Friday, September 25, 2015

John Boehner, the Pope, and all that

Oh boo hoo!
Chalk up another win for the crazies. 

John Boehner announced his coming resignation this morning, both as Speaker of the House and from Congress. He couldn’t control his Party of Nuts, and in fact, often seemed to be pretty nutty himself, blaming President Obama whether it was for the intransigence of Congress or the California drought.

Meanwhile, he wept at the drop of a sentiment, for events ranging from a 60 Minutes interview, to an interview with the Golf Channel — the Golf Channel! — to listening to Pope Francis speak to Congress.

The Pope has had a lot of important things to say about the status of immigrants,  the poor, and the impact of pollution on the climate, but in a way I’m glad Boehner's broke the streak of Papal coverage. The Pontiff’s advocacy for humanity, common sense, and science was getting drowned out by fluff and trivia.  In typical network fashion, news broadcasting since yesterday has been All Pope All The Time, with the focus largely on anything but what the Pope is talking about.

In a desperate attempt to fill every last friggin’ millisecond with His Holiness, they’ve gone on and on with blitheringly unimportant detail about whom he kissed, and who thinks her life has changed because the Pope passed by in his bubble car, or that the Pope at one point sat in a golf cart. All that crap waters down the impact of the truly important things the Pope has to say about social justice and climate change. 

It got so bad that this morning that on CBS here in New York, the weather reporter began the day’s forecast by saying, “The Pope wakes up to a sunny day today….”

Meanwhile, neither the Pope nor Boehner’s resignation will thwart the Republican crazies in their effort to shut down the government and the economy, wreck the climate, block immigration, and do anything they can to undo what the Pope wants to achieve. It’s so bad that, at least so far, even far right candidate Paul Ryan is refusing to touch the speaker’s job with a ten foot pole.

Hey John Boehner — want something to weep for? 

Weep for The United States of America.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A brief meditation on Carly Fiorina's candidacy

Carly Fiorina was Group President for the global service provider business at Lucent Technologies.

The global provider business has ceased to exist.

In fact, Lucent Technologies has ceased to exist.

Carly Fiorina next became Chief Executive Officer of HP, where she bought the company that made Compaq computers.

Compaq computers have ceased to exist.

And now Carly Fiorina wants to be President of the United States?

Think about that for a minute.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Republican idiot economics and the so-called wisdom of markets. (Hah!)

This is a picture of the stock market scaring the crap out of itself
Above, a chart depicting  the Dow Jones Industrial Average from start to close on September 17th, 2015. The Dow opened more or less flat. Then, for a while, it jiggled up and down in tiny nervous increments. There was a reason for that.

Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, was about to make an announcement. The announcement would pertain to the Fed’s interest rates, which had been hovering only a gnat’s hair above zero, since the Feds took action to help stave off a market crash. The market crash was brought on by deregulation of banking, which gave bankers free rein to treat the U.S. economy like a casino in which they had been gambling with their depositors’ money.

A frisson of jangly nerves

Stock investors had a right, sort of, kind of, to be nervous. If interest rates rise, people tend to take at least some of their money out of stocks, which are risky, and put them into bonds which are safer, and into banks, which we all know are too big to fail.  That would drive stock prices down. (There's an exception for bank stocks, since banks would profit from higher interest rates.)

But to everybody’s surprise, Yellen instead announced that the Fed would not raise interest rates after all just now, not because of the U.S. economy, but because the global economy is messy. Interest rates will probably rise later this year, Yellen said, but not today.

So you’d think “the market," except for investors in banks, would breathe a sigh of relief. That seems to be what happened briefly just before 3 p.m. The Dow began to shoot higher. But then, “the market” spooked itself and plunged to 61 points below where it was at the opening, and well over 200 points below where it was at the day’s high.

In short, it acted overall like a pot-smoking drunk tooling down the highway while tapping the accelerator with one foot and the brake pedal with another in tune to a Rolling Stones performance of “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Struggles, stopped clocks, and 
the synthetic wisdom of Reuters

Reuters, whose writers have to say something that sounds intelligent at least on the surface, reported that the market was leaving skid marks because, “investors struggled to interpret the Federal Reserve's decision to hold off on raising interest rates.”

