Sunday, December 31, 2017

Contract Law Meets the Sexual Act

In the West, at least, everyone has become massively aware of the extent of coercion and exploitation in sexual relations.

However, we should bear in mind also the (no less significant) fact that millions of people on a daily basis flirt and play the game of seduction, with the clear aim of finding a partner for making love. The result of the modern Western culture is that both sexes are expected to play an active role in this game.

When women dress provocatively to attract the male gaze or when they “objectify” themselves to seduce them, they don’t do it offering themselves as passive objects: instead they are the active agents of their own “objectification,” manipulating men, playing ambiguous games, including reserving the full right to step out of the game at any moment even if, to the male gaze, this appears in contradiction with previous “signals.”

This freedom women enjoy bothers all kinds of fundamentalists, from Muslims who recently prohibited women touching and playing with bananas and other fruit which resembles the penis to our own ordinary male chauvinist who explodes in violence against a woman who first “provokes” him and then rejects his advances.

Female sexual liberation is not just a puritan withdrawal from being “objectivized” (as a sexual object for men) but the right to actively play with self-objectivization, offering herself and withdrawing at will. But will it be still possible to proclaim these simple facts, or will the politically-correct pressure compel us to accompany all these games with some formal-legal proclamation (of consensuality, etc.)?

New thinking


A recent, politically-correct idea is the so-called “Consent Conscious Kit,” currently on sale in the US: a small bag with a condom, a pen, some breath mints, and a simple contract stating that both participants freely consent to a shared sexual act. The suggestion is that a couple ready to have sex either takes a photo holding in their hands the contract, or that they both date and sign it.

Yet, although the “Consent Conscious Kit” addresses a very real problem, it does it in a way which is not only silly but directly counter-productive – and why is that?

The underlying idea is how a sex act, if it to be cleansed of any suspicion of coercion, has to be declared, in advance, as a freely-made conscious decision of both participants – to put it in Lacanian terms, it has to be registered by the big Other, and inscribed into the symbolic order.

As such, the “Consent Conscious Kit” is just an extreme expression of an attitude that grows all around the US – for example, the state of California passed a law requiring all colleges that accept state funding to adopt policies requiring their students to obtain affirmative consent — which it defines as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” that is “ongoing” and not given when too drunk, before engaging in sexual activity, or else risk punishment for sexual assault.

Bigger picture

“Affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement” – by whom? The first thing to do here is to mobilize the Freudian triad of Ego, Superego, and Id (in a simplified version: my conscious self-awareness, the agency of moral responsibility enforcing norms on me, and my deepest half-disavowed passions).

What if there is a conflict between the three? If, under the pressure of the Superego, my Ego say NO, but my Id resists and clings to the denied desire? Or (a much more interesting case) the opposite: I say YES to the sexual invitation, surrendering to my Id passion, but in the midst of performing the act, my Superego triggers an unbearable guilt feeling?

Thus, to bring things to the absurd, should the contract be signed by the Ego, Superego, and Id of each party, so that it is valid only if all three say YES? Plus, what if the male partner also uses his contractual right to step back and cancel the agreement at any moment in the sexual activity? Imagine that, after obtaining the woman’s consent, when the prospective lovers find themselves naked in bed, some tiny bodily detail (an unpleasant sound like a vulgar belching) dispels the erotic charm and makes the man withdraw? Is this not in itself an extreme humiliation for the woman?

The ideology that sustains this promotion of “sexual respect” deserves a closer look. The basic formula is: “Yes means yes!” – it has to be an explicit yes, not just the absence of a no. “No no” does not automatically amount to a “yes”: because if a woman who is being seduced does not actively resist it, this still leaves the space open for different forms of coercion.

Mood killer

Here, however, problems multiply: what if a woman passionately desires it but is too embarrassed to openly declare it? What if, for both partners, ironically playing coercion is part of the erotic game? And a yes to what, precisely, to what types of sexual activity, is a declared yes? Should then the contract form be more detailed, so that the principal consent is specified: a yes to vaginal but not anal intercourse, a yes to fellatio but not swallowing the sperm, a yes to light spanking but not harsh blows, etc.etc.

