Advocates in Buffalo, New York, working to end homelessness in their city are crowing about an exciting new number: 22. That’s how many chronically homeless people are living on the streets as of early January, and the number is still falling, according to Dale Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York. That figure is down from the roughly 400 chronically homeless people living without shelter four years ago—and the success is largely thanks to a simple idea.
- More -
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The number of Americans who applied for new unemployment benefits in 2015 fell to the lowest level in 42 years.
Fresh government figures show 277,000 people filed initial jobless claims in the seven days running from Dec. 27 to Jan 2. That is down 10,000 from an unrevised 287,000 in the prior week.
- More -
to get episodes automatically downloaded.
I don't much care for political scandal. It distracts from issues that ought to be decided by an informed electorate.
A politician I deeply admired, the late Governor Marvin Mandel of Maryland, accepted watches, legal services, expensive clothing, jewelry, real estate, and lots and lots of money as part of a complicated scheme of bribery. It broke my heart, and it took from the citizens of Maryland the opportunity to judge whether to continue policies of school construction, gun safety, Metro-train style public transportation, emergency shock trauma health innovation, and all around government efficiency.
A politician I came to admire, Governor George Ryan of Illinois, was less creative in selling government contracts and licenses for money-laundered bribes. As indictments came closer, voters in Illinois were deprived of the chance to approve or reject his stand against the death penalty.
I still admire these two thieves, both of whom very much belonged in prison.
I did not much care for Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia. Voters should have decided whether to continue a program of education cuts, off-shore drilling expansion, slashes in health care, and an infamous trans-vaginal ultrasound requirement of women thinking about abortion. Instead, public attention was devoted to an investigation that initially focused on whether the Governor used public funds for dog food and bathroom shower products, an investigation that later exposed true major corruption.
Scandal is highly entertaining and enticing to much of the public. I don't much care for its sickly sweet odor. Scandal substitutes triviality in place of substance.
Occasionally, scandal itself becomes so overwhelming it overlaps into the nature of public policy. I see the blunt force trauma to civil liberties administered by the Nixon administration as reaching that threshold. That is the thermonuclear exception to the rule of more common petty temptation.
What are we to make of Marco Rubio?
Rival Jeb Bush hints darkly of background problems that will swim out of the political swamp, like some medieval sea monster, huge and menacing: a watery version of a biblical behemoth rising from the book of Job.
Minor problems with an organizational credit card issued by the Florida Republican Party did not quite fill sandals of Goliath. Corruption should be made from sterner stuff.
The brother-in-law problem may be closer to what Jeb! has in mind.
It seems Marco Rubio's sister married a fellow who got involved with a drug organization in Miami. When the organization was broken up by federal law enforcement authorities, the brother-in-law went to prison. He got out 12 years later.
Some of us do take almost a libertarian view of narcotics. A competent adult should have the right to self-destruction. Treatment works better than punishment when the self-destructive have a change of heart.
And there should be limits on guilt by association. Young Marco was close to his brother-in-law, mowing lawns, doing odd jobs for a child's wages, and hanging out. When the involvement with drugs began, Marco was 12. By all accounts, he was unaware. When the arrest occurred he was 16.
Marco Rubio seems never to have hidden his relationship with his brother-in-law. He has written about the man's gift for tales of Cuba, bringing the comfort of fond memories to Marco's parents. He has also written about the pain of finding out about the arrest, discovering the hidden illegalities.
Not everything was aboveboard for Marco Rubio. In later years, after serving a dozen years in prison, the former drug dealer wanted to make his way into an honest living. He applied for a real estate license.
By this time Marco Rubio was a success, an influential leader in the Florida legislature. He wrote letters on behalf of his brother-in-law and got him his real estate license. But he did not mention in those letters the brother-in-law part, or that they were relatives, or that they had any relationship.
And investigations by reporters keep uncovering details. The brother-in-law was at the center of the Tabraue Cartel. He functioned as the front man, insulating the drug kingpin Mario Tabraue from day-to-day functions, making contact, conducting deals, pretty much operating at the direction of the head of the cartel.
