republicans (a political apocalypse if ever there was one) on the eve of Mayan Doomsday, John Boehner's House speakership is toast.

Which is just as well. President Obama, this time with the collusion of Nancy Pelosi, was once again about to give away the store. They had agreed with Boehner to sock America's oldest, weakest and poorest Social Security recipients with a nightmare called Chained CPI, meanwhile moving up the top tax bracket from $250,000 to $400,000. This would have given those poor slobs who have to scrape by on $399,999 a year a wad of cash at the expense of poor Grand Aunt Mildred.

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to go off the cliff, and to hell with it. If we can't spread around the wealth a little, let's at least spread around the misery.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Academic technobabble rears its obnoxious head again, or, why a degree from the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago may now be worthless

Anyone who has been following me for a while knows that I abhor jargon and technobabble, finding them almost as loathsome as Republican ideology.

As far back as May 2007, before I even knew how to properly set up Internet links, I was railing against impenetrable prose, a spewing of obscure polysyllabic language created to exclude readers rather than to transmit ideas and stories to readers.

Now, at a time when I should be continuing to rail against guns, Republicans, and a tax for being elderly in the form of “chained CPI,” I am forced to turn my attention once again to the obnoxious spewing of unintelligible word vomit, this time from the journalism community itself.

From the Nieman Lab, which purports to be advancing the cause of good journalism, comes a statement from the woman at right. Her name is  Zizi Papacharissi. 

Ms. Papacharissi is,  despite her evident unwillingness to communicate comprehensibly, both a professor and head of the Department of Communication of the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is guilty of having published. on the Nieman Lab’s website, the following travesty
"…here is what I would like to be surprised by in 2013: The return of sentiment to news reporting, co-creating, curating. Not sentimental news, but news made better, through (yes, algorithmically generated propagation, but not redaction of) sentiment, that drives, directs, informs, and pluralizes news processes and values..."
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but my firm belief is, if you can’t avoid  resorting to pretentiously dense jargon and of-the-moment buzzwords like “curating,” you are likely trying to cover your lack of anything to say with polysyllabic logorrhea, and you deserve to have your electronic writing device smashed over your knuckles.

I think Ms. Papacharissi is talking about making news stories more emotional without letting emotion get in the way of objectivity. Nice trick if you can do it, and besides, there's really nothing new to her concerns – which may be why she tries to smother us in obfuscating language, or should I say "inscrutable semiotics?" 

The two greatest threats to the future of civilization are institutionalized ignorance on one hand, and people who write like Jacques Derrida on the other.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Obama makes a U-turn on Social Security while he fudges on gun control. A slap in the face to every senior citizen and parent of young children who voted for him.

It didn’t take long for Barack Obama to revert to character – the waffling, bargain-with-himself, give-in-to-Republicans, screw-his-own-base equivocator that he was during his first term.

The irony is, hanging tough with Republicans had started to work. They were in a panic. They agreed to at least some revenue enhancements. They were freaked out. They were caving in.

Whereupon the President said, in effect, “nevermind.”

"Chainsaw Barack" takes
an axe to Social Security.

Take Social Security. The president has agreed to take a chainsaw to the incomes of older Americans by offering to give the Republicans something called “Chained CPI.” You can find an explanation for it here, if you want it.

But what it boils down to is, it reduces the maximum Social Security by a small percentage one year, and then reduces that percentage by a small percentage the next year, and so on. All the while, medical costs will keep rising. So in the end, maximum benefits will be half of what they are today, and the very first to suffer will be the oldest and weakest of Social Security recipients.

But that will free up money to hand over to the very-well-off in the form of fewer tax cuts. Money that has already been earmarked for Social Security.

Shame on you, Mr. Obama. Shame!

They're shooting little kids in school?
Hey, let's form a committee!

Then there’s the matter of gun control. The nation is ready to rise up and slap significant controls tomorrow morning on an industry that makes a buck by selling rapid fire assault weapons that are used in this country mainly to murder people on colleger campuses, movie theaters, shopping malls, and kindergarten classes.

And what has the President proposed?

He has organized a “panel” to study the matter and make proposals for him to consider. In other words, he has formed a committee, the classic ploy of politicians who want to run out the clock. 

He’s asked for “proposals” by January. But by January, the worst of the shock will be over. The movement to take assault weapons off the streets will have lost some of its momentum. And the Republican supporters of the NRA will have likely gotten their watered down budget and tax bill that will slowly strangle seniors to make live cushier for people who make up to $999,999.99 a year.

Double shame, Mr. Obama. Double shame!