One can easily imagine a long bureaucratic negotiation, which can kill all desire for the act, but it can also get libidinally invested on its own. These problems are far from secondary, they concern the very core of erotic interplay from which one cannot withdraw into a neutral position and declare one's readiness (or unreadiness) to do it: every such act is part of the interplay and either de-eroticizes the situation or gets eroticized on its own.

The “yes means yes’ sexual rule is an exemplary case of the narcissistic notion of subjectivity that predominates today. A subject is experienced as something vulnerable, something that has to be protected by a complex set of rules, warned in advance about all possible intrusions that may disturb him/her.

Remember how, upon its release, ET was prohibited in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark: because it’s non-sympathetic portrayal of adults was considered dangerous for relations between children and their parents. (An ingenious detail confirms this accusation: in the first 10 minutes of the film, all adults are seen only below their belts, like the adults in cartoons who threaten Tom and Jerry…)

From today’s perspective, we can see this prohibition as an early sign of the politically-correct obsession with protecting individuals from any experience that may hurt them in any way. And the list can go on indefinitely – recall the proposal to digitally delete smoking from Hollywood classics…

Yes, sex is traversed by power games, violent obscenities, etc., but the difficult thing to admit is that it’s inherent to it. Some perspicuous observers have already noticed how the only form of sexual relation that fully meets the politically correct criteria would have been a contract drawn between sadomasochist partners.

Thus, the rise of Political Correctness and the rise of violence are two sides of the same coin: insofar as the basic premise of Political Correctness is the reduction of sexuality to contractual mutual consent. And the French linguist Jean-Claude Milner was right to point out how the anti-harassment movement unavoidably reaches its climax in contracts which stipulate extreme forms of sadomasochist sex (treating a person like a dog on a collar, slave trading, torture, up to consented killing).

In such forms of consensual slavery, the market freedom of the contract negates itself: and slave trade becomes the ultimate assertion of freedom. It is as if Jacques Lacan’s motif “Kant with Sade” (Marquis de Sade’s brutal hedonism as the truth of Kant’s rigorous ethics) becomes reality in an unexpected way. But, before we dismiss this motif as just a provocative paradox, we should reflect upon how this paradox is at work in our social reality itself.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Sign a contract before sex? Political correctness could destroy passion"


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Symptoms of Maryland's Blue State Blues

from HotAir.com
Today the Washington Post published a piece by Maryland state legislator Ariana B. Kelly who writes that there has long been a problem with sexual harassment in Maryland politics:
Before I was elected to the state legislature, I worked as an advocate in Annapolis. I knew there was a certain “old boys club” culture that women worked around to get their jobs done. There were offices you didn’t enter without a buddy and committees that had a reputation for being hostile to women. The women legislators I admired were all tough as nails. To do their jobs well, they had to be…

The first time a married senior colleague grabbed my rear end, I was shocked. It was my first legislative session, and I was still getting to know people. Two of my male colleagues witnessed this sustained and shameless public groping. I was utterly humiliated. The next morning I went into a female legislator’s office, closed the door and cried.

We talked about reporting the incident but concluded it would publicly embarrass a senior colleague, his allies might rush to his defense and I could be accused of making a big deal out of nothing. If politics is all about relationships, that would not help my career.

Instead, I had a direct conversation with the member and told him, “I look forward to a long productive working relationship with you. Please don’t ever grab my ass again.” Until his retirement, our relationship was always awkward, and I suspect I lost opportunities to work on certain issues as a result. That’s the thing about sexual harassment: Women are never sure exactly how much of their professional potential it limits.
The same power dynamics exist in politics that exist in Hollywood. It’s all about relationships and some people have the power to hurt (or help) other people’s careers. Also, like Hollywood, Maryland’s House of Delegates has long been dominated by progressives. Democrats have run the chamber since 1992, long before Kelly was elected in 2010. Kelly doesn’t identify the person who harassed her by name or party. Was she worried about embarrassing a senior member of her own party or about creating a backlash from Republicans? It’s not clear.

