Monthly Archives: October 2017

Have We Got a Candidate for You

The Supreme Court of Kenya invalidated that country’s recent presidential election, ordering a new vote within 60 days after concluding that the outcome of last month’s election was tainted by irregularities.

Hello, Kenya: Have we got a candidate for you!

Woe is Sears

Sears probably isn’t going to be around much longer; it’s a business that’s been sliding steadily downhill for years. It’s now in what appear to be its final death throes, selling off its heritage and good name: it’s sold the Craftsman brand and is looking for buyers for Diehard and Kenmore, just so it can make the rent payments. For years the company had a near-monopoly on the retail trade in large swaths of America and it’s spent the past 30 years failing to adjust to the new reality. Its customers, in turn, have learned to enjoy choice, style, selection, quality, and good prices – none of them part of the Sears arsenal then or now.

Sears: where America used to shop

The Curmudgeon grew up with Sears: he recalls that awful red and white shirt his parents let him pick at Sears to wear to his brother’s bar mitzvah, his first weight set, the underwear that lasted forever because there was nothing approaching a natural fabric in it. He also recalls walking through the Sears store down the road, a little kid with the handle of a gallon can of paint digging into his soft hand. And the caramel popcorn – oh, the caramel popcorn! He also remembers that when he bought his first house his father, by then living in California, wanted to buy his son a refrigerator as a house-warming gift and said he would send him his Sears credit card in the mail so his son could make the purchase.

“But dad, it’ll cost twice as much if I buy it at Sears,” The Curmudgeon protested.

“That’s okay, son, we know it’ll be a good refrigerator.”

But Sears has moved from its golden years into the twilight of its life. Not too long ago the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article describing another aspect of Sears’ struggles, telling the tale of a woman who had to engage in protracted negotiations with the company to get repairs on her refrigerator – a refrigerator for which she had purchased a $500 service contract from Sears.

If there was one thing you could always count on with Sears it was that it stood behind its products, as anyone who’s ever returned a 20-year-old Craftsman drill because it stopped working and got a new one to replace it for no charge can certainly attest.

But those days are long gone, and the title of this Inquirer article was “Memo to Sears: Work on the service team, will ya?”

Not to beat a dead horse when it’s already suffered enough, but The Curmudgeon feels her pain.

A few years after he moved to New Jersey The Curmudgeon found himself with a clothes dryer in need of repair and no idea of where to turn for help. When he learned that Sears had gone into the appliance repair business that sounded promising: even though he knew he would probably end up paying more than he should, he figured that Sears was, if nothing else, a reliable company and that if the cost of the repairs was more than it should be at least the repairs would be done right. So decided, he sent an email explaining his problem and seeking to set up an appointment for a repairman to come to his home.

Sears responded promptly, offering a repair date – three weeks away.

The Curmudgeon was amazed. Could they be serious?

He wasn’t interested in finding out.

He turned instead to the yellow pages and found someone else. The service technician came the next day and ten years later the dryer is working as well as ever.

The same, alas, cannot be said of Sears. It never adjusted to the new reality, and now, it’s counting the days until the real estate under its stores is more valuable than the business conducted in those stores. When that day comes it will contact one of those companies that liquidates failed retailers and it will join the long list of retailers people assumed would be around forever but then weren’t, like Woolworth’s, Borders, Blockbuster, CompUSA, the Sports Authority, Circuit City, and many others. And when it happens to Sears, too, and it finally closes its doors for good, we’ll have one more example of a once-reliable company and long-trusted name that just couldn’t cut it anymore.

Just Wondering…

…what cleavage has to do with wrist braces.

The Trump Watch – mid-October (part 2 of 2)

(Part 1 of this installment of The Trump Watch appeared on Monday.  Find it here.)

