Monthly Archives: October 2015

Her Name is…What?

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party has hired a new executive director.

Her name?

Sinceré Harris.

Seriously.

Could there possibly be a more inappropriate name for a person in that line of work?

October News Quiz

1.   According to a new study, seniors with hearing impairments may have a higher risk of dying than seniors with normal hearing because:

a) poor hearing is a reasonable indicator of poorer health in general;

b) poor hearing is associated with other health risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure;

c) poor hearing can lead to a sense of social isolation, which has an effect on overall health; or

d) poor hearing prevents seniors from hearing things like “Look out for that car that just ran the red light and is riding up the sidewalk”?

2.  The net out-migration of people from Alaska was greater last year than it has been in any single year since 1988 because:

a) people who came to Alaska to find jobs during the recession are now returning to the lower forty-eight because the economy has improved;

b) continued embarrassment over the whole Sarah Palin thing;

c) fresh moose and caribou meat is seriously overrated; or

d) are you kidding – do you have any idea how wicked cold it is up there?

3.  Scientists have discovered that elephants rarely get cancer because:

a) they lead clean, healthy lives;

b) they’re vegetarians;

c) they have more copies of a gene that encodes p53, a compound that suppresses tumor formation; or

d) actually, they have no idea how often elephants get cancer: would YOU like to perform a prostate exam or pap smear on a 10,000-pound pachyderm?

4.  The governor of Washington recently rejected a plan by the state’s wildlife managers to expand cougar hunting because:

a) they’re beautiful animals that should be respected, not hunted;

b) he opposes hunting;

c) he’s concerned that cougars would be hunted too close to populated areas, potentially endangering human lives; or

d) cougars should be free to date and mate with younger men without any interference from the government?

5.  General Motors is advising the owners of some of its SUVs not to use the windshield wipers in their cars because:

a) an electrical short could cause the wiper motor to catch fire;

b) the cars were only intended to be sold in parts of Arizona and California where it rarely rains;

c) unlike Ford, quality is not job one for GM; or

d) seriously, you expected a car AND working windshield wipers for $40,000?

6.  In Prairie View, Texas, police officers used a Taser on a member of the town’s council, just months after a woman who received the same treatment in the same town died in her jail cell, because:

a) those gizmos aren’t just for decoration, pardner;

b) the councilman was only down on his knees at the time and not flat on his face, so he still obviously posed a threat to police;

c) it’s Texas, that’s what they do; or

d) Black lives still don’t matter in Texas?

7.  Russia launched its military incursion into Syria not by attempting to rout ISIS forces but by attacking the enemies of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad because:

a) Russia loves a head of state who tortures his enemies;

b) Russia loves a head of state who uses chemical weapons against his enemies;

c) Russia loves a head of state who knows how to rig elections; or

d) it’s easier to attack the defenseless than to attack ISIS, which actually has the capacity to fight back?

8.  Oprah Winfrey purchased ten percent of Weight Watchers because:

a) she has to spend all that money on something;

b) it’s a great investment;

c) she wants to help people lose weight; or

d) if you can’t eat ‘em, join ‘em?

9.  China repealed its “one-child-to-a-family” law because:

a) it was always a silly law;

b) the country needs more workers to churn out cheap products for overseas markets;

c) it’s worried about its aging population; or

d) with six you get eggroll?

10.  An earthquake that registered 7.5 on the Richter scale that struck Afghanistan:

a) was caused by American infidels, according to ISIS and al-Qaeda;

b) was caused by Israeli infidels, according to ISIS and al-Qaeda;

c) was caused by Christian infidels, according to ISIS and al-Qaeda; or

d) was so powerful that it would have leveled entire cities – if there was anything in Afghanistan to level?

On the Campaign Trail (late October)

Between summer vacation and writing about other things, The Curmudgeon hasn’t visited the campaign trail in a few months. Not that it hasn’t been interesting, because it has – at least, the Republican part has. The Dems are still dull as dish water, and even those who like what Bernie Sanders has to say surely realize that the guy’s not exactly presidential material.

So let’s take a look at a few of the more interesting things that have occurred since our last visit, in late July.

Donald Trump

Actually, The Curmudgeon’s not going to write about The Donald this time around. There’s too much, it’s too outrageous, and he assumes that anyone who saw the subject of today’s piece and decided to continue reading has probably heard it all – or at least heard much of it – so there’s no reason to re-hash it now.

But that’s the last pass The Donald gets; from now on, it’s gloves off.

So let’s see what else is happening on the campaign trail.

Scott Walker and Rick Perry

Buh-bye.

Ben Carson

The Curmudgeon just doesn’t get this one. He knows Carson’s a smart guy, maybe even a brilliant guy, based on his professional accomplishments, but every time The Curmudgeon hears Carson speak the same thought pops into his head.

“Is this guy an idiot?”

In response to the Planned Parenthood kerfuffle, Carson told Fox News that

One of the reason that you find most of their clinics in black neighborhoods is so that you can find a way to control that population.

Right, Ben: and it has nothing to do with a provider of care for the poor choosing to locate its clinics in neighborhoods with lots of poor people.

carsonCarson’s interest in Planned Parenthood has to do with his opposition to abortion and his belief that the attractiveness of fetal tissue for medical research could provide an incentive for women to have abortions. Carson, of course, used fetal tissue in his own research earlier in his career, but now he’s apparently seen the light.

After taking a tour of Ferguson, Missouri, scene of the 2014 riots, Carson condemned the “Black Lives Matter” movement and said the country should “de-emphasize race” and instead “emphasize respect.” A nice idea, perhaps, but sadly naïve at a time when Black people are still being pulled over by police for “Driving while Black” or even, we’re now seeing, “Walking in the street while Black.”

Carson also weighed in on Muslims in politics: he says they’re not fit to be president. It’s interesting that a man who is a member of a race that has long been painted with one broad brush – and who is himself living proof of how inaccurate that portrait is – would do the very same thing to another group.