Oh, and while I've got your attention, you might want to read this letter I received from Firedog Lake and act accordingly:

Call the House and Senate: "Cut Benefits and I won't support you"
Dear Crank,
President Obama and Speaker Boehner may be close to reaching a deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" - and the details are not good.
The president is reportedly willing to cut Social Security benefits for current and future retirees by reducing the cost of living adjustment (COLA) and make $400 billion in unspecified cuts to Medicare in exchange for a modest increase in tax rates on the wealthy, $50 billion in infrastructure spending and an extension of unemployment benefits.1
Calculating COLA payments with a "Chained-CPI" would essentially reduce seniors income over time as their medical costs skyrocket.2We must let our elected officials know that even benefit cuts hidden behind statistical manipulations like the Chained-CPI are unacceptable and that we will not support anyone who facilitates cuts to Social Security, Medicare of Medicaid.

Can you please call your representatives in the House and Senate and let them know Chained-CPIU is unacceptable and that you have pledged not to support anyone who facilitates cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Meicaid benefits?

Predictably, Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi have already started falling in line behind this awful proposal.3 But recent polls indicate 60% of Americans oppose the Chained-CPI benefit cut, and even the AARP has come out strongly against it.4
That's because most people understand that, at a time when 15.1% of seniors are living in poverty, cutting Social Security benefits — which represent the primary source of income for many retirees — would only increase their suffering. If anything, our nation's strongest anti-poverty program needs to be expanded, not contracted. The reality is that seniors have a larger share of income devoted to medical expenses, and therefore are subject to higher rates of inflation than the general population.5
By using a chained CPI, Social Security benefits will become increasingly insufficient as an individual ages6 — forcing severe austerity upon retirees as 401ks, pensions and home equity continue to dry up.Using this method is both cruel and manipulative and does little to strengthen Social Security or address the so-called deficit crisis.
Obama and Boehner need to hear our opposition to this now while they are still negotiating the bargain, and our representatives in the House and Senate must know that if they vote for any plan that include benefit cuts they will forfeit our support.
Call your representative in the House and Senate and let them know you have pledged not to support anyone who facilitates cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits.
Thanks for your support.
In solidarity,
Brian Sonenstein
Campaign Director,

Monday, December 17, 2012

They used to blame gun violence on Superman. Now they blame it on video games. No, no, no! It’s the guns and bullets, stupid.

I should have known this was going to happen. In a sudden rush to affix blame, or in the case of the gun pervert lobby to shift blame for the Sandy Hook Massacre of children, trigger fingers are suddenly pointing at video games. That’s what caused all those mass murders. Video games. Read about it here. And also here. And etcetera.

Blind hardened criminals

Listen, I’m an old fogey, but I can remember back to the 1940s, as a six year old who loved his comic books and read them to shreds, that certain “knowledgeable” sources in the grown up world thought they were going to nearly blind us and then turn us into hardened criminals.  You can’t make this stuff up.

For example, there was Dr. Fredric Wertham, M.D., who was operating in a milieu when book reviewers could sincerely write:
"Badly drawn, badly written, and badly printed - a strain on the young eyes and young nervous systems - the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoils a child's natural sense of colour; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic' magazine." 
"The number of `good' comics is not worth discussing, but the great number that masquerade as `good' certainly deserve close scrutiny."
Hey, we’re talking about Superman and Batman here, those superheroic supporters of truth, justice and the American way. Which of course is code for “communism.” Once again, that's what people believed. I’m not kidding. For example?
Commie comics

A few weeks after Wertham’s panic-inducing report, A Detroit police commissioner named  ­– get this – Harry S. Toy – made a personal study of comic books. And he declared that comic books were “loaded with communist teachings, sex and racial discrimination.” 
Hey, Toy,  I learned to read all by myself, before I finished kindergarten, thanks to comic books. As did many of my contemporaries. And we did it without going blind, violent, ferocious, racist or communist.
That didn’t stop the blamers,who were bruising for a fist fight with Superman. There were urban legends about kids suicidally jumping from 20th story windows with bath towels tied to their shoulders as capes, believing they could fly because they saw Supermamn do it in comic books. And one about kids doing it with umbrellas and producing the same result. Panic! Panic!!
But every time people get mowed down with guns, somebody looks for a scapegoat, which might be anyone or anything from inept headshrinkers to hormone-arousing pornography, to adrenalin-pumping video games. Any day now some self-styled “expert” with a half-baked degree from some second-, third- or fifth-string university is going to be declaring direct links between video games and mass murder. Assuming it hasn't happened already.
Satan's incubator

And it’s all baloney. Video games, especially the violent ones, can certainly be vilified as a colossal waste of valuable time for kids who ought to be spending their spare hours  learning to read, or studying physics and history. Or performing public service. But Satan’s incubator of mass murder is not the video game industry.
Moreover, when people in Congress pick up this argument, you can be pretty certain they’re Congressional gun whores, trying to deflect the blame, at the behest of, or in fear of, the gun pervert lobby. Because even if video games were a direct cause of every gun-murdered child and adult in America, their influence could be stopped by exerting a firm grip on the sellers of guns and ammo.
No guns plus no bullets equals no gun murders. No matter if the potential shooter is a mental case or a model student, a video gamer or a choir boy.
Just say no. No to bullets. No to guns. No more mass murders. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Who are the real murderers in the school, and movie theater, and shopping mall, and college campus shootings? I accuse the NRA and any slimy politician who takes their money or kowtows to them.

