Saturday, February 24, 2018

When it comes to the gun debate, the Never Again kids show more moral clarity and vision than do all adult Americans combined

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is a poster adult and an example of how we adults have betrayed our young. We have betrayed them by our practices and policies that enable school shootings and thus betray the survivors as well as those murdered.

Michael Schulman, writing in the New Yorker, takes a theatrical perspective on the Never Again movement in The Spring Awakening of the Stoneman Douglas Theatre Kids. He argues that “Many of the leaders of the Never Again movement are indeed actors, thrust into roles that no teen-ager should have to play.”

Snippets, condensed, follow.

Cameron Kasky, the seventeen-year-old firebrand … started the Never Again movement with his classmates …

For former high-school-theatre kids, it’s a point of pride to see one of our own elevated to civic hero. “All these kids are drama kids, and I’m a dramatic kid, so it really meshes well,” Emma Gonz├ílez, one of Kasky’s compatriots, told Emily Witt. (Kasky had just left drama class when the shooting began.) On Thursday, the morning after Kasky asked Senator Marco Rubio if he would promise not to take any more donations from the N.R.A. (he wouldn’t), Kasky tweeted, “Using my in flight chat to learn my Spring Awakening lines.” He was referring to the Tony Award-winning rock musical from 2006, by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater. From the lines he posted (“can we at least consider the fitness of the conjecture?”), it seems he’s playing the lead, Melchior Gabor.

… I watched Kasky, Gonz├ílez, and their classmates show more moral clarity and vision than we’ve seen in the gun debate for a long time

… Kasky and his classmates have vowed to remake a world that failed them—a role that no teen-ager should have to play, especially in the wake of tragedy and trauma. … Kasky gave Rubio [s look] on Wednesday night—one that says that the world no longer belongs to the grownups, because the kids have seen through the B.S. and know that their lives are on the line. (As for the kids in the town-hall audience, I half-expected them to respond to Rubio with a lyric from the Act II showstopper “Totally Fucked”: “Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.”)

I am certain what my dog Max hears is “Blah blah blah MAX blah blah blah.” In the same vein, I would not blame those kids in the Never Again movement if they tune out most of what we adults have to say when it comes to their safety and welfare. Because we have failed them and they know it.

The kids need to demand that every would-be leader say how many dead kids are worth free access to assault weapons. They might as well learn sooner than later what is the de facto policy of America when it comes to the value of their lives.

Will America choose guns or children?

In the aftermath of the latest school shooting in Florida, The editorial board of the New York Times asked Will America Choose Its Children Over Guns?

Scriber’s answer: No. If “America” is defined as adult citizens, then the answer is “hell no!” The message needs to be sent to America’s children that only they can save the nation. They live under the constant threat of being the next victim of a mass shooting at their own school. The Times nailed it:

Sensible young people have it in their power to make their senseless elders take heed — and act. We saw it happen during the Vietnam War half a century ago. Young people, initially reviled by establishment forces as unwashed, longhaired traitors, energized an antiwar movement that swept the country and, even if it took years, ultimately ended America’s misguided adventure in Southeast Asia.

If you doubt it, read the various news reports on what adults are saying. In a nutshell: we want our guns. My generation will do little if anything to protect its children.

Suspend reality for a moment in favor of a thought experiment. Imagine that there were no guns available to civilians in America. How many school shootings would there be? We already have the answer. Australia did it and the result was that shooting stopped. New Zealand did it after the only school shooting 100 years ago.

But that won’t happen. It won’t happen because the gun loonies likeNRA’s LaPierre and Loesch won’t let it happen. More importantly, it won’t happen because supposedly sensible, supposedly responsible gun owners won’t let it happen.

In Parents and Students Plead With Trump: ‘How Many Children Have to Get Shot?’ the Times quoted survivors and their parents from this and earlier shootings. For example:

“It should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it — and I’m pissed,” said Mr. Pollack, the only parent of a child killed in Parkland who was at the session, raising his voice as he looked at Mr. Trump. “Because my daughter, I’m not going to see again.”

Mr. Pollack said he did not favor adopting new gun restrictions, but pleaded for Democrats and Republicans to come together to create new school safety measures.

“It’s not about gun laws right now — that’s another fight, another battle,” he said. “We need our children safe.”

Translation: I am angry that my child was shot but I don’t want to do anything that infringes on so-called “gun rights”.

Even those that speak out most strongly about limitations on assault weapons, in my opinion, come up short. For example, this Times’s op-ed authors says I’m Republican. I Appreciate Assault Weapons. And I Support a Ban.. The author tries having it both ways:

… The exact definition of assault weapon will need to be determined. But we should all be able to agree that the civilian version of the very deadly weapon that the Army issued to me should certainly qualify. I would not support any version of a ban that results in confiscating existing legally owned firearms.

So the current crop of AR–15s would remain in place because they are at present legal.

Unless we get over the sanctity of the 2nd amendment and give up the idolatry of the AR–15, the nation’s children are doomed. That is why they have the most at stake and are our best, our only hope for a sane future.

Monday, February 19, 2018

"Kids are dying, and it’s time to stop fucking around."

I like guns
Fuck you, I like guns

That’s the conclusion from an “aging millennial engineer”, whose blog is devoted to “Engineering, Parenthood, and a Solid Attempt at Adult Status.” Her startling assertion and the accompanying pic was designed to grab attention of those lovers of the AR15, a semiautomatic weapon that serves one purpose and one only - it is very efficient at killing people. She argues that no one, one one at all other than active duty military, should have access to these kinds of weapons. This is a must read - go to “Fuck you, I like guns.” and read the whole thing and then spread it over the internet far and wide.

OK - your time is precious. Here’s her conclusion. Then go read the intro.

Yes, yes, I hear you now. We have a second amendment to the constitution, which must be held sacrosanct over all other amendments. Dude. No. The constitution was made to be a malleable document. It’s intentionally vague. We can enact gun control without infringing on the right to bear arms. You can have your deer rifle. You can have your shotgun that you love to shoot clay pigeons with. You can have your target pistol. Get a license. Get a training course. Recertify at a predetermined interval. You do not need a military grade rifle. You don’t. There’s no excuse.

“But we’re supposed to protect against tyranny! I need the same weapons the military would come at me with!” Dude. You know where I can get an Apache helicopter and a Paladin?! Hook a girl up! Seriously, though, do you really think you’d be able to hold off the government with an individual level weapon? Because you wouldn’t. One grenade, and you’re toast. Don’t have these illusions of standing up to the government, and needing military style rifles for that purpose. You’re not going to stand up to the government with this thing. They’d take you out in about half a second.

Let’s be honest. You just want a cool toy, and for the vast majority of people, that’s all an AR–15 is. It’s something fun to take to the range and put some really wicked holes in a piece of paper. Good for you. I know how enjoyable that is. I’m sure for a certain percentage of people, they might not kill anyone driving a Formula One car down the freeway, or owning a Cheetah as a pet, or setting off professional grade fireworks without a permit. Some people are good with this stuff, and some people are lucky, but those cases don’t negate the overall rule. Military style rifles have been the choice du jour in the incidents that have made our country the mass shootings capitol of the world. Formula One cars aren’t good for commuting. Cheetahs are bitey. Professional grade fireworks will probably take your hand off. All but one of these are common sense to the average American. Let’s fix that. Be honest, you don’t need that AR–15. Nobody does. Society needs them gone, no matter how good you may be with yours. Kids are dying, and it’s time to stop fucking around.

h/t Myra Ann on Facebook for alerting us to “An excellent opinion piece, written by a former woman soldier, on why AR 15s should not be available to citizens.”

Murder in a small school and illustrated news

Policy of the USA
"It shall be the policy ..."

Another week, another school shooting, more thoughts and prayers, craven cowards in congress, Trumpian tantrums, and so it goes.

BTW: which among you really believes that it is not the policy of the USA to sacrifice its young for unlimited access to assault weapons?

Never mind. Check out the rest of the illustrated news by AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Here’s a significant digit: how many school shootings have occurred since 1900 in New Zealand?

Hint: Murder in a small Kiwi school. Read the story for the answer.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Guns 104: "The policy of the United States shall be the acceptance of loss of life so that assault weapons are available for legal sale"

This is a shortened and mildly edited version of that originally posted onWednesday, October 4, 2017

Of all the significant digits attached to the most recent mass murder, the shooting in Las Vegas, my favorite is this one.