Continuing with his foot in his mouth, Carson suggested that if Jews had better access to guns in Germany during the Nazi period, the Holocaust might not have occurred.

Yes, he actually said that.

And speaking of the Nazis, there’s this from the New Yorker:

Political correctness, Carson says, is used to keep conservatives from invoking slavery or Nazism, both of which he cites freely.  (“Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery”; We live in a Gestapo age.”)  

That’s right: he said that, too, that Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery. That means worse than Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws, worse than the continued subjugation of Native Americans, worse than Plessy vs. Ferguson (“separate but equal”), worse than the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, worse than lynchings, worse than preventing women and African-Americans from voting, worse than Watergate, worse than a Supreme Court stealing an election from the opposition party.

Finally, late last week Carson said he’d like to abolish Medicare and Medicaid and replace them with a savings account/tax credit worth $2000 a year so the people those programs serve could buy their own health insurance. That’s generally referred to as “premium support,” and the idea’s been around for a long time. The problem with premium support, just like the problem with tuition vouchers, is that the $2000 alone isn’t enough to buy an insurance plan, which means the $2000 would be utterly worthless to anyone who doesn’t have the means to supplement it with money of their own. That’s the very definition of the Medicaid population: most of those recipients are pretty seriously poor and don’t have a lot of spare cash sitting around; they’re living week to week and paycheck to paycheck – if they get a paycheck at all. As for Medicare beneficiaries, the story’s pretty much the same: living on a fixed income, most of it Social Security checks, and just scraping to get by. But Carson’s a wealthy guy and maybe he’s lost touch with the financial challenges facing ordinary Americans. There’s an entire group out there that’s lost touch with ordinary working people. That group?

They call themselves “Republicans.”

It took less than forty-eight hours for Carson to see that he had committed the political equivalent of slashing his wrists; more likely, this was pointed out to him by someone who works for Carson, because the guy seems pretty clueless. So chastened, Carson back-tracked: he no longer wants to abolish Medicare and Medicaid; he wants to “reshape” them.

Dr. Carson needs to go back to something he knows, like doctoring. Voters’ continued flirtation with this lightweight is just amazing.

Carly Fiorina

This is Fiorina’s debut in this feature; The Curmudgeon hasn’t written about her in past “campaign trail” pieces because until recently, she was about as visible as Harvey the Rabbit. Authoritative performances in two debates, though, have brought her almost to the verge of double digits in the polls, so it’s time to take a look under the Fiorina hood and see what’s going on there.

Turns out, not so much.

Let’s start with the big lie: as The Curmudgeon previously chronicled, Fiorina used her first appearance in the main show – as opposed to the opening act – to concoct a great big lie about the controversial Planned Parenthood videos. It was a great story – moving, sad, and well-told – that’s only weakness was that it was pure fabrication. Caught in her lie, Fiorina insisted, and still insists today, that her story is the truth.

Funny, though, that not a single person – neither a Fiorina supporter nor abortion opponent – has stepped forward and supported her by pointing naysayers toward the video in question.

Fiorina presents herself very well: she’s smart, employs a good mix of rhetoric and specific ideas, and knows how to make a point. She is, in fact, a walking, talking Power Point presentation.

Right now, Fiorina is playing nice – her response to a question about how Donald Trump was treating her was absolutely perfect, and she deserves credit for it – but when it comes to nut-cutting time, history suggests that Fiorina will know how to cut nuts.

Consider this, from an early October edition of the New Yorker.

Fiorina’s first run for office, in the 2010 U.S. Senate race in California, is best remembered for an Internet ad, produced by her campaign, that portrayed her primary opponent as a demon sheep with glowing red eyes.  She won the nomination, then, in the general election, produced a video showing the Democratic incumbent, Barbara Boxer, as a swollen, disembodied head.

Far nastier than The Donald calling her ugly, don’t you think?

The Los Angeles Times reports that Fiorina has been shifting her positions on some issues.

In the past – we know about her views in the past because of that 2010 Senate run – she approved of some research using fetal tissue; now, she doesn’t.

fiorinaIn the past she supported immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for illegal residents already here; now, she doesn’t.

While always a strong opponent of abortion, she said in 2010 that it was a “decided issue” and that if elected, she wouldn’t challenge the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Now she says that if she’s elected she’ll call for overturning the 1973 ruling.

Once, she supported the 2008-2009 financial bailout; then, she said she wouldn’t have voted for it if she had been in the Senate at the time; now, she condemns it.

In the past, Fiorina expressed interest in doing something about climate change; now, she thinks environmentalists are “overzealous” and that government regulators pose the greater challenge to the environment.

What, are those regulators burning things?

The Curmudgeon’s not big on calling people on their alleged “flip-flops” because he believes people can and do change their minds and develop different perspectives on matters as time passes. But the consistency of these particular flip-flops – always in the direction of what today’s Republican voters want to hear from their candidates – reeks of opportunism and insincerity.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz, we are told, was a champion debater in college and law school. It’s been hard to tell that from his performance in the debates so far: he comes across as polished and articulate, sure, but his arguments? Weak and unfocused.

Unfocused seems to be a thing for Cruz: recently he joined with colleagues in Congress in asking the director of the National Portrait Gallery to remove a bust of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger from the museum, where it is currently part of a “Struggle for Justice” exhibit.”

The Curmudgeon respects the views of those who oppose abortion, but what concerns him about this is Cruz’s priorities: here he is, running for president, and he’s worried about a bust in the National Gallery? Really? Is this the kind of decision-making voters should expect if they elect him president?

It‘s hard not to question Cruz’s judgment. Responding on Twitter to House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement that he was resigning from Congress, Cruz tweeted that Boehner willpresumably land in a cushy K Street job after joining with the D’s to implement all of President O’s priorities.”

Really? Does Cruz really think Boehner’s going to become a partner of the Obama administration or is this just a guy who likes to hear the sound of his own voice? (Okay, around now you’re wondering if The Curmudgeon is calling the kettle black on that “hear the sound of your own voice” thing, but this is different: Cruz is running for president, not writing for a core group of about twenty or twenty-five people. Big difference.)