I started to write this piece a few days ago and then put it aside. Perhaps, I thought, I was feeling too angry. Perhaps, I thought, there's no point to it. Perhaps, I thought, all these mass murders for nothing are getting the best of my emotions.

But then, some time this morning, I saw the first news reports of yet another mass murder by a lunatic with a gun. This time it was at Sandy Hook school at Newton, Connecticut. As I write this, 27 people are dead, including kindergarten-age children. Twenty little kids in all.

All you have to do is scroll down here and look at the terrified faces of the little ones who survived the shooting to see the immense pain, and fear they have endured, and to sense the mental scarring they will endure for life.

And please, don't tell me it was a person, not a gun, that did this. It couldn't have been done without a gun. And without the perverted encouragement to love, adore, stroke, oil, insert rods in, play with, fantasize about and fondle guns, encouraged by the NRA and by their enablers in Congress and the Senate.

As I said, I wasn't going to post my accusatory piece. But now I've had it.

This  is the piece I didn't post on Tuesday

It's getting so bad, I can't even keep track of all the senseless shootings all any more. In fact, Google "shootings in the United States" as I just did and you get 1.4 billion – that's one billion and four hundred million results. 
And with all this we have captive legislators in both the Congress and the Senate and Statehouses everywhere who not only fearfully suck up to the NRA, but also work with the NRA to expand "gun rights" into insane notions like "Stand your ground" laws which, as of the moment I'm writing this, produce a mere 35 million results from Google. 
The NRA supporters in Congress and those who have run for Congress with NRA money, and all their counterparts in statehouses around the nation are not merely political whores. (I'm talking to the likes of you, Jim Rennacci of Ohio;  and you, Steve Fincher of Tennessee; and you, Josh Mandel of Ohio; and not surprisingly you, Eric Cantor of Virginia, and also you, Mike Coffman of Ohio – among others. 
These legislators are also murderers, as assuredly as Adolph Eichmann, who never personally gassed one of his victims but who skillfully facilitate their murders, was a war criminal and a murderer who was hanged for his crimes. I said it and I'll say it again with some amplification: 
The supporters of and recipients of largesse from the NRA are, plain and simply, murderers. And they deserve to be treated and dealt with accordingly.
By encouraging unrestricted and nearly unregulated use of guns, and accepting support from an organization that encourages "stand your ground" gun crimes, they are promulgating violence and death as surely as the psychopath who cries "Fire" in a crowded theater encourages death by stampede and panic. 
Every officer and consultant to the NRA, and every person in any legislative body anywhere who supports them, is guilty of the murder of these children and deserves the severest penalty for murder that the law can mete out. And if that is death in some states, so be it.
Friday afternoon afterthought: It's time to separate the legislators with spine from the murder-enabling legislators who support the NRA because they fear the NRA. Last summer, the NRA was warning lawmakers not to support legislation that would reveal who was contributing the money for NRA attack ads. And of course, as you'll see from this article about it, the NRA murderers like to pose with their own weapons in plain view, rather like Bonnie and Clyde. Maybe the U.S. Marshals should send in a SWAT team.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let's starve some children! On budget cuts at the edge of the fiscal cliff, cruelty to children, and the growth of the super-rich fat cats.

New York's State Senator Liz Kreuger occasionally sends a letter to her constituents that hits bulls eyes and hits them hard.

Her latest letter is one of those. I wish she had also mentioned Medicare and Social Security, but her explanation about what other potential federal budget cuts will mean provides a pretty solid rationale why Republicans such as Mitch McConnell and, yes, John Boehner, ought to be given a good hard whack across their fannies and sent to bed without any dinner – if not sent to reform school.

The news reports say from time to time that Boehner is negotiating with the president, but I put no faith in the negotiating integrity of a guy who, if Walt Disney had cast him as one of the seven dwarfs, would have to be named "Weepy." Most of the rest of them could take turns playing "Sleepy" and "Grumpy."

Anyway, Senator Kreuger didn't request this, but I herewith reproduce part of a recent letter from her to voters in her state senatorial district:

Once again, basic social safety net programs are at risk in federal budget negotiations. The outcome of the current battles over the so-called “fiscal cliff” will go a long way toward determining if the United States will become even more divided between the haves and have-nots. 
President Obama has been adamant that the long-term solution to our fiscal problems must include increased taxes on the wealthy. The reason why this is correct is simple – any other strategy for reducing the federal budget deficit will fall disproportionately on those who can least afford it. Vital programs including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Unemployment Insurance, education, housing, and disaster relief programs would all have to face draconian cuts, with devastating effects for those who rely on these programs and for the economy as a whole.
One program at great risk in the current negotiations is SNAP(previously known as food stamps). The House farm bill cuts SNAP by $16 billion over 10 years, which would result in the loss of benefits to 1.8 million people each year, and would result in 280,000 children losing access to free school meals. The Senate bill, though less draconian, still proposes cuts of $4.5 billion over 10 years. 
SNAP is the foundation of our safety net. It lifted 3.9 million Americans out of poverty in 2010, including 1.7 million children and 280,000 seniors. It is also an incredibly effective economic stimulus program – much more effective than tax cuts for the wealthy, because people spend their SNAP benefits immediately, in their local neighborhood food stores creating jobs. Moody’s Analytics and the US Department of Agriculture estimate that the economic impact of each $1 in SNAP benefits ranges from $1.73 to $1.79. 
The last election was about a lot of things, but it is undeniable that both candidates made clear their fundamental disagreement on whether to allow the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans to expire. Both candidates made their arguments, and I am happy that in this election at least, a majority of voters supported President Obama, who made the case for higher tax rates for the wealthy because he believes, as I do, that we need to rebuild a strong and secure middle class, while not reversing the trend of growing poverty for our youngest and oldest. 
This is the right policy because it will enable the federal government to preserve vital programs, such as SNAP, that help lift Americans out of poverty. Perhaps more importantly, it is the right policy because allowing the yawning gap of economic inequality in our society to grow further is fundamentally unjust and will cripple the political and economic system on which our society is based. 
Economic inequality is a growing problem for both our country and for New York State. A recent study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found the ratio of wealth held by the top 20 percent of Americans increased from 7.2 to 8.0 when the years 1998-2000 are compared to 2008-2010. New York has consistently had above average levels of inequality, which have only gotten worse in recent years. In 1998-2000, the ratio in New York of the top 25 percent’s average income to the bottom 25 percent’s average income was 8.7. By 2008-10 that ratio had risen to 9.2. 
For the extremely wealthy, the ratios are even more extreme. The average income of the top 5 percent of households was 13.3 times the average income of the bottom 20 percent of households. The states with the largest such gaps were Arizona, New Mexico, California, Georgia, and New York, where the ratio exceeded 15.0. The full report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities is available at 
We must ensure that fears about the fiscal cliff do not result in decisions that only worsen these trends of growing inequality and further undermine the stability of our democracy. Fortunately, our U.S. Senators and Representatives have been strong advocates for a balanced approach to deficit reduction. I have written to our U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand urging them to stand strong and demand that any final deal protect vital programs and raise revenue through our country’s historically more progressive tax structure.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Oh boy! Yum yum! Elephant poop coffee! (Is there a message in here somewhere about Republicans?)

As they used to say where I grew up in Brooklyn, “You can’t make this sh*&# up.” And any pun you may detect here is purely a natural product (or perhaps a natural byproduct) of the subject matter.

According to a news story conscientiously and intrepidly squeezed out by the Associated Press and dutifully picked up by USA Today and other fine news journals, they've got a new kind of coffee in Thailand.  It’s made by feeding coffee beans to elephants, then retrieving the same beans from their dung when the elephants finish, uh, processing the stuff.

The coffee goes for fifty bucks a cup. That’s $50. Fifty. Dollars.

Now, as you know, Republicans have long been represented by symbols of elephants. And given the giddy and out-of-control behavior of certain legislators recently, most especially as it pertains to raising taxes on the formidably rich, I begin to wonder which elephants the Thais have been using to process their beans.

Anyway, the notion of having something that was once commonplace, but that only the well-off can afford these days, like a job, or a house, or a steak dinner, or now a cup of coffee, sounds very Republican to me.

But if I never taste it, I’m sure I won’t miss that $50 coffee. I’ve already taken enough crap from Republicans to last a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

They're called "entitlements" because you're entitled to them. You paid for them. Don't let Republicans rip them off.


Whether you have a job or you're self-employed, every day you work, and every day you have worked, the government has deducted part of your pay for Social Security and Medicare.

That's as it should be. If you get something of value, specifically Social Security and Medicare, you should pay for it.

Now most of the Republicans are demanding that in exchange for some kind of tax increase on the very rich, or just for closing tax loopholes, they want cuts in "entitlements." As if you never paid so much as a nickel into them. As if "entitle" doesn't mean you have a legal right to them, just as the dictionary says.

The truth is, even the very rich are entitled to entitlements if they paid into Social Security and Medicare. There should be no means test. There should be no test of any kind. Like an insurance policy or any other kind of contract, if you paid in, you're entitled to take out.

If you paid into an insurance policy every month for twenty, or thirty, or forty or more years, and then the insurance company said it wasn't going to pay you the benefit you're entitled to, you'd be furious. You'd demand action. You'd insist on the arrest of the executives at the insurance company for theft and fraud.

It's the same with Senator McConnell, and Speaker John Boehner, and Congressmen Paul Ryan and the dozens of other Republican entitlements cutters from Michelle Bachmann to Paul Vitter. Notice that they don't seek to cut the budget by cutting the far richer benefits of senators and congressman that are also ripped indirectly out of your pay check. They want to cut your benefits – benefits, it bears repeating, that you're entitled to – and to hell with you if that plunges you into poverty.

