Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Representative Government?

The sock puppet you see here is Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York's 1st Congressional District, the east end of Long Island.  I live there.

Zeldin was elected in our Tr*mp-leaning district by a collection of xenophobes afraid of our Latino immigrants, religious bigots afraid of our homosexuals, and rich people who just don't want any of their money spent on anybody who isn't them.  Based on his voting record in the House, he needn't worry about being "primaried" from the right. 

One might say Zeldin's supporters got what they wanted, but they're about to get something they won't like at all.  Long Islanders pay seriously high state and local taxes, and Zeldin soon will vote to make those taxes non-deductible.  Why?  Because Zeldin's party loyalty is absolute.  The people he "represents" don't matter.

Ours is a swing district, so if Democrats mount a competent campaign,  Zeldin's vote on taxes ought to cost him his seat in 2018.  Most congressional districts, though, are not swing districts: they are heavily gerrymandered "safe" districts whose "representatives" can safely ignore the needs of their voters.  Only the deep-pocketed donors who dictate party policy positions must be satisfied.

Voters in very different districts have very different needs.  If legislators were truly representative of those who send them to Washington, far more legislation would be the product of bargains, trade-offs, and compromise.  Today's extreme partisanship is a clear indicator that our democracy is broken.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Leaving his mark

Do you remember this guy?

He's Stephen Paddock — and in case you've forgotten, Stephen Paddock was the guy who brought an arsenal to his Las Vegas hotel room and shot all those people at the country music concert.  He would have been quite upset had he anticipated you would forget his name so quickly, consigning him to a broad category of "mass shooters."

I think I understand his supposedly mysterious motive: Paddock was 64, rapidly approaching that magical age of 65 when many men believe their lives are effectively over.  It's a time when we older gentlemen are likely to observe that our greatest accomplishments are behind us — and not especially memorable.  Most of us greet that observation with a shrug and a sigh.

Stephen Paddock's accomplishments at 64 actually were admirable.  Starting as a low-level postal clerk, he rose to become a comfortably wealthy landlord and investor who was enough of a high-roller to earn comps at various Nevada casinos.  He should have been satisfied with the arc of his life, but he was one of those poor suckers who found his late-life existential crisis especially irksome.

If you want to leave a mark on history, it's a lot easier to do it as a monster than as a hero or a saint.  All it takes is one especially heinous act (preferably record setting) to "win" your place in the books.

I can think of another old man with an unhealthy desire to leave his mark on the world.  He has no great regard for how he does so as long as he's the "winner" — and he's a man who controls a much larger arsenal than Stephen Paddock did.  Let's hope somebody can stop him from making his existential crisis into ours.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Guns again

It's no surprise that the NRA endorsed "regulating" the bump stock when you remember that the NRA doesn't lobby for "gun lovers" — it lobbies for gun manufacturers.  The bump stock isn't marketed by gun companies — it's an aftermarket add-on that provides no profits at all to the major players.

Don't feel sad for Slide Fire® or the other small businesses that produce these items, though.  Bump stocks were slow sellers until Stephen Paddock made them a must-have item for all the paranoids and toy soldiers who previously hadn't realized just how much they needed them.  Now they've sold out, and the aftermarket sellers have plenty of capital to invest in technology that legally can convert a shotgun into a bazooka.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Money Matters

“I’m doing the right thing, and it’s not good for me. Believe me.”

Rule of thumb: every time Tr*mp says, "Believe me," he's lying.  The Republican tax plan, whatever it turns out to be, will be great for him.

At the moment, the tax and budget proposals are too vague for fiscal analysis — a big plus from the Republican perspective because that makes it impossible for the CBO or anybody else to estimate their real impact.  What is clear is that they depend on the same supply-side fairy tale that has failed to produce a happy ending since Arthur Laffer first drew his magical Laffer Curve back in 1974.

Despite the threat of immense budget deficits, the "deficit hawks" are silent — predictable, since they never really cared about deficits.  What really bothers them is the thought of government spending on anybody not already a multimillionaire.

Some proposals, like ending the inheritance tax, probably are included as "giveaways" to be "sacrificed" in order to get the big-ticket items, like the hyper-expensive tax cut for "pass-through" income.  Hopefully, though, there will be ample fractiousness among mega-rich factions to ensure that nothing at all gets done.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

More briefs

Do you think Our President even knew Chad was a country before he signed that order barring its citizens? This time, it seems, the Administration will claim its Muslim ban is based purely on "security concerns" rather than religion, and adding Nicolás Maduro's in-laws and some mythical North Korean tourists to the list of personae non gratae is supposed to make the case stronger. Uh huh.

"Judge" Roy Moore
Confirming just who those people are in Tr*mp's base, Alabama gave the radical Christian extremist its Republican nomination for Senate over the garden-variety rabid reactionary.  Moore likes to be called "Judge Roy" to remind us of Judge Roy Bean, the legendary Texas Justice of the Peace who shared Moore's disregard for due process and civil rights

Absolutely nobody seems to remember that those national anthem protests are supposed to be about unarmed black men killed by white policemen; and no matter what Our President says, it's not about patriotism either.  As usual, Tr*mp has made it all about Tr*mp.

"It's an island!"
Yeah, we know — but even though Governor Ricardo Rossello was so careful to stroke Tr*mp's ego in the days following the hurricane, the FEMA response in Puerto Rico has been dreadful.  Oh, right.  They speak "Mexican" down there.

And what if . . .
Suppose the deranged dotard really did try to start a nuclear war.  Would "his" generals let him do it, or would the USofA have its first military coup?  Think about it.  Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster would have lots of popular support, including from liberals.  Yikes!

Friday, September 22, 2017


Why do some governors favor block grants even though their states will lose billions?  Given enough "flexibility," it lets them divert federal funds to influence peddling, pork barrel spending, and just plain theft.  The further the funds pass down the ladders from state to regional to local government, the greater the opportunities for corruption and abuse.

In the battle of the schoolyard bullies, "Rocket Man" pulled ahead when he called Our President "the mentally deranged US dotard."  To date, neither has referenced the other's mother.  Watch Twitter for further developments.

When would be "the proper time" for the Iraqi Kurds to hold a referendum that will start them on the path toward statehood?  While the US might prefer to delay Iraqi, Turkish, and Iranian outrage, the Kurds represent the best chance for a secular state in the Middle East; ideologically, their strongest commitment is to capitalism.

What Happened?
I've heard enough interviews with Hillary so that I feel no need to read the book.  Could things have been done differently?  Maybe.  Would it have made a difference?  Probably not.

Puerto Rico
"Recovery" from Marilyn most likely will consist of privatizing anything that might turn a profit for off-island investors — essentially a vast, neoliberal social experiment.  I suggest that all boricuas left on the island move to Alabama, register to vote, and take over the state, thereby finally achieving the full rights of US citizens.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Medicare for All?

It's obvious that Bernie's "Medicare for All" bill is not about to become law, but that doesn't make it an exercise in futility.  It is a means for ambitious Democrats to define themselves as progressive, not slaves to the party establishment.

The single greatest obstacle to national health insurance is not Republican or industry opposition – it is employer provided health coverage.  As long as most Americans have that, they will not be especially concerned for those who do not; so public pressure for national health insurance never will be sufficient to bring about change.

There must be a means to transition from employer provided insurance to public insurance – and the most direct route begins with allowing employers to purchase Medicare for their workers.  This "free-market" approach would put a government-run program in direct competition with private insurance.  Profit-free, Medicare should have a competitive advantage; and by introducing younger, healthier participants into its insurance pool, Medicare should become more economically viable.  The new money in the system also would make the prospect of future cuts in benefits or increased premiums less likely.

The impact on the private insurance industry would be gradual, as employers switched over.  Since Medicare is far from a "Cadillac" plan, many employers also would shop private markets for supplementary, further softening the impact on the industry.  Over time, there would be plenty of public pressure to improve the coverage that Medicare offers, and to offer Medicare as an option in the ACA insurance markets.

Once a majority of Americans already are covered by Medicare, it would be far easier to find support for universal coverage, paid for by a combination of individual and business taxes.  Here in the USofA, "creeping" socialism is the only kind that ever wins the race.