Why the struggle? Or should I ask, What struggle? The news was perfectly straightforward. It meant what it said. The Fed’s gonna raise interest rates eventually. But not by much. And not now. And meanwhile, frozen near-zero interest rates continue to make things better than investors expected at the dawn of the day. Except for people who invest in banks. Period.

The market’s performance made no sense because markets themselves make no sense. Contrary to conservative belief, markets have no wisdom. Let me haul out a proverb that’s getting kind of weary and remind you that even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Markets are a collection of people buying and selling stuff, sometimes out of greed, sometimes in panic, sometimes rationally, sometimes irrationally, and  at mutual cross purposes. So what? 

Bury my knee in
Ayn Rand's gizzard

What it all comes down to is that completely free markets are either disasters waiting to happen or disasters that are already happening. Oh, and while I’m sounding off on this, Ayn Rand was an economic idiot (as well as a second-rate writer).

Markets function best when there’s a cop around to keep the ripoff artists at bay. But scratch a Republican presidential candidate and he’ll bleed free market hosannas. Which is why you’re out of your mind to vote for any of ‘em.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A thought about Star Wars and the upcoming presidential election

If Donald Trump actually takes it for the Republicans, and Bernie Sanders for the Democrats, it will be Jabba The Hutt vs. Yoda. Cross-posted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Is Sarah Palin living evidence that the University of Idaho should lose its accreditation?

If we had Sarah Palin During World War II, we wouldn't have
needed Navajo code talkers.
"Palin returned to the University of Idaho in January 1986, and received her bachelor's degree in communication with an emphasis in journalism in May, 1987."
Source: Wikipedia

A tip of my hat to the Daily Kos, which printed the following transcript of Palin’s, umm, thoughtful political explication of the way things are, after it was broadcast by Rachel Maddow. 
"So up there in Alaska, across the way Russia," Sarah Palin said. "You know there is a name for this taking advantage of America. There is a Russian name for that. And it is called 'fortushka.' And that means Obama's window of opportunity. So as Obama leads from behind the skirt of his right-hand man, Valerie Jarrett, then it's up to Congress to close that window. He may propose. You dispose, Congress. You gotta be in it to win it because we want peace. With unapologetic mighty red, white, and blue, will have peace.”
And thanks also to Ms. Maddow, who understands that politics is a spectator sport. Grab yourself a handful of popcorn — that’s all the popcorn you’ll have time for — and go here to see one minute and seven seconds of Sarah Palin’s “communications.”

Palin isn’t even the Yogi Berra of politics. At least, in a syntactically twisted way, Berra made a kind of sense. That's beyond Palin's capabilities. “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him,” as Berra himself said.

As for the University of Idaho, I’d suggest that if they want to keep their accreditation, they ought to change the names of some of their courses. Instead of calling them “communications” or “journalism,” call them “free range Dadaism.” 

Otherwise, some of your graduates may eventually decide, as Berra put it, that they’ve made “too many wrong mistakes.”

Cross-posted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

United Airlines honchos bail out after corruption charges. What about charges of torturing passengers?

Will his golden parachute open? Stay tuned.
As I write this, the New York Times is reporting that United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek and two of his lieutenants are resigning because of a Federal corruption investigation.

All this evidently has to do with having “improperly sought to influence” officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. You know. The Port Authority. As in "Chris Christie" and the “George Washington Bridge Scandal.”

Just like Chris Christie, who has been known to bully the little people even if they have real grievances, I also believe in hitting a man when he’s down. At least I believe in hitting him if he's a bad man. But I’m not gonna bother with Chris’s corruption-connected political operation just now, because I’m more interested in United Airlines. Last time I flew them, out of Dayton, Ohio, in June 2014, it was a nightmare. I think about it often. And gnash my teeth.

