Monthly Archives: October 2018

Meet the Candidate

The Curmudgeon would like to introduce you to Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania.  To be more precise, The Curmudgeon is reintroducing you to Wagner; he has written about Wagner before (herehere, and here.)

Wagner is trailing the Democratic incumbent in the polls, and after spending millions of his own dollars to get nominated he’s now running out of money and has discovered few people interested in opening up their wallets to help him.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so last week Wagner made, and posted to Facebook,  a video about him and his race for governor.

Among the statements Wagner makes in the video:

Somewhere yesterday your people said that I’ve raised a white flag. Well, Gov. Wolf, let me tell you, between now and Nov. 6, you better put a catcher’s mask on your face. Because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes because I’m gonna win this for the state of Pennsylvania.

Also, there’s this:

And we’re throwing you out of office, because I’m sick and tired of your negative ads.

To be fair, Wagner’s video begins with a Wolf billboard The Curmudgeon agrees is unfair.  For the most part, however, most of Wolf’s campaign ads have been negative only in a very unusual way: they barely acknowledge Wagner’s existence, which, for a guy like Wagner, may be the unkindest cut of all.

The video was so bad that Wagner eventually took it down off his campaign’s Facebook page and apologized.  (You may be able to see it here, but every time The Curmudgeon finds a new site that still has the video, it disappears an hour later.)  Even the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Steve Scalise, wrote on Twitter that “there is absolutely no place in our politics for this kind of rhetoric.”

There are plenty of good, decent Republicans in Pennsylvania and many current Republican elected officials who would be appealing candidates for governor. It’s too bad the party’s lunatic fringe chose Scott Wagner to be their standard-bearer in November.  The Curmudgeon hopes they are deeply embarrassed – because they should be.






Out of the Mouths of Babes…

Stepson J is a high school senior who scored boffo on his SATs and can attend pretty much any college he desires and they all want him, so nary a day passes without several letters from colleges and college catalogues showing up in the mail.  So far he’s shown surprisingly little interest in any of them, so once in a while The Curmudgeon picks up one of the catalogues and hands it to him and suggests “Take a look at this one.”  The Curmudgeon recalls his own life during this period and remembers that he never pursued any of the colleges whose materials showed up in the mail, but he found that reading them gave him some useful perspective and a frame of reference as he zeroed in on his own choices.  (The Curmudgeon suspects this process didn’t serve him very well: he made an awful choice of what college to attend.)

One day a few weeks ago Mrs. Curmudgeon was out of town and it was The Curmudgeon and J alone for dinner, so The Curmudgeon picked up one of the catalogues, from a college that shall remain nameless, and tried to initiate a conversation about it with his mostly non-conversational stepson. (Is there such a thing as a conversational 18-year-old boy?)

J hated the title of the catalogue, which was “This is [name of college].”  This was unusual: J is about as non-judgmental person as you’ll ever encounter yet he didn’t even like the title of the catalogue.

So over dinner – almost always ribs when mom’s not home – The Curmudgeon opened to one page and read aloud a profile of an obnoxious overachiever being presented as a “typical” student of the college.

My name is Blake and I am a theater and international relations double major, German minor, brother of Sigma Pi fraternity, Young Republicans member, team player, model UN participant, former intramural basketball champion, waiter, the life of the party, jazzfest emcee, member of the international relations club, sports aficionado, self-taught guitar player.

It was enough to make you want to vomit, and The Curmudgeon, who is highly judgmental, rather unkindly declared “This guy is a dick.” J, non-judgmental, offered a half-smile but nothing more.

But this was fun, so when The Curmudgeon started turning pages and came upon another profile of a true striver, he resumed reading aloud.

My name is Bryanna and I am a psychology major, African American and Africana studies double minor, 2018 active mind emerging fellow, UCDC performer, researcher, heal lab research assistant, writing fellow, animal lover, lab manager, AAAS web assistant, America Reads tutor, Cloake House program coordinator, Psy Chi president, health disparities teaching assistant, Sankofa Umoja Nia member,kayaker, biker, swimmer, activist.”

The Curmudgeon, utterly repulsed – and a little exhausted – declared “And this woman is a dick-ette.”

Again, just the slightest acknowledgment from non-judgmental J.

So The Curmudgeon resumed turning pages until he came to another and again started reading aloud.

My name is Colin and I am a biology and neuroscience double major, Spanish and psychology double minor, on a pre-medical track, member of the men’s swimming team, tour guide, tutor, PASS (peer assisted study session) instructor for organic chemistry, member of Dr. Beth Bailey’s cardiac research lab, volunteer for little bears swim lessons, captain of the swimming relay team, participant in airband, relay for life and the ragball international charity soccer tournament, intramural badminton team member (very proud 0-6).

This one really rubbed The Curmudgeon the wrong way, so he looked across the table at J and said “And this one is a tool.”