As the campaign rolls on and Cruz fails to capture the public’s imagination, he may be getting more reckless in his statements.  A recent fund-raising pitch offered the following statement.

Friend, I own guns. I’m planning on keeping them. But there’s a problem…Obama is coming for our guns.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. As The Curmudgeon wrote back in June, President Obama has been gun owners’ best friend: he hasn’t done anything about guns other than talk about them.

Poor Bobby Jindal

Poor Bobby is really moving now: if he can raise his current standing in the polls just another measly forty-three percent, he’ll climb all the way to the one percent level.

One percent! Meaning one out of every 100 Republican voters polled said they’d vote for him a in primary election.

One percent!

When you listen to or read about Poor Bobby, it’s not hard to understand why he’s about as popular as pasta salesman at a convention of celiac disease sufferers.

jindalA spokesman for Poor Bobby’s campaign once responded to Scott Walker’s plan to replace Obamacare by suggesting that “We suspect that he collaborated on it with Bernie Sanders.”

Really? Do they really suspect that?

While Poor Bobby complained about how the IRS targeted conservative groups when reviewing their tax-exempt status, he declared that such IRS targeting was okay with him if the targets were Planned Parenthood organizations. Do you remember which president did things like target groups he didn’t like with IRS scrutiny? Richard Nixon, that’s who.

Oy.

When the Planned Parenthood dust-up started, Poor Bobby was one of the first governors to try to cut off the group’s funding – funding, by the way, that comes in the form of direct payment for services rendered. And in Louisiana, by the way, abortions aren’t among those services: the only two Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana have been around for more than thirty years and neither one of them has ever – ever – offered abortions. Not one. When confronted with the question of how the 5200 people served by Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana would get the care they needed without Planned Parenthood, according to the Washington Post,

… state submitted a list of 2,010 other providers these patients could patronize. Except this was not actually a list of family-planning practitioners; it was a list of all Medicaid-enrolled providers — including audiologists, ophthalmologists, radiologists, nursing homes and, yes, dentists.

Because isn’t  it every woman’s dream to have her dentist perform her annual pap smear?

To his credit, Poor Bobby has been pretty much alone in making it clear he believes that Donald Trump’s candidacy is ridiculous; of course, that would be more effective if anyone was actually listening to him.

Well, the Washington Post was listening when, earlier this month, Poor Bobby released his plan for federal spending and taxation. Here’s some of what the Post wrote:

Yes, you read that right. Jindal wants to engineer a reverse Robin Hood, taking money from the poor to give to the rich.

 This may not be surprising, though, given that as governor of Louisiana, Jindal has backed other measures to shift more of the tax burden onto the poor to fund tax cuts for the wealthy.

Poor Bobby is so desperate that he’s now criticizing the criteria for who gets into the grown-ups debate. He can argue all he wants, but as long as he’s polling less than one percent – and he’s definitely polling less than one percent – he should be grateful they even continue to seat him at the children’s table.

As his campaign continues to falter, Poor Bobby is starting to see no down side to making more and more outrageous statements. At a gathering in Iowa, he told someone who was unhappy with the Supreme Court that Congress should force liberal justices to recuse themselves.

Jeb Bush

A lot of us started to buy into the idea that Jeb Bush is not as dimwitted as his big brother, but Jeb’s starting to show signs that such a judgment may have been premature.

After all, in August Jeb said he would rule out torture to get information from alleged terrorists and then clarified that he wouldn’t necessarily rule out water-boarding – “enhanced interrogation techniques,” he called it. So maybe Jeb and W are two peas in a pod after all.

Politico reported on Bush’s response to the mass shooting in Oregon:

Look, stuff happens and the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.

That’s right: “stuff happens.” That’s what a guy who wants to be the leader of the free world has to say about something that has grown from a once-every-few-years problem to a few-times-every-year problem.

Speaking of “stuff,” Jeb put his foot in his mouth when he explained his approach to courting Black voters, saying

Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.

bushThat “free stuff,” as far as The Curmudgeon can tell, is public education and Medicaid and food stamps, and one of those three things is for everyone and Medicaid, the newest of that “free stuff,” has been around for fifty years. The only new “free stuff” the government has given away in recent years is prescription drug benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, and that was led by – you know it – Jeb’s brother.

Something Democrats fail to call Republicans on, and Republicans continue to complain about even though it’s no longer true (and they know it), is that very few people are on old-fashioned welfare these days. Contrast this with the “free stuff” that Jeb’s friends get – government contracts, tax breaks, regulatory relief for their businesses – and it looks like it’s the rich folks, not the poor ones, who are getting all the “free stuff.”

And Jeb is so quotable that we will quote him again – this time, on the subject of Planned Parenthood.

I, for one, don’t think Planned Parenthood ought to get a penny, though. And that’s the difference, because they’re not actually doing women’s health issues. They are involved in something way different than that.

Well, for an organization that’s “not actually doing women’s health issues,” Planned Parenthood seems to be providing an awful lot of health care to women, including nearly 400,000 Pap tests a year, arranging 500,000 breast exams, and performing nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted diseases.

No, not doing much in the way of women’s health care, that’s those slackers at Planned Parenthood.

Finally, just the other day a member of Jeb’s staff referred to once-friend, now-foe Marco Rubio as a “GOP Obama.”  Does that mean Jeb’s camp believes Rubio was…born in Kenya?  And another Jeb supporter suggested that Rubio resign from the Senate to focus on running for president.  Funny, but The Curmudgeon doesn’t recall Jeb feeling that way when his brother ran for president in 2000 while still governor of Texas.

Marco Rubio

During the last debate, Rubio said “We need to repeal Dodd-Frank. It is eviscerating small businesses and small banks. Over 40 percent of small and mid-size banks that loan money to small businesses have been wiped out since Dodd-Frank has passed.”

Does this bold assertion past muster?   It does not. A Rubio spokesman started back-tracking right away, saying that the 40 percent figure refers only to the general fall of community banks.