Kelly goes on to say that in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape, she met with the House Speaker to discuss her experiences and those of other women she has spoken to. She’s clearly capitalizing on the moment but the overall effort sounds worthwhile and maybe long overdue. Earlier this month the legislature announced it was updating its sexual harassment policy to track harassment allegations against lawmakers. Governing reports:
Maryland will track allegations of sexual harassment made against state lawmakers, and politicians who violate the state’s code of conduct can be expelled from the legislature.

Leaders of the General Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to update the guidelines for reporting and tracking complaints against state lawmakers — though the identity of the accused wrongdoer will remain confidential.

The new policies come amid a national conversation about holding accountable people accused of sexual misconduct, and they follow a tide of allegations of impropriety by high-profile men in Hollywood, the media and politics.
Lawmakers in California have been trying to deal with a similar problem in their legislature.

Friday, December 15, 2017


Globalism Kills US Jobs

from Breitbart
The flood of Chinese imports into the U.S. does not just cost jobs. It shuts down factories and businesses altogether, with devastating consequences for the communities where they are located.

After years of denial, it is now widely known that the opening of the U.S. market to Chinese imports was devastating, inflicting deep and lasting damage to many areas in the U.S. Regions most exposed to competition from China not only lost manufacturing jobs, they saw overall employment decline and never recovered. Areas with higher exposure have also been shown to have more people relying on food stamps and disability payments, more people addicted to opioids, lower rates of marriage, higher rates of political polarization, and higher rates of incarceration.

New research suggests that one of the main reasons the damage has been so deep and lasting is that the jobs lost from Chinese imports were not just from companies downsizing or becoming more efficient but from closing manufacturing plants altogether. The paper by four economists — Brian Asquith of the National Bureau of Economic Research and University of California at Irvine’s Sajana Goswami, David Neumark, and Antonio Rodriguez-Lopez — finds that the so-called “China shock” operated mainly through “deaths of establishments.”

This makes the job losses from the China shock fundamentally different from other adverse shocks, such as recessions, that can hit the U.S. labor market. In those situations, job losses are primarily from contractions of the number of people employed at a plant, rather than the outright closing of a plant.

“From a local-labor markets point of view, regional economies are likely to suffer more from deaths than from contractions (which tend to be one-off events or cyclical) because closed establishments can more permanently reduce local employment,” the authors write.

The economists say that many of the workers thrown out of work because of “establishment deaths” are later “reabsorbed” into the “nontradeable” sector, mainly through the births of new establishments. What is not explored in the paper is that many of these nontradeable sector jobs, however, a likely to be lower-paying service sector jobs.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A. Barton Hinkle column: Warnings about monopoly power are right

from the Richmond Times-Dispatch
“America Has a Monopoly Problem — and It’s Huge,” ran a headline in The Nation recently. The piece by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz lamented that “If we don’t like our Internet company or our cable TV we either have no place to turn, or the alternative is no better.”

If you spend any time with left-of-center commentary these days (and everyone should — especially people on the right), you’ll find this is a common theme of late. The New Republic writes about “How Democrats Can Wage a War on Monopolies — and Win.” In The Week, Jeff Spross tells us “What Beer Reveals About Monopoly Power.” (Cliff’s Notes version: nothing good!) At The Huffington Post, Zach Carter and Paul Blumenthal consider the proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner “intolerable. ... No single entity should have that much power.”

In recent months Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has warned repeatedly about how “a handful of corporations” have “seized power in this country” through economic consolidation. Her colleague Al Franken wants to know “How did big tech come to control so many aspects of our lives?”

Proponents of net neutrality warn that “in a future without net neutrality, instead of being able to watch whatever is being produced by anyone, you’ll either just have to submit to whatever the local monopoly is willing to provide, or pay through the nose for universal service.” Editors at Talking Points Memo discuss “Our Problem With Monopolies.” The New York Times asks, “Is Google a Harmful Monopoly?” And so on.

***

You could argue that this concern over monopolies, real or alleged, is overwrought. The “gales of creative destruction,” as Joseph Schumpeter called them, do not discriminate: Today’s economic colossus is tomorrow’s kitschy relic (see: Philco radios, Pullman railway cars).

As Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out not long ago, only 60 of the companies listed on the Fortune 500 in 1955 remain on the list today. The rest went bankrupt, were acquired by or merged with another company, or have been outrun by other firms.

But let’s assume the monopoly alarmists are right: that more consumer choice is better, that the concentration of power is bad, that gaining market share though non-market (and especially political) means is inherently suspect, and that allowing large, impersonal, unaccountable institutions to control the smallest details of our lives is simply wrong. Those points do seem reasonable enough, after all.

Why, then, are so many progressives so enamored of the worst monopolist of all — government?

Take Warren. In one breath, she condemns the lack of consumer options. In the next, she blasts Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for supporting school choice. “Your history of support for policies that would drain valuable taxpayer resources from our public schools and funnel those funds to unaccountable private and for-profit education operators may well disqualify you from such a central role in public education,” she wrote back when DeVos was first nominated.

(Warren wasn’t always opposed to school choice, incidentally. Before running for office, she supported vouchers as a means to produce “schools that offer a variety of programs that parents want for their children, regardless of the geographic boundaries.”)

Speaking of consumer freedom, shouldn’t consumers be able to choose their own health insurance — and even no insurance at all? Apparently not: Warren supports Obamacare, with its individual mandate forcing people to buy coverage regardless of whether they actually want it. What’s more, she has pledged to support Bernie Sanders’ single-payer proposal — under which a single government agency would control health care financing for everybody.

Let that marinate for a minute. If Aetna were to gain monopoly control of the health insurance market by merging with its rivals — or even simply by winning over their customers — Warren would find this abhorrent. But she wants the federal government to do precisely the same thing by edict.

Like Warren, Franken also opposes school vouchers and supports single-payer health care. While generalizations are risky, it’s probably a good bet that many progressives with similar views on corporate monopoly power are perfectly fine with government monopoly power.

***

Many Democratic politicians are concerned about the power of Facebook and other tech companies to control what political viewpoints people can hear. And yet they rail against the Citizens United decision, in which the Supreme Court said government may not control what political viewpoints people can hear. (For those with dusty memories, the case concerned whether the government could ban distribution of a movie about Hillary Clinton during the closing days of an election.)

In a speech about the dangers of monopoly power, Warren said: “Giant corporations crush competition. They shut out small rivals and they kill young startups. ... Giant corporations jack up prices and cut corners on quality. ... Many giant corporations don’t win in the marketplace because they’re better. They win because they are big.”

For all the power corporations have, though, even the biggest lack a monopoly exercised by government: the monopoly over the legitimate use of force. Facebook can’t compel you to join its social network — but the federal government has the power to make you join the Army. Apple can’t force you buy an iPod at the point of a gun, but governments oblige you to purchase services you don’t want all the time. Strange, isn’t it, that Warren and others who rail about the danger of monopoly are so eager to wield the power of the biggest monopoly of all?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Corporate Globalism's Final Push?

from Breitbart
The Senate passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Saturday, which serves as one of the final steps for Congress to pass historic tax legislation.

The Senate passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 51-49, almost entirely along party lines, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding over the vote. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) voted against the bill, and 48 Democrats voted against the tax reform legislation as well.

Reluctant Republican senators such as Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voted for the bill after last-minute changes were made. Flake received a commitment from Republican leadership and the White House that they would pursue a permanent solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) illegal aliens, while Collins received a provision that would keep the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT).

The Senate agreed earlier this month to move forward on the motion, 52-48, to proceed on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Senate Budget Committee passed tax reform legislation on Tuesday, even after Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) expressed skepticism about the bill’s current form. Corker reported that he was reassured about the Senate bill including a “fiscal trigger” that will dial back the tax cuts should the tax bill fall short of revenue projections.

The Senate bill retains the current income tax system’s seven brackets, while the House version collapses the seven brackets into four. The wealthiest Americans would have their income tax fall to 38.5 percent, while the lowest tax bracket will fall to ten percent. Similar to the House tax bill, the Senate version will double the standard deduction for individuals to $12,000, and $24,000 for married couples. The Senate bill also raises the child tax credit from $1,000 per child to $1,650.

Unlike the House draft, the Senate tax bill eliminates Obamacare’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance.