The Ugly American

The well-known late 1950s novel The Ugly American – The Curmudgeon read it and wrote a book report about it in high school – depicts, as Wikipedia describes it, “…the failures of the U.S. diplomatic corps, whose insensitivity to local language, culture, customs and refusal to integrate was in marked contrast to the polished abilities of Eastern Bloc (primarily Soviet) diplomacy and led to Communist diplomatic success overseas.”

Watch Trump being an ugly American here by thinking it would be charming to attempt to say “Puerto Rico” with a Puerto Rican accent. It’s pathetic, demeaning, and degrading.

It’s…Trump!

Disrespecting Puerto Rico – and Puerto Ricans

When hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck parts of Texas and Florida, Agent Orange was clear about the degree to which he supported helping those devastated areas, tweeting that

Texas & Louisiana: We are w/you today, we are w/you tomorrow, and we will be w/you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER, to restore, recover, & REBUILD!

But when a similar storm struck Puerto Rico the president was tweeting a very different tune:

…We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!

So what’s the difference between Florida and Texas on one hand and Puerto Rico on the other?
Melanin.

Also worth noting is that when he was “helping” Florida and Texas he never talked about the cost of doing so but when he went to Puerto Rico he held a public meeting with local officials and told them that U.S. assistance had “…thrown our budget a little out of whack…”

Nice huh?

So Much for Trying to Solve a Problem

What to do about health care? That subject has been keeping a lot of people busy in Washington these days – and causing a lot of nightmares for people outside of Washington. If there’s one thing the public’s been consistent about it’s that it would like to see a bipartisan solution to the problem.

And the president keeps saying that he wants Democrats to get on board and is tired of them unanimously rejecting everything Republicans propose.

So what happens when the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions tries to work with the ranking Democrat on that committee to find a bipartisan way to stabilize the insurance market and fund continued federal assistance with health insurance premiums?

The president rejects their efforts, that’s what happens.

Before they even bring a specific proposal to him.

As reported by Politico,

President Donald Trump will oppose any congressional attempts to reinstate funding for Obamacare subsidies — unless he gets something in return, his budget director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview Friday morning.

In other words, his bluff got called and he demonstrated that he’s not really interested in solving the problem – not even a little. He wants it to be his way or the highway, without compromise.

Which is the same as what he’s been accusing Democrats of doing.

And what’s this nonsense about “getting something in return”? What about – the satisfaction of tackling a problem and successfully addressing it?

That’s apparently not enough for this president.

And that’s pathetic.

Refusing to Accept Responsibility

On the campaign trail Trump declared repealing Obamacare to be one of his top priorities – something he would begin pursuing on day one in office.

After he was elected he continued to say that replacing Obamacare was one of his top priorities.

After he took office he said that replacing Obamacare was one of his top priorities.

And he did make it his top priority – okay, his second priority, after keeping brown-skinned people out of the country.

And now that this effort has failed (at least for now)?

He blames Paul Ryan because Ryan told him it was something that could be done.

He accepts no personal responsibility at all for trying something and failing spectacularly.

His Idea of How to Address the Health Care Challenge

Instead of going for a bipartisan approach, or even a legislative approach, Trump did what he criticized President Obama for doing and simply issued an executive order changing some major aspects of Obamacare.

Changes, by the way, that the courts will surely overturn.

One of those changes will cut off the federal money spent to help subsidize the co-pays and deductibles of working-class Americans who can’t afford to pay for care without a little financial assistance. That was bad news for insurers who only agreed to issue policies for such individuals because the federal government promised to pay what the individuals couldn’t.

Promised by making it the law.

Naturally, with the immediate expectation of a loss of revenue, insurers’ stock took a hit last week and fell.

And the president practically danced a jig, tweeting that

Health Insurance stocks, which have gone through the roof during the ObamaCare years, plunged yesterday after I ended their Dems windfall!

And that, friends, is just messed up – a president publicly rooting against companies in his own country.  You also have to wonder:  how many people have retirement money invested in mutual funds – and in mutual fund index funds?  The Curmudgeon certainly does and he imagines that many of you do, too.  Your mutual fund took a hit from this.  How do you feel about our president working against your efforts to save for retirement?