Not only did you pay for those entitlements, your boss paid for you in addition. And if you're self employed, you paid twice – both the employer and the employee tax. How dare those self-serving S.O.Bs Republicans in the House and Senate make a grab for your retirement money and your sick money.

Don't let them do it. Stealing from the poor and middle class to keep the rich waist-deep in clover is an outrage and an affront to 98 percent of the citizens of the United States.

The Republicans in Congress and the Senate deserve the number 98. Ninety-eight years to life.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Former textile mill owner blasts crazy tax notions and other popular nonsense about the economy

Where has this guy been all these years? Or more to the point, where have we all been, not to have been aware of him? He's a former textile mill owner, trade association president, and hard-headed business guy – not exactly a raving lefty seeking "gifts" as that yutz Mitt Romney put it.

Instead, Roger Berkley talks no-bullshit, no-punches-pulled common sense about the economy, what's wrong with it, and how company owners and managers in his own business can survive.

Last Spring he gave a speech at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. at the Second Annual Conference on the Renaissance of American Manufacturing: Jobs, Trade and the Presidential Election. And if you think he was going to start spouting some Republican party line blather, un-think the thought. Here are excerpts of what the former Chairman of the National Textile Association had to say, as reported in the trade newspaper Fabrics and Furnishings, and entirely missed, I fear, by the mainstream press.

Corporate taxes not the boogeyman

"I have boots on the ground manufacturing experience.  I’ve dealt with cost increases and tax increases and economic cycles of boom and bust. I’d like to answer one question that’s been raised today about taxes.  My company and my competitors never made a decision based on taxes.  They made decisions incorporating what the tax structure is because we can’t change it. If you want to do something about taxes, if taxes are an issue, remember that Japan may cut its corporate tax rate, but it has a value added tax, which we don’t have in the USA.

"American disadvantage in export is related to VAT. When the American product gets sold to France, I have all that American tax on it and then my French customer has to apply the French value added tax which is about eighteen percent in France today.  That’s a real tough nut.   
"So if you’re going to cut corporate taxes that’s not really going to help me that much in my exporting efforts. You must do something about that [foreign] value added tax."
 Want to see something stupid? Look at a bank.
"I fought against the incredible stupidity and finality of banks which took billions of taxpayer dollars in bailouts and then kept it, rather than lending it to the people who needed it.  I lost that fight. I really did.  I saw my business killed by the stupidity of a bank.  They just didn’t like what they saw.  That bank hadn’t lost a penny on us.  They just didn’t like what it looked like.  
"What did they know?  They knew nothing. Over the years I’ve learned that bankers… are   generally lying bankers (and) really stupid.  They’re asked to look at all different kinds of fields and areas and understand them. That means   they look at all kinds of things and they understand none of them.  Then they make decisions based on their lack of knowledge." Walmart shows us
it's cheaper to make stuff abroad

I wrote a cranky rant on products made abroad back in 2007. It ranged from poisonous toys made in China to missile rocket cones made in Pakistan. Now Berkley goes me one better, by calling out pressure in Congress to "save the taxpayers money" by making military uniforms more cheaply abroad.
"...we have the Berry Amendment, which says that anything used by the military, and now the TSA - you know those nice blue shirts - those are made in the United States because the Berry Amendment says that all has to be made here in the United States.  And every time the Berry Amendment comes up for renewal there’s a group in Congress that says, you know, we could get it for less if we bought it in China.  Yeah, but, what are your soldiers going to wear when the Chinese get pissed off at you?  You’re going to have a whole bunch of naked soldiers running around the field.  I mean, that’s what it’s all about."

For more of Berkley, check out his entire speech here. And while you're at it, ask yourself this. Why is it we can get useful stuff like this only from a quarterly fabrics and furnishings trade newspaper? Where the hell are CNN, and ABC, NBC, CBS, and the regular daily print press?

Oh, I forgot. They're consulting the usual suspects: talking heads, loudmouths, and airheads.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What did Barry serve Mitt for lunch? I’m hoping it was decomposed crow on a pile of bitter greens.

Maybe, by the time this gets posted, somebody will have something specific to say about who said what to whom at the White House lunch between President Barack Obama and Willard (aka “Mitt”) Romney.

As of 2:30 p.m., November 29, 2030, the AP was shoveling forkfuls of meaningless drivel concerning that lunch onto the Internet. The color of the SUV Romney arrived in. Which door he got out of. In other words, stuff that you really really need to know if you're a total airhead.

Meanwhile, I’m exercising my First Amendment right to speculate, stir pots, and think wishfully.

R: Good to see you, Mr. President.

O: Don’t even bother to shake hands. Have a seat. Why are you frowning?

R: The most upsetting thing happened on the way to the dining room. I stopped in a bathroom and one of your interns peed on my shoes.