Grounded below the "friendly" skies

Y’see, it rained that day.  Other airlines flying out of Dayton (none, alas, with available space to New York) seemed to have their acts together. Their planes were taking off. There were no lines at their ticket counters. 

But at United, and United alone, there was a line long enough to dance a conga from here to the moon. A single clerk was on duty to make new arrangements for all United’s passengers whose flights had been cancelled due to “weather.” The sun was shining brightly as we waited but hey, you know, weather. Somewhere.

What about calling in extra clerks to deal with the hapless passengers standing in line? The airline had a different idea. Go call 'em yourselves, you feckless passengers.

“You can do this on the phone by calling 1-800-UNITED-1” the clerk screamed at us. Fortunately, I stayed on line while I  tried to call.  I was put on hold, and forced to listen to repetitive blather, because my call was so very important to United. So important, in fact, that by the time I reached the clerk’s desk, perhaps an hour or more later, my ear was sore, my cell phone battery was dead, and a live person still hadn’t picked up the phone on the other end.

“I’d like you to change my ticket to the next available flight to New York,” I told the airport clerk. “My cancelled ticket is to LaGuardia but I’ll take any airport in the New York area. I’ll even go to Philadelphia.”

Flights for stranded passengers?
We don't got no stinking flights.

I can put you on a flight to New York at 5:10  p.m. tomorrow,” the clerk said, unsympathetically. “Everything’s booked until then.”

“That’s more than 24 hours from now!” I said.

“That’s what’s available,” said the clerk, in her best take-it-or-leave-it voice. 

“What am I supposed to do, sleep on the airport floor?” I asked her.

“You can go over to that desk,” (she pointed) “and find a local hotel.”

“Will United pay for it?” I asked.


Screwing passengers is never
having to say you're sorry

So I spent the night at a nearby Clarion, paid for my bed, my meal, and my back-and-forth transportation between the airport and the hotel. The next day, when I got to the airport, nobody even said sorry. But they did charge me extra for my baggage.

I don’t have to tell you about in-flight sardine can conditions.

So when I hear that United’s top officers may be as corrupt as the rotting corpse of Boss Tweed, I am not moved to pity. Nor am I moved toward giving them the benefit of the doubt. 

You bastards are bailing out? My only hope is that your golden parachutes fail to open.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

God, Kim Davis, defiance, law, martyrdom, and the mess in Rowan County, Kentucky

County Clerk Kim Davis. Her next job
may be clerking at Walmart.
I don’t know whether what follows is prompted by my own anti-authoritarian streak, or by the fact that I'm descended from a long line of people who were burned at the stake or otherwise tormented for their religion. Whatever it is, I have to confess to a grudging respect for Kim Davis.

Ms. Davis, in case you’ve somehow missed it, is the county clerk in rural Rowan County, Kentucky. She has defied the Supreme Court of the United States by refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. She said she does so under the authority of God.

For those of us who believe in the rights of gays, or the rule of law, or both, that defiance ultimately can’t stand. But it also poses a dilemma.

America’s Davis dilemma

Arrest Ms. Davis for contempt of court and, guaranteed, she becomes a martyr. She’ll be portrayed by the religious right as a brave, lonely women, arrested by an anti-religious totalitarian gubmint, for practicing her religion and obeying what she believes is a message from God. Or, from their point of view, what is actually a message from God.

But let her get away with it, and not only does respect for the law get diminished, but her disrespect is almost guaranteed to become contagious. Before long, other county clerks who have personal negative feelings about gay marriage will rediscover their own messages from God and start heaving gay couples out of the courthouse.

Moreover, once it’s accepted that only your conscience and messages you say you hear from God need to be your guide, people will find reasons to conscientiously discriminate against others because of race, ethnic background or — ironically — religion. 

“God told me he needed killin' ”

While we’re at it, why not make religion a valid defense for murder? “God told me to shoot him. He needed killin’ because they was drinkin’ liquor on Sunday. That's my religious belief and I got Freedom of Religion.”

Right. And that's almost exactly the same excuse ISIS uses when they cut off peoples' heads.