The House passed their version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act earlier in November.

Now that the Senate passed their version of the tax reform legislation, the House and Senate will have to convene a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two bills. Once the two chambers of Congress draft a unified bill, the House and Senate will have to pass the same bill to send the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to President Donald Trump’s desk to sign the bill into law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is desperate to pass tax reform legislation after failing on multiple occasions to repeal Obamacare. Breitbart News reported that Mitch McConnell’s future rides on passing tax reform in the face of a populist-nationalist uprising in the 2018 midterm elections.

President Donald Trump said that passing the tax reform bill would ensure a “Merry Christmas” for the country.

Trump declared, “This week’s vote can be the beginning of the next great chapter for the American worker.”
So the corporatists have been given one more chance to spread the wealth to the American workers. When this fails to yield a prosperous Middle Class, perhaps we'll get back to the original Trumpian idea. Eliminate corporate privileges and return to Small Business equitable playing field, where over-capitalized firms can no longer afford "robot" workers.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Get Small, America!

MS Media Induced Hypnosis...

Snark is all the Corporate Media loving Globalists Have Left!
Perhaps it is the figure of the unemployed who stands for the pure proletarian today: the unemployed’s substantial determination remains that of a worker, but they are prevented from actualising it or from renouncing it, so they remain suspended in the potentiality of workers who cannot work. Perhaps we are today in a sense ‘all jobless’ – jobs tend to be more and more based on short term contracts, so that the jobless state is the rule, the zero level, and the temporary job the exception. This, then, should also be the answer to the advocates of ‘post-industrial society’ whose message to workers is that their time is over, that their very existence is obsolete, and that all they can count on is purely humanitarian compassion – there is less and less place for workers in the universe of today’s capital, and one should draw the only consistent conclusion from this fact. If today’s ‘post-industrial’ society needs fewer and fewer workers to reproduce itself (20 percent of the workforce, on some accounts), then it is not workers who are in excess, but capital itself.
-Slavoj Zizek, "A Cyberspace Lenin: Why Not?"
Mind YOUR OWN Business (not "manage" someone ELSE's)!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Maryland, the Sanctuary State

from the Baltimore Sun
Three Democratic senators -- including Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen -- introduced legislation Thursday to allow certain immigrants with temporary legal status in the United States to apply for residency.

Maryland has the sixth-highest number of residents benefiting from Temporary Protected Status in the country -- about 23,000 -- according to the Center for Migration Studies. The vast majority of those individuals in the state are from El Salvador.

The 27-year-old program shields some immigrants from deportation during periods of conflict or national disaster in their home countries.

The Trump administration said last week that it is ending that status for some 5,300 Nicaraguan nationals who have been living in the United States since 1998. That has alarmed Salvadorans, Haitians, and others who are in the country under similar protection.

The legislation is unlikely to advance. The Republican-led Congress has struggled to approve its own priorities, let alone taking up issues that have traditionally been supported mostly by Democrats.

"These men and women have lived here legally for years,” Van Hollen said in a statement. "They have jobs and businesses and are our neighbors. We cannot in good faith send them back to some of the most dangerous places in the world."

Cardin agreed, saying that "we need to stand up for the American values of compassion and diversity that have made this country stronger." He said that ending the program would "rip families apart."

Critics of TPS have questioned why a decades-old earthquake or hurricane is being used to justify allowing people -- many of whom came to the country illegally -- to stay in the United States indefinitely.

Monday, November 13, 2017

America's opioid crisis & modern anxieties prove the limits of capitalism


from RT
The drug crisis in America and South Korea's frightening suicide rate both come from the same place. The flaw in capitalism which has gradually removed much of the meaning and ideology from life.

Last month, in response to America’s escalating opioid epidemic, Donald Trump declared a public health emergency. Describing the crisis as a “national shame and human tragedy” and the “worst drug crisis in American history,” the President lashed out at the devastation caused by the mass prescription of opioid painkillers.

“The United States is by far the largest consumer of these drugs, using more opioid pills per person than any other country by far. No part of our society – not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural – has been spared this plague of drug addiction,” he explained.

Although Trump is as far as one can imagