The Watering Hole, Monday, January 23rd, 2017: Freedom of the Press

We’ve all ripped both network and cable news organizations for their role in aiding and abetting this abomination of a Presidential election. But since the Orange Shitgibbon has won, and he and his spokesgoblins are taking more active steps to label any accurate and unflattering reporting of their words and activities as “fake news” by the “dishonest press”, this should be considered a very serious attack on the First Amendment right of Freedom of the Press. After having previously, in a fit of pique, revoked The Washington Post’s press credentials during the campaign, now the new Trump administration has shut down access to and from CNN.

According to a MediaMatters article:

President Donald Trump and his team continued their unprecedented attempts to delegitimize and blacklist CNN by refusing to have a representative appear on CNN’s Sunday political talk show, State of the Union, while booking appearances on the other major political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting Co.
At the top of the January 22 edition of CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper said that his show “asked the Trump White House for a member of the new administration to join us this morning, but they declined.”

 

During Trump’s first press conference as president-elect on January 11, Trump refused to take a question from CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, calling his network “fake news” and “terrible.” Following the event, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer admitted to threatening to remove Acosta from the press conference and later demanded an apology. Trump ally and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich responded to the incident by asserting that Trump should use the altercation to “shrink and isolate” CNN and eventually “close down the elite press.” Acosta and his colleagues from across the media condemned Trump’s treatment of CNN.

 

The Trump team’s refusal to appear on CNN came one day after it declined to air the live feed of Spicer’s first press conference after the inauguration, where Spicer blatantly lied about the size of inauguration crowds. According to Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “CNN’s refusal to take the live feed suggests executives there are reluctant to put false statements on air, and, what’s more, do not think the new White House press representative is entirely credible.” From the January 21 report:

 

“CNN’s decision to not air the press conference live illustrates a recognition that the role of the press must be different under Trump. When the White House holds press briefings to promote demonstrably false information and refuses to take questions, then press ‘access’ becomes meaningless at best and complicit at worst,” said Danna Young, an associate professor at the University of Delaware who studies politics and the media. “Democracy works best when journalists have access to the executive branch, of course. But that holds true if and only if that access leads to verifiable, accurate information. The decision on behalf of CNN to wait and verify before airing it live suggests that the media are adapting quickly to this new era.”

 

To be certain, news outlets routinely make decisions about whether to air press events live, usually based on projections about news value. But this press conference, held just a day after the President’s inauguration, would have been a hot prospect for a cable-news outlet, and could have sparked hours of debate and follow-up on CNN’s schedule. In an unusual and aggressive maneuver, CNN aired its regular weekday lineup this Saturday, underscoring heavy interest in breaking news of a series of massive protests by women across the nation in response to Trump’s presidency as well as the new President’s first few days in office.

While I am still outraged by the fact that CNN had hired Corey Lewandowski fresh from the Trump team campaign, and paid the lying POS good money to NOT say anything bad about Trump, maybe, just maybe, CNN can redeem itself by employing real investigative journalism. There’s a lot to dig into in all aspects of Trump’s life/taxes/business practices/Russian connections/conflicts of interest, and a 24-hour news network is what’s needed to get to the bottom of Trump’s “alternate facts” swamp.

What do you say, CNN? Do the right thing, or cave to a tyrant?

This is our Open Thread–comments welcome.

The Watering Hole, Monday, November 28th, 2016: Warning Signs of a Dictatorship

From November 23rd in Foreign Policy Magazine, “10 Ways to Tell if Your President is a Dictator”, by Stephen M. Walt, here’s a brief [believe it or not] summary. (You’ll need to register in order to be able to read the entire article. Registration is free, and allows you access to five articles per month.)

An excerpt from the opening:

“…if you live in the United States, what you should really worry about is the threat that Trump may pose to America’s constitutional order. His lengthy business career suggests he is a vindictive man who will go to extreme lengths to punish his opponents and will break a promise in a heartbeat and without remorse. The 2016 campaign confirmed that he has little respect for existing norms and rules — he refused to release his tax returns, lied repeatedly, claimed the electoral and political systems were “rigged” against him, threatened to jail his opponent if he won, among other such violations — and revealed his deep contempt for both his opponents and supporters. Nor does he regret any of the revolting things he did or said during the campaign, because, as he told the Wall Street Journal afterward, “I won.”[**] For Trump, it seems, the ends really do justify the means.

[**Tweet from WSJ: “When asked if he thought his rhetoric had gone too far in the campaign, Donald Trump told WSJ: “No. I won.”]