O: Damn it! I’m going to have to get rid of that useless kid. He can’t do anything right. I specifically told him to pee on your pants legs.

R: Oh, you’ve got a terrific sense of humor, Mr. President. I’ll have to tell that one to Tag.

O: What is it with your family and those idiotic hard-consonant one-syllable names? Mitt, Tag, what’s next? A grandson named Shmuck?

R: That’s another good one, Mr. President! Mind if I write that down? 

O: Yeah, please make all the notes you want. That way, maybe you can tell a story accurately for a change.

R: Well Mr. President, let me get right down to brass tacks.

O: If that dumb intern kid got around to doing all his chores this morning, there should be a few on your chair.

R: What? Ow! Oh.

R: You forgot to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Presodent.’ Don’t bother now. You’re welcome.

R: Mr. President, do you want me for Secretary of Commerce or Secretary of State?

O: I want you for libel and slander, all during the election campaign.

R: Mr. President, you’re a great kidder. But let me tell you why I’d be great for the State Department. First of all, I’ve been a lifelong Democrat….

O: And I’m a Swiss battleship.

R: Golly, I never realized that, Mr. President. Anyway, I dealt with all those foreign types while I was saving the Salt Lake City Olympics, and heck, they all speak English these days anyway. I know how to get along with them. Or make me Secretary of the Treasury. I know how to count money.

O: Who said I was gonna give you a cabinet job?

R: There’s been speculation, Mr. President.

O: The Cabinet’s full, but I may have an opening for an assistant consul general in Botswana, if you’re really interested.

R: I was hoping for something a bit more important.

O: And I was hoping for a V8. Oh, here come the drinks. We spiked yours with lemon juice and a dash of Tabasco sauce. Bottoms up!

R: Uh! Oops.

O: I forgot to tell you. Yours is in a dribble glass.

R: What a really great joke, Mr. President! Oh, the press has also been saying you’re going to solicit my advice. I'd be happy to help.

O: Yeah, that’s right.  How did you manage to lie so consistently with a straight face, all through the campaign?

R: I never lied, Mr. President. I consistently supported your candidacy, even when that took considerable courage.

O: Well, here comes your lunch. Enjoy it, and feel free to sit here as long as you like. I have to get back to the Oval Office.

R: Oh boy! Stuffed pheasant!

O: If you say so.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

American serfs? How yesterday! Up next, slave labor!

A hearty “well done and well said” to Yellow Dog, posting at No More Mr. Niceblog, who points out that American business can’t find skilled labor because American business doesn’t want to pay for skilled labor.

An equally large hurrah to Victor, who commented on the same post that once upon a time companies trained their workers, but these days want the training done at public expense in junior colleges. (To which I’ll add that not so many years ago, the companies with the best training programs were generally well-known, and attracted the best job applicants.)

But you won’t have much time to resent American serfdom. Slave labor is next on the horizon, and it may take its inspiration from the East Germany in the days before “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”

Seems that back in the 1980s, Ikea, the cheap furniture company, was using political as well as criminal prisoners in East Germany as slave labor to build some of its assemble-it-yourself stuff.

Swedish guilt? Maybe a little.

Of course, Ikea is a Swedish company. It has done the right thing and ‘fessed up. Well, actually it waffled on its guilt a little. “Even though Ikea Group took steps to secure that prisoners were not used in production, it is now clear that these measures were not effective enough,” said a company statement, reported in the New York Times.

So okay, East Germany is history, political prisoners in that part of the world are presumably also history, and by now you’ve probably trashed the assemble-it-yourself chest of drawers that you used for storing your underwear in your college dorm room, or whatever it was they had the slaves making. So what’s the big deal?

Well, first of all, Ikea is still making stuff so shoddy that you almost have to assume they made it God-knows-where using God-knows-who. I went to Ikea’s website to see if I could find evidence that all their stuff is now being manufactured by Swedish craftsmen who get coffee breaks in heated workshops (hah!). Or better yet, that the stuff they sell in America is made by American craftsmen earning forty bucks an hour or better. But before I had a chance to look very far, I started finding, way down near the bottom of the page, Ikea recalls. And I quote:

Uh oh! Did you buy any
of this junk?

IKEA Recalls IKEA 365+ SÄNDA track due to risk of electric shock
IKEA recalls PAX AURLAND glass mirror door
IKEA Recalls to Repair High Chair Due to Fall Hazard

By the time you get to Ikea’s website to check it out, the recalls may have been removed. Or new ones may have taken their place. Anyway, don't sweat it. My point has to do with American companies.

Porn, pay and Walmart

Back in the sixties, friends of mine who made a better living then writing porn in a furnished room somewhere than Walmart’s workers earn today … hey that’s turning into a very long sentence. Anyway, back in the day, one pornographer complained that he couldn’t make anything up. “I don’t care what it is. Sex a greasepit. Sex with electric shocks. Sex on a pile of bagels. If I can think of it, somebody else is already doing it, and then writing to me about it, and telling me I described it wrong.”