His response, moreover, is also hypocritical, since he frequently points to the generally upward trend of the stock market as a sign that he is succeeding as president. (And never mind that one of the reasons stocks are up is that investors believe the federal government is going to stop enforcing many environmental and worker safety laws and regulations, enabling companies to produce their products more cheaply and the hell with any damage their corner-cutting causes to the environment or their workers).

There’s something seriously, seriously wrong with a president who roots against his country’s own businesses. Is that his idea of what it takes to “make America great again”?

Bailout?

In ending those subsidies, Agent Orange called them a “bailout” and said he wants to end the bailout of the insurance industry as part of his still only-exists-in-his-own-mind-and-that’s-a-dark-and-mostly-empty-place-these-days health care plan.

Bailout?

Bailout?

The money he’s talking about is helping people who otherwise couldn’t otherwise pay for their health care to pay for their health care.

Paying insurers for health care is no more a bailout than the government paying defense contractors for bombs and gun, paying federal workers for processing social security checks, and paying those soldiers Trump tries to hide behind at every available opportunity for the work they do on foreign soil.

Bailout? The guy is out of his mind.

 

The Trump Watch: Mid-October (part 1 of 2)

Remember the Helen Reddy song “You and Me Against the World”? As Agent Orange’s irrational escapades continue they bring to mind a line from that song:

Remember when the circus came to town

And you were frightened by the clown

Well, readers, the circus is definitely still in town.

No He Didn’t

Yes he did. Agent Orange retweeted a gif – doctored, of course – that shows him hitting a golf ball that strikes Hillary Clinton in the back and knocks her over.

Is this guy in kindergarten or what?

Speaking of Kindergarten…

Has it really come down to the ultimate in five-year-olds’ behavior: name-calling? What does Trump think he will accomplish by calling Kim Jong-un “rocket man” and “little rocket man”? What’s the endgame here – goading Kim into attacking the U.S.? Sure, the U.S. might eventually annihilate North Korea, but at what price if Kim’s first blow is nuclear? Japan? Hawaii? The west coast?

He Said it Again

Last month The Curmudgeon noted that when Trump was in Houston, checking out the hurricane damage from a safe distance, said “Have a good time, everybody” as he left town. It was a foolish and insensitive thing to say to people whose lives had been turned upside down by mother nature.

Surely someone brought this to his attention, right?

Apparently not.

The same thing happened in Puerto Rico: he met with some storm survivors, extended his hand, and said “Have a good time.”

Not True, Part 1

When the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare failed, Trump told reporters they would have had the votes for repeal but one Republican senator was in the hospital and that was the only reason they fell short.

Just one problem: it wasn’t true. There were no Republican senators in the hospital and the reason the effort failed was because it was a bad bill that would have increased the deficit and bounced more than 20 million Americans out of their health insurance.

Not True, Part 2

It’s almost as if being president is getting in the way of his television watching

Late last month Trump tweeted that “Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel.”

Only it didn’t. What he saw was a news report about a failed Iran missile eight months ago.

We know he gets his news from television but the least he can do is pay attention when he watches.

Not True, Part 3

Late last month Agent Orange gave a speech in Indianapolis about his tax “reform” proposal. Politicians always play fast and loose with the facts when they’re unveiling proposals but this guy, a professional snake oil salesman, adds a whole new dimension to the concept of “playing fast and loose with the facts.”

He said he’d protect millions of small businesses and farmers from inheritance taxes; of course, he called them “death taxes.” Millions? Hardly. Out of nearly three million deaths in the U.S. so far in 2017, only about 5500 estates have to pay any inheritance tax at all and about half of those will pay only about nine percent. And of those 5500, only 80 involved farms and small businesses.

So whom does he think he’s protecting? Is this a 70-year-old guy thinking about Ivanka, Donnie Junior, and maybe even Eric?