That cartel was more than a sub rosa smuggling operation, providing a service that bluenoses don't like. Three years before Rubio's brother-in-law got involved, the group became aware of the undercover identity of a federal informant. The murder was especially grisly, involving chainsaws and body parts. Authorities were never able to find the pieces of the victim.
On a policy level, Marco Rubio does conform to the requirements imposed by today's Republican base. Like other officeholders, he reacts with reflexive opposition to any and every Obama initiative. From the Iran anti-nuclear agreement to this season's modest gun safety initiative, Republicans respond with anger before actual policy is known to them. They predict what they will see, and are amazed and outraged by nothing more than their thoughts. When actual details are finally known, they modify modify their fury to fit.
But Marco Rubio has a reputation for moderate demeanor. And, in some areas, Republicans are moving a little beyond a mere contest of anti-Obama name calling. They are just beginning to debate in what direction they might part ways with Obama anti-terrorist policies. Marco Rubio is at the center of that debate.
Voters may never develop a verdict about Marco Rubio's ideas, his policy approach, the direction he might endeavor to take the Republic.
I have been hoping Marco Rubio might contribute a rare shining light to the Republican darkness. He has been at the center of an inspirational true story of the trauma of discovered criminality and arrest, followed years later by a nurturing of recovery and redemption. I think of a family providing a lost soul with a way back to the fold.
Then I think of his primary rivals, and a political party who, not so long ago, elected a president with attack ads about rape and murder and Willie Horton. What ethical limits will his rivals possess?
This is the modern Republican party. The one time home of Abraham Lincoln now houses a shrinking group that routinely accuses a president of treason, a party still proud of swift boat attacks on a war hero.
If Marco Rubio begins to rise to the level of a threat to another Republican, the campaign will not be about an inspirational story. It will not be about debate or policy.
Marco Rubio will not survive the primary season.
From Jon Perr at Perrspectives:
Christmas day doesn't always bring you the present you want. (As a Cleveland Browns fan eagerly anticipating an NFL championship since 1964, I can attest to that.) But you may just get the gift you really need. And sometimes, you receive something truly special, something you didn't deserve.
For those dismayed and disheartened by the unusually ugly and sadly sinister tone of American politics in 2015, Abraham Lincoln is the gift that keeps on giving. After a year in which xenophobia, naked nativism and religious bigotry became the new normal for the Party of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator remains a potent antidote to what ails us.
- More -
From Tommy Christopher at The Daily Banter:
There’s nothing like a molten hot take to warm up the icy news tundra of Christmas week, and so it is that Politico Magazine has stepped in to fill the void with a column suggesting that President Obama travel the country silently being spat on by racists in order to counter Donald Trump‘s Starkiller Base of white resentment. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, here is a little sample of Issac Bailey‘s well-intentioned but misguided column:
- More -
From Libertarian Michael A. LaFerrara at Principled Perspectives:
The december 2015 Paris agreement by nearly 200 countries to “fight climate change” launched, in theory, a major War on Fossil Fuels, the world’s largest and best energy source. You’d think that there must be some incredibly important, life or death reason to restrict the use of and ultimately outlaw the energy that supports the well-being of seven billion people.
But you’d be wrong. The attack on coal, oil, and natural gas is real, but the rationalization is hollow. The rhetoric of the champions of the Paris agreement proves it.
- More -
Can this be right?
James anticipates an unreasonable reaction from atheists, then is amazed and irritated by how unreasonable that anticipated reaction will be?
From conservative James Wigderson:
Get the smelling salts and the fainting couch. The atheists in Madison are having a case of the vapors. They don’t know whether to be angry or extremely angry, but they know they do not like state Rep. Scott Allen of Waukesha. They haven’t been this upset since Gov. Scott Walker dedicated a “Christmas tree” instead of a “holiday” tree.
Allen, like a number of other Republican legislators, recorded a Christmas message to his constituents in the state Capitol. Allen, a Christian, actually reminded the audience that Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Allen also suggested for those who are not Christian, “I invite you to consider the hope offered by the Prince of Peace.”