“Given what is at stake, one of the most important things we can all do is remain alert for evidence that Trump and those around him are moving in an authoritarian direction. For those who love America and its Constitution more than they love any particular political party or any particular politician, I offer as a public service my top 10 warning signs that American democracy is at risk.”

1) Systematic efforts to intimidate the media.

A free, energetic, vigilant, and adversarial press has long been understood to be an essential guarantee of democratic freedoms, because without it, the people in whose name leaders serve will be denied the information they need to assess what the politicians are doing.

If the Trump administration begins to enact policies designed to restrict freedom of the press, or just intimidate media organizations from offering critical coverage, it will be a huge (or if you prefer, yuge) warning sign.

Trump has already proposed “opening up” libel laws so that public figures can sue the press more easily. This step would force publishers and editors to worry about costly and damaging lawsuits even if they eventually win them, and it would be bound to have a chilling effect on their coverage.

His administration could deny access to entire news organizations like the New York Times if they were too critical of Trump’s policies or just too accurate in documenting his failures. Just because the First Amendment guarantees free speech doesn’t mean some parts of the media can’t be stampeded into pulling punches or once again indulging in “false equivalence.”

2) Building an official pro-Trump media network.

“…While trying to suppress critical media outlets, Trump could also use the presidency to bolster media that offer him consistent support. Or he could even try to create an official government news agency that would disseminate a steady diet of pro-Trump coverage.

In Trump’s ideal world, Americans would get their news from some combination of Breitbart, Fox News, and the president’s own Twitter feed…”

3) Politicizing the civil service, military, National Guard, or the domestic security agencies.

“One of the obstacles to a democratic breakdown is the government bureaucracy, whose permanent members are insulated from political pressure by existing civil service protections that make it hard to fire senior officials without cause. But one can imagine the Trump administration asking Congress to weaken those protections, portraying this step as a blow against “big government” and a way to improve government efficiency.

But if the president or his lieutenants can gut government agencies more or less at will, the fear of being fired will lead many experienced public servants to keep their heads down and kowtow to whatever the president wants, no matter how ill-advised or illegal it might be.

And don’t assume the military, FBI, National Guard, or the intelligence agencies would be immune to this sort of interference. Other presidents (or their appointees) have fired generals who questioned their policy objectives, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did during George W. Bush’s first administration when he removed Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who had the temerity to tell a congressional committee that the occupation of Iraq was going to need a lot more people than Rumsfeld had claimed. Other generals and admirals got the message and stayed out of Rumsfeld’s way for the rest of his disastrous tenure as defense secretary. There have also been fights in the past over control of the National Guard, but a move to assert greater federal authority over the guard would give Trump a powerful tool to use against open expressions of dissent.”

4) Using government surveillance against domestic political opponents.

“This step wouldn’t be entirely new either, insofar as Nixon once used the CIA to infiltrate anti-war organizations during the Vietnam War. But the government’s capacity to monitor the phones, emails, hard drives, and online activities of all Americans has expanded enormously since the 1960s.

As far as we know, however, no one has yet tried to use these new powers of surveillance to monitor, intimidate, embarrass, deter, or destroy political opponents.

…an ambitious and unscrupulous president could use the ability to monitor political opponents to great advantage. He would need the cooperation of top officials and possibly many underlings as well, but this only requires loyal confederates at the top and compliant people below. The White House had sufficient authority, under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, to convince U.S. government employees to torture other human beings.”

5) Using state power to reward corporate backers and punish opponents.

“A hallmark of corrupt quasi-democracies is the executive’s willingness to use the power of the state to reward business leaders who are loyal and to punish anyone who gets in the way. That’s how Putin controls the “oligarchs” in Russia, and it is partly how Erdogan kept amassing power and undermining opponents in Turkey…

…I know, I know: Corruption of this sort is already a problem here in the Land of the Free —whether in the form of congressional pork or the sweet deals former government officials arrange to become lobbyists once they leave office — so why single out Trump? The problem is that Trump’s record suggests he thinks this is the right way to do business: You reward your friends, and you stick it to your enemies every chance you get.”

6) Stacking the Supreme Court.

“Trump will likely get the opportunity to appoint several Supreme Court justices, and the choices he makes will be revealing. Does he pick people who are personally loyal and beholden to him or opt for jurors with independent standing and stellar qualifications? Does he pick people whose views on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and campaign financing comport with his party’s, or does he go for people who have an established view on the expansiveness of executive power and are more likely to look the other way if he takes some of the other steps I’ve already mentioned? And if it’s the latter, would the Senate find the spine to say no?”

