Monthly Archives: May 2016

Guns in…Airports?

When the Florida state Senate passed a law that would permit people to bring guns into airports, but not past security checkpoints in airports, the Tampa Bay Business Journal published a poll asking its readers if they support such a bill.

Guns don't kill...

Guns don’t kill…

Incredibly, 27 percent said they did.

Are they… nuts?

It’s a Tsunami!

No, actually, it’s not.

Not even a little.

The Curmudgeon remembers learning the word “tsunami” in fourth grade and thinking “Hey, that’s a pretty cool word.” Everyone else in the class seemed to think so, too. After all, we didn’t know any other words that began with the letters t-s.

One letter - two sounds! Yes, those Hebrews are economical.

One letter – two sounds! Yes, those Hebrews are economical.

While The Curmudgeon definitely thought the word was cool, he may have been a little less impressed with a word beginning with t-s than some of his classmates. After all, fourth grade was also his first year attending Hebrew school, and he had recently learned that the “t-s” sound is so common in Hebrew that it has its own letter combining both sounds: the tzadik.

Tsunami remains a pretty cool word – although a word that apparently has so much appeal that a lot of writers cannot resist the temptation to use and overuse.

Some examples, starting with this one from the New York Times:

The A.C.O. may strike some critics as a worrying repackaging of the H.M.O. in its earliest incarnations, but there is little doubt that more Americans will be enrolled in these provider groups in the coming years. “A.C.O.’s are coming, and it will change the way we pay for health care,” said Dr. Michael Cryer, national medical director for the employee benefits consultancy Aon Hewitt. “Providers are doing things in a positive way rather than a reactive way. We are seeing the beginnings of a tsunami.”

An article about Stanford University president John Hennessey and the emergence of distance and online learning noted that

… Hennessy’s digital experience alerts him to danger. He says, “There’s a tsunami coming.”

And a member of Philadelphia’s city council, describing the financial troubles facing the city’s school system, declared

I could really kick myself. We saw the tsunami coming.

And then there was an article in the left-wing rag The American Prospect about political contributions and the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

American politics is in trouble. A tsunami of unaccountable, untraceable political money is overwhelming the Republican race for the presidential nomination and threatens to do the same to the fall election.

 Bloomberg News apparently agrees, titling an article

Obama Money Edge Competes With Republican Cash ‘Tsunami’

Well, at least the Bloomberg folks put “tsunami” in quotation marks, perhaps as an acknowledgment that they know better but decided to go ahead and use it anyway because, well, tsunami is such a cool-sounding word.

The UPI news service published a commentary on the economy and had the bad taste to title it “Outside View: The mother of all (fiscal) tsunamis” – an idea some editor probably got because the commentary did more than use the word: it used the entire concept.

Imagine you are aboard a palatial huge cruise ship — longer than three football fields and more than 100,000 tons in displacement. You are in the Atlantic. You receive an urgent text message. A giant tidal wave is headed in your direction and will hit the ship in about 2 hours. A satellite photo of the wave is attached to the warning.

You race to the bridge to see the captain. You are politely told that you shouldn’t worry. Everything is under control. An hour and a half later, the wave hits creating an even greater Titanic-like catastrophe. This time, there are no survivors.

The United States is currently on course to collide with an unprecedented fiscal tsunami that will strike the end of this year. We all know the components of this giant wave: the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts; sequestration; debt ceiling relief; payroll tax increases; “doc-fixes’ to healthcare; alternative minimum tax issues; and on and on. We all know that the chances that the current Congress, even during the “lame duck” session after the elections, of resolving all or any of these potential tidal wave issues are about zero.

Holy extended metaphor, Batman!

Even the ordinarily restrained British climbed aboard the tsunami bandwagon with a headline about the European Fund and Asset Management Association that claimed ‘Regulation tsunami’ could see investors sidelined, warns EFAMA,” and another that warned “British PM faces “tsunami” of recession, Murdoch.“ (The Curmudgeon has no idea what this latter quote means, but then, that’s probably because he doesn’t speak the same language as the British.)