Zero. “Between 1979 and 1996, Australia had thirteen fatal mass shootings. Since 1996, when the country introduced a law that banned the sale of semiautomatic weapons and launched a buyback program for weapons that had already been sold, there have been no mass shootings. None.” That’s from John Cassidy’s article in the New Yorker, Las Vegas, Gun Violence, and the Failing American State.

If we as a country value life (as we say we do in the abortion debates) then we should disavow the headlined policy and follow Australia’s lead in banning, retrieving, and destroying the kinds of weapons used in the Las Vegas shooting. If we don’t do that, we are implicitly accepting the policy that is the title of this post. We should then stop shedding tears, stop moments of silence, stop candlelight vigils, get rid of the wreaths, and stop saying we grieve for the victims - because we don’t mean any of that. We are just lying through our teeth.

Here’s more from the shop of horrors known as the United States Congress.

This one is freaking unbelievable. I quote: ‘In an interview with Fox News, Mr. Scalise said that what he saw in Las Vegas “fortified” his stance in support of the Second Amendment.’ (Scriber: you know - the Congressman who was shot while playing baseball.)

And on the local scene, in this morning’s Daily Star, More laws won’t stop mass shootings says Kan Rineer, executive director of Gun Owners of Arizona. Instead, he argues, that a return to morality will help.

We must exercise self control to the moral code. What moral code? That we shall do no harm to another unless that individual wishes to do us harm.

So how do we get there?

At the top of my list would be leadership rather than demagoguery.

We have our fair share of demagogues as is evidenced by all the calls for more “gun control laws” by so many celebrities and politicians. One went as far as to demand Congress get [off] their “bleep” and do something about gun violence.

Congress cannot fix what ails us and no law they can pass will stop it. The problem is one of a lack of morality; it is not a problem of too few laws.

In closing, let’s treat the illness. Let’s stop talking about more laws and start talking about who we have become as a people. …

Indeed. Let’s have that conversation. I started my version of that yesterday in my essay titled J’accuse: Our national failure and disgrace.

But Rineer is just making more excuses for national inaction on assault weapons.

And that brings us full circle to the policy I quoted in my title: “The policy of the United States shall be the acceptance of loss of life so that assault weapons are available for legal sale.” I made that up. But can you doubt, given what I and others have written about the latest mass murder, that this is the de facto policy of the United States of America?

UPDATE: Now adding on Feb 18, 2018: The children can protest as much as they want - or can get away with. America will still shoot them. Now with another shooting being ignored by the President and Congress, can you doubt that America will continue to shoot its young?

Hey “young”: are you listening?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Guns 101: What Trump says to Parkland parents - nothing of consequence

John Cassidy of the New Yorker asks: What Does Donald Trump Have to Say to the Parkland Parent Lori Alhadeff? The grieving mother of Alyssa Alhadeff has demanded that the President take some immediate action as a sign that this senseless carnage won’t be allowed to continue. Will he?

The answer is …


On Thursday evening, the people of Parkland, Florida, held a candlelight vigil for the victims of Wednesday’s gun massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Before the vigil began, one of the bereaved parents, Lori Alhadeff, the mother of Alyssa Alhadeff, a vibrant, soccer-playing ninth grader who was one of the seventeen people shot dead by Nikolas Cruz, made a remarkable and impassioned plea on CNN.

If you haven’t yet seen the video of the network’s on-the-spot interview with Alhadeff, brace yourself. It is very harrowing. But for anybody who gives a damn about this country it should be required viewing.

“How, how do we allow a gunman to come into our children’s school?” Alhadeff began, clutching a microphone in one hand and looking directly into the camera. “What security is there? There’s no metal detectors. The gunman—a crazy person—just walks right into the school, knocks down the window of my child’s door and starts shooting. Shooting her. And killing her.”

As Alhadeff spoke, her face contorted, her body shook, and her voice rose to an anguished but determined cry. “President Trump,” she went on, “you say, ‘What can you do?’ You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands. Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools. What can you do? You can do a lot. This is not fair to our families. That our children go to school and have to get killed.” At this, Alhadeff took a breath and tried, in vain, to compose herself. “I just spent the last two hours putting the burial arrangements for my daughter’s funeral who is fourteen,” she continued. “President Trump, please do something. Do something. Action. We need it now. These kids need safety now.”

If I were the head of a major media organization, I would ask my staff to put a simple question to every member of Congress, and to Donald Trump, too. “How do you respond to Lori Alhadeff?”

So far, the reaction to the shooting from the White House and congressional Republicans has been predictably pathetic. The President’s initial response consisted of a few tweets, a phone call to Rick Scott, the N.R.A. favorite who serves as governor of Florida, and a short, vacuous speech delivered from the White House Diplomatic Room on Thursday morning, during which he told the parents, teachers, and students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, “We are here for you. Whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain.”

“Mr. President, this is your moment,” the [conservative New York Post] editorial concluded. “You can keep your promises to the kids and the parents and honor your offer to do ‘whatever we can do’ . . . It’s time, Mr. President to do something. America is waiting on you.”

From everything we have seen so far, the wait will be long and in vain.

While Trump and his complicit legislators fail to act, high school students took note and took to the streets. Huffington Post reports that Florida High School Students Stage Walkout To Protest Gun Violence. Now is the exact time to talk about gun control, say students from a high school near Parkland.

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. ― They’re furious about political stonewalling, and most of them aren’t yet old enough to vote.

Two days after a gunman used an assault-style rifle to kill 17 people at a nearby school, the students of South Broward High School protested in solidarity. Just a couple of dozen miles down the road in Parkland, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was still sealed off as investigators pored over the horrors inside.

About 50 teenagers gathered on the street Friday, rallying around the common causes of gun control and school safety ― two issues politicians continue to ignore even though polls show most Americans support them.

Teenagers, armed with political signs ― and the occasional snack brought from home ― chanted slogans like “You are responsible!” and “Justice for Douglas!” and “Protect the kids!” as cars passed by and honked in solidarity.

Sara Rodriguez, 16, was among those protesting, holding up a handmade sign that read “NRA is a terrorist organization.”

"I want to end gun violence,” Sara told HuffPost, adding that she thinks adults and lawmakers have “absolutely” failed her generation.

“They don’t pay attention to our voice and we’re really tired of staying silent,” she said. “We are the future. We’re trying to make it but we can’t do it if they’re not listening.”

Shane Dale, 14, said his marching band competes against Stoneman Douglas ― and that the proximity makes the tragedy all the more real.

“It doesn’t feel like school anymore,” Shane said, reflecting on how the atmosphere changed this week.

“Nobody needs an AR–15 rifle for hunting,” he added, referencing the shooter’s choice of weapon. “We need to get rid of assault rifles overall.”

Ianna Seemungal, 17, fought back tears as she described her motivation for protesting. She said she was sick of not feeling safe and having a government that refuses to do anything about it.

“We don’t deserve this,” she said. “We need to be safe. There’s nowhere to be safe. … We can’t even go to school.”

When asked if she was worried about getting in trouble for leaving class on a school day, Ianna shrugged.

“No,” she said. “And if I do, it was worth it.”

These kids have more guts, more sense of right and wrong, than the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court. But they face an overwhelming juggernaut - the staggering number of guns in America and their protectionist defenders. Evidence on that point is in the next installment.

Guns 102: Why the Florida students cannot prevail against the numbers

The problem, you Florida kids protesting inaction on gun control and school safety, lies in the numbers.

When I was a year or two younger than you, my father sent me to learn gun safety at a police shooting range under a program, as I recall by the NRA. His intent was that I should learn to shoot safely so that I could join him in the field on his hunting trips. In the intervening years, something awful happened: every American, on average, acquired one or more firearms never meant for hunting or target practice. CBS news reports on Gun ownership and gun violence in America, by the numbers.

Wednesday’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida claimed 17 lives and injured more than a dozen others. It was not the first mass shooting - or even the first shooting at a school - in 2018. Below are some statistics on gun ownership and gun violence in America.

Below is the short version.

357 Million - That was the number of guns in the United States in 2013 …

3 percent - That’s the percentage of people who own over half of the nation’s guns …

400,000 - That’s the number of firearms stolen every year …

18 - That’s the number of times a weapon has been fired on school grounds in 2018 …

Over 150,000 - That’s the number of students attending primary or secondary schools in the U.S. who have experienced a shooting on their campus …

30 - That’s the number of mass shootings that have occurred thus far in 2018 …

11,564 - That’s the average number of Americans murdered every year by gun violence …

114,994 - That’s the average number of Americans annually “shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention,” …

So, Florida kids, that is what my generation has bequeathed to you: guns, fear, and death.