So with downward-spiraling costs of labor replacing sex pornography as the new American scandal, I can bet you that at this very moment, some MBA somewhere is equating the growing prison population (nearly 2.5 million in 2006) with an uptapped opportunity to get things built and serviced at even lower prices than we can get from little kids in Southeast Asia.

Heck, we’ve already had chain gangs building roads and prison populations stamping license plates. Why not just extend the opportunities to enterprises ranging from Walmart the Waste Management? (Hey guys, I’m not making accusations here. I’m just alliterating.)

Slave labor in the name
of national defense

Heck, we don’t even have to use dangerous criminals. Thanks to the National Defense Appropriations Act, Amendment 1031, any American citizen can be held without warrant and held without due process. Neither the Congress (hah!) nor, to my dismay, President Obama has done diddley-squat to repeal this horrible law, enacted in hysterical reaction to the horrors of 9-11.

While the intention of the bill was simply to detain terrorists, you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell. Come a future President like Romney, in as little as four years, the company chairman of, say, Crudpipe International will be able to ring up the White House and kvetch, “Hey Prez, my PAC gave you half a billion bucks during the last election. Now I need some workers to process raw sewage.

Kidnap ‘em yourself labor

And the President might say, “Hey, bigger companies than yours have already emptied out the prisons, and your guys in Congress cut my resources so badly, I can’t afford the U.S. Marshals to grab people off the street. Tell you what, I’ll deputize Crudpipe International to do it. Send your own private cops up to New York and grab a few hundred people off the street on charges of, I dunno what, maybe conspiracy or something. Just don’t seize anybody from the silk stocking zip codes.”

You say it can’t happen here? Who’d have thought Ikea in a nice country like Sweden would be using slaves, or that Americans would grant a Federal bureaucracy authority to grab anybody off the street without a warrant and incarcerate them without trial?

My advice to you is to buy a shovel and start practicing with it. You might have to tunnel your way out of prison, all the way to Canada.

Cross-posted to No More Mister Nice Blog

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I know I'm late with this. I know, I know. But watch the Raging Grannies diss Todd Akin anyway.

Former Missouri Representative Todd Akin earned himself not only a lost re-election, but also a footnote, if not a whole chapter, in the history of idiocy by declaring that women who are "legitimately" raped are unlikely to get pregnant because their reproductive systems have a way to"try to shut the whole thing down." Whatever the hell that means.

When even a magazine like Forbes, which for years proudly used the slogan "Capitalist Tool" prints a column that stomps on Akin's face, you know the guy is a political goner. But that doesn't preclude us from the pleasure of stomping him again and again.

With that in mind, I herewith nominate Akin for a golden bust and a marble pedestal in the Hall of Famous Morons.

Only lately (where the hell have I been?) I learned about a group called Raging Grannies that, among other things, shames political know-nothings by singing to them. So in case you missed this just as I did, or in case you've seen it already but yearn for an encore, here are the Raging Grannies on Todd Akin.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"In an attempt to save a 4-month-old fetus they killed my 30-year-old daughter. How is that fair? You tell me." (P.S. The fetus died, too.)

The woman who died was 31 years old, married, and a well-educated professional – a practicing dentist. She was starting to miscarry her 17-weeks-old fetus.

But she was in Ireland, a country where the law forbids abortions and doctors are terrified of prosecution. So they had to wait until the fetus died to “abort” it. Unfortunately, they were too late. The woman died too, of blood poisoning caused by the dying and then suppurating fetus. Story here.

"Right to Life" movement?
It's really a Right to Murder movement.

When the insanely “conservative” and increasingly sociopathic right wing in our own country talk about outlawing abortions, even in cases of medical necessity like the one in Ireland, they’re talking, quite cavalierly, about murdering – yes murdering – women. These were the people behind Mitt Romney, and to whom Romney would have owed some payback legislation, had he been elected.

Moreover, after his “47 percent” speech to fat cat donors became a scandal, Romey looked straight into the cameras just before the election and all but took a blood oath that he would be a staunch defender of all Americans, including middle and working class Americans. Now Romney is taking it all back.

His loss of the election, he clearly seems to be saying  to his donors, was not because of his own policies, or flip-flopping, or his lying. It’s because, Romney says,  President Obama showered his voters with “gifts.” Where I come from, Mr. Romney, they call those things policies. 

Human rights aren't gifts

We're talking about ways to extend medical insurance to the young, and to overhaul our broken healthcare system, for example. In other countries,  they call those human rights. What you wanted to give the two percent in this nation – a continuation of the Bush tax cuts, plus other tax cuts – that was a bloated gift, to people who don’t need gifts. And the money for your two percent would have come straight from the pockets of of the rest of us.

So good riddance to you, Mr. Romney. It looks like, by sending you back to your many vacation homes and cars, and car elevators, and offshore bank accounts, the citizens of the United States dodged a bullet. And maybe also the horrible deaths of pregnant mothers in need of medically necessary abortions.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

General nonsense: David and Paula and John and Jill (and where are the Marx Brothers now that we need them?)