He also complained about the complexity of the tax code, observing that more than 90 percent of Americans “…use assistance to prepare their taxes.”

Only if you count people who buy and use tax software, which generally costs about $50.

He harkened back to the Reagan tax cuts, describing their impact as “…a beautiful site to behold,” doing so conveniently without mentioning that he criticized those changes when they were implemented and then later bitterly blamed them for the S&L scandals of the 1980s and the 1990-1991 recession – and far worse, from his perspective, leading to tough times for his own business.

He said he wouldn’t benefit personally from his tax proposal. That’s hard to know, of course, because he won’t share his tax returns, but that claim seems unlikely because he’s calling for repeal of the alternative minimum tax. Trump himself is subject to the alternative minimum tax and from that one year of tax return data from him that we have seen, the alternative minimum tax cost him an additional $30 million.

Which means that on second thought, he actually would benefit from his own tax proposal.

Surely that comes as no surprise amid the country’s first for-profit presidency.

Not True, Part 4

So how often does Trump lie?

Surely you can’t put a number on a thing like that.

But it turns out that actually, yes, you can.

According to the Washington Post “Fact Checker,” Agent Orange has averaged five misleading claims a day through October 10, for a total of 1318 lies.

And he’s not learning from experience, either: he’s doing it even more often now than when he took office.

Emboldened, The Curmudgeon suspects, because his true supporters are still so blind that they either ignore the lies or reject that they’re lies.

“What, me lie?”

A few that stood out to the Post:

  • He said the tax cut he will propose would be the biggest in American history. It wouldn’t be.
  • He said the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the world and is the highest-taxed country. It’s not.
  • In his bizarre desire to having the bragging rights to holding office when the biggest hurricanes ever hit the country, he said Harvey and Irma hit the U.S. as category five storms. They didn’t: by the time they made landfall they were category four.
  • He lied about the progress of storm relief in Puerto Rico, lied about how many lives the Coast Guard saved during Hurricane Harvey, and lied about Hurricane Maria’s wind speeds.
  • He said the current protests by NFL players have nothing to do with race. We all know they have everything to do with race.
  • He said NFL players who do not stand during the national anthem are breaking a long-time league rule. Actually, there’s no such rule.
  • He said that as president, Bill Clinton was “outplayed” by North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Kim was 16 when Clinton left the White House; his grandfather was dictator during the Clinton administration. Maybe they all look alike to Trump.

Treating His Own People Poorly

We know how badly Trump has publicly treated his appalling attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, but apparently that’s nothing compared to the way he treats him in private.

As reported by the (failing) New York Times,

Shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said he should resign…

Also:

…Mr. Trump lobbed a volley of insults at Mr. Sessions, telling the attorney general it was his fault they were in the current situation. Mr. Trump told Mr. Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an “idiot,” and said that he should resign.

Nice when you get that kind of support from your boss, no?

Oh well, it could be worse: he could blame that poor senator who wasn’t even in the hospital.

The Bad Behavior Continues

As reported last week by the Washington Post:

Frustrated by his Cabinet and angry that he has not received enough credit for his handling of three successive hurricanes, President Trump is now lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda, numerous White House officials and outside advisers said Monday.

In a matter of days, Trump has torched bridges all around him, nearly imploded an informal deal with Democrats to protect young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, and plunged himself into the culture wars on issues ranging from birth control to the national anthem.

 And then there’s this:

Trump in recent days has shown flashes of fury and left his aides, including White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, scrambling to manage his outbursts. He has been frustrated in particular with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was reported last week to have earlier called the president a “moron.” Trump’s Sunday morning Twitter tirade against Corker caught staffers by surprise, although the president had been brooding over the senator’s comment a few days earlier about Trump’s “chaos” endangering the nation.

 One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. “I think we are in pressure cooker territory,” said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

And we entrusted this guy with the nuclear launch codes?

American Government 101, Anyone?

It would be nice if the president of the United States understood how the government of the United States works but it’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t likely in the foreseeable future.