And because of my generation’s actions and inactions, I wrote the third part of this series a while back but I will resurrect it in today’s edition of the blog.

Guns 103: J'accuse - Our national failure and disgrace


First published on Tuesday, October 3, 2017.

In 1898 the French writer Emile Zola published an open letter critical of the French government titled “J’accuse” - I accuse. I’ll get back to that in a moment. But first …


I confess.

Viewing the TV news last evening I discovered something ugly about myself. That thing I discovered is that I no longer had a visceral, emotional reaction to the news of the latest mass shooting. The numbers, 59 killed and 527 injured, are mere statistics. The videos of people getting shot and running for their lives are visual props for the nightly news.

I don’t think it’s just me. I think it is a cultural malady afflicting Americans. We have seen this cycle so often that our innate reactions, our primordial reflexes, have now been inhibited by repeated mass shootings with no consequences. David Fitzsimmons in this morning’s Daily Star perfectly captures this cycle of insanity.

We psychologists know about latent inhibition in which “a familiar stimulus takes longer to acquire meaning (as a signal or conditioned stimulus) than a new stimulus.” That is, in the present context, repeated exposure to mass shootings via the broadcast news renders us less capable of feeling revulsion that such events should cause.

You think I’m over-reacting? Consider this op-ed in this morning’s Daily Star, As a longtime gun owner, I wonder what to say. The author, Stu Bykofsky, says “As a lawful gun owner, as a defender of the Bill of Rights — all of them — I say you can’t saddle the 99.9 percent of gun owners who have done nothing wrong with the sins of the 0.1 percent who have criminal intent. But it gets harder for me to say that, to believe that, each time something like this happens. It gets harder to justify those deaths as the cost of living free.

So we are to believe, on this twisted logic, that those 59 people voluntarily gave up their lives to insure some one’s freedom to own assault weapons? I guess I have not been rendered totally insensate. This guy pisses me off. And so does the inability of the most powerful nation on earth to protect those 59 people.

And all that brings me back to my cold start.


I accuse.

I accuse the gun industry of promoting profits over people.

I accuse the National Rifle Association of propaganda in defense of weapons of mass murder. I accuse the NRA of abandoning their original purposes in favor of becoming a political machine divorced from anything other than its own ends.

I accuse our political leaders, every one of them, of being craven cowards. I accuse our political leaders of favoring the gun lobby that bribes them to do the will of the gun industry and NRA. I accuse our political leaders of trading the lives of their constituents for guns and bullets. I accuse Congress of being complicit in those murders.

I accuse the news media of being the means by which our aversions to blood and gore have been extinguished.

I accuse our religious leaders of accepting an association between God and guns. I accuse our religious leaders of doing nothing to prevent more murders of God’s children.

I accuse the American people for tolerating the murders of their fellow citizens - adults and children alike - in the name of an archaic document. I accuse my fellow Americans of rewriting their Constitution so as to bestow a right to bear weapons of mass murder. I accuse my fellow Americans of living in mindless fear, of being so afraid of all that surrounds us. I accuse my fellow Americans of being gulled by the gun industry and the NRA and the political leaders into believing that more guns mean more freedom and security.

I accuse, then, most of all, the United States of America for its failure as a nation. I accuse the USA of failing “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” I accuse the USA of inflicting unjust injury on its citizens. I accuse the USA of fostering domestic discord. I accuse the USA of harming the general welfare. I accuse the USA of the dishonest equation of guns and liberty. I accuse the United States of America of accepting and condoning the deaths of its citizens.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The GOP is a clear and present danger to the republic

You might remember Mike Lofgren’s essay, Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult. Basically he argued that the Republican Party with whom he once worked had become unrecognizable - at least to true conservatives and the rest of us. Now he his back with an update and a dire warning about what has become of the GOP and why it represents a clear and present danger to our republic. He writes in a NY Times op-ed that Reagan’s ‘Party of Ideas’ Is Down to Just One: Tax Cuts. (h/t AZBlueMeanie)

What has become of the Republican Party, which I once served on Capitol Hill and which I now consider a dangerous extremist movement on a par with the ruling Fidesz party in neo-fascist Hungary? Where did its principles go? What became of Ronald Reagan’s “party of ideas”?

One by one, those ideas were tossed aside for expediency and power — except the tax cut. A time traveler from the Reagan era would no longer recognize the Republican Party, but most Republican politicians feel no embarrassment supporting policies they once condemned.

Take, for example, the deficit.

Under Mr. Trump, who has extolled leveraging other people’s money while declaring that debt is good, the party is no longer even half pregnant. His tax act, passed exclusively with Republican votes in both the House and the Senate, increases the national debt by over a trillion dollars and awards 62 percent of its monetary benefits to the richest 1 percent of Americans.

Paul Ryan, the House speaker, sees the tax act as a bonanza for the working stiff: He tweeted that a public school secretary would see a whopping $1.50 a week extra in her paycheck. It’s touching that the secretary can now afford an extra McDonald’s coffee every week, but the deficit, thanks partly to the tax cut, is projected after years of decline to explode to a trillion dollars annually.

Check out Lofgren’s essay for the many other ways that the Republicans have become anti-Republican. He concludes:

Ultimately, the party’s spiritual sickness isn’t about Mr. Trump. Eight years ago, did Republican officeholders shut down the nonsense that Mr. Obama was a secret Muslim? For that matter, a quarter-century ago, did they quash the idiotic charge that the Clintons murdered Vince Foster?

Donald Trump merely aggravated what has long been building up in the party of Lincoln. In 2011, when House Republicans threatened to drive the government into default to extort political concessions, I left the party. Seven years later, it has become so extreme that I fear it is endangering the stability of the republic.

AZBlueMeanie adds this:

The GOP is a danger to the Republic … let that sink in. Then pledge to resist the GOP and to commit yourself to working to defeat this threat to our country.

Monday, February 12, 2018

EPA and Medicare on the block in Trump's deficit budget

Let’s start with an item that Scriber thinks will be spared the budgetary axe.

While Trump promises to “drain the swamp”, one of the swamp’s denizens goes jet-setting on unannounced trips around the world, flying first-class while his security detail and aides fly coach reports the Washington Post in First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure. On one junket last June, Pruitt “embarked on a whirlwind tour aimed at championing President Trump’s agenda at home and abroad.” That multinational trip cost us $90,000 in first and business class flights. And this goes on while Trump takes aim at the EPA in his budget proposal.

White House Proposes $4.4 Trillion Budget That Adds $7 Trillion to Deficits, reports the NY Times.

President Trump on Monday sent Congress a $4.4 trillion budget with steep cuts in domestic programs and entitlements, including Medicare, and large increases for the military, envisioning deficits totaling at least $7.1 trillion over the next decade.

Mr. Trump’s second federal spending plan also proposes steep cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency, despite Congress’ rejection of a similar plan last year to dramatically shrink the agency’s budget.

I’ll bet that those steep cuts won’t affect the EPA’s flyboy and his (self?) promotional tours.

The fiscal 2019 budget blueprint would pare the E.P.A. by $2.8 billion or 34 percent from its current level, while eliminating virtually all climate change-related programs. It also would cut the agency’s Office of Science and Technology nearly in half, to $489 million from its current $762 million.

Moreover, the Post reports, Trump goes after the safety net, White House budget proposes increase to defense spending and cuts to safety net, but federal deficit would remain. Here is the part of the story that focuses on Medicare.

The White House released a tax and spending plan Monday that would not eliminate the federal budget deficit after 10 years, its first public acknowledgment that large spending increases and the $1.5 trillion tax cut are putting severe pressure on the government’s debt.

The proposal, titled “Efficient, Effective, Accountable: An American Budget,” sets forth President Trump’s priorities as Congress prepares to consider spending bills for the next fiscal year.

Gee! A multiple-choice quiz, the fourth alternative being “(D) None of the above.”

The plan also calls for major cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other social programs, reductions that conservatives have long sought.

For example, the budget would cut $554 billion from Medicare spending over 10 years.

Medicare is the federal program that provides health benefits to older Americans, and more than 55 million people used the program last year.