While doing some professional reading, The Curmudgeon came across an article about South Carolina’s aging population and some of the challenges that aging could pose for state officials. The article’s unfortunate title, though, was

South Carolina must prepare for ‘gray tsunami,’ official warns.

Like most states, Pennsylvania faces a looming financial crisis that will be caused by the enormous financial obligations it will incur paying the pensions it promised to state employees and public school teachers. State officials there like to talk about doing something about the crisis – and then not do anything about the crisis. One of those talkers/non-doers is the Republican senate majority leader, who in a Philadelphia Inquirer article described those pension obligations as a “tsunami that has already reached land.”

Here’s hoping he gets as carried away by the tsunami as he gets carried away by his own hyperbole.

A Tampa Bay Times headline screamed

Florida facing a ‘nursing shortage tsunami’ due to increased population, more insured patients.”

Considering how often Florida gets swamped with hurricane-driven winds and waters, you’d think a distinguished newspaper like the Times might be more sensitive about using that word.

If so, you’d think wrong.

With tourists now welcome in Cuba, there’s a problem: Cuba hasn’t had much of a tourism industry in more than 50 years and is ill-equipped to handle visits from Americans who expect a certain level of comfort when they travel. What will the impact on Cuba be? A University of Havana professor speculated:

It will be a tsunami. It’s not going to be easy to harness this.

And last but not least, when Philadelphia football fans booed their team – hardly an unusual occurrence – a Philadelphia magazine writer observed that

These weren’t your garden-variety ‘We’re not happy’ boos. This was a deafening, guttural roar. A seismic display of frustration. A tsunami of ‘you suck.’

No, it’s just a word overused to the point of worthlessness. We’ve seen what a real tsunami can do – and if you haven’t, take a look here and here – and it’s sort of like comparing anyone to Hitler: it’s so ridiculous that it loses its meaning.

It’s a veritable tsunami of meaningless overstatement.

(See?)

 

 

Yet Another Thing Donald Trump Is Really Great At

Lying.

As cynical as The Curmudgeon can be about politicians, he doesn’t generally believe they intentionally lie when they get on a stage and give a speech or answer questions from reporters or voters.

No, he thinks they save most of their lying once they’re in office.

When it comes to people running for office, The Curmudgeon thinks they’re usually looking for ways to make the facts work their way or misinterpreting something they’ve been told or just not remembering what they learned exactly right or are just exaggerating. Also, they do a whole lot of talking every day and someone’s always there to capture it, and occasionally, they’re going to say something that’s just plain wrong. Generally, when confronted with information that they’ve said something incorrect they don’t necessarily apologize but they do just stop saying it. That supports The Curmudgeon’s uncharacteristically positive perspective that most of the things we call lies when they’re uttered by candidates for public office are really just mistakes.

But this is yet another area in which The Donald far outpaces his political rivals. Unlike others, when confronted with making inaccurate statements, Trump doesn’t apologize – and he doesn’t stop making the false statements.

No, he just keeps right on making them.

When I told people my small hands didn't mean I was small elsewhere, if you know what I mean, I really meant it.

I’m the most honest person ever to run for president.

At which point, in The Curmudgeon’s eyes, what he was willing to accept was just a mistake becomes a lie – and when repeated often enough, a blatant lie.

When it comes to identifying such political misstatements, two resources stand out: “PolitiFact,” a service of the Tampa Bay Tribune. and the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” feature. Last week the Post and Fact Checker ran an interesting piece on two aspects of Trump’s lies: first, that he keeps repeating them even though they are clearly lies; and second, that television interviewers rarely call him on his lies, instead letting him just keep on lying with impunity.

The Post identified five lies in particular that Trump keeps telling and on which television’s talking heads don’t challenge him.

First, the lie that he was against the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He wasn’t. When Fox News confronted him recently with evidence to the contrary, Trump replied:

I said very weakly, well, blah blah blah, yes, I guess.

And that was good enough for Fox News.

Second, the lie that ISIS has the oil in Libya and is making a fortune selling it.

Not true. ISIS attacks have closed down some Libyan oil fields but there’s not a shred of evidence that it’s taken possession of any of them or extracted any oil from those fields and sold it.