- More -
From Ted McLaughlin at jobsanger:
It has become obvious that Congress is not going to act on the gun violence problem in this country -- not even to close the loopholes in the background check law (which is supported by about 90% of all Americans). So President Obama has spent much of his vacation preparing an executive order concerning the problem.
This executive order should add to the already impressive legacy of his presidency.
- More -
From Tony Messenger at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
The flood maps are all wrong.
The old water marks on grain elevators are meaningless.
This was the message Washington University geology professor Bob Criss presented to a small room of environmentalists, water experts and river rats at Union Station just a few months before the December flood water came to St. Louis. We were both there to speak of an ongoing problem in our region: the failure to learn lessons from past floods.
- More -
From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes. They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates.
Moreover, each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back.
With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes.
- More -
to get episodes automatically downloaded.
On April 15, 1992, a private jet landed at Standiford airfield in Louisville, Kentucky. The plane's destination was a closely guarded secret. Most of the world expected the hotel executive to arrive at the Blue Grass airport about 80 miles away. Reporters missed the moment as she checked into her new location. The fantastically wealthy Leona Helmsley became known simply as 15113-054 at Lexington's Federal Minimum Security Facility for Women.
"We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." When Leona Helmsley spoke those words, she had no idea her views on position and privilege would go public. Those words followed her for the rest of her life. But that was not the worst of it.
That casual utterance, spoken in private, became an item of interest during the court proceeding that finally placed her in prison. The phrase made her a household name, but it probably made little difference in the verdict. By that time, the case had been pretty much cast in amber and sealed with superglue. Paper and numbers put her away.
Leona Helmsley had a solid reputation of screwing around with those little people, the ones who pay taxes and live by rules. This time she picked on the wrong people.
The Helmsleys bought a huge luxury mansion as a summer home, then refurbished it to a fabulous new level of glamour. Those of us who own 21 room summer homes might still envy the addition of an enormous new ballroom for occasional dance celebrations.
Of course, they short-changed the contractors who had worked on the project. The tactic was tried and true. If you don't accept our unexpected new terms, you can sue us. You might even eventually win. Just keep in mind that we have terrific lawyers, and you will be tied up in court until your great grandchildren have their own great grandchildren.
But these contractors didn't just go to civil court. They went to the feds. They produced bills, invoices, check stubs, and account ledgers. Federal authorities didn't care who owed money to whom. They did care about federal tax evasion. The Helmsleys were paying for their fabulous new home as a tax deduction, billed through their hotel corporations as a series of disguised business expenses.
What can we suppose would have been the popular reaction if that unfortunate statement, that Leona Helmsley had honestly felt that rules were only for little people, had been introduced at her trial, not as part of the prosecution, but rather as a defense.
I thought about Leona Helmsley as I read about the "affluenza" kid, arrested with his mother in Mexico. Young Ethan Couch drove recklessly while drunk and killed a stranded motorist, her daughter, and two people who had stopped to help them. He got put on probation. He broke probation at a drinking party, recording it and posting it on line. As authorities closed in to arrest him again, he disappeared along with his extremely protective mom.
It was a seeming confirmation of yet another stereotype. The rich kid had been taught from an early age that rules are for other people, the lessor ones, the under achieved, the middle class, or even those who struggle against poverty, the losers.
What made the case unusual, and famous, was that the Leona attitude had been presented by the teenager's lawyers as a defense at his original trial, back when he was guilty only of killing the good Samaritans and those they were helping. An expert psychiatric witness for the kid used the term "affluenza" for what he described as a mitigating mental condition.
The idea was that young Mr. Couch had been taught from childhood that bad behavior produces good results. Rules are for lessor folks. Every time the kid broke rules, those who caught him were threatened or cajoled into silence by the lad's doting parents. He had never learned that it matters that some actions are wrong. He had never been held accountable.
So it would be unfair to hold him accountable now for partying to a stupor, borrowing his dad's pickup, speeding down a small road at 70 miles an hour with 7 jubilantly yelling buddies, and smashing through 2 automobiles until he reached and killed 4 innocent people. Because of his doting upbringing, he had no idea he should not do what was wrong.