The proposed changes to Medicare include changes to drug pricing. The government would reap $47 billion in savings over a decade from a change to Medicare prescription drug plans that would have seniors progress more slowly through the coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole.” Far fewer people would reach the catastrophic phase, where they pay 5 percent of the drug cost — and where Medicare is on the hook for 80 percent.

The math is simple: 554 - 47 = $507 billion in other cuts to Medicare.

Illustrated News summary of the week that should never have been

Trump's charade
Trump loves a good charade

What a week. The Nunes memo, Wall Street’s Trump Slump, Trump wages war against the FBI, Trump wages war against Mueller’s investigation, Rachel Brand quits, Portman is lack eye for WH, Portman is black eye for ex-wife, and now Trump wants a bigger, more beautiful military charade parade - a tribute to Trump the Triumphant. Now you don’t have to view the Mournday Mourning Illustrated News.

But if you want to any way, here is the link to the illustrated news that captures the week that should never have been by AZBlueMeanie. On the other hand, these days, each week is the week that should never have been.

Bob Lord (Blog for Arizona) ponders the Dark Days: America at the Abyss and ventures some looks into what may lie ahead.

… Trump is planning a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Pundits believe that’s all about Trump’s ego. But what if it’s worse? What if it’s a show of brute force intended to squelch any sign of an uprising over Trump’s abuse of power to shield himself from investigation and prosecution?

Meanwhile, the Koch network is funding a massive campaign to block Democrats from making gains in November. The combination of those efforts with actions by Republican state legislators and election officials to undermine voting rights easily could succeed.

Could that incite an uprising? Perhaps, but opposed to that uprising would be the “Blue Lives” that Trump believes matter more than Black Lives, and the alt right crowd. Yes, the alt right is still much in the minority… of people. But not of guns owned.

Lastly, consider the possibility, I’d say the likelihood, that Trump starts a war, with nationalist frenzy that undoubtedly will go with it. Could dissidents be rounded up? If the war is against a Muslim nation, will law enforcement protect American Muslims from angry, right-wing mobs?

Now check out Lord’s review of the developments that led to this gloomy prediction. For example:

… consider where the investigation of Trump and his associates stands today, brought into sharp focus by the resignation of one Rachel Brand, who otherwise would have been next in line to Rod Rosenstein at the Justice Department with authority over Bob Mueller. Rosenstein, according to many reports, was the target of the Nunes memo. By all appearances, Trump is angling to fire Rosenstein or force him to resign.

Yes, these are dark days.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Scriber on vacation

Your Scriber will be traveling in New Zealand for the next few weeks. I’ll try to keep up with the news, but posting to this blog will be spotty. You might want to follow me on my Facebook page ( where I will post photos and brief commentary on our travels. The SkyIslandScriber blog will be back on a regular basis in early March.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Trump boards Hairforce One - wind reveals what lies beneath

Hair stylists offer advice to Trump about his hair (or lack of it) on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Here’s the video clip from YouTube.

Quite possibly The Donald should attend to these lyrics from the musical:

Gimme head with hair
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there hair

The market correction in historical context

Market corrections
A history of market corrections

The NY Times reports that Stocks Plunge as Market Enters ‘Correction’ Territory.

The sell-off continued in Asia on Friday. Shanghai’s stock market was down about 4 percent midday, while shares in Hong Kong and Tokyo had fallen more than 3 percent. Futures contracts that track stocks in the United States traded erratically, suggesting that the markets on Friday [today] could be in for another day of uncertainty.

However, consider the history over the last 10 years. The accompanying graph showing Standard & Poor’s 500 from 2008 to present, swiped from the NY Times article, highlights (blue bars) those market drops of 10% or more. The market recovered in each case. So …

The market correction does not mean that the bull market in stocks — which have been roaring since March 2009 — is over. Markets also experienced a correction in early 2016 before shaking off their jitters and continuing to climb.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Napoleonic Narcissist in the White House wants a big beautiful parade with guns and glitz - for his coronation maybe?

“It has long been considered conventional wisdom that the US does not need to boast of its military strength because it already is recognised as the leader of the Nato alliance and a model of military professionalism countries across the global seek to emulate.” - The Independent.

Quote of The Week: “We have a Napoleon in the making here,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, said on CNN Tuesday. (From this CNN report.)

That prompts Scriber to propose a diagnostic subcategory: Napoleonic Narcissism. Among its symptoms are beliefs that bigger is always better and a sociopathic disregard for restraints imposed by conventional wisdom.

If Trump gets his military parade, he will join the other authoritarian dictators who also like to boast of their military strength: Russia, China, North Korea. (I omit France from this list because it is not authoritarian, it is the oldest country of the bunch, and it has been celebrating Bastille Day for 138 years.) See Trump military parade: Which other countries have large-scale public displays of military might?

Barbara Starr is the lead author reporting in CNN that Planning for US military parade now underway.

Pentagon spokesman Charlie Summers said Tuesday that Trump asked for the military parade, adding that the planning process was in its “infancy.”

According to The Washington Post, which first reported that Trump asked top brass at the Pentagon for a military parade, the President was inspired by France’s Bastille Day celebration.

Trump was French President Emmanuel Macron’s guest on Bastille Day last year, and later called the French military parade he witnessed “one of the greatest parades” he had ever seen.

Military parades, while unusual, are not unprecedented in the US, though there hasn’t been a major one in Washington since 1991 to celebrate victory in the Gulf War. That display, which drew roughly 200,000 attendees, featured various military units marching, Navy and Marine bands performing, and jets and helicopters flying over the crowd.

Some congressional Democrats have rebuked the idea of a military parade, arguing such a display would waste time and money and provide scant value to the American people.

There is a hint in the above quotes about why and how Trump came to order a military parade. Let’s muse about that. (1) Show the other authoritarian dictators who is boss. (2) Keep up with the French. (3) Macron has larger hands. (4) Macron has another part of his anatomy that is bigger than Trump’s.

Chris Cillizza, I think, sees this as a combination of (1) and (2) concluding that Of course Donald Trump wants a big, shiny military parade.

When you think of tanks and/or missiles rolling through the streets, it’s North Korea or Russia that you think of, not the United States or France. (North Korea is set to hold a military parade in just days, in fact.) You think of shows of force, public measuring sessions to show the world that [fill in the blank country] is not to be trifled with. Very rarely do you think of the world’s leading superpower needing to send that message.

Then there is the context of Trump. This is a President who has openly praised a number of totalitarian leaders – from Vladimir Putin in Russia to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. This is a President who has openly questioned his own Justice Department and FBI, suggesting there may be a conspiracy at the highest levels seeking to weaken him. This is a President who worked tirelessly to disqualify the idea of an objective news media. This is a President who has said things that aren’t true at an alarming rate – and an administration that has created the term “alternative facts.”

And now this is a President who wants to have a big military parade through the streets of the nation’s capital – largely, I suspect, because he saw the one France put on and thought: “We need something bigger.”

In fact, Trump said as much when he and French president Emmanuel Macron huddled at the United Nations following Trump’s France trip. “We’re going to have to try to top it,” he told Macron.

Bigger is always better in Trump’s world. And might usually makes right. He with the biggest toys wins.

Of course, when the toys are tanks and missiles and no one is really sure what “winning” looks like, the stakes go up – a fact Trump is either unaware or dismissive of. He also seems unconcerned of the sort of message a parade of tanks, guns and other military paraphernalia through the Washington streets sends to the rest of the world that will, most definitely, be watching.

Which means we will probably get a military parade in Washington. Because Trump gets what Trump wants – whether or not it is a good thing for the country.

Steve Benen exposes the parade as an extension of Trump’s insecurity: Trump directs Pentagon to prepare a military parade

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed to NBC News that the president has made the request. A senior administration official added that Trump has “given the directive to begin the planning so the planning has begun.”

And while plenty of details still need to be worked out, the Washington Post’s report included this tidbit: “The location is still being discussed, though Trump has said he would like it to proceed along Pennsylvania Avenue, which links the Capitol and the White House. It would be the same route as Trump’s inaugural parade and pass by his family’s showpiece: Trump International Hotel.”

On the [Rachel Maddow] show in March 2017, Rachel showed footage of military parades in Russia and North Korea, and added, “There’s no law against parading your military, whether or not it’s an important anniversary. But through American eyes, this is a little weird, right? If this gives you the willies to look at, it’s because it’s supposed to. This is an unabashed, uncomplicated, undisguised display of military prowess or national insecurity, depending on how you look at it.”

And now it seems we know exactly how our current president looks at it.

