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?

Everything.

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.

Is This What They Mean by “Irony”?

To assist with a discussion yesterday morning about Hollywood liberals trying to inject their two cents’ worth into the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, the ghastly trio that hosts Fox & Friends called on the services of a guest commentator.

Dean Cain.

Dean Cain, the Hollywood actor.

Dean Cain, the Hollywood actor you probably know best as the television version of Superman (1993-1997).

Cain proceeded to inject his own two cents’ worth into the conversation, including the (priceless) observation that if President Trump had nominated Merrick Garland the reaction of Senate Democrats would have been no different than what it has been for Kavanaugh.

Which, if nothing else, should disqualify Cain from ever participating again in a serious conversation about public affairs.

And when that discussion ended, Cain plugged his new movie.

Having fulfilled his role by complaining about Hollywood types getting involved in public affairs.

Cain should probably stick to work that involves dressing in tights and wearing make-up.

 

 

If This Isn’t Collusion, What Is?

No, not THAT collusion; that’s a subject for another time.

No, this one involves the airlines and their baggage fees.

The five biggest airlines in the U.S. today are Southwest, Jet Blue, Delta, American, and United.

Right before Labor Day, Jet Blue and United raised their baggage fees.

Last week, Delta and American raised their baggage fees.

And Southwest, bless its heart, doesn’t charge baggage fees.

So we have five major airlines, one of which doesn’t charge baggage fees and four others that do, and the four that do ALL raised their baggage fees within weeks of one another.

“Oh, if we absolutely MUST.”

If The Curmudgeon has said it once he’s said it oh, five times – hereherehere, here, and oh yes, here, too:the airlines HATE their customers.  They hate YOU.

But if this isn’t collusion, or at least conspiracy, what is?

 

“We Fell in Love”

That’s what President Trump recently said of his relationship with North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un, explaining that

And then we fell in love, OK? No, really, he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So boys, this one’s for you.

A Problem – and a Simple Solution

Pennsylvania will be electing a governor this fall and the question is whether the candidates will debate, and if so, how often.

The Republican challenger is Scott Wagner, a self-made millionaire who is brash and outspoken and likes to boast that he “was Trump before Trump was Trump.” Trailing in the polls, he has proposed that the candidates hold 67 debates:  one for each county in the state.

The Democratic candidate is Tom Wolf, the incumbent.  Another self-made millionaire, Wolf is sort of on the quiet, reserved side.  As far as he’s concerned, one debate will do just fine, thank you.

And right now, one debate is all that’s been scheduled – and it was held last night, hosted by – hold onto your hat – Alex Trebek.  (“What is ‘What the hell are YOU doing here, Alex?'”)

One of the subjects of disagreement between them is that while self-made millionaire Wolf has released all of his income tax returns, Wagner, being Trump before Trump was Trump, has declared that he will not release his tax returns.

So how many debates and what about those income tax returns?

The Curmudgeon has a solution:  a compromise.

Wagner wants more debates – he needs them because he’s down pretty seriously in the polls – and Wolf wants Wagner to release his tax returns, so for every set of tax returns Wagner releases from the past five years, Wolf agrees to another debate, for the net possibility of six debates:  the one Wolf has already agreed to and five more to reward Wagner for releasing his tax returns.  Both candidates give in a little and both get what they want in return.

Problem solved.

 

The Trump Watch (early October 2018)

It’s All About Him (part 1)

The Mueller investigation is important.  The public needs to know if Russian interference in the 2016 president election was strictly of their own doing, was done in cooperation with people running the Trump campaign, or was done with the knowledge and cooperation of Trump himself.

But Trump has come up with a new reason to label the investigation unfair, as reported by the Associated Press.

President Donald Trump said Friday that the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is not only bad for the country, it’s “really, really unfair for the midterms.”

This is entirely in keeping with the Trump philosophy:  ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you.

Because once again, it’s all about him.

It’s All About Him (part 2)

Property was damaged and lives were lost and upended, but when Agent Orange did the mandatory presidential tour of hurricane-ravaged parts of the Carolinas, what was clearly on his mind was not how the storm affected people there but how it affected him and his own business interests, as Newsweek reported:

President Donald Trump inquired Wednesday about the status of a North Carolina lake that happens to be next to one of his golf courses while he received updates and praise from state officials during his visit after Hurricane Florence.

The president asked about Lake Norman, which is northeast of Charlotte, and on its shores sits a Trump National Golf Club.

“How is Lake Norman doing?” the president asked an official from an energy company. “I love that area. I can’t tell you why, but I love that area.”

Also:

“I actually have investments in Charlotte,” the president said, according to The Charlotte Observer. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s a conflict of interest.’ Fake news, they’ll say this is a conflict of interest. You know where my club is, right? Trump National. It’s a very big success on Lake Norman. Beautiful. Largest man-made lake in the world by far, right?”