Third, the lie that “scores” of recent migrants to the U.S. who are inside our borders have been charged with terrorism.

Not true. The real number? Fewer than 20. Trump got this lie from Senator Jeff Sessions, and in Trump’s world, if someone said it, he believes he has the right to repeat it without regard for its veracity.

Fourth, the lie that Hillary Clinton started the whole “birther” movement.

You can resume reading after you stop laughing.

And fifth, the lie that Russian madman Vladimir Putin called him a genius.

Nope. Putin called him “colorful.” Some news reports translated Putin’s statement slightly differently: one said the word he used was Russian for “lively” and another said “flamboyant” was a better translation.

Putin could just as well have been talking about Liberace, and as is the case with the flashy pianist, “genius” is nowhere to be found there.

The Curmudgeon’s favorite is a sixth: Trump says that compelling pharmaceutical companies to negotiate drug prices with Medicare would save the federal government $300 billion a year. Actually, the core of this idea – that Medicare should negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and seek discounts for its quantity purchasing – is a good idea, and that it’s not an original idea shouldn’t matter because not every good idea has to be original. No, it’s a proposal that arises periodically in Congress, only to be rejected, mostly but not entirely by Trump’s fellow Republicans, because of that industry’s massive political contributions. A good idea, yes, but it’s not enough for Trump to offer a good idea: he has to exaggerate it until it’s ridiculous. Why ridiculous? Because you can’t save $300 billion a year when you’re only spending half that amount in the first place.

There are more Trump lies, too. The online version of The Post’s Fact Checker feature has a list of the 26 worse lies from the Man With the Tiny Hands. Find that list here; it makes for entertaining reading.

 

 

Everybody Into the Pool

Squeezed by rising costs and declining enrollment, Philadelphia’s LaSalle University has been searching for ways to address both of those problems.

On the cost side, with a ten percent deficit in its operating budget, the college laid off 23 employees and is offering buy-outs to older faculty members.

Because who needs experienced teachers?

The school also is interested in addressing its revenue side by seeking to attract more students. There are a number of tried and true ways to do that – things like better teachers, better academic programs, even better dorms.

Well, scratch that “better teachers” idea. LaSalle’s trying to get rid of those.

But LaSalle has a better idea.

Water polo.

water polo

The new official sport of north Philadelphia.

That’s right: a not very highly regarded college in a not very nice urban area that serves mostly working-class students has decided that the key to boosting enrollment is to start a varsity team in a sport generally played by well-to-do suburbanites.

Actually, LaSalle is launching two varsity water polo teams: a men’s team and a women’s team.

Yay, Title IX!

Because what aspiring college student wouldn’t be drawn to rough-and-tumble north Philadelphia by the allure of a water polo program?

The timing of this plan is strange: because of the financial and enrollment problems, the university is in the midst of a comprehensive review of its academic and non-academic programs to decide what to keep, what to drop, what to improve, and what to add. That review isn’t expected to be finished until later this year.

But apparently, the folks at LaSalle decided that their idea to field varsity water polo teams is so brilliant, so compelling, and so inspired that it just couldn’t wait. The time to strike is now!

Actually, the thing to do now is get their heads examined.

A New Drug For…What?

Because a photo of someone sitting on a toilet, looking like they're...straining would be a bit much.

Because a photo of someone sitting on a toilet, looking like they’re…straining would be a bit much.

The pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca now produces a drug called Movantik (which sort of sounds like an eastern European name, don’t you think? As in “President Obama today met with Serbian ambassador Bratislav Movantik”) that treats constipation caused by long-term use, overuse, and abuse of opioid drugs – things like Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin, and, well, heroin.

Isn’t it nice that the pharmaceutical companies can invest their resources and make vast amounts of money helping heroin users who can’t poop when there are still good people out there suffering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and more?

A Profoundly Bad Idea

The idea of privatizing Social Security has been around for a long time now. Republicans especially like it because the mutual fund companies and brokerage houses that lavish them with generous campaign contributions salivate at the idea of getting their grubby paws on the billions in investment fees they might receive if tens of millions of people suddenly became responsible for investing their own retirement savings.