So what to do? I suggest a completely peaceful solution.

Executive action to the rescue

Let the chief executive, either of Kentucky, or if he lacks the spine, then the chief executive of the United States take action. 

The chief executive should not attempt to remove or punish Kim Davis. That would be a disaster. Instead, he should, by executive authority, appoint a deputy to go to Rowan County charged with the power to grant marriage licenses by executive fiat. 

Ms. Rowan can continue, as county clerk, doing the other things county clerks do. She can record deeds. Or births. Or deaths. Or affix tax stamps. Or hide in her office and pick her nose. Whatever. But the governor’s or the president’s deputy will issue the marriage licenses, as a necessary service to the citizens of Rowan County who are not getting that service from their clerk.

Now this doesn’t come cheaply. The deputy will have to be stationed pretty much full time in Rowan County. Costs will include a salary. Plus benefits. Maybe a living allowance. The deputy will also probably need security guards for protection against the Bible Zealots. I’ll take a wild stab at a number. It’ll all cost, even in rural Kentucky, oh, $175,000 a year.

Well, hold on. Actually $175,000 may not do it. Some state or government body’s HR department is going to have to find, recruit and hire the Deputy Executive Marriage License Issuer. Somebody will have to do a background check on him or her. Somebody will have to put them on the government payroll. All this takes costly time and manpower. So add another $50,000 to the $175,000. That’s up to $225,000 total.

Who should pay the bill?

Simple. The taxpayers of Rowan County should pay. It’s their county clerk whose work needs supplementing. The taxpayers elected her. They haven’t removed her.  She's their liability. Send them the bill, the same way Donald Trump wants to send a bill to Mexico for the costs of a wall between the two nations. 

What if Rowan County refuses to pay? 

You know, maybe folks in Rowan County's government will hear God coming out of their IPod ear buds,  ordering them not to write any checks. There’s a simple solution to that, too.

There can’t be a county in this nation that isn’t receiving some kind of largesse from both their state and the federal government. Maybe it’s highway maintenance money. Maybe it’s the moolah to mend the roof on the local high school. Maybe it’s a grant to the local police force or to the sheriff’s office. Whatever it is, just flip the switch that turns off the money pump. Tell the county, “We’re deducting this pork from from the pork that you were expecting and using it to pay your unpaid bills for marriage license services."

Hellish roads, WalMart and Bible talk

Let me tell you what would happen. The taxpayers of Rowan County would discover that the road to hell is paved with potholes, and broken concrete, and falling-down schools, and law enforcement departments that don’t have the latest war toys.  Even the dog catcher might not get paid. Or all those costs would get paid, but the county would have to institute a tax increase to meet expenses. And then some rival politician will raise his head and blame the civic suffering and higher taxes on Kim Davis. 

And come the next election, betcha she’ll be clerking not over at the courthouse, but at WalMart.

Meanwhile, other county clerks, profiting by her example, will hear a different message from God. Y’see, the Bible that all the gay haters love to thump may say bad things about gays on some page or other, but the same Bible sure doesn't hate gubmint. Or taxes. You can find proof of that in several places in the New Testament, starting with Mark 12:17.

September 5th update:

I might have known. A Kentucky judge took the easy way out, and tossed Kim Davis' butt in the slammer. Now the martyrdom contingent is out, preparing her for fundamentalist sainthood. Had the judge been a reader of The New York Crank and seen this article, he might have taken a different course. He could have appointed the equivalent of a guardian to issue marriage licenses in the county clerk's office in the absence of the clerk's ability to do so, and, as I also suggested, sent a bill for all related costs to the county. Meanwhile, Kim could pose for the press, looking sullen.

A contempt prisoner can only be held until it becomes self evident — as perhaps it is already — that the contemptuous miscreant will not mend her ways no matter how long she sits there. At that point the judge has to set her free. And, once free, she can go right back to her office and continue refusing to issue marriage licenses. Somebody mail the judge a printout of this article, or at least e-mail him a link. I'd do it myself, but this whole affair has made me too cranky.