Still barely an acknowledgement from J, but the boy is always notoriously hard to read, so The Curmudgeon decided to plow on, finding another obnoxious profile a few pages later.

My name is Kisha and I am a politics and women’s studies double major, senior admission fellow, study abroad participant, head tour guide, ____ College Republicans president, Haines-Bernard pre-legal society president, UC mock trial captain, Crigler Institute participant, summer fellow, five-time mock trial top attorney, pre-legal department intern, future lawyer, adventurer, sustainability fellow, escape velocity dancer, researcher.

Again The Curmudgeon was repulsed, but this time he turned to J and said he was out of names to call these people and asked “What shall we call her?”

And the boy, without cracking even the slightest of smiles, declared “A candidate to get stuffed in a locker.”

And only when The Curmudgeon laughed heartily did J offer a smile in return, after which the two of them resumed eating their ribs.




Is This What They Mean by Irony?

At a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania this week President Trump criticized Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey, who is running for re-election, by observing that

He’s banking on the name of his father

“Hey, Kettle: you’re black.”

Is this the same Trump who got his start in business with the help of a “small loan” of $1 million from his father and who we recently learned, courtesy of the New York Times, received hundreds of millions in additional financial assistance from his daddy over the years?

That’s What the Headline Said

The headline, that is, on the web site, which means it may (or may not) have appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer as well:

Neil Young to play two secret solo shows at the Tower Theater

Pssst:  somebody really, really, really doesn’t understand the concept of keeping a secret.

Well, She IS, After All, Allison @#$^& Janney

So let America vote.

Some of the West Wing gang getting together to urge people to vote – and to urge Republicans to let people vote.

Another Battle in the War Against Working People

Published reports indicate that Target wants to hire 120,000 people to help with the Christmas rush

Which is good news.

But…it’s not sure it’ll be able to do so.

Which is not-so-good news.

But why not?

Too cheap for its own good?

Because a lot of companies are hiring Christmas help and, as Target’s chief human resources officer told CNBC, “It’s absolutely a competitive marketplace.”

So what’s Target doing to compete?

As reported by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal,

To combat the labor crunch, Minneapolis-based Target is adding incentives to increase its holiday hiring, and is offering associates a 10 percent discount at Target stores plus an additional 20 percent off wellness products like fruit, vegetables and workout clothing, the company said.  Target…will randomly select one hourly team member from each of Target’s stores and distribution centers to receive a $500 holiday gift card…

Which, when you think about it, ain’t all that much.

Here’s a better idea:  Target should pay people what they’re worth.  If it’s offering $12 an hour and can’t get the people it wants, it needs to offer $13.  If $13 doesn’t get the company what it wants, it needs to offer $14.  And so on, until it hires the help it needs.  That’s how Target prices its merchandise – based on what the market will bear – so why should its wages be any different?

It’s not like Target is hurting.  It had $71.9 billion in sales last year and $2.9 billion in profits.  Its stock price, around $59 a year ago, has risen nearly 50 percent, to more than $88 a share today.

In other words, Target isn’t hurting for money.  It has the resources it needs to offer people enough money to come work there.  So when the folks at Target say they may not be able to get all the Christmas help they need, what they’re really saying is that they don’t really want that help enough to pay for it.

The people who built Target aren’t stupid; they know how to get the Christmas help they want.  PAY PEOPLE A COMPETITIVE WAGE.  COMPETE FOR EMPLOYEES THE SAME WAY YOU COMPETE FOR CUSTOMERS.

Or they can always just under-staff their stores during the Christmas season and watch their customers abandon their overflowing carts in long check-out lines to go shop elsewhere.

A (Perhaps Surprising) Alternative View of Trump’s Tax Shenanigans

If you recently read or read about the New York Times’ exposé of the president’s tax maneuvers over the years you were probably pretty appalled.  Aside from the revelation that he’s probably not nearly as rich as he has claimed over the years, he still has made an awful lot of money and paid surprisingly little in taxes.  A lot of that money consists of gifts from his father, who, we understand, was even less a nice guy than Agent Orange, and neither one of the those Trumps paid what ordinary people might assume to be a reasonable amount of taxes on this earned and transferred wealth.

But before you go claiming that this was tax fraud and demand an investigation, play along for a moment with a rhetorical game.  The Curmudgeon trusts you will answer these questions honestly, especially since you will be answering them silently.

Question number one:  If you own a home, did you take a deduction on your taxes last year for the interest portion of your mortgage payments?

Question number two:  Did you report to your state government your online purchases and send a check for the sales tax you owe but did not pay for those purchases?

The Curmudgeon guesses that most people answer “yes” to question one and “no” to question two.  Let’s take a closer look.

Home mortgage interest is deductible on your income taxes, so of course you took the deduction.  You have no intention of leaving that money on the table, nor should anyone expect you to do so. Right?