7) Enforcing the law for only one side.

“…given the nature of Trump’s campaign and the deep divisions within the United States at present, a key litmus test for the president-elect is whether he will direct U.S. officials to enforce similar standards of conduct on both his supporters and his opponents.

If anti-Trump protesters are beaten up by a band of Trump’s fans, will the latter face prosecution as readily as if the roles were reversed? Will local and federal justice agencies be as vigilant in patrolling right-wing hate speech and threats of violence as they are with similar actions that might emanate from the other side?…If Trump is quick to call out his critics but gives racists, bigots, and homophobes a free pass because they happen to like him, it would be another sign he is trying to tilt the scales of justice in his favor.”

8) Really rigging the system.

“…given the promises he has made and the demography of the electorate, Trump and the GOP have every incentive to use the next four years to try to stack the electoral deck in their favor. Look for more attempts to gerrymander safe seats for House Republicans and more efforts to prevent likely Democratic voters from getting to the polls in 2018 and 2020.”

9) Fearmongering.

“Stoking public fears about safety and well-being is a classic autocratic tactic, designed to convince a frightened population to look to the Leader for protection. Trump played this card brilliantly in the campaign, warning of “Mexican rapists,” foreign governments that “steal our jobs,” “scores of recent migrants inside our borders charged with terrorism,” and so on. He also hinted that his political rivals were somehow in cahoots with these various “enemies.” A frightened population tends to think first about its own safety, and forget about fundamental liberties, and would be more likely to look the other way as a president amassed greater power.

The worst case, of course, would be an Erdogan-like attempt to use a terrorist attack or some other equally dramatic event as an excuse to declare a “state of emergency” and to assume unprecedented executive authority. Bush and Cheney used 9/11 to pass the Patriot Act, and Trump could easily try to use some future incident as a — with apologies for the pun — trumped-up excuse to further encroach on civil liberties, press freedoms, and the other institutions that are central to democracy.”

10) Demonizing the opposition.

“Trying to convince people that your domestic opponents are in league with the nation’s enemies is one of the oldest tactics in politics, and it has been part of Trump’s playbook ever since he stoked the “birther” controversy over Obama’s citizenship. After he becomes president, will he continue to question his opponents’ patriotism, accuse them of supporting America’s opponents, and blame policy setbacks on dark conspiracies among Democrats, liberals, Muslims, the Islamic State, “New York financial elites,” or the other dog whistles so beloved by right-wing media outlets like Breitbart? Will he follow the suggestions of some of his supporters and demand that Americans from certain parts of the world (read: Muslims) be required to “register” with the federal government?

Again, these are the same tactics Erdogan and Putin have used in Turkey and Russia, respectively, to cement their own authority over time by initiating a vicious cycle of social hostility. When groups within a society are already somewhat suspicious of each other, extremists can trigger a spiral of increasing hostility by attacking the perceived internal enemy in the hope of provoking a harsh reaction. If the attacked minority responds defensively, or its own hotheads lash out violently, it will merely reinforce the first group’s fears and bolster a rapid polarization. Extremists on both sides will try to “outbid” their political opponents by portraying themselves as the most ardent and effective defenders of their own group. In extreme cases, such as the Balkan Wars in the 1990s or Iraq after 2003, the result is civil war. Trump would be playing with fire if he tries to stay in power by consistently sowing hatred against the “other,” but he did it in the campaign, and there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t do it again.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“This list of warning signs will no doubt strike some as overly alarmist. As I said, it is possible — even likely — that Trump won’t try any of these things (or at least not very seriously) and he might face prompt and united opposition if he did. The checks and balances built into America’s democratic system may be sufficiently robust to survive a sustained challenge. Given the deep commitment to liberty that lies at the heart of the American experiment, it is also possible the American people would quickly detect any serious attempt to threaten the present order and take immediate action to stop it.

The bottom line: I am by no means predicting the collapse of democracy in the United States under a President Donald J. Trump. What I am saying is that it is not impossible, and there are some clear warning signs to watch out for. Now, as always, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Or to use a more modern formulation: If you see something, say something.”

