Friday, May 17, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Wow. It feels like years since I’ve written one of these, between vacations and sick days and whateverthehellelse…anyway….

1)  The Bush appointee who headed the IRS investigation of Teabagger groups will testify before Congress today. This ought to be interesting. After all, it was a Republican Congress who set up the 501(c)(4) group and who made very ambiguous guidelines as to what constitutes compliance with said section. A Bush appointee, a Republican, investigating all political groups on a shoestring budget targets groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their name….because maybe he has firm insider evidence they’re cheating? Just a thought.

2) Facebook started publicly trading one year ago. It opened at $32 a share, and spiked up to near $42. At the time, I called it worth no more than $20 a share. If you had listened to my advice and bought when it hit twenty, you’d hit “Like” on your return. I see it topping out short term at around $30 so there’s still time to get a quick hit if you can. But long term? It’s a $25 share, at best.

3)  Salt of the worth?

4)  “Libertarian” Conor Freidersdorf argues for religion when it comes to extreme porn. I cannot fap to that.

5)  Speaking of civil liberties, here’s an interesting conundrum: you’re a photographer who lives across the street from a luxury high-rise building. You can see into some rooms clearly, as people leave their curtains open. You take photos and exhibit them. Right to privacy v. free speech. Discuss.

6)  My favorite name in all of sports is dead. Apparent suicide.

7)  Some things cannot be unseen.

8)  Attention, Teabaggers: You are terrorist sympathisers. This is not hyperbole!

9)  I’ve got an idea: Why not let Turkey take the lead in overthrowing Assad?

10)  Those Benghazi emails? Support the administration claims. End of story.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Where the Hell Are They Shopping, Then?

Wal-Mart reported earnings yesterday, and it’s a bit eye-opening. If I was an investor¹, I’d be very worried:

Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer by sales, reported an unexpected drop in US sales that pointed to pressure on low-income consumers and sent its shares falling.

The discount chain said on Thursday that its US like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to April 26 declined by 1.4 per cent. It had previously told investors that it expected sales to be “around flat”.

The company blamed the fall on delayed tax refunds from last year for consumers, a rise in the payroll tax rate this year, lower-than-expected food inflation, and bad weather.

Here’s the thing: the stock market is booming. China is suffering. The US economy is gaining momentum, which only happens when consumers go out and buy, regardless of when they get their tax refunds. So someone is selling to them. And if not Wal-Mart, the bastion of low prices and good selection (despite their irresponsible business practices and outright piratical scavenging of local retailers) then where?

When the economy is in the doldrums, and for what we know at this point in time, it still is, Wal-Mart is where people shop. It’s essentially one giant mall of discount prices on, well, not quality merchandise but certainly “better than a yard sale” stuff. People are still hurting out there, even though the worst of it appears to be over. The jobless numbers are still high and personal income is still declining when adjusted for inflation.

Wal-Mart should be selling like it’s ice cream on a hot summer’s day. And yet…

Now, I don’t have a problem with mass merchants, per se. I loved Sears and K-Mart for things like tools and household goods. I can’t help but to indulge in the slightest bit of schadenfreude when it comes to Wal-Mart. My few experiences with shopping in one have left a bad taste in my mouth. The stores are too large, the merchandise is pretty hard to sort through, and well, there’s the people who shop there.

Don’t cry too much for Wal-Mart: despite the drop in sales, they earned more money than they did for the same period last year, so they must be ripping consumers off harder.


¹ Full disclosure: my daughter owns one share, so I can keep abreast of corporate news and so I can vote against the Walton family.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Budget Deficit? What Budget Deficit?

NOW can we start spending some money to fix the nation?

Since the recession ended four years ago, the federal budget deficit has topped $1 trillion every year. But now the government's annual deficit is shrinking far faster than anyone in Washington expected, and perhaps even faster than many economists think is advisable for the health of the economy.

That is the thrust of a new report released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, estimating that the deficit for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, will fall to about $642 billion, or 4 percent of the nation's annual economic output, about $200 billion lower than the agency estimated just three months ago.

The agency forecast that the deficit, which topped 10 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, could shrink to as little as 2.1 percent of gross domestic product by 2015 — a level that most analysts say would be easily sustainable over the long run — before beginning to climb gradually through the rest of the decade.

That’s pretty remarkable. The deficit hasn’t been this low since Fiscal Year 2007, which was also Bush’s lowest deficit, half a trillion dollars.

You read that correctly: Bush’s deficits never once were below $500 billion (Clinton’s last budget did run a deficit of $100 billion, which slopped over into Bush’s first year in office.)

So much for tax cuts stimulating the economy. So much, moreover, for the silly sham that budget deficits are killing us.

Say, You Know Who Else Destroyed Ancient Religious Relics?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Out of My Comfort Zone

Well, writing about boobies is not out of my comfort zone, but writing about celebrities is:

Angelina Jolie has made a tough decision that will forever change her life. The 37-year-old actress reveals that she underwent a double mastectomy in an attempt to reduce the odds that she will get breast cancer. In a New York Times column that came out Tuesday, Jolie admits that she had the surgery back in February and the last of the follow-up procedures done in April.

Jolie decided to get the surgery done because she had a high risk of getting breast cancer. "My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent," Jolie writes. "I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer." Doctors also told her that she has a 50 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.

Jolie's partner and the father to their six children has been extremely supportive throughout the experience. "I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive," she says. "Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries."

I have very mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, I’m glad that she’s gone public with an alert about breast cancer. It will reinforce the point that anyone, man, woman, rich, poor, can contract this horrible disease: money and fame will not insulate you.

On the other hand, a preventative double mastectomy is not something most people can afford or most insurance companies will pay for, and is a fairly radical treatment even given her 5 in 6 chance of developing cancer. If the upshot of her revelation is an huge spike in double mastectomies, we can be pretty sure that a lot of them were unnecessary, which means a lot of doctors and hospitals got a lot of money for what may have been essentially malpractice.

In the end, I guess this story has more benefits to society than a downside, and so I applaud her decision to come forward and reveal, before some tabloid interviewed a nurse at some hospital, a very personal and compelling story. 

The Thing Is...

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Soft Bigotry of Short Attention Spans

I realize conservatives have to strike while the iron is hot, but this is pure stupidity:

And they're off: With no defined field of candidates and the last election just six months in the rearview mirror, American Crossroads on Sunday aired the first attack ad of the 2016 presidential campaign, panning Hillary Clinton for her role in the "cover-up" of an attack last Sept. 11 on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The 90-second paid spot - manufactured by the Karl Rove-founded "super PAC" - was posted Friday online and ran Sunday morning on CBS during a broadcast of "Face the Nation." Previewing the ongoing saga that's likely to haunt Clinton's White House ambitions for the next three years, the ad implicates the former secretary of state - Democrats' top-billed contender to succeed President Obama - in the wildly varying accounts of how administration officials reacted last fall in the wake of the strike.

"Was it because of a protest, or guys out for a walk who decided they'd kill some Americans - what difference, at this point, does it make?" Clinton is shown saying Jan. 23 before a Senate committee. A narrator counters: "The difference is a cover-up, and four American lives that deserve the truth."

To quote Gertrude Stein, “There is no there there.”

Here’s the thing: Benghazi was a tragedy for four Americans in Libya, of that there can be no doubt. And if the election was this year, I’d suggest that this tactic of trying to buffalo Hillary might work. The attention span of Americans is short enough that the noise from the empty can will be more than enough to suggest Hillary Clinton screwed up somehow.

But the election is still three years away, assuming that Mrs. Clinton even runs. That’s a long time. Let’s look at another failure of an administration to protect Americans, and see what we learned within three years.

On September 11, the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked, and roughly three thousand Americans were killed. Fighter jets were scrambled by 8:53, 20 minutes after the first plane hit the Trade Center, yet were unable to stop the rest of the attacks. Right away, a failure of the bureaucracy, but more, even had they been able to somehow catch up with events, they would have had to wait for the White House to approve firing upon a domestic civilian airline in American air space. It’s safe to say that when that order was given (at 10:20) the events had ended.

Where was Republican outrage then?

And yet, four years later, Americans re-elected the same incompetent boobs that screwed that mission up.

How they think that people are going to care in three years about four dead Americans if they didn’t care about three thousand ON AMERICAN SOIL is beyond me.