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reports that Military Refuses to Participate in Trump’s Parade, Citing Bone Spurs.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The Pentagon has turned down Donald J. Trump’s request for a grand military parade in Washington, D.C., citing a sudden outbreak of bone spurs that would prevent men and women in uniform from participating.

Harland Dorrinson, a Pentagon spokesman, said that, within an hour of Trump’s request, more than a hundred thousand military personnel complained that they were suffering from acute cases of bone spurs that would make marching in such a parade a painful ordeal.

“In the history of the U.S. military, we have never experienced a bone-spur epidemic of this magnitude,” the spokesman said. “Regrettably, however, we have no choice but to issue thousands of deferments.”

A statement from the bone-spur sufferers said that they would continue to valiantly serve their country around the world in a non-marching capacity, and offered an alternative to their participation in Trump’s proposed pageant.

“President Trump is welcome to march in the parade all by himself if he would finally like to enlist,” the statement read.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Borowitz Report updates cause of Trump Slump

UPDATE: to my post Tuesday, Here comes the Trump Slump - Mournday mourning stock decline is ‘worst in history’.

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reports that Under Pressure from Fox News, Obama to Stop Making Stocks Plummet

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—One day after the Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity blamed him for the historic plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, former President Barack Obama agreed to stop making stocks tumble.

“Sean Hannity has accused me of making the stock market go down,” Obama told reporters on Tuesday morning. “All I have to say is, ‘Guilty as charged.’ ”

A visibly chastened Obama said that, at first, he thought that he had gotten away with making the stock market crash, but when he saw Hannity blame him on Fox, “I knew I had been busted.”

Obama offered scant explanation for why he had made stocks crash on Monday. “I guess since leaving the White House I haven’t really found enough ways to fill my time, so tanking the stock market seemed like something to do,” he said. “But I know that’s not a good excuse. The fact is, I caused a lot of folks a lot of pain yesterday, and for that I am very, very sorry.”

He said that he would “get to work right away” to return stocks to their previously lofty levels. “I made the stock market go down, and, darn it, I can make it go up again,” he said.


Must have worked. The Dow closed up 567 points yesterday.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What means 'treason' and why Gosar and Trump should just shut the f%#k up about it

The Trump era, just over a year old, has spawned an annoying set of additions to our usual vocabulary. Take ‘covfefe’ for example. (Or not, if you are gagging on my reminder.) Or how about ‘unprecedented’? Everything that happens in Trumpland these days is unprecedented. But the target of this post is ‘treason’.

My account picks up with the GOP lawmaker calls for FBI, DOJ officials to face ‘treason’ charges.

[Representative Paul Gosar, R-AZ], in a statement [dated February 2nd], blasted the FBI’s use of a surveillance warrant to gather information about a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The Arizona lawmaker cited the document in accusing former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of breaking the law.

“The full-throated adoption of this illegal misconduct and abuse of FISA by James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein is not just criminal but constitutes treason,” Gosar wrote in a statement.

Gosar said he would urge Attorney General Jeff Sessions to seek “criminal prosecution against these traitors to our nation.” Treason under the Constitution is punishable by death.

Hold that thought. Another verbal loose cannon took up Gosar’s accusation.

A few days later, President Donald Trump echoed Gosar’s absurd charge, Politico reports in Donald Trump’s Pants on Fire claim about ‘treason’.

At the State of the Union address, Democrats, “even on positive news … were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?”
— Donald Trump on Monday, February 5th, 2018 in a speech near Cincinnati

Politico answers:

There’s actually a very good reason why not: The Constitution.

“It was a profoundly stupid and ignorant statement,” said Carlton F.W. Larson, a law professor at the the University of California-Davis who is writing a book about treason and the American Revolution. “There are occasional hard cases where it is debatable whether something constitutes treason. But this is not one of them.”

The White House did not respond to an inquiry for this article, but White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told NBC News the following day that Trump had been “tongue in cheek,” and in the daily White House briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “The president was clearly joking with his comments.”

… we’ve decided to fact-check Trump’s statement for two reasons. First, the long lead-up to the “treason” comment came off as entirely serious, and while the reference to “treason” itself was uttered in a flip manner, it fell short of being clearly a joke … Second, the Constitution is very clear when it comes to the definition of treason.

The Constitution – which mentions very few crimes specifically – defines treason this way:

"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

“The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.”

This is a narrow definition. On the most basic level, treason has to occur in wartime, or during an armed rebellion against the government.

So Politico concludes their answer to Trump:

There’s a good reason why not: Declining to applaud the president doesn’t come anywhere near meeting the constitutionally defined threshold of treason, which in any case can’t occur except in wartime. Rather, legal experts agree that it is a clear case of constitutionally protected free speech. We rate the statement Pants on Fire.

And that is why no one, till now, left or right, has ventured into this semantic space. But now that we’re here …

How about we identify the kinds of behaviors that define ‘treason’ under the law (and our constitution). This Washington Post article schools us in the legal grounds for treason and its history, Treason: Dissing President Trump it’s not. Here’s what is.

Another thing occurs to me and that is the timing of these Republican charges. Gosar trotted out his claim on the 2nd and Trump mouthed his charge on the 5th. We know that Trump rarely reads anything and relies on others (like Fox News) for his mis/dis/information. Might the same dynamic be at work here?

GOP strategist Rick Wilson is no friend of Donald Trump as you can see from this scathing rebuke to Trump: ‘Vulgar clown’ Trump ‘betraying the nation’ by accusing critics of ‘treason’. Following is Wilson’s essay. (h/t Paul McCreary)

Republican strategist Rick Wilson said President Donald Trump “mainstreamed the T-word” by accusing his Democratic critics of treason.

Wilson is a frequent Trump critic, but he wrote for The Daily Beast that the president had “cracked another seam in the foundation of our Republic” with his dark accusation during a “prissy, self-indulgent” speech in Blue Ash, Ohio.

“One thing we’ve learned in the last two years is that no legal, moral or cultural strictures bind Trump and that he is immune to the better angels of human nature,” Wilson said. “The moral event horizon around him consumes the good in anyone who becomes one of his vassals. There is no better version of Trump, ever. He can only degrade and destroy everything he touches, but today was remarkable, even for him.”

The treason allegation represented a “new low,” Wilson said — even for Trump.

“Trump lacks the mental capacity to see where this very slippery slope leads, but the political arsonists around him do,” Wilson said. “With that, prepare to reap the whirlwind.”

“Our Founders viewed treason as the most severe crime against the Republic,” Wilson added. “Treason was an act without shades of gray, without gradations, without rationalization. It is the one crime we punish by stripping those found guilty of it of their citizenship, or even their lives.”

Wilson argued the president was accusing his critics of treasonous activity of which Trump was himself guilty.

“If you’re looking for someone who is betraying this nation, look for a person who would deliberately and systematically wreck the institutions that guarantee the separation of powers and the accountability of the executive and legislative branches,” he said. “Look for a person who would suborn the rule of law to protect himself, his family, and his cronies from justice.”

“If you’re looking for someone in the act of betraying the glorious vision of our Founders and our Constitution, look no further than the vulgar, prancing, reality-show clown who holds the presidency,” Wilson added.

He pointed out that Trump was perilously close to being brought down by legal violations that tiptoed up to the edge of treason.

“If it is treason you seek, look no further than a man who gladly allows Russia’s continued attacks on our democracy, our Republic and our institutions,” Wilson said. “Putin’s implacable hostility, aggression and desire to divide and disrupt this nation are not in question by anyone except Trump and his most slavish sycophants. Putin’s desire to weaken our standing, diminish our power and to harm our interests in the world is stated Russian policy, not speculations in the fevered minds of Never Trumpers.”

A broader interpretation of the constitution would focus on these words: “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” It seems to me that that, exactly, is what the Russia investigation is all about. Wilson just provided a summary of the evidence.

Here comes the Trump Slump - Mournday mourning stock decline is 'worst in history'

From the 538 Significant Digits email:
4.6 percent
The stock market is enjoying a bit of a correction, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 4.6 percent on Monday, with a 15 minute period of yesterday seeing the Dow selloff hit 1,597 points. [Bloomberg]

It sure looks like that The Donald, having boasted about presiding over a Trump Bump, is now faced with leading the nation into a Trump Slump. The NY Times reports Monday that Stock Markets Tank, Deepening Losses. Snippets follow.