 

This is our Open Thread – feel free to talk about whatever you want.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, August 20th, 2016: Promises, Promises

ICYMI –

From yesterday’s Washington Post: David A. Fahrenthold and Alice Crites present an in-depth, detailed look at Donald Trump’s claimed generosity on The Apprentice, focusing on promises of donations to many of the ‘fired’ contestants’ favorite charity. Despite the video recordings and transcripts of the show verifying Trump’s own words (the particular phrases varied, but the meaning was unambiguous), not one single penny came out of his own personal “wallet”, “pocket” or “account.” In fact, several of the named charities never received the stated donation at all.

Obviously, this provides more evidence that Trump has always been a lying, cheap, manipulative fraud whose word – as in, “his word is his bond” – means absolutely nothing. Of course, anyone with half a brain should know that anyway. But many details about the Trump Foundation and its funding that the WaPo investigation dug up also make it clear that The Donald’s tax returns contain more than one reason why he refuses to release them.

Trump’s pattern of public displays of ‘generosity’ without the actual donation has already been seen over the course of his campaign. WaPo’s report reinforces the fact that this is a real pattern, and one that, in view of Trump’s monstrously overblown ego, we should expect to continue simply because Trump cannot help himself. And it won’t just be about money. While Trump’s mouth is not as big as his ego, it is certainly bigger than his wallet, his brain, and whatever dark, malignant growth passes for his ‘soul.’ His big mouth will continue to make empty promises that he cannot and will not keep. Trump’s entire campaign is simply snake oil, but he and his rube supporters are really the snakes.

One could almost feel sorry for the Republican party – almost, but since they created this monster, the GOP doesn’t deserve pity. What they really deserve is worldwide humiliation, followed by extinction. However, I find it ironic that in 2012 they chose an extremely wealthy and experienced candidate who at least knew the ropes; this time around, all they could afford was a fake billionaire with fake hair and a fake persona who knows nothing, absolutely nothing, about how government works. Well, they got what they paid for, and now they are paying much more dearly than they apparently could have imagined.  Let’s hope that the rest of the country doesn’t have to pay so dearly for the GOP’s biggest mistake.

This is our daily Open Thread, so go ahead and talk about anything you want.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 20th, 2016: Huh?

I think that the Koch brothers are attempting to put a ‘softer light’ on their well-deserved evil reputations.

Earlier this week at the office, I found the following missive, purportedly from David Koch, in the Junk emailbox of our Sales emails. (I’m wondering if Koch got his mailing list from the American Landrights Association, whose occasional emails land in the same Junk box, or if ALA gets their mailing list from the Kochs.) Who knows if it really is from THE David Koch; regardless, I found it interesting/amusing.

From: Mr.David H. Koch [mailto:davidhamiltonkoch74@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, February 15, 2016 3:02 PM
Subject: HI DONATION FOR YOU !!.

Hi,

My name is David Hamilton Koch, a philanthropist and the founder of Koch Industries, one of the largest private foundations in the world. I believe strongly in ‘giving while living I had one idea that never changed in my mind, that you should use your wealth to help people and I have decided to secretly give USD$2,000,000.00 Million Dollars to randomly selected individuals worldwide.

On receipt of this email, you should count yourself as the lucky individual. Your email address was chosen online while searching at random. Kindly get back to me at your earliest convenience, so that I will know your email address is valid.

Email me (davidhamiltonkoch75@gmail.com)

Visit my web page to know more about me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_H._Koch

Regards,
David H. Koch.
Email (davidhamiltonkoch75@gmail.com)

Huh? WTF?

Then, late last night, RawStory put up this post from the Guardian about Charles Koch agreeing with Bernie Sanders that ‘politics are set up to help the privileged few.’ Charles Koch wrote the following op-ed piece for the Washington Post:

Charles Koch: This is the one issue where Bernie Sanders is right
By Charles G. Koch February 18

Charles G. Koch is chairman and chief executive of Koch Industries.

As he campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) often sounds like he’s running as much against me as he is the other candidates. I have never met the senator, but I know from listening to him that we disagree on plenty when it comes to public policy.

Even so, I see benefits in searching for common ground and greater civility during this overly negative campaign season. That’s why, in spite of the fact that he often misrepresents where I stand on issues, the senator should know that we do agree on at least one — an issue that resonates with people who feel that hard work and making a contribution will no longer enable them to succeed.

The senator is upset with a political and economic system that is often rigged to help the privileged few at the expense of everyone else, particularly the least advantaged. He believes that we have a two-tiered society that increasingly dooms millions of our fellow citizens to lives of poverty and hopelessness. He thinks many corporations seek and benefit from corporate welfare while ordinary citizens are denied opportunities and a level playing field.

I agree with him.

Consider the regulations, handouts, mandates, subsidies and other forms of largesse our elected officials dole out to the wealthy and well-connected. The tax code alone contains $1.5 trillion in exemptions and special-interest carve-outs. Anti-competitive regulations cost businesses an additional $1.9 trillion every year. Perversely, this regulatory burden falls hardest on small companies, innovators and the poor, while benefitting many large companies like ours. This unfairly benefits established firms and penalizes new entrants, contributing to a two-tiered society.

Whenever we allow government to pick winners and losers, we impede progress and move further away from a society of mutual benefit. This pits individuals and groups against each other and corrupts the business community, which inevitably becomes less focused on creating value for customers. That’s why Koch Industries opposes all forms of corporate welfare — even those that benefit us. (The government’s ethanol mandate is a good example. We oppose that mandate, even though we are the fifth-largest ethanol producer in the United States.)

It may surprise the senator to learn that our framework in deciding whether to support or oppose a policy is not determined by its effect on our bottom line (or by which party sponsors the legislation), but by whether it will make people’s lives better or worse.

With this in mind, the United States’ next president must be willing to rethink decades of misguided policies enacted by both parties that are creating a permanent underclass.

Our criminal justice system, which is in dire need of reform, is another issue where the senator shares some of my concerns. Families and entire communities are being ripped apart by laws that unjustly destroy the lives of low-level and nonviolent offenders.

Today, if you’re poor and get caught possessing and selling pot, you could end up in jail. Your conviction will hold you back from many opportunities in life. However, if you are well-connected and have ample financial resources, the rules change dramatically. Where is the justice in that?

Arbitrary restrictions limit the ability of ex-offenders to get housing, student or business loans, credit cards, a meaningful job or even to vote. Public policy must change if people are to have the chance to succeed after making amends for their transgressions. At Koch Industries we’re practicing our principles by “banning the box.” We have voluntarily removed the question about prior criminal convictions from our job application.

At this point you may be asking yourself, “Is Charles Koch feeling the Bern?”

Hardly.

I applaud the senator for giving a voice to many Americans struggling to get ahead in a system too often stacked in favor of the haves, but I disagree with his desire to expand the federal government’s control over people’s lives. This is what built so many barriers to opportunity in the first place.

Consider America’s War on Poverty. Since its launch under President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, we have spent roughly $22 trillion, yet our poverty rate remains at 14.8 percent. Instead of preventing, curing and relieving the causes and symptoms of poverty (the goals of the program when it began), too many communities have been torn apart and remain in peril while even more tax dollars pour into this broken system.

It is results, not intentions, that matter. History has proven that a bigger, more controlling, more complex and costlier federal government leaves the disadvantaged less likely to improve their lives.

When it comes to electing our next president, we should reward those candidates, Democrat or Republican, most committed to the principles of a free society. Those principles start with the right to live your life as you see fit as long as you don’t infringe on the ability of others to do the same. They include equality before the law, free speech and free markets and treating people with dignity, respect and tolerance. In a society governed by such principles, people succeed by helping others improve their lives.

I don’t expect to agree with every position a candidate holds, but all Americans deserve a president who, on balance, can demonstrate a commitment to a set of ideas and values that will lead to peace, civility and well-being rather than conflict, contempt and division. When such a candidate emerges, he or she will have my enthusiastic support.

Double “HUH”?

This is a perfect example of a Libertarian’s attempt to sound reasonable and logical: while one can agree with bits and pieces of his statements, the overall premise(s) make for an unworkable government and an even more fractured society than we already have. And while Koch supposedly decries the dysfunctional state of American politics, he at the same time admits that he and his brother have benefited greatly from this dysfunction. What he doesn’t admit is that he and his brother, along with their various front groups, have actually deliberately caused said dysfunction.

I don’t have the time to pick this op-ed apart line-by-line, so I’ll leave it to you, should you be so inclined.

This is our daily Open Thread – have at it!

The Watering Hole, Monday, January 25th, 2016: All-“Christian” Edition

Today’s offerings are from two sites whose only thing in common seems to be that they both have the word “Christian” in their names.

First, let’s look at a few things from the Christian Post website (the more ‘persecuted-RW-Christian’ site.)

The Christian Post has sent the 2016 Presidential candidates a list of 12 questions which they feel are most important for the candidates to answer. So far, only two Republican candidates, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, have responded.