To one uninitiated in criminal psychiatric defense, it might seem that a tautology had been proposed, one that could be used by anyone who was obviously guilty of a serious crime. You should not punish me because I honestly thought I could get away with it.
Judge Jean Boyd, sentenced the wayward youth to ten years probation. No drinking. No partying where drinking was happening. Also included was a stint in a private rehabilitation facility. The stay would be paid for by his dad.
The public anger at the 4 deaths, the affluenza defense, and the light sentence of probation, combined into a cold fury when details about that rehab center itself went public. Turned out that the rehabilitation of Ethan Couch would include horseback riding, martial arts, cooking lessons, basketball, a swimming pool, and .... private massages.
The judge is retired now, a good career move. The screams for her head grew louder after the young misguided man recorded himself breaking his probation, drinking and partying. Still, he is unlikely to get a meaningful stint in prison, even after his capture in Mexico with his mom. Seems prison time for the probation he broke is covered under Texas law for juveniles, and cannot extend beyond the age of 19. Such was the degree of judicial wisdom as practiced by this member of the judiciary.
In fairness to Judge Boyd, she has always defied the stereotype of a harsh Republican judicial appointee. In fact, she has a history of looking for rehabilitation for young offenders where circumstances warrant. She has tried to turn lives around rather than simply punish bad behavior. And she still insists she found the affluenza defense without merit and disregarded it. It had nothing to do with the sentence she pronounced.
I wonder if she ever regrets that. A non-professional observer, you know - like me, might conclude that a youngster taught from infancy that there are no consequences for him, that rules are for losers, that such a youngster might benefit from a new and harsh education. One part of that core curriculum that comes to mind might have helped: the lesson that consequences are real and that they do apply to him.
Rather than ignoring the unusual defense, the judge might better have considered the obvious after hearing about affluenza. She could have administered the beginnings of a cure to the Leona Helmsley defense.
From Green Eagle:
Since no one with a real political voice, not even Bernie Sanders, has had the courage to state the real way out of the current Middle Eastern mess, I guess I will give it a try. In fact, the answer is not complicated nor is it difficult, except when we run into the hatred and abuse that are the inevitable tools of the right when they want to protect their right to be as subhuman as possible. Anyway, here's my plan.
- More -
Recently, Sam’s Club’s CEO Rosalind Brewer, a black woman, made comments regarding diversity on her executive team and lack thereof in the corporate world altogether:
“My executive team is very diverse, and I make that a priority. I demand it within my team…Just today we met with a supplier and the entire other side of the table was all Caucasian males. That was interesting. I decided not to talk about it directly with [the supplier’s] folks in the room because there were actually no female, like levels down. So I’m going to place a call to him.”
In other words, Brewer believes that there should be people of different backgrounds (people of color and women) in executive positions as demonstrated by her team. However, she was kind of taken aback when she met with a group of top business folks who happen to be all white males. So, she wanted to talk to the supplier about that. That’s all.
- More -
Martin Shkreli purchased a drug company for the purpose of gouging those vulnerable to deadly illness.
His arrest has generated a tsunami of Christmas cheer.
Let's add a measure of caution to our joy.
to get episodes automatically downloaded.
From Jon Perr at PERRspectives:
From the very beginning of the debate over health care reform, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has delivered the same two messages to Congressional lawmakers. First, over a 10-year time frame, the Affordable Care Act--aka Obamacare--reduces the national debt. Conversely, the CBO has always found, repealing "every word" of Obamacare will necessarily increase the national debt.
- More -
From Dick Polman at The Moderate Voice:
In his remarks commemorating the 150th anniversary of the constitutional provision that abolished slavery, President Obama urged his fellow Americans to draw inspiration from their ancestors and “push back against bigotry in all its forms,” because “our freedom is bound up with the freedom of others.”
Obama basically hewed to the high road, as required by the occasion. But there’s so much more to say about the historic 13th Amendment, especially about the president who championed it.
- More -