We are required to report our internet purchases and pay appropriate state sales tax on those purchases.  You didn’t do that.  Instead, you assumed that no one was going to be interested in whether you reported those purchases and paid those taxes and you decided that you’d take your chances and not pay the tax.  In the unlikely event that you get caught, you reasoned, you’d pay the taxes plus an appropriate penalty for failure to do so the right way.

So what does this have to do with Donald Trump and the puny amount of money he’s paid in taxes over the years?


While it may be reasonable to declare that Trump’s tax-paying practices are sleazy and unethical and even dishonest, were they illegal?  It doesn’t seem likely.  Rich folks are far more likely to get audited than ordinary folks like us – The Curmudgeon’s not aware of any truly rich people who visit this space – and we know Trump has been audited a lot over the years.  Did the auditors demand more tax money from him after they did their work?  Perhaps.  Did they accuse him of tax fraud and press charges against him?  They did not.  And do you know why they didn’t?  Because what he did may have been unethical and perhaps even dishonest but it wasn’t illegal.  Should there be a higher standard?  Of course there should.

In the end, Trump did what you do regarding your home mortgage interest:  he took advantage of the tax code as it is currently written and decided not to leave his money on the table, just as you did.

So then whose “fault” is Trump’s tax chicanery?  Not Trump’s.  It’s not the IRS’s fault, either:  those folks enforce the laws and regulations and requirements as they are written.

Written by whom, you ask?  Ah, therein lies the rub:  they are written by the U.S. Congress, that’s who – and that, ultimately, is where the fault lies:  all those sneaky maneuvers that you find so deceptive, dishonest, and disgusting have been written into the tax code over the years by Congress – by YOUR senators and YOUR representatives.  Sometimes constituents or the leaders of businesses located in their states and their districts ask for such provisions.  Sometimes, lobbyists ask for them.  Sometimes, there appears to be an implicit quid pro quo:  you do this for me and I’ll help you get into or stay in office.  And sometimes, our members of Congress do these things because they hope, even without being asked, that doing such things will help them incur the favor of people who can help them get into or stay in office.

So is the president a sleazeball for using these maneuvers to minimize his tax burden? Perhaps.  But those maneuvers were written into the tax law and he’s just taking advantage of them, just like you take advantage of the mortgage interest tax deduction, and the IRS has decided time and time again and after careful review and auditing that what he did was legal and that what you did is legal as well.

So don’t blame Trump for doing everything he can not to leave a dime of his (or his daddy’s) money on the table.  We may feel, with considerable justification, that the manner in which he conducts his financial life tells us a lot about him as a person, but it doesn’t appear to tell us about his willingness to abide by the tax laws. For that, for how he uses those tax laws, blame our members of Congress for letting him, and others, do this kind of thing.

And then, maybe, do more than just blame them:  demand that they fix it.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Nasty Politician Plays Dirty

What else to think about this campaign tactic from Ted Cruz, who’s facing a tough re-election campaign in Texas – a race that should be a total lock for any decent Republican?

Newsweek tells the story:

Ted Cruz’s Texas senatorial campaign has sent hundreds of thousands of mailers seeking donations that are meant to look like official county summons, a high-ranking campaign official confirmed to Newsweek. 

The brown envelopes read “SUMMONS ENCLOSED-OPEN IMMEDIATELY” in large black letters, and have a return address of “official county summons.”

While the letter inside the envelope was a donation form for the Cruz campaign, there was some fear that some voters might be confused by the mailer and believe that they were required by law to pay a fee.

When asked to explain, a Cruz campaign spokesman didn’t seem to understand what all the fuss was about.

A Cruz campaign official told Newsweek that they had only seen a few anecdotal complaints from confused people. Everyone else, the campaign said, knew it was a campaign mailer.

A Republican campaign strategist also thought the tactic was acceptable:

“These (appeals) are self-healing,” Republican Craig Murphy told Politifact. “If people don’t like it, they don’t give. It’s the most normal thing in politics. It’s the attention-getter.”

The Curmudgeon doesn’t think there’s anything “normal” about this kind of stunt.  To him, all it does is confirm his low opinion of Ted Cruz.

It will be interesting to see what kind of feedback Texas voters give to Cruz on November  6.




The Headlines Were All Wrong

As the question of whether the Senate was going to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the Supreme Court became less and less of a question and more and more of a sure thing, a number of publications ran some variation of the following headline:

Kavanaugh poised to be confirmed for Supreme Court

The Curmudgeon understands the sentiment but if there’s one thing we learned from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s contentious confirmation hearing two Thursdays ago, Brett Kavanaugh may have many qualities but poise is absolutely not among them.

When is an Investigation Not an Investigation?

When investigators are prohibited from going where the trail of leads take them, prohibited from questioning people who might have information to offer, and are given an unreasonably short time frame in which to complete their work and are instead constrained by someone who wants the investigation to reach a specific, preordained conclusion.