Here’s Ben Carson’s responses, a few of which I’d like to comment upon:

2. What is marriage, and what should be the government’s interest and role in marriage?
Like many Christians, I believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman in the witness of God. The government’s interest and role in marriage should be to protect and sanctify this institution[emphasis mine] because it is the cornerstone of our society. Raising families with two parents is key to a child’s development, and marriage is a strong institution that solidifies this crucial social structure. Marriage combines the efforts of two people to provide for and raise children, and gives children two parental figures to love and care for them.

Okay – First, define “sanctify”. According to Wikipedia:

“Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy.[1] “Sanctity” is an ancient concept widespread among religions. It is a gift given through the power of God to a person or thing which is then considered sacred or set apart in an official capacity within the religion, in general anything from a temple, to vessels, to days of the week, to a human believer who willingly accepts this gift can be sanctified. To sanctify is to literally “set apart for particular use in a special purpose or work and to make holy or sacred.”

So Carson believes that the U.S. Government has role in every citizen’s marriage, and that role is to make it “holy or sacred”? Does that make the U.S. Government a god?   Doesn’t that conflict with the Establishment Clause?  If Ben Carson believes that marriage is such a strong institution, why not rail against divorce? Christians get divorced at the same – or higher – rate as any other group, not to mention that divorce is said to be a big sin in the eyes of Jesus. If Jesus thought divorce was so wrong, but didn’t mention homosexuality, why can’t the “key” two-parents-must-raise-a-child be in a same-sex marriage?

10. What are your priorities related to both protecting the nation’s natural resources and using those resources to provide for the nation’s energy needs?

Energy is the life-blood that keeps our economy growing. It fuels the tractors that plow America’s fields. It powers the trucks, trains and planes that deliver American products. And it drives the American people in their everyday lives. If we want to return America to its former prosperity, we need to ensure that America’s energy grid is not only reliable, but affordable. That means looking into all potential energy sources to find the most efficient, most effective and more reliable energy grid possible.

We can’t afford to mandate unrealistic fuel standards or price-inflating renewable mandates. But as these energy sources compete head to head, technological advancements and innovations will help drop costs and raise efficiencies even further.

[and the money quote]

When it comes to the environment, we should be good stewards of God’s resources, but the best way to do that is through market-based mechanisms and private efforts, not via government edicts that destroy businesses and intrude into citizens’ lives.

Yeah, because I’m sure that “God” was thinking of “market-based mechanisms and private efforts” when he told mankind to be good stewards of Earth. And wasn’t Carson just talking about how “government” should have an “interest” and “a role” in a couple’s marriage, i.e., “intrud[ing] into citizens’ lives”, and very personally, I might add? But the “government” shouldn’t be involved in determining how the entire country uses its natural resources, because that would “intrud[e] into citizens’ lives”?  Carson has very mixed, and incorrect, notions of what government’s priorities should be.

12. What caused the Great Recession, and what should be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

A number of factors contributed to the global financial crisis, but what became clear was that when bankers engaged in highly leveraged financial bets, ordinary taxpayers ended up footing the bill for the big banks’ bailouts.

I believe that certain types of regulations are reasonable for regulating financial markets. For instance, Glass-Steagall was a reasonable piece of legislation after the 1929 stock market crash, and perhaps should be re-imposed in a modified form.

This does not mean that the regulations imposed after the financial crisis were appropriate. In fact, Dodd-Frank is a monstrosity that does not address the root cause of the crisis, imposes heavy burdens on community banks, severely limits the freedom of financial institution to engage in ordinary business and saps economic growth with restrictive government controls.

I believe that when such government regulations choke economic growth, it is the poor and the middle class that are hurt the most.

Carson (or whoever wrote his ‘responses’ for him) must have just skimmed the “U.S. Economic History, Late 20th – Early 21st Century” Cliff Notes(TM), latching on to just enough topical buzzwords and meaningless phrases to put together a few sentences. Too many points there to elaborate on, I’ll let you all pick them apart if you wish.

And here’s Carly Fiorina’s responses. I’m just going to comment on one of them.

10. What are your priorities related to both protecting the nation’s natural resources and using those resources to provide for the nation’s energy needs?

Fiorina: As president, I will ensure that the United States is the global energy powerhouse of the 21st century.

That means reinstating the Keystone XL Pipeline that President Obama rejected. It also means rolling back the regulations from this administration that limit our ability to find resources by imposing regulations on hydraulic fracturing and our ability to be energy independent by regulating drilling on federal lands. As president, I will make America an energy leader through technology and innovation.