Somewhere in the halls of government in Peking, and Moscow, and Havana, and Caracas, and Kabul (or Karachi, or wherever in hell Al Qaeda hangs its turban these days) a bunch of people who wish the United States no good must be slapping their thighs and texting each other “ROTF!!!” messages.

I could be wrong, but from where I sit, the entire United States is getting its knickers in a twist over what properly ought to be regarded as nothing more than a tempest in a teapot. (How’s that for two clichés in one sentence?)

The facts so far ­– or at least so far 
as I think I can figure them out:

General David Patraeus, until a few news cycles ago the lead dog at the CIA, had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. That’s not formidably surprising. They had a lot in common. They both graduated from West Point. They both like to stay in shape.  She's interested in him and he's also interested in him. And he is, or was, a powerful man while she’s a younger woman. It’s a match made in heaven, even if it was made by some very mischievous angels who ought to have their wings whupped.

After a while, if I’ve followed the convoluted story correctly, Patreus broke off the relationship with Paula. This made Paula feel so insecure that she started acting paranoid and sent another woman, named Jill Kelley, a whole bunch of non-violent but allegedly abusive e-mails saying, in effect, “keep your hands off my guy.”

That would be something close to hubris, considering that General Patraeus is legally married to a very nice woman named Holly Patraeus, an innocent bystander in this brutal farce, but nevertheless the only woman entitled to call David Patraeus “my guy” if she still wants to. (By the way, is “brutal farce” an oxymoron? Umm, I’ll vote for no in this case.)

Freaking out to the FBI

Then Jill Kelley, who so far as I know never laid a hand on any part of General Patraeus’ body, freaks out and goes to a pal of hers in the FBI, who gets an FBI Cyber Squad to investigate the nasty e-mails she’s been receiving. Which shows how much power a pretty woman with a friend in the FBI can have. I couldn’t even get the FBI to investigate a case of wide spread cyber fraud when I was all but able to hand over the perpetrator to them on a silver platter, with the physical evidence. Even after I put the story out on the Internet, I got no response. 

Well hey, that’s the FBI for you. So anyway the FBI starts to investigate Paula’s e-mails, but then an FBI agent sends Jill a picture of himself shirtless, which demonstrates either that he never read about the Chris Lee case less than a year ago, or that guys at the FBI really don’t have enough to do. 

But this leads to a check of Jill’s e-mail, which reveals an abnormal level of correspondence with a U.S. Marines General, John R. Allen. So suddenly the Marines get sucked (no pun intended) into this flock of canards, too.

And now everybody’s investigating everything. Diane Feinstein is irked that the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t told about – well, whatever it is. Ditto the house. Ditto various Republican senators, who, right in character, are leaping at an opportunity to bloviate about something everybody can understand, if not really follow. Hey, it’s confusing, but it sounds sexy.

The only real victim of this face, so far as I can see from here in front of my cranky computer, is the General’s very nice wife, Holly Patraeus. And probably Mrs. Allen, now, too, if there is a Mrs. Allen. (Or if there still will be one six months from now.)

General Petraeus did the right thing and quickly resigned from the CIA, rather than try to tough out and deny the undeniable, as assorted rascals from Anthony Weiner to Lance Armstrong have done. It’s uncertain so far, at least to me, whether General  Allen did anything at all, other than answer a whole bunch of e-mails, so many that it makes me wonder whether he has enough to do.

The old "woman scorned" story

Somehow all this reminds me of a story I covered out in Brooklyn years ago when I was a young newspaper reporter. (You’ll find a zillion – well anyway, a bunch of – good yarns like this in my e-book, “HEIRESS STRANGLED IN MOLTEN CHOCOLATE AT NAZI SEX ORGY! A memoir.”)

Seems that a male model got engaged to a pretty girl in the outer reaches of Brooklyn. The date was set. The engagement presents started arriving. Then he dumped her – and took off with the gifts. She went to the police, full of righteous rage, to report his theft of their engagement gifts.

But the cops told the girl that under the law engagement presents were mutually owned, and that therefore there was legally no theft. She looked ready to explode. Sulfurous smoke was all but jetting out of her ears. You could almost see the mushroom cloud in her eyes.

“Well okay then!” she exploded. “Would you be interested if I told you he committed armed robbery?”

That interested the cops. So the jilted bride-to-be then revealed that she and her ex-fiancee had held up a shoe repair store at gunpoint. They didn't get much money from a cobbler, but it was still armed robbery.

That enabled her to get even, even though it cost her. 

They both ended up in the slammer.

So enough reminiscing. We’re at the edge of a fiscal cliff. The economy is about to fall off into the abyss. The future of America is at stake. Syria is coming apart at the seams And all the press and Congress can say is, “What did the President know about this and when did he know it? And why weren’t the House and Senate informed of whatever-it-is sooner?”

Civilizations get the collapses they deserve.