How else to explain why the president of the United States suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee look into the “fake news” he believes the television networks – except Fox News, of course – are reporting. In so doing, he revealed that he still doesn’t understand how Congress works, doesn’t understand the role of the Senate Intelligence Committee, doesn’t understand the first amendment of the constitution, and doesn’t understand that news he doesn’t like isn’t necessarily fake.

At the risk of seeming to belabor this point, this is the guy who now has the launch codes.

Wrong on the Home Front, Wrong Overseas

There are a lot of things wrong in North Korea: poverty, starvation, political oppression, and more.

And another, according to a recent Trump tweet:

Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!

Except that there aren’t long gas lines in Korea – not that Trump wasn’t hoping for them. He tried to persuade the U.N. to place an embargo on oil shipments to North Korea but that effort failed when China and Russia said nyet.

So maybe Trump wrote the tweet in anticipation of an embargo and then never updated it. He was wrong, though, and his tweet left people in North Korea shaking their heads and wondering what was going with the American president.

Why the disconnect between wishes and reality? We’re starting to learn that: the guy believes that if it’s in his head it must be true. If it’s not, it’s false – or fake.

(more on Wednesday)

What Kind of Logic…

….and what kind of truly convoluted thinking leads conservatives and Republicans to hold Hillary Clinton accountable in some way, in any way, for the misogynistic behavior of Harvey Weinstein?

Are these people out of their minds or just plain stupid?

A New Identity for the Republican Party

First they made it impossible for millions of women to get abortions.

Now they’re making it harder for millions more to obtain birth control.

So clearly the Republicans are trying to forge a new identify for themselves.

A new identity as…

The abstinence party.

Has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?

Bad Hair Day

A well-known football coach, disappointed with the players his team’s management had given him, once declared that “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” The Curmudgeon cooks the dinners in his family, so responsibility for food shopping falls to him as well. With Columbus Day off from work he decided to take advantage of what he hoped would be the supermarket’s off-peak hours and shop on Monday afternoon.

This supermarket is in an interesting area. Within just a few miles of it are some of the most expensive and high-income towns in The Curmudgeon’s part of New Jersey and also some of the poorest, including Camden, which makes pretty much everyone’s list of the five most dangerous cities in the country. The result is a pretty interesting mix of people pushing carts in search of Tastykakes, Eggos, and Pink Lady apples. Among them are relatively high-income stay-at-home (and impossibly slender) moms, plenty of professionals of all races, and an interesting mix of white folks, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Indians. Part of this mix, because the supermarket is located near a town with a large Jewish community, is a fair number of orthodox Jews who come to shop at the store’s large kosher section.

You can spot one of the orthodox Jews a mile away. The men always wear the kind of pants you haven’t seen since your grandfather wore them, skullcaps (often referred to as yarmulkes or kippahs), and sometimes, little fringes spilling out from the area where their pants meet their shirts; those shirts never stay tucked in the way shirts should.

The women are distinguished by a couple of characteristics. They always wear longish skirts; you won’t catch one in pants. Because orthodox Jews reproduce at a rate comparable to stereotypical Catholics of the past, they often have more than one child along with them. You may not be aware that Jewish women, like Jewish men, are required to keep their heads covered at all times. Some wear a kerchief or a scarf, variously referred to as a sheitel or a tichel, while others wear wigs. The Curmudgeon recalls, many years ago, joining his then-girlfriend to spend Passover with her sister’s family in Maryland. The girlfriend wasn’t observant at all but her sister’s family was what they call “modern orthodox” – don’t ask – and as we approached the synagogue, the girlfriend turned to The Curmudgeon and said “Take a look at my hair. It’s the last human hair you’re going to see on a woman’s head for the next two hours.”

And she was right: some of the women wore their little kerchiefs and some wore wigs.