No, no, no! Fiorina is just so wrong, it’s hard to believe that she could possibly be serious. Keystone XL, fracking, and drilling, and on OUR federal lands, no less? How does one become an “energy leader through technology and innovation” while relying solely on finite, filthy fossil fuels? Aaarrgghhh!

Let’s turn to the Christian Science Monitor for a few things that are more reality-based and inspiring.

First, I’m sure that you’re all aware by now that Earth may have a new neighbor, as astronomers announced the possibility of a hidden ninth planet.

The evidence for the existence of this “Planet Nine” is indirect at the moment; computer models suggest a big, undiscovered world has shaped the strange orbits of multiple objects in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune.

Next, we can once again thank the Hubble telescope and NASA for showing us the amazing beauty of space, in this article about the Trumpler 14 star cluster. Just don’t let Donald Trump know about Trumpler 14, he’ll probably think that (a) the star cluster is named for him, and (b) therefore he owns it.
Trumpler 14Source: Hubblesite.org

And finally, for our Zookeeper, here’s an article discussing why the zebra has stripes. While it appears that the idea that the striping is for camouflage may be incorrect, there is still no consensus on a proven biological reason.
brown striped zebra

This is our daily Open Thread–discuss whatever you want.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, November 14th, 2015: Populism That Works

ICYMI, or maybe ICIMI: there’s a petition going around for a great idea that was brought to our attention today in a newsletter from populist Jim Hightower. The Campaign for Postal Banking is pushing for local Post Offices to also provide banking services. As Jim Hightower states:

“Millions of Americans live in areas that now have no alternative to the Wall Street-backed predatory lenders and check-cashing chains that rip them off. We can change this. The Campaign for Postal Banking has started a petition to the US Postmaster General to make postal banking a reality. With postal banking, folks that don’t have access to good banks or credit unions can go to their community post office for non-profit, consumer-driven financial services — getting their basic banking needs met without being gouged by Wall Street profiteers.”

From an article by Ralph Nader at Huffington Post yesterday discusses the topic as well:

“According to Bloomberg, from 2008 to 2013: “Banks have shut 1,826 branches…. and 93 percent of closings were in postal codes where the household income is below the national median.”

and

“Last year, the office of the USPS inspector general released a report detailing the ways in which postal banking would be beneficial to both the public and the USPS itself, which has been made to endure an unprecedented advanced payment of $103.7 billion by 2016 to cover future health benefits of postal retirees for the next 75 years. No other government or private corporation is required to meet this unreasonable prepayment burden.”

An article at OurFuture.org from May of this year has more, including this excerpt:

“For millions of underserved families, the Postal Service is already a part of their financial lives,” the report said, noting that post offices sold $21 billion worth of money orders in 2014. Yet, “in order to get the funds to purchase those money orders, many families likely first went to expensive check cashers to convert their paychecks into currency. What if those consumers could instead cash their paychecks at a post office for a lower fee? What if they also could pay bills, buy low-fee prepaid cards, and maybe even get affordable small-dollar loans, all in one convenient location? This could help consumers save money and time, and it would help the Postal Service fulfill its mission to facilitate commerce and serve citizens.”

An idea that’s a total win-win for poorer Americans; empowers “Main Street”; helps to save the U.S. Postal Service from its deliberate destruction by Congress; that keeps and creates jobs, thereby improving the economy; and helps to break the chokehold of Wall Street and the too-big-to-fail banks that WE THE TAXPAYERS bailed out? Every politician who’s in bed with the Wall Street/big bank cabal will be fighting this with every bit of power they have. This is an idea worth fighting for, and one that should show any non-1%er-American who still has a functioning brain exactly what “populism” means and what Democratic Socialist Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is standing for.

Let’s all say a big, loud “FUCK YOU” to the real “takers” in our country, and make something happen.

This is our daily Open Thread – feel free to talk about this topic or anything else on your mind.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, May 23rd, 2015: From One to Infinity?

Last night I was doing an extremely necessary cleanup of my emails, and was about to delete some recent ones from our local Republican NYS Assemblyman, when I decided to take a look to see what he was writing about. Here’s one of them:

Cuomo’s Undemocratic Minimum Wage Hike Will Kill Jobs

East Fishkill, NY – (5/7/15) – Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor (R,C,I – East Fishkill) issued a statement today criticizing Governor Cuomo’s decision to unilaterally move to raise the minimum wage for some businesses without legislative approval.

“Dictating new regulations outside the legislative process is a recklessly undemocratic decision by Governor Cuomo,” said Lalor. “We have a process for passing new laws and the governor has chosen to bypass it because he was only able to get part of his job-killing minimum wage through the legislature. It seems he’s taking a page from President Obama’s playbook and simply dictating new laws when he can’t do what he wants through the legislature. Impaneling a wage board gives Cuomo’s action a veneer of unbiased approval, but is there any doubt that the board will simply follow Cuomo’s directions? We know how closely Cuomo has controlled previous ‘independent’ commissions.”

Lalor added, “This isn’t just undemocratic, it’s a job killer. San Francisco’s recent minimum wage hike is pushing small businesses to the brink of closure. [emphasis mine] This will hurt minimum-wage earners when businesses that can’t afford the increase start cutting jobs. Studies have shown entry-level job opportunities decline with minimum wage increases. The governor can’t simply mandate a better economy. Small businesses are struggling with New York’s high taxes and never-ending regulations. New York’s economy is struggling because of those taxes and regulations. The only way for government to increase wages and opportunities is to cut taxes and regulations across the board. We need to open up opportunities for businesses to thrive and create jobs in New York.”

“It’s also inappropriate for the governor to target just one industry,” Lalor added. “Governor Cuomo says he wants to raise fast food wages because fast food CEOs are millionaires. But, many fast food restaurants operate as franchises. They’re small businesses. This isn’t just hitting big corporations, Governor Cuomo, this is hitting small businesses. Cuomo’s dictate is so vague, we don’t even know how far this will go. It’s up to his wage board to decide what jobs will be defined as within the ‘fast food industry’. Pizzeria and deli owners, among other small businesses, don’t know if they’ll be included. They might not even know that this regulation could affect them until it’s already passed, missing the chance to voice their opposition.”

###
Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a former teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie, is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel…”

I started to search for any information regarding what problems have been caused by San Francisco’s recent minimum-wage raise. The Google brought up several articles referencing “a San Francisco newspaper says that some restaurants and grocery stores in Oakland’s Chinatown have closed…” Okay, that’s Oakland, which, as far as I know, is still a separate city across the bay from SF. And my search for even that one “San Francisco newspaper” story yielded nothing but references to it from right-wing sources, i.e., The American Spectator and World Net Daily. As you can see, Thomas Sowell of The American Spectator has apparently coined (or at least emphasized) a new buzzword for the right, “ruinous compassion” – don’t be surprised if you start hearing that phrase in conjunction with any minimim-wage-raise arguments.

I finally found one article from Yahoo! Finance titled “Minimum Wage Hike Closes San Francisco Bookstore.” Although I had seen other stories from 2011 on about several booksellers such as the Borders chain losing business or closing, none of those seemed to be as a result of minimum wage hikes; it’s been pretty much a given for several years now that any bookseller would be in tough competition with current technology, with which one can access any book one wants with a few clicks. However, even this particular bookstore in San Francisco isn’t exactly going out of business entirely:

“Borderland Books, which specializes in science fiction and horror, says it has withstood a host of challenges since it opened in 1997, including the rise of Amazon.com and e-books, a landlord who supposedly doubled their rent while dotcoms were first booming, and a deep recession that the owners say “hit us very hard.” A higher minimum wage, though, would take the business from being modestly profitable to being a money loser, the owner says. “Although all of us at Borderlands support the concept of a living wage in principal and we believe that it’s possible that the new law will be good for San Francisco — Borderlands Books as it exists is not a financially viable business if subject to that minimum wage.”

But according to the article:

“The blog post went on to say that the Borderlands café business will stay open and should have “no difficulty at all” with the new minimum wage because it will be able to raise prices as needed. The bookselling business is different, the blog post argued, because book prices are set by the publishers and clearly printed on the books.”

So, although the owner wasn’t making much of a profit anyway from selling books, he’s still going to do just fine with the cafe associated with his bookstore. The last paragraph of the article itself links to this survey of economists who are mostly supportive of minimum-wage raises.

Hmm…So why is this one bookstore being used as, it appears, the definitive argument against all minimum-wage hikes, and why does it sound like the Ronald Reagan “Cadillac-driving welfare queen”? And since when does ONE = ALL?

I think I’m going to have to write to Assemblyman Lalor about his research team – if he has one.

This is our (very late) Daily Open Thread–what’s on your mind?