Mr. Trump’s habit of regularly boasting about stock market surges is a practice other presidents avoided. They knew that what goes up may go down again, and they did not want to take the blame for market forces beyond their control.

So, if Trump was willing to take credit for the run-up that ended last Friday morning he can certainly man-up and shoulder the blame for the losses Friday and even steeper declines Monday. Will he do that? Hell, no! My bet is he will blame Obama.

Stay tuned for what might happen Tuesday (today).

Here is more from the Times’ report and more commentary from your Scriber.

The economy is in tricky territory from a markets perspective. While investors have been excited about the prospects of the tax cuts, they are also fretting that the government may be spending too much to pay for them.

“Too much to pay for them”? Try nearly a trillion dollars. See my report from Monday, 84 percent debt increase triggers investor doubts, which it seems was prescient.

Economists often advise governments to run large deficits during recessions to stimulate growth. But the United States economy is already strong.

It grew at an annual pace of 2.6 percent last quarter. Unemployment was 4.1 percent January.

In essence, the $1.5 trillion tax cut is stimulus that the economy doesn’t need. The extra money raises the prospect that the economy could overheat, stoking inflation.

“We’re pouring a tremendous amount of fuel on the fire,” said Rick Rieder, who oversees roughly $1.7 trillion in assets as global chief investment officer for fixed income at asset manager BlackRock.

The Times’ markets overview has the ugly details, one of which was headlined by, Dow plunges 1,175 – worst point decline in history.

Why the slump?

John Cassidy (New Yorker) takes a shot at explaining the reasons for the sell-offs on Friday and Monday in Trump Goes Quiet as the Stock Market Slumps.

That was quick! In the course of two days, the “Trump Bump” in the stock market has turned into the “Trump Slump,” with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling more than seven per cent. At one point, on Monday afternoon, it looked as if we might be witnessing not merely a slump but an outright crash. In less than ten minutes, the Dow fell nearly a thousand points before quickly rebounding. It closed the day down “just” 1,175 points, or about 4.6 per cent, at 24,345.80.

Obviously, this was a big fall: in absolute terms, it was the largest points drop ever. But it needs to be placed in the perspective of stock-market history—on Black Monday, October 19, 1987, the Dow fell twenty-two per cent—and also of the record-breaking run-up that preceded the past few days of declines. Between December 29th and January 29th, small investors piled into the market, and the Dow tacked on close to nineteen hundred points, racing past twenty-five thousand, and then twenty-six thousand. On January 29th, the index closed at 26,616.70. The slump during the past week has wiped out the January run-up, and the market is now down a bit on the year. But people who looked at their 401(k) accounts on Monday night won’t have noticed much of a difference from the end of 2017.

For investors, that’s the good news. More worrying is the fact that there is no way to know whether the correction will end here. The market has been looking frothy for a good while now, and a substantial fall was inevitable at some point. Just as upward movements in stock prices can be self-reinforcing, drawing more people into the market, so can falls in prices. Much will depend on how ordinary investors react to the dramatic movements on Friday and Monday. If they decide to cash out some of the gains they’ve made in the past nine years, there will be further falls.

Mrs. Scriber reminds us all: you only lose money if you sell. Cassidy continues:

In actual fact, the link between Presidential policies and the stock market is indirect, and often tenuous. On this occasion, the trigger for the market sell-off wasn’t anything Trump did: it was last Friday’s employment report from the Labor Department, which said that strong job growth is continuing and wages are finally picking up a bit. (In December, hourly wages rose at an annualized rate of 2.9 per cent.) For the majority of Americans who don’t own any stocks, that was excellent (and long overdue) news. But it raised fears that the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates more rapidly, which could, in turn, choke off the economy. And that’s what spooked investors.

Quite possibly, there was an overreaction. With inflation still running well below the Fed’s target rate of two per cent, it seems highly unlikely that the new Fed chair, Jerome Powell, will deviate anytime soon from the gradualist course established by his predecessor, Janet Yellen. (Monday was Powell’s first day in his new post.) But, with stocks trading at such high levels, they were always going to be vulnerable to some unexpected news, particularly on the inflation front.

As long as the stock market sell-off doesn’t turn into an outright panic, or threaten the health of a big financial institution, the Fed will probably welcome it as a necessary correction. Over the weekend, in the final interview of her tenure, with CBS News, Yellen noted that the price-to-earnings ratio, a commonly used valuation measure for stocks, is at the very high end of its historic range. “Now, is that a bubble or is it too high?” she went on. “And there it’s very hard to tell. But it is a source of some concern that asset valuations are so high.”

To the extent that a sell-off reduces the threat of a full-on bubble, it will make Powell’s job easier, and also make it less likely that this economic cycle will end in the same way the previous two did—with a crash. It could end up giving the Fed more leeway to hold off on further interest-rate increases, which would be good news for America’s workers, many of whom are finally getting a raise.

But don’t expect Trump to look at things in this way. He lives in the moment and, even during his darkest days in the Oval Office, the stock market has given him something to crow about. For some reason, he didn’t mention it on Monday.

Chill out, take the long view: US Economy Still Strong

Context Matters. The Stock Market Drop Is Less Scary Than It Seems.. It can be easy to be misled by big point swings after a long period of quiet in global markets. The NY Times advises:

There is an important idea to keep in mind at a time like this: Take the long view.

This market decline so far has returned the market roughly to its level in mid-December, less than two months ago. The 7.8 percent drop in the Standard & Poor’s 500 over the last six trading days is similar in scale and speed to drops in January 2016 and August 2015, neither of which left lasting scars, and is short of the 10 percent drop that would qualify as a market correction.

The sell-off may be “just” a market correction so a panic reaction is not warranted. The Associated Press (via the Daily Star) reports that US economy still fundamentally strong despite falling stocks.

A wave of fear about inflation and higher interest rates has sent stock prices tumbling and raised concerns about corporate profits. Yet the rush of anxiety has obscured a fundamental fact about the U.S. economy: It’s healthy.

Economists are generally bullish in their outlooks for 2018. Jobs and wages are picking up and many Americans appear confident enough to buy homes. Sales of existing houses reached their highest level in 11 years in 2017.

That very economic vigor, in fact, is a key reason why investors anticipate higher inflation and interest rates. Higher borrowing rates over time could undercut corporate earnings as well as stock prices. And some fear that the Federal Reserve might miscalculate and raise rates too high or too fast.

But no one is sure that will happen. And for now, the economy remains on firm footing, even with the prospect of somewhat higher inflation. The inflation concerns escalated after Friday’s monthly U.S. jobs report showed that average wages surged 2.9 percent in January from 12 months earlier — the sharpest year-over-year gain since the recession.

“What we’re seeing right now is an economy overall that is doing quite well and has strong fundamentals,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “The economy remains on track to expand at a fairly solid pace, and along with that comes inflation.”

The AP report goes on to list “some key reasons why the economy remains robust despite the jitters on Wall Street”. Quoting: jobs and wages are going up, consumers and businesses are spending more, household finances in decent shape, and the global economy [experiences solid growth].

Sarah Suckabee Handers to make daily announcements about stock market increases

If you’ve stuck with me this far, despite the depression and despair, you deserve a break. Here from the New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz is another, lighter take on the Trump Slump: Trump Considering Firing Dow Jones Industrial Average.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—After watching it suffer its worst losses since he became President, Donald Trump is “seriously considering” firing the Dow Jones Industrial Average, aides have confirmed.

According to the aides, Trump is “furious” at the D.J.I.A. for going down so precipitously and believes that it has treated him “very unfairly.”

“Increasingly, the President has become convinced that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is not on his team,” one aide said. “Seeing the negative Dow numbers in the corner of the TV screen has been wrecking eleven hours of every day for him.”

Reportedly, Trump is mulling replacing the Dow with a new system, in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders would appear every day at 4 p.m. to announce how high stocks had skyrocketed.

En route to an appearance in Ohio, Trump stopped short of saying that he would ask for the stock market index’s resignation, but his contempt for the Dow was palpable.

“The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a disgrace, and it should be very, very ashamed of itself,” he said.

A classic case of psychological projection, Scriber thinks.

Monday, February 5, 2018

84 percent debt increase triggers investor doubts

Here’s a totally unsurprising item from the 538 Significant Digits email this morning.

$955 billion
President Trump’s tax cuts are already affecting America’s balance sheet: The U.S. Treasury projects that the government will borrow $955 billion this fiscal year, up from the $519 billion it borrowed last year. The cause: lower tax receipts. [The Washington Post]


The Post reports that The U.S. government is set to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year, an 84 percent jump from last year. Here is some more related bad news.