The self-interest is a bit much, is it not?  Also the continued lying:  as noted in the last Trump Watch, Lake Norman isn’t the largest man-made lake in the world, isn’t the largest man-made lake in the U.S., and isn’t even among the ten largest man-made lakes in the U.S.

It’s All About Him (part 3)

The question of whether Puerto Rico should become the 51st state has been around as long as the now nearly 61-year-old Curmudgeon can remember, and probably longer.  There are reasons both to support and oppose such an idea, but none quite like the reason for opposing statehood recently articulated by the Orange One himself and reported by Time:

President Donald Trump on Monday declared himself an “absolute no” on statehood for Puerto Rico as long as critics such as San Juan’s mayor remain in office…

Also,

“With the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing,” Trump said in an interview with Rivera’s show on Cleveland’s WTAM radio.

So he’s not saying he’s against statehood for Puerto Rico – but he is against it as long as people he doesn’t like are part of Puerto Rico’s government.

Making Up Stuff

In an interview with the Daily Caller, Trump replied to a question about why he didn’t hire Robert Mueller to lead the FBI by saying, incredibly, that

But I had a business dispute with Mueller before that. I had a real business dispute. And he’s Comey’s best friend. And I could give you 100 pictures of him and Comey hugging and kissing each other. You know, he’s Comey’s best friend.

Yes, he really said that he could “give you 100 pictures of him and Comey hugging and kissing each other.”

The Daily Caller, almost as incredibly, didn’t even challenge that claim (well, the Daily Caller is Tucker Carlson’s web site, so we shouldn’t exactly expect great, good, or even decent journalism). If Trump had said that to YOU, wouldn’t you have asked to see those photos?

“I Am the Greatest”

That was Muhammad Ali’s line, and when challenged about it Ali famously replied to the effect that it’s not bragging if you can back it up.

It was hard not to think of that when Trump told a forum in South Carolina, as reported by Politico, that

“I understand social media,” he boasted. “Maybe better than anybody, ever.”

Not even this Hemingway

And

“Somebody said I’m the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters,” he said.

Yeah, he’s the “Hemingway of 140 characters,” all right.

Well, maybe Fred Hemingway.

And that “somebody” who said it?  We’re still waiting to hear who that somebody is, but don’t hold your breath because you know he made it up.

“Build the Wall”

No, not THAT wall.  The OTHER wall.

What other wall?

The British publication The Guardian explains.

Donald Trump suggested the Spanish government tackled the Mediterranean migration crisis by emulating one of his most famous policies and building a wall across the Sahara desert, the country’s foreign minister has revealed.

According to Josep Borrell [note:  Spain’s foreign minister], the US president brushed off the scepticism of Spanish diplomats – who pointed out that the Sahara stretched for 3,000 miles – saying: “The Sahara border can’t be bigger than our border with Mexico.”

Trump wooed voters in the 2016 election with his promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” across the US/Mexico border, which is roughly 2,000 miles long.

A similar plan in the Sahara, however, would be complicated by the fact that Spain  holds only two small enclaves in north Africa – Ceuta and Melilla – and such a wall would have to be built on foreign territory.

This is a truly remarkable, Trumpian statement, combining, as it does, stupidity with ignorance: stupid as in it’s a stupid idea and ignorance about the size of the Sahara and the lack of Spanish-controlled territory in the area for which he was making this suggestion.

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons?

At least there was none of this nonsense this time around

As reported by the Huffington Post, the president’s capacity for empathy is apparently pretty limited, as demonstrated by this exchange with a resident of North Carolina who was affected by Hurricane Florence.

Trump was apparently talking to an older man whose home had been damaged after a large yacht had washed ashore and was shipwrecked against the wooden deck of his porch. 

According to the White House pool report from New York Times journalist Mark Landler, Trump gazed at the yacht, saying, “Is this your boat?”

When the owner said no, Trump reportedly turned and replied with a smile, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.”

And that wasn’t the only time Trump put his lack of empathy on display that day.

Earlier in the day, Trump was handing out meals to hurricane victims and told one person in a car, “Have a good time” as if they were going to an entertainment outing.

You may recall that he said the same thing to hurricane victims in Houston last year.

Coming Soon to a Cell Phone Near You

The president himself!

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is testing a new “Integrated Public Alert and Warning System” that will enable the president, in times of emergency, to communicate directly with a majority of cell phones in the U.S.

And we cannot opt out of this system.

While this new system is intended for use only in true national and regional emergencies – think atomic bombs, enemy attacks, major storms – and only to give people instructions on how to respond to the emergency, how long do you think it will take Agent Orange to declare some perceived slight to be an emergency that merits immediate “correction” and proceed to abuse this new communication tool?