And not good wigs, either. This was in a middle/upper-middle class community, modern orthodox are not nearly as divorced from regular society as their orthodox brethren, and these women wore wigs almost all of the time, so you’d think they would have put a little thought and a little effort into finding wigs that looked good, even half decent – even that weren’t so painfully obviously wigs.

They didn’t. They were the kind of wigs that even a guy knew were wigs the moment he laid eyes on them.

And that was The Curmudgeon’s experience at the supermarket on Monday. The orthodox women were out in force, skirts a-flowing and kids a-towing, and you absolutely, positively knew they were wigs the moment you set eyes on them.

They were not good wigs. They were bad wigs.

Really bad wigs.

And as he saw them meandering with absolutely no sense of urgency through the supermarket he realized that he hadn’t seen so many bad hairdos on women since…

Well, since he watched the Grammys.

 

 

 

 

Hef

For reasons The Curmudgeon will never understand, a lot of people said a lot of very nice things about Playboy empire founder Hugh Hefner when he passed away a few weeks ago.

But New York Times columnist Ross Douthat was having none of it. Here are the first two paragraphs of his September 30 column about Hefner.

Hugh Hefner, gone to his reward at the age of 91, was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.

 Hef was the grinning pimp of the sexual revolution, with Quaaludes for the ladies and Viagra for himself — a father of smut addictions and eating disorders, abortions and divorce and syphilis, a pretentious huckster who published Updike stories no one read while doing flesh procurement for celebrities, a revolutionary whose revolution chiefly benefited men much like himself.

Bravo! The Curmudgeon says. When he was a (much) younger man The Curmudgeon of course liked to look at the photos of pretty, naked girls if for no other reason than it was the only way The Curmudgeon ever got to see pretty, naked girls. By the time he was 20, though, he knew better, and when his father bought him a Playboy calendar for his bedroom The Curmudgeon took his mother aside and asked “Do I have to keep it?” She said her son did, but since it was one of those little calendars on a stand, as opposed to one with big, poster-sized pages, it was easy enough to stick it on a high shelf and then ignore it for a year.

There’s more to the Times column – none of it nice, all of it pretty much on the mark. Read the whole thing here.

How Rich is “Too Rich”?

When The Curmudgeon gets an idea for a future subject for his blog he does a number of things with that idea.  If it’s very timely, he sits down and writes about it right away.  If it would be a contribution to a larger piece, such as running across a new verbification, he enters it immediately onto a running list of verbifications. If he runs across the idea while reading a newspaper or magazine he circles the subject in red, clips the article, and puts it in a folder.  If he reads about it online, he gets the web address of the piece and emails it to himself and then, when he receives it, puts it into an email folder labeled, not surprisingly, “Curmudgeon.”

Once in a while one of those little pieces of paper falls between the cracks  and he discovers it weeks, months, or even years after the fact.  Most of the time, the old pieces are now too old to write and he discards them with disappointment over letting a good idea get away.  But sometimes those older pieces are as relevant as they were a week, month, or year ago as they were the day he found them and are well worth writing about.

Like this one.

Two years ago The Curmudgeon read that Haverford College is planning to limit how much financial aid it provides in the future.  If you’re not familiar with Haverford, it’s a very small (about 1300 students) liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia and one of the best liberal arts schools in the country.  Early in his career The Curmudgeon hired college students for summer jobs doing research and writing and he found Haverford students to be head and shoulder above those from other area schools – better than Swarthmore students, better than Bryn Mawr students, and better than students from the much-ballyhooed and vastly overrated University of Pennsylvania that it was The Curmudgeon’s misfortune to attend.

So what’s the big deal about a small liberal arts college deciding that it needs to limit the financial aid it gives deserving students?

Pretty soon they’ll need to pass the collection plate

Here’s the big deal:  the school’s endowment – the money it raises from donors, mostly alumni, and that’s sitting in a general fund, being invested and earning money while not targeted to any specific use – is $500 million.

Which means the Haverford administrators and trustees behind this idea have decided that when you only have a half-billion dollars in the bank it’s time to do some belt-tightening.