That’s pretty different, folks, and it’s based on a time-line – since 1994 – that started sixteen years before the Dodd-Frank law passed.

Also, it’s worth noting that the purpose of Dodd-Frank is to protect ordinary people from the kinds of abuses that led to the recession of 2008-2009. If a bank’s practices can’t pass that kind of simple muster, maybe it should just disappear.

And this wasn’t Rubio’s only debate-related gaffe. In the last debate, he said he has never supported exceptions to abortion bans for rape or incest. That’s interesting, considering that in 2013 he co-sponsored a bill that called for exactly those exceptions.

Tsk tsk, Marco.

Chris Christie

Who would have thought a guy like Christie would have trouble even getting noticed? Well, that’s what’s happened: he’s getting virtually no attention in the press and attracting very little interest among voters. He’s borrowing from the playbook of Richard Nixon – there’s that name again – and trying to position himself as a “law and order” candidate at a time when the crime rate is lower than it has been in decades.

Way to be current, big guy.

If nothing else, Christie remains a guy with a big mouth. The latest proof: last week he was thrown out of an Amtrak “quiet car” for failing to show the kind of respect for the rules that the rest of us expect of five-year-olds.

And this is a guy who accused President Obama for promoting disrespect for the rule of law?

Mike Huckabee

The Huck isn’t much for all this climate change nonsense and he’s not going to let anything as annoying as the facts get in the way of his views. So when he declared that just a single eruption of a volcano will contribute more to global warming than 100 years of human activity, it was an assertion worth testing.

And an assertion, it turns out, that fails the test. According to scientists, humans spew 100 times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year as all of the world’s volcanoes combined.

As Maxwell Smart would have said, Missed it by THAT much.”

Rick Santorum

The Curmudgeon has a theory: Santorum’s only running to correct what he believes is a popular misperception about him. When he ran four years ago he was seen as a leader of the lunatic fringe. There are so many occupants of that fringe running this year, though, that he seems downright normal.

Redemption!

George Pataki

The Curmudgeon’s not certain, but he thinks there was a photo of Pataki on the carton of milk he was reading while eating his Fruit Loops last week.

*            *            *

Here’s hoping that the next time The Curmudgeon visits the campaign trail one or more of these folks will be gone.

Live Blog of the Republican Presidential Debate

Greetings!

Welcome to this experiment in blogging – an experiment in which someone with no particular expertise or knowledge when it comes to presidential politics offers live commentary during a political debate and does so without knowing if even a single person is following his comments.

7:47 – Actually, make that “my” comments because for this one night, he – I – am abandoning my third-person practice and will comment in the first person.

Whew! What a relief.

7:50: As the evening unfolds, you’ll need to refresh your browser periodically so you can see the most recently posted comments.

7:52:  I also invite you to comment.

Normally, your comments land in the “comments” section at the end of a post, but while we’re live, I’ll copy and paste them directly into the post itself. I won’t identify you unless you specify how you want me to refer to you. Otherwise, you’ll just be “Viewer.”

That, of course, assumes anyone’s both watching and willing to comment.  Since I’ve been known to talk to myself, I won’t let silence deter me.

7:53:  I’ll be “Joe,” which is convenient because that just so happens to be my first name.

7:54 (Joe):  I’m a little worried about two things.  First, typos:  I hate’em, but they seem inevitable when working on the fly.

7:55:  Also, it appears the live feed will be interrupted periodically.  I’m not sure why, but it’s happened two times.  Both times, I was able to regain it with but a brief interruption.

7:59 (viewer): Just got back to my hotel room. Missed the first debate. Hoping to watch the “big” one “!

8:00 (Joe):  I’m not a CNBC watcher so I don’t know any of these on-air people.

8:01 (Joe):  When did a “fact” become a “factoid”?

8:03:  The guy on stage looks like Jeff Bezos with a toupee.

8:05: (Remember that you need to refresh your browser periodically/frequently to see the latest comments.)

8:06:  The guy on stage now looks a little like Beau Bridges.

8:07: (Viewer) Who’s in the red dress?

8:07 (Joe) I have no idea.

8:08 (Viewer):  I can’t believe I’m blowing off the World Series for this!!!

8:09 (Joe):  Multi-task!

8:10 (Joe):  The woman in the blue dress – that’s Reese Witherspoon in 20 years.

8:11 (Joe):  This commentary has a very conservative tone, which I guess is what should be expected from a network that reports business news and is often an apologist for the abuses of the business world.

8:12 (Viewer):  Missing the Sixers game, too!

8:13 (Joe):  Odds are they’ll lose by more than 15 points.

8:16 (Viewer):  Watching Christie and Huckabee made me think…I wonder what the record for “total weight change” among two Presidential candidates? These guys must own the record…

8:17 (Joe):  Did he say MRS. Carly Fiorina?

8:18 (Joe):  Kasich cant’ even answer a simple question.

8:19 (Joe):  He does that head-bobbing thing that his brother did and that Will Ferrell imitated so devastatingly.

8:20 (Joe):  In school, we called people like Rubio a brown-noser.

8:2 (Joe):  Christie’s biggest weakness?  Krispy Kreme?

8:22 (Viewer):  I can’t believe one of these people could actually become President

8:22 (Joe):  Christie’s statement was good.  The poor guy:  who would have imagined that he wouldn’t even be the biggest blowhard in this race?

8:23 (Viewer):  Christie should have left that tie home…

8:24 (Joe):  Any challenging question, in Trump’s mind, is defective.

8:25 (Joe):  Is he going to say “Some of my best friends are Mexican?”

8:26 (Joe):  Shameless self-promotion:  Tomorrow in this space, an “On the Campaign Trail” piece.

(Remember that you need to refresh your browser periodically/frequently to see the latest comments.)

8:28 (Joe):  Disclosure:  Of all of the Republicans in this race, Kasich is my favorite.  Anyone else have a favorite?

8:29 (Viewer):  Kasich makes too much sense. He’ll be out of the race by next week.

8:30 (Joe):  For too long, Kasich’s remarks have left me thinking “Kumbaya.”  It’s about time he spoke out.

8:31 (Joe):  Wait:  Trump’s criticizing other candidates for speaking out and criticizing others?  “Pot to kettle:  You’re black.”

8:32 (Joe):  Carson does seem like an awfully nice man.  Out of his element, but nice.

8:33 (Joe):  Cruz is talking trickle down.  Didn’t we already learn that doesn’t work?  He also doesn’t address whether his tax plan raises enough money to fund the government.

8:34 (Joe):  Fiorina’s wrong.  There HAVE been major tax code changes over the years.

8:35 (Joe):  That question is unfair.  It’s that suggestion that Rubio should resign from the Senate because he’s running for president.  Jeb Bush made that suggestion the other day. He wasn’t saying that in 2000 when his brother was running for president while still governor of Texas.

8:37 (Joe):  I’m glad Rubio is taking this on – but I don’t think it’s a conservative/liberal thing.

8:38 (Joe):  Cheap shot by Jeb.

8:39 (Joe):  Damn, it’s hard to take your eyes off those ears of Rubio.

(Remember that you need to refresh your browser periodically/frequently to see the latest comments.)

8:40 (Joe):  I don’t think reporters should base their questions on candidates’ standing in the polls.  They should be asking policy questions, not political/horse race questions.

8:41 (Joe):  I wouldn’t vote for Fiorina, but this, too, is a bullshit question.  She’s running and people are interested in her candidacy.  They should ask her what her ideas are, not about her work running a computer manufacturer.  But this is the perspective of a television network that, more than anything else, is all about the price of stocks.

8:42 (Viewer):  Cheap shot by Joe!

8:43 (Joe):  Good comeback, Carly.

8:44 (Joe):  I dont’ care for her ideas but she’s really good on her feet.

8:45 (Joe):  Good for Cruz, calling that panel on its lousy questions.  And, I’d like to add, a point I made earlier.

8:46 (Joe):  Really?  Cruz is talking about Bolsheviks?

8:46 (Viewer):  Carly is good.

Friday at The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon:  The monthly news quiz.  It’s not finished yet.  Yikes.

8:48 (Joe):  One of the things they never address about raising the retirement age is that retirements create openings in the work force.  Keep people in the work force longer and there are fewer jobs.

8:49 (Joe):  The idea that Social Security will be out of money in 8 or 9 years is just plain false.  I’m pretty sure Christie’s wrong.

8:50 (Viewer):  Fists could be flying by 9 pm

8:52 (Joe):  Christie wants to tell the people the truth but the truth is that Social Security is NOT a saving plan.   Our payments today go for our parents and our children’s payments will be for us.  It’s not an IRA or a 401k.

8:54 (Joe):  How does Cruz propose increasing the rate of growth of social security money without increasing taxes – unless he’s talking about investing the money in risky ventures.

8:55 (Joe): For someone who wants honesty, Huckabee’s analogy to Bernie Madoff was very dishonest.

Bathroom break?

8:58 (Joe):  Notice that once they start talking specific policy things, Trump and Carson have nothing to say?  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

8:59 (Joe):  Amazing that Trump continues to brag about how he benefits from screwing the people to whom he owes money.

9:00 (Joe):  The idea that Cramer is on this debate is offensive.  After what Jon Stewart did to him, I’m continually astonished that he’s not ashamed to show his face in public.

9:02 (Joe):  Carson doesn’t think government should be involved in the pharmaceutical industry?

9:03 (Joe):  There were no spending cuts?  Jeb is wrong:  the sequestration law of a few years ago cut federal spending almost across the board by 2% for five years in many operational areas.

9:06 (Joe):  There are too many candidates in this debate.  We’re not hearing enough from any of these candidates.  I refer to you my plan of how to restructure the debates, a week ago this past Monday, I think.  I want to hear more from all of these folks, even the ones I think have nothing to offer.

9:07 (Viewer)  Signing off for the night, Good commentary, Thanks for hosting.

9:07 (Joe)  Thanks for joining.

9:08 (Joe):  Is there a rule that candidates can’t answer the questions asked of them?

9:09 (Joe):  Good for Rubio.  A cheap, gotcha question that wastes valuable time in an important event.

9:10 (Joe):  But the joke about Sallie Mae taking money out of his paycheck is foolish.  Sallie takes the money because he borrowed the money.

9:10 (Joe):  Although…while he was struggling financially, Rubio bought a $3000 refrigerator.

Tomorrow in this space:  a new “On the Campaign Trail” feature.

(Remember that you need to refresh your browser periodically/frequently to see the latest comments.)

9:15 (Joe):  Every single policy?  Wasn’t there that Lilly Ledbetter law?  I think that was pretty good for women.

9:16 (Joe):  Carson’s answer on Costco was gibberish.  Utter nonsense.

9:18 (Joe):  Again, I’m not hearing enough from any of them.  Too many people, too little time.  But again, notice how the more substantive the discussion gets, the less Trump has to say.  Carson only speaks when spoken to.  Huckabee, bless his nutcase heart, is too polite to interrupt others.  So is Rand Paul.

9:19 (Joe):  I understand that Lindsay Graham was impressive during the first debate.  If Kasich is my first choice among these folks, Graham is the second.  I also saw Rick Santorum on CNBC shortly before this debate began and he seemed downright rational.  I had to do a double-take to see if it was really him.

(Remember that you need to refresh your browser periodically/frequently to see the latest comments.)

9:22 (Joe):  Great question.  This is a real problem.  I’ve written about in the past and am planning another piece on the same subject in the near future.

9:23 (Joe):  We still have vocational education.  He’s just wrong about that.

9:24 (Joe):  Trump’s point about self-funding bothers me.  Is he saying that the only candidates we can trust are those who are incredibly wealthy.

On the other hand, he’s right about super-PACs.

9:25 (Joe):  Rubio’s “mainstream media” is bogus.  You’d be amazed at how conservative the mainstream media is.  I have some facts and figures on that which I’ll present in the near future.  Is Fox News the mainstream media?  Its viewership is enormous.

9:28 (Joe):  at 6 p.m., for example, Fox News has twice as many viewers as CNN and MSNBC combined.  It’s that way at 5:0o, too.

(Remember that you need to refresh your browser periodically/frequently to see the latest comments.)

9:30 (Joe):  He’s not doing it so much tonight – of course, he’s not had much to say – but I often wonder whether Huckabee wants to be our president or our minister.

Huckabee’s blimp analogy was lame.

Huckabee’s plain wrong about the role of government.  Republicans have been fixing the game in favor of the rich for many years.

9:33:  Bush is not answering the question.

9:35:  Are there really dry cleaning chains?  What’s Rubio talking about?

9:37:  What does Paul mean by “the payroll tax”?  There are several payroll taxes.  Which one – or ones – does he mean?

9:39:  “Block grants” is a Republican euphemism for “We’ll give you less than you used to get and then stop increasing it based on rises in the cost of living.”  Kasich’s idea is a prescription for disaster.

Another shameless plug:  tomorrow in this space, a new installment in the “On the Campaign Trail” series.  On Friday, it’s the news quiz.

9:44:  Trump’s evading the question.

Also, the idea that he’s created job is irrelevant.  He never sets out to create jobs; he sets out to make money.  If he needs workers to make money, he hires them.  If he finds a way to make money with fewer workers, he fires some.  No one in the corporate world sets out to create jobs.  It’s just a by-product of their effort to make money.

Trump likes to be unpredictable.  A wonderful quality in a candidate for higher office.

9:46:  Gun-free zones are a catastrophe?  Is Trump serious?

9:48:  Once again, Trump criticizes a question – and this one wasn’t even asked of him.

9:50:  Good answer by Fiorina on the federal government playing a bigger role in getting businesses to have 401k plans.  Falling back on the constitution, though, is disingenuous.

9:52:  Good answer by Kasich on the costs of higher education.  His public service idea is pretty un-Republican, too – and a good one.

9:54:  Really? We’re using a Republican debate to talk about fantasy sports and gambling?

9:55:  Good for Christie, calling the questioner on fantasy football.

9:57:  Good for Christie again, calling out the questioner for not letting him answer the question.  Christie’s answer isn’t ‘very good, but we need to hear from him, not someone who’s trying to capitalize on being on prime time tv with a larger-than-usual audience.

9:58:  Are we really questioning whether there should be Medicare?  Medicare is a tremendous program.  So’s Medicaid, too:  Did you know that Medicaid’s overhead is only about 2 percent?  Do you think your private insurer comes anywhere near that?

(Remember that you need to refresh your browser periodically/frequently to see the latest comments.)

10:02:  Good point by Huckabee about the limited number of medical problems that consume so much of the money we spend on Medicare.

10:03:  Why do they feel they need to mention Hillary Clinton all the time?

10:04:  Trump is going to bring jobs back from…Japan?

10:05:  Trump never says how he’s going to do any of the things he says he’s going to do.

10:06:  Oy:  Bush wants to “incent.”  A verbification!

10:06:  Kasich makes the very point I just made about Medicaid’s efficiency.

10:06:  I don’t care for a lot of Rand Paul’s ideas but he’s a really smart guy.

10:07:  This is Carson’s third version of what he’d do with Medicare in the past week.  This is what happens when someone tries to run for president on a lark.  The professional candidates, for all their shortcomings, give all of these issues constant thought.  they prepare to run for president.  People who haven’t been interested in doing this for a long time aren’t prepared for a forum like this and it shows, it’s why Trump and Carson are so without the ability to articulate what they’d do if elected – because they don’t know what they’d do because they haven’t thought about it.

10:09:  Hillary Clinton isn’t talking about more money for Medicare.

10:10:  Rubio uses a verbification, too:  “they’re gonna demagogue this.”

10:12:  Fiorina is talking about zero-based budgeting.  That’s a late 1970s/early 1980s concept that’s a favorite of mine.

10:12:  Closing remarks.

10:13: I wouldn’t vote for Christie for dog catcher but he’s very good when he looks into the camera and speaks clearly and emphatically.

10:14;  Cruz is one of the least compromising members of Congress.  He would be a disaster as president.  He’s even an impediment in the Senate.  It’s his way or the highway.  What does he say he’s going to do?  Filibuster – a tactic without value.

10:15:  Trump is so completely and utterly full of s–t.

Now he’s telling a television network how to do its job.  Is there anything he doesn’t know?

10:18:  Why is Huckabee using his time to talk about the media?  The rest of his remarks are good:  why does he have to grind his axe?

Thanks for joining me tonight. This was fun.

 

 

 

 

An Experiment: Live Blogging the Republican Presidential Debate

This week The Curmudgeon is going to try something new.

On Wednesday night, October 28, at 8:00 p.m. (eastern time), CNBC will broadcast another Republican presidential debate. Actually, there will be two debates: the debate of the lesser candidates, to be shown at 6:00, and the real debate, with the candidates people are actually interested in, at 8.

Assuming he can find a live feed of the debate – and CNBC’s web site suggests it will offer such a live feed – The Curmudgeon is going to offer his own distinct brand of commentary during the debate. Some of it, he hopes, will be incisive and focused on the substance and the issues while some of it, if you have been following this space for the past few years, will be critical, sarcastic, and snarky.

You are cordially invited to sit with your laptop, tablet, or phone on your lap and follow the blog as you watch the debate. If you are so inclined, you also are invited to make your own comments, whether incisive, critical, sarcastic, snarky, or anything else (except profane, please). Instead of leaving any comments offered during the debate down in the vastly under-used “comments” section at the end of each blog item, The Curmudgeon will cut and paste your comments directly into the blog itself as you offer them.

Even if you disagree with him.

While he suspects this will be a solo performance, he hopes it won’t and that we can have fun together.

Join us at 8:00 on Wednesday night. It could be interesting.

Taking Care of Business (chapter 30)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

Between juicy news stories about well-known Philadelphians who frequented prostitutes came more juicy stories about one of those customers in particular: state representative Michael Ianucci. The local press had lusted for years after information about Ianucci: about his political power and how he amassed it, used it, and kept it in the face of all challenges and all challengers. For years, though, that lust had gone unrequited in the face of unyielding walls of silence: Ianucci’s political allies were fiercely loyal and notoriously close-mouthed and his enemies were too afraid of retribution to speak – either on the record or off.

But in light of recent events, lips were beginning to loosen. Ianucci had gone into hiding and appeared vulnerable. For the first time that anyone could remember, he missed an entire week of legislative activity in Harrisburg. Sensing his possible loss of power, political enemies cautiously began to talk – not a great deal and still not for attribution, but talk nonetheless. The Gazette seized this opportunity and published a front-page story about the politician about whom its readers knew relatively little.

Ianucci: Jumble of Paradoxes and Contradictions

Political career, influence in jeopardy

Arguably the most influential politician in Pennsylvania for more than a decade, state representative Michael Ianucci appears to be a man who has it all: power, wealth, respect, a beautiful wife and family, and a large political machine known and feared for its effectiveness and its loyalty.

But as a result of allegations that he paid for sex from high-end prostitutes, Ianucci now appears to be on the verge of losing it all.

Ianucci, who did not return numerous requests for comment for this article, has been seen only briefly in public in recent days and has not spoken publicly about his alleged patronage of the escort service.

Over the years, the ten-term representative of the Roxborough section of Philadelphia has carved a reputation as a brilliant legislator, fierce leader of liberal causes, tireless advocate of the interests of working people, and Harrisburg’s unmatched political operative.

At the same time, Ianucci also has come to be known as an exceedingly ruthless and idiosyncratic politician who routinely destroys the careers of both friends and foes for misdeeds real and imagined.

Above all, Ianucci has operated under a veil of virtual secrecy, his opponents too afraid to speak about him publicly and his supporters too loyal to do so.

But with his implication last week in the prostitution ring, veteran political observers see the powerful Ianucci as vulnerable, and some of his opponents are now cautiously speaking about him, albeit still only under the cloak of anonymity.

“Michael has been dealt a terrible political blow, and I’m not sure he can ever fully recover from it,” suggests Martin Jones, a veteran observer of Philadelphia and Harrisburg politics and a professor of political science at Albright College, in Reading.

“It’s like the schoolyard bully who gets punched and hurt for the first time,” Jones speculates. “He still wins the fight, but for the first time, the other kids see that he’s human, just like them. So maybe, someone who may never have even considered taking on the bully decides to give it a try. I suspect that at some point in the not-too-distant future, someone’s going to test Michael to see if he’s still invincible. It’ll be interesting.”

For years, Ianucci has been known for his bruising, take-no-prisoners approach to politics. Fellow legislators who oppose him on important matters are immediately ostracized, with little chance of rehabilitation. He is known never to forgive a slight.

“About twelve years ago,” recalls a former legislative staffer, “there was a debate within the appropriations committee about an obscure provision in a huge bill that would have provided additional state funding for the meteorology sciences department at Penn State. It was a budget bill, which meant it was Michael’s bill, and he was furious that an obscure back-bencher, Tom Graham of Centre County, had snuck the appropriation in without first consulting him. Michael started off easy on Graham, noting that one of the biggest private weather forecasting companies in the country was headquartered in the same town as Penn State and had hired a lot of the program’s graduates over the years. Michael suggested that before the state provide any additional public money for the program, the company should endow a chair in the department. When Graham disagreed and refused to withdraw the provision, Michael was furious. The provision mysteriously disappeared from the final version of the bill. It was suggested that its omission was a printer’s error, but everyone knew better.

“A year later Graham, who had served four terms in the state House, including his last two re-election bids without opposition, lost by twelve points in a party primary to a well-funded but unknown candidate who did virtually no campaigning. The message was clear, and everyone got it: don’t mess with Michael.”

A Philadelphia ward leader tells of what happened to a fellow ward leader who failed to deliver enough votes on election day.

“Ianucci was supporting a candidate for council and there was no way the guy could possibly lose. Anyhow, Michael set quotas for each ward: a minimum percentage of the vote he wanted his candidate to get. In this one ward, he said he wanted his guy to get at least seventy-seven percent of the vote and that the ward leader, Jim Anton, would be held responsible if he didn’t. Well, the candidate got seventy-five percent of the vote, which isn’t too shabby, and won the election in a landslide, but Michael was furious that Anton didn’t make his number. Within two weeks Anton lost his patronage job at the housing authority and his wife lost her job working for a judge.

“In the next election, Michael refused to give Anton any street money, so of course, when Anton ran for re-election as ward leader, Michael didn’t even have to bother running someone against him because no one’s going to vote for a ward leader who doesn’t get street money. Poor Anton was totally broken.”

Over the years, Ianucci has been known for the quality of his legislative staff – generally considered the best and brightest in the state capital. Of the twelve highest-paid legislative staffers in Harrisburg, ten work either on Ianucci’s personal staff or his committee staff. That staff also is highly educated: although Ianucci himself never finished college, everyone on his staff – even the people who answer the phones and work on constituent services – has at least a bachelor’s degree, and nearly half have a master’s degree as well. All earned their undergraduate degrees at one of three Philadelphia universities – Temple, LaSalle, or St. Joseph’s; a review of state records did not uncover even a single Ianucci staff member, past or present, who did not complete their undergraduate education at one of those three schools.

Also, Ianucci employs only men in professional positions. The few women on his staff answer phones and type correspondence. Despite this, Ianucci has always enjoyed the enthusiastic support of women’s groups – and he has reciprocated by becoming one of Harrisburg’s foremost advocates on women’s issues.

Despite what appears to be a close relationship with his staff, Ianucci requires everyone who works for him to call him “Mr. Ianucci” – even seventy-four-year-old Neil Stills, a childhood friend of Ianucci’s father who came to Harrisburg with Ianucci when he was first elected twenty years ago. In addition, while Ianucci frequently refers his House colleagues to members of his staff for information or assistance, he refuses to deal at all with the staff of his fellow legislators.