The best argument against privatizing Social Security is that most people simply do not know enough about how to invest money and would no doubt make a shambles of the job and end up with no retirement money, little retirement money, or just not enough retirement money to see themselves through their retirement.

For this reason, The Curmudgeon was surprised recently to see an elected official in Philadelphia suggest that the city work its way out of its pension problem by buying city employees out of their pensions.

At about 50 percent of the value of those pensions.

The Curmudgeon realizes that the biggest financial challenge facing most governments these days is not the cost of the services they provide but the cost of pensions for their retired employees, but the idea of turning over that kind of money to the average public employee makes his head hurt. If such an approach were to be adopted on a voluntary basis, he suspects that the very people who would be most tempted by the likely six-figure buy-outs would be those least likely to have the skill and education to tackle the challenge of turning their one-time jackpot into something they need to last them for the rest of their lives.

And just to be clear, The Curmudgeon considers himself among those not smart enough to do this on their own.

What will happen, moreover, is that when people squander their buy-outs and are out of money they will turn to government, and the taxpayers, to support them for the rest of their lives. While The Curmudgeon recognizes some degree of public obligation to help care for those who cannot care for themselves, he does not want to take on responsibility for caring for those who sold their lifetime pension for a quick, six-figure shot of money and then squandered that money with bad investments – or worse, just squandered it.

If privatizing Social Security is a bad idea because the average person doesn’t have the skill and knowledge to manage that retirement money then so is buying out the pensions of retired public employees for pennies on the dollar. If a private business came along, like an equivalent of companies like (the heavily advertised) J.G. Wentworth that offer to give people cash up front for their “structured settlements” like insurance payouts and annuities, people would be outraged – outraged! – and call them all sorts of names for trying to profit at the expense of working people and leaving them vulnerable to an impoverished retirement. If it’s wrong for the private sector to do it then it’s wrong for government to do it, too.

Should the city of Philadelphia and other governments being doing more to address their enormous and growing pension obligations? Absolutely. But should they be doing it in a way that would almost certainly harm a significant proportion of the people for whom those pensions are intended?

Absolutely not.

A Thought About All This LGBT Stuff

The “L” stuff has been around a long time. Yes, we know, we get it.

The “G” stuff has been around a long time. Yes, we know, we get it.

The “B” stuff has been around a long time. Yes, we know, we get it.

But aren’t you getting sick and tired of having all this “T” stuff, you should pardon the pun, shoved up your ass?

McDonald’s Testing “Fresh Beef”

McDonald’s announced this week that it will test using what it calls “fresh beef” in one of its markets – the Dallas/Fort Worth area. (When companies like McDonald’s are considering introducing new products, they test them first in limited markets before introducing them nation-wide.)

But if McDonald’s is testing “fresh beef”…

Don’t you have to wonder…

What the hell has it been serving its customers all these years?

It Takes Real Balls

William DeWeese spent 36 years as a member of Pennsylvania’s state House of Representatives, including two years as House Speaker. More than a decade after he was ousted as speaker but while he was still in the House, DeWeese was convicted of five felony counts – theft, conflict of interest, and conspiracy – for using members of his state-paid staff to work on his political campaign. (He was re-elected after the charges were filed but before he was convicted, which tell you everything you need to know about the residents of Greene, Fayette, and Washington counties whom he represented.)

DeWeese proclaimed his innocence all the way to the hoosegow, where he served a two-year term.

And now DeWeese is out of jail.

And a boy needs to earn a living, right?

So what’s he doing?

He’s a lobbyist. A group called Clear Coalition, which describes itself as “… an unprecedented coalition of labor organizations representing over 1.1 million hard working Pennsylvania citizens working together to ensure that lawmakers provide adequate support for critical state services,” actually hired this disgrace of a human being, who horribly betrayed the public trust, to represent it before the very state government he betrayed.

It’s disgusting.

Separated at Birth?

Vanquished Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz and actor Al Lewis as Grandpa on the 1960s television series The Munsters.

 

cruz and grandpa