It was another crazy news week, so it’s understandable if you missed a small but important announcement from the Treasury Department: The federal government is on track to borrow nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year — Trump’s first full year in charge of the budget.

That’s almost double what the government borrowed in fiscal year 2017.

Borrowing was on a steady decline after 2009 … until Trump got his tax break gift er… grift er… graft from the GOP.

What’s particularly jarring is this is the first time borrowing has jumped this much (as a share of GDP) in a non-recession time since Ronald Reagan was president, says Ernie Tedeschi, a former senior adviser to the U.S. Treasury who is now head of fiscal analysis at Evercore ISI. Under Reagan, borrowing spiked because of a buildup in the military, something Trump is advocating again.

Trump didn’t mention the debt — or the ongoing budget deficits — in his State of the Union address. The absence of any mention of the national debt was frustrating for Goldwein and others who warn that America has a major economic problem looming.

“It is terrible. Those deficits and the debt that keeps rising is a serious problem, not only in the long run, but right now,” Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, a former Reagan adviser, told Bloomberg.

The White House got a taste of just how problematic this debt situation could get this week. Investors are concerned about all the additional borrowing and the likelihood of higher inflation, which is why the interest rates on U.S. government bonds hit the highest level since 2014. That, in turn, partly drove the worst weekly sell-off in the stock market in two years.

The latest example of largesse is the GOP tax bill. It’s expected to add $1 trillion or more to the debt, according to nonpartisan analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation (and yes, that’s after accounting for some increased economic growth).

There are limits to growth and we might be facing some consequences of believing otherwise in the not too distance future.

Illustrated News - GOP wars on the FBI and other Trumpist ways to help Putin destabilize America

Trump says he could shoot someone...
Trump could shoot someone ...
... and not lose GOP congressmen rated this one as “true.”
“On 23 January 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump caused controversy when he stated the following during a campaign rally in Iowa:
I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.
The comment was part of a larger point Trump was making about the loyalty of his voting base …” which Scriber thinks includes the GOP members of Congress.

That’s not good news for our nation. We depend on checks and balances. So does Trump … as he redefines those concepts to refer to his financial windfall caused by the GOP tax break bill.

Who is next on Trump's hit list?

The Sunday mourning news programs almost completely ignored the State of the Union blither and instead occupied themselves with the Nunes Memo.

View all these items and more in this Mournday Mourning edition of the Illustrated News from AZ BlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Nunes memo is a Trumpist-McCarthyist attack on our intelligence oversight system

The Daily Star published the “Nunes Memo” and provides this analysis in What the GOP memo says (and doesn’t say). If you’ve already read the Star’s report, scroll on down for other analyses of the damage this groundless memo is inflicting on the national trust of the FBI and our intelligence oversight system.

WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than a week of partisan bickering and social media-fueled buildup, the #releasethememo crowd got their wish.

President Donald Trump declassified it. The GOP majority of the House intelligence committee released it. And the public dissection of the four-page, GOP-authored document began.

Here are a few key takeaways:


The memo makes a series of allegations of misconduct on the part of the FBI and the Justice Department in obtaining a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to monitor former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

Specifically, it takes aim at the FBI’s use of information from a former British spy, Christopher Steele, who compiled a collection of memos containing several allegations of ties between Trump, his associates and Russia.

The memo says the FBI and the Justice Department didn’t tell the FISA court enough about Steele’s role in an opposition research effort. The research was funded by Democrat Hillary Clinton through a Washington law firm.

The document also takes aim at several senior FBI and Justice Department officials. Among them is former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, who it says knew of Steele’s anti-Trump leanings and whose wife worked at the firm behind the opposition research effort.


The memo provides the first formal government confirmation of the secret FISA warrant and that Page was the person being monitored.

Information like that is ordinarily considered among the most tightly held national security information, and it almost never gets released to the public.

Though the memo takes issue with the FBI’s methods, it also confirms that the FBI and Justice Department believed there was probable cause that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power and a judge agreed — four times over.

The memo fills in the timeline of the Russia investigation, showing that Page was under surveillance for months.

According to the memo, the Justice Department and FBI obtained the FISA warrant on Page on Oct. 21, 2016, and then had it reauthorized three additional times.

Given that FISA warrants must be renewed every 90 days, the memo indicates that the government monitored Page’s communications for nearly a year.


The whole Russia investigation, that is.

According to the memo, information about former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos “triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.”

That’s significant because Trump and his allies in the GOP have tried to undermine the Russia investigation by saying it all stems from the Steele dossier.

The memo doesn’t provide further details about the information the FBI received about Papadopoulos. But it appears to confirm in part reporting by The New York Times late last year that FBI concerns about Papadopoulos started the investigation.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year. Court papers show he had several contacts with people representing themselves as being tied to the Russian government starting in the spring of 2016.

Court papers show that Papadopoulos learned the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” prior to that information becoming public.


The memo says Steele’s collection of reports “formed an essential part” of the FISA application for Page, but it doesn’t specify exactly what information was used or how much.

It also says that the FISA application relied on a September 2016 Yahoo News article, and claims that the information in the article also came from Steele.

The document quotes former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe as telling the House intelligence committee in December that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought” from the FISA court “without the Steele dossier information.”

According to the memo, the application also included “Steele’s past record of credible reporting on other unrelated matters.”


The accuracy of the memo is hard to assess because the majority of the underlying contents are classified or confidential.

The memo cites an initial FISA warrant application — a document which usually has dozens of pages — as well as three additional renewals by the court. None of those documents are public.

The same is true of the transcripts of the committee’s closed-door interviews with McCabe and other senior FBI officials who had contact with Steele.

On Friday, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, took issue with the memo’s characterization of McCabe’s comments, saying the former FBI deputy director was speaking generally about how any FISA application relies on “each and every component” included.

But the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, said late Friday on Fox News the description of McCabe’s comments is “a summation of a long interview and that’s definitely what he said.” He noted that other witnesses have said “similar things.”


It’s been a burning question ever since the dossier was published by Buzzfeed News last year: How much did the FBI corroborate?

According to the memo, not much at the time the FBI obtained the FISA warrant on Page. The memo cites FBI Assistant Director Bill Priestap as saying FBI corroboration of the dossier was in its “infancy” when the court authorized the first FISA warrant.

It also says an “independent unit” in the FBI conducted a “source validation report” on Steele’s reporting and found it “only minimally corroborated.”

But without the underlying documents or transcripts of Priestap’s testimony, it’s hard to judge the accuracy of the memo’s description.

Nunes memo is a McCarthyist attack

The thing is, Nunes, Trump, and the Republican House members are all acting out a McCarthyist attack on our intelligence oversight system, specifically targetting the FBI. By declassifying just Republican talking points, Trump et al. leave the charges against the FBI to stand without any supporting evidence - because the underlying evidence is itself classified.

Zack Beauchamp at reviews the legal, political, and security matters and concludes that The Nunes memo is a dud. Devin Nunes’s memo allegedly exposing anti-Trump bias at the FBI does nothing of the kind. (h/t AZBlueMeanie) Snippets from the article follow.

Rep. Devin Nunes’s infamous memo — the document numerous House Republicans claimed would demonstrate fundamental anti-Trump corruption at the FBI — was released early Friday afternoon. The entire thing is three and a half pages and only takes a few minutes to read closely and carefully.

After doing that, there is only one conclusion a fair reader could draw: There is absolutely nothing here.

There is no proof in the memo that the FBI is biased against Trump, no proof of abuse of surveillance powers by the FBI, and no proof that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia is fundamentally flawed. The memo is a piece of partisan spin, and not a particularly compelling one at that.

Republicans who claimed it was anything else have been egregiously misrepresenting what the memo actually says.

This post at, Thoughts on the Nunes Memo: We Need to Talk About Devin, charges those involved with the creation and dissemination of the memo with betraying the intelligence oversight system. (h/t AZBlueMeanie). It concludes:

Ironically, the clearest analytical takeaway from the facts recounted in the memo is that repeated combinations of FBI and Justice Department officials sought and received FISA court approval for surveillance of Carter Page. What this means, we do not purport to know. But it seems most unlikely, in our judgment, to suggest a sustained misleading of the court by the department and the FBI on a matter of high political sensitivity and extreme publicity.