While Ianucci’s staff is highly regarded for its quantitative analysis of complex issues, mastery of state budget details, unusual accuracy in projecting state revenues and expenditures, and extensive use of data, and while his political operation is said to rival any in the country in its use of technology, Ianucci himself is considered somewhat of a technophobe. He does not use a computer, has never sent nor received an email, and is one of a dwindling number of legislators in Harrisburg who does not carry a Blackberry. The only technology he seems to use himself is a cell phone; his home telephone does not have an answering machine or voice mail and Ianucci does not subscribe to cable television.

At this point, Ianucci’s political future is uncertain.

“Michael faces a primary election in about a month, but it’s hard to believe that will pose much of a threat,” said Albright’s Jones. “He’s banked an awful lot of goodwill over the years, and as of right now, he doesn’t even have a primary opponent.”

While many share that view, one person who is willing to go on the record with a different perspective is Philadelphia Republican party chairman John Brent.

“I’m hoping the Democrats are either stupid enough, or still so afraid of Ianucci, that they don’t run someone against him in the primary,” Brent said. “The people of Roxborough have always supported Ianucci, but they’ve held him at arm’s length because they know his political operation is bad news. Now that they see that the man himself is bad news, too, there’s no way they’re going to support him if they have an even marginally appealing alternative. If he wins the primary, we’ll put up a quality, squeaky-clean Republican opponent who’ll clean his clock. I guarantee it.”

(more next Sunday)

Facebook Wants Your Phone Number

The Curmudgeon isn’t a Facebook user in the usual sense. (Does his not doing something in the “usual” way surprise you at all?) He posts nothing himself and rejects about as many “friend” requests as he accepts, so mostly, what he does is view what others post and play an occasional game of “Whatever happened to…?” He may log onto the site two or three times a week.

When he does, he’s occasionally greeted by a message from Facebook asking for his phone number “to help secure your account.”

facebookIs there any reason to believe that? Is there any reason to trust the Facebook folks that they’re not collecting phone numbers for some commercial use, that they’re not, as folks are increasingly coming to put it, seeking to “monetize” the data users provide them?

Or are they really saying that they’re so utterly incapable of ensuring the security of their site that they can’t function without our phone numbers? And if that’s true, why on earth should anyone feel safe using Facebook?

Not to Seem Paranoid or Anything, But…

…when The Curmudgeon needed to adjust the network setting on his Kindle the other day he scrolled through the list of home wi-fi networks the device detected and one of them was called “NSA Surveillance Van.”van

Leaving Home Without It

We hear a lot about identity theft. We also hear a lot about how to protect ourselves from identity theft, and one way to do that is not to give your social security number to anyone who asks for it.

The Curmudgeon likes this advice because, well, at the very least it gives him a legitimate opportunity to be curmudgeonly. After all, there’s unquestionable pleasure (at least for some of us) to be derived from saying “No” when the expected answer is “Yes, absolutely.”

He takes advantage of this opportunity every chance he gets. When he was preparing to move to his current home, right around this time twelve years ago, his would-be mortgage lender asked for his social security number and he thought this would be an interesting test of his refusal to disclose.

“No,” The Curmudgeon said.

“What?” the would-be lender asked.

“No,” The Curmudgeon repeated, although he had neither muttered nor stuttered.

We had a brief conversation during which The Curmudgeon suggested that the lender actually do some work in exchange for the considerable commission he stood to gain – okay, The Curmudgeon didn’t actually say that, but it seemed implicit – and try to get whatever credit information he needed without the social security number. Not to be a total hard-ass, The Curmudgeon told the would-be lender to let him know if the lack of a social security number proved to be an insurmountable obstacle while hinting that if that were the case, The Curmudgeon might give another lender the opportunity to tackle the same challenge

The mortgage application was approved – within minutes (yay, high credit score!) – without turning over a social security number.

The Curmudgeon has proceeded in that manner ever since. In the years since that experience he has opened and closed a number of new credit card accounts – The Curmudgeon has no credit card loyalties and routinely switches cards whenever someone makes him a better offer even though he doesn’t use his credit cards very often – all without providing his social security number.

But that twelve-year winning streak recently ended.

The people for whom The Curmudgeon works are very nice: unlikely many companies, they don’t seek to borrow money from their employees by requiring those employees to make work-related purchases on their own credit cards and then submit their receipts on their expense reports. Instead, they have always provided a company credit card – and not any credit card, either: an American Express card. The card comes in the mail and all The Curmudgeon has ever had to do is call the number on the sticker on the card to activate it.

A new card arrived recently and The Curmudgeon called the number, whereupon he was directed to punch his social security number into the phone.

Which he had no intention of doing.

It took three additional calls to get through to an actual living, breathing person capable of speech, but the company never backed down from the request – no, the demand: no social security number, no American Express card.

And that’s the way it’s going to be. Fortunately for The Curmudgeon, his work-related expenses are few: paper and toner for his printer, an occasional train trip to the home office and, every few years, an overnight stay in a hotel. The company reimburses its employees for their expenses very promptly, so the financial penalty for this act of conscience will be virtually non-existent.

So nuts to you, American Express: it turns out you actually CAN leave home without it.

A Poor Job of Taking Care of Seniors

Politicians spend a lot of time talking about how we need to take care of our seniors.

But mostly, that’s all they do: talk.

And we saw clear proof of this last week: a one-two combination that will send even some of our toughest seniors reeling.

First, the Obama administration announced that it will not add a cost-of-living increase to Social Security checks in 2016. This is just the third time that’s happened in the past forty years – but the third time since 2010.

And second, the Obama administration announced that premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient care, preventive services, ambulance services, durable medical equipment, and other things, will rise 52 percent in 2016. Since 70 percent of seniors are exempt from this cut because of the lack of a Social Security cost-of-living increase, that means “only” 16.5 million seniors will be forced to fork over the higher premiums.

And this is how we take care of our seniors?