Enlightened

We already know that Trump takes a dim view of women and people of color and people with disabilities and anyone who dares disagree with him.

Now we can add a new group of people to those for whom Trump has little regard.  Newsweek tells the story:

President Donald Trump allegedly ordered an architect not to include braille in Trump Tower elevator panels because “no blind people” would live in his building—even after being informed that excluding the tactile writing system is against federal law.

“Not in MY building you don’t!”

Also,

“What’s this?” Trump, noticing the small raised dots, reportedly asked the architect who went to his office to show what the residential elevator interiors would look like.

“Braille,” the architect responded. 

Trump apparently demanded that the architect take the feature out.

“We can’t,” the architect replied. “It’s the law.”

“Get rid of the [expletive] braille. No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower,” Trump shouted, according to Res. “Just do it.”

That’s Donald Trump, president of all the people.

Except the ones who can’t see.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

If you happened to catch any of Trump’s press conference last week, what you heard was both remarkable and appalling:  remarkable because he turned virtually every question into an unsolicited, overstated monologue about his accomplishments in office so far, both real and imagined, and appalling because, well, because he turned virtually every question into an unsolicited, overstated monologue about his accomplishments in office so far, both real and imagined.

He also lied through his teeth on a number of occasions.

Like when he said he rejected a one-on-one meeting with Canadian prime minister Trudeau.  Trudeau’s office said their boss sought no such meeting.

Like when he said former President Obama didn’t bother attempting to fill vacancies on the federal bench.  Actually, Obama did:  Republicans rejected some and refused even to consider others – including, you will recall, a nominee to the Supreme Court.

Like when he said he got 52 percent of the women’s vote in the presidential election.  Actually, he won 42 percent of women’s votes in the election.  But this is an understandable mistake:  he won 52 percent of WHITE WOMEN’S vote in the election, and after all, those are the only votes that matter to him anyway.

Like when he said the FBI didn’t investigate Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Brett Kavanaugh because it didn’t know the when and the where of the alleged assault.  The FBI absolutely did know these things; draw your own conclusion about why it didn’t investigate.

Like when he expressed sympathy for Brett Kavanaugh over facing charges of sexual assault, saying “four or five” women had leveled such charges against him.  Actually, it was more like at least 13 women and maybe as many as 20, depending on your source.

Like when he said the U.S. got its new embassy in Jerusalem up and running for a half million dollars and not the $1 billion budgeted for the facility.  First, there’s no $1 billion budget, and second, while the embassy is up and running, the State Department has already issued $21 million worth of additional contracts, with more to come.

Like when he said U.S. Steel will be opening a minimum of eight more plants in the U.S.  The company has four plants in the country today and is reopening two it previously closed but has no plans to open any other plants.

Like when he said that “We have trade imbalances with almost everybody. It’s a rare exception that we don’t.”  Actually, while we unquestionably have a negative trade balance, the U.S. has positive trade balances with six of its 15 biggest trading partners and with more than half of all countries with which it trades.

Like when he said Brett Kavanaugh finished first in his class at Yale.  Kavanaugh didn’t:  Yale doesn’t do class rank for either ungrads or law students.

The lying never ends.

“I tell you, it’s yuuuuge!”

Finally, did you catch the part of the news conference in which, while discussing China, Trump said

From what I hear — if you look at Mr. Pillsbury, the leading authority on China — he was on a good show — I won’t mention the name of the show — recently. And he was saying that China has total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump’s very, very large brain.

Well, that’s not quite what Mr. Pillsbury said – and Pillsbury made that clear in a tweet, writing that

The Chinese don’t say he has large brain – they say he’s brilliant and smarter than previous presidents

Which, while clearly complimentary – assuming Mr. Pillsbury can be believed – is still a far cry from saying the Chinese have “total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump’s very, very large brain.”

The insecurity, manifesting itself in this instance through fabricating fawning compliments others never offered, is sad.

And They Laughed

There’s a theory, more interesting than plausible, that one of the reasons The Donald decided to run for president in 2016, after many times suggesting that he might and then never doing so, is the thorough humiliation he received at the hands of then-president Obama during the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner (see it for yourself here).  The only reason it’s really even a little plausible is that for a guy who loves to dish it out Trump has demonstrated time and time again that he really can’t take it.

That’s why his speech last week at the U.N. must have been a real blast for him.

At him, not with him

In that speech, he stood before assembled dignitaries and diplomats from around the world and declared that

One year ago, I stood before you for the first time in this grand hall. I addressed the threats facing our world, and I presented a vision to achieve a brighter future for all of humanity.

Today, I stand before the United Nations General Assembly to share the extraordinary progress we’ve made.

 In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.

And how did the audience respond?  The people laughed:  they laughed at him and they laughed at what he said.

And in their own way, they were laughing at us, too.

And that’s no laughing matter.