At the end of the day, the most important aspect of the #memo is probably not its contents but the fact that it was written and released at all. Its preparation and public dissemination represent a profound betrayal of the central premise of the intelligence oversight system. That system subjects the intelligence community to detailed congressional oversight, in which the agencies turn over their most sensitive secrets to their overseers in exchange for both a secure environment in which oversight can take place and a promise that overseers will not abuse their access for partisan political purposes. In other words, they receive legitimation when they act in accordance with law and policy. Nunes, the Republican congressional leadership and Trump violated the core of that bargain over the course of the past few weeks. They revealed highly sensitive secrets by way of scoring partisan political points and delegitimizing what appears to have been lawful and appropriate intelligence community activity.

It was a heavy blow to a system that has served this country well for decades, and it is one that will not be forgotten any time soon.

This McCarthyist attack is like most actions of Trump and his minions. Trump is about Trump. Everything he does is in service of his narcissism and this leaves a trail of carnage wreaked on our instutitions and our democracy that will long outlast Trump.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Tax cut bonuses are inflated - the average worker is likely to get $200, not $1000

Your Scriber thought that the $1,000 bonuses bruited about after the tax cut bill passed were suspect. For one thing, those one-time bonuses were not the same as a raise. For another, the value of the bonuses is diminished by their susceptibility to income tax. And, I suspected, this was a big PR stunt by companies flush with cash. Little did I (or most others) know that the $1,000 bonuses only applied to those with considerable longevity at their current place of employment. So now we know. To those working Americans affected by the Trump tax cut bill, the Huffington Post extends Congratulations On Your $1,000 GOP Tax Reform Bonus! And they add “If you have 20 years on the job, that is.

Here are snippets and some additional comments.

If you listen to Republican leaders these days, you’d think workers all over America were rolling around in big fat bonuses thanks to the GOP tax plan. But in a lot of cases, these one-time payouts aren’t nearly as generous as employers, politicians and even the news media are making them out to be.

Take Lowe’s. On Thursday, the home improvement chain announced that more than 260,000 hourly employees in the United States would be eligible for “a one-time bonus of up to $1,000,” a move the company attributed directly to tax reform. If you’re a Lowe’s employee, that’s thrilling news ― until you read a little closer and notice the operative phrase: “up to.”

Lowe’s is following in the footsteps of America’s largest employer, Walmart, and its most direct competitor, Home Depot, in rolling out a $1,000 bonus program that grabs headlines. But the bonuses are actually structured according to tenure. At all three chains, you only get the full $1,000 if you’ve been employed with the company for 20 years.

In the sky-high-turnover world of retail, two decades with the same company is a remarkable feat. If you’ve hung on that long, there’s a decent chance you’re the one running your store.

Instead, you’re much more likely to be a worker on the opposite end of the spectrum: an employee with two years or less time on the job. In that case, you would get a $200 bonus at Walmart or Home Depot, and $150 at Lowe’s, well below the $1,000 figure being cited by politicians and cable news guests.

Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart are using roughly the same progressive bonus structure, which Walmart first announced earlier this month:
Less than two years: $200 ($150 for Lowe’s workers)
Two to four years: $250 ($200 for Lowe’s workers)
Five to nine years: $300
10 to 14 years: $400 ($500 for Lowe’s workers)
15 to 19 years: $750
20+ years: $1,000

That gradation was not accidental. Walmart, for example, accompanied the bonuses with an hourly wage. Their spokesperson noted that a 20-year employee would be less impacted by the raise than would be someone with the company for a few years.

The other angle on the bonuses is that even few hundred dollars is a big deal if you are earning an hourly wage of $10. VP Mike Pence: “If you’re going to say that $1,000 is crumbs, you live in a different world than I’m living in,” Pence said Wednesday while at a luxury resort. “If I had another $1,000 in my pocket at the end of the year, I have a term for that: Christmas.” But this Christmas present expires on December 31st.

(You might pause to recall the Weber fraction which, in this instance, is the size of the bonus divided by the yearly pay. For a worker earning $10/hour and getting a $200 bonus, the fraction is 200/20,800, or about 0.01. For CEO earning $1,000,000, the just noticeable difference for a fraction of 0.01, according to Weber’s Law, is $10,000.)

If the retailers follow industry trends, their workforces skew heavily toward short tenures, and therefore smaller bonuses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail has more job separations than the average across all occupations. Retail workers quit, got fired or were laid off at a 4.3 percent rate in November, for instance, compared to 3.5 percent for all workers. The average job tenure for all U.S. workers is 4.2 years, according to the most recent data.

That would put your average American worker in the second-lowest bonus bracket.

And that fact is ignored in all the hype and hoopla surrounding Trump’s tax cut (for the rich).

So, the average worker is unlikely to realize lasting benefits. But that has not stopped the Republicans from overstating worker gains.

The law contained few tax provisions that directly benefit low-wage workers, who already are unlikely to have much federal tax liability. Republicans said workers would get higher wages as a result of the lower corporate rates. The argument was that the corporate tax cut would encourage companies to make massive capital investments that would increase worker productivity and make labor more valuable over time. That could happen, but most economists think Republicans’ rosy projections are overly optimistic.

The GOP’s actual argument for how tax reform would benefit workers never involved a smattering of bonuses. Nevertheless, every time a company has announced a bonus, Republicans have said it proves their point and added to the list.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The take-home message from 'The Untouchables' for Trump - NObody picks a fight with the FBI and wins

Around noon ET on February 2nd House Republicans Release Secret Memo Accusing Russia Investigators of Bias reported the NY Times. See also this report at, Disputed GOP-Nunes memo released. Snippets are from the CNN report.

Democrats have dismissed the memo as a “profoundly misleading” Republican document that’s intended to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation by targeting Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who stepped down earlier this week.

The release comes despite a lobbying effort from senior officials at the FBI and Justice Department , who argued that the memo contained inaccuracies.

The extraordinary decision to release the classified four-page memo with a never-before-used House Intelligence Committee rule escalates the partisan fight over the investigations into Russian election meddling and possible collusion. This will likely have major repercussions for the relationship between the Justice Department and Capitol Hill.

The memo’s release also threatens to further fracture the frayed relationship between the President and his Justice Department and intelligence community, both of which opposed the release of the document, which is based on classified intelligence. The FBI issued a rare public warning on Wednesday that the memo omits key information that could impact its veracity.

We’ll know about the consequences of this malevolent act by Trump, Nunes, and the other House Republicans as the full text of the memo becomes available. In the meantime, Eugene Robinson takes a guess at what may be in store for the authors and purveyors of the memo in his Washington Post column, Trump has picked a fight with the FBI. He’ll be sorry. Here are excerpts from Robinson’s column.

Presidents don’t win fights with the FBI. Donald Trump apparently wants to learn this lesson the hard way.

Most presidents have had the sense not to bully the FBI by defaming its leaders and — ridiculously — painting its agents as leftist political hacks. Most members of Congress have also understood how unwise it would be to pull such stunts. But Trump and his hapless henchmen on Capitol Hill, led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), have chosen the wrong enemy. History strongly suggests they will be sorry.

The bureau has no political ax to grind, and the attempt by Nunes and others to portray it as some kind of liberal cabal is comical. But it does have great institutional cohesion, a proud sense of mission, and a culture that inculcates the “us vs. the world” attitude that is so common among law enforcement agencies.

For example, take the Watergate scandal that brought down then President Nixon.

The day after what Nixon’s spokesman would call “a third-rate burglary attempt” took place, the FBI’s major-crimes duty officer, a supervisor named Daniel Bledsoe, opened a federal wiretapping investigation. According to Bledsoe, he received a phone call from Nixon aide John Ehrlichman ordering him to shut down the probe. His simple reply: “No.”

Now comes Trump. His oafish attempts to neutralize the FBI director he inherited, James B. Comey — trying to extract a Godfather-style loyalty pledge, asking him to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn, ultimately firing him — are potential fodder for what may be an obstruction-of-justice case against Trump being assembled by Mueller.

Comey wrote everything down. The FBI always writes everything down.

Do you see a pattern here? The idea that the likes of Trump and Nunes are going to put a scratch on the FBI with ludicrous innuendo — we’re supposed to believe the bureau is a nest of Bolsheviks? — and selectively edited memos would be laughable, if Mueller and his team were the laughing kind. Which they’re not.

Trump and his minions seem to think they can out-leak the FBI. Obviously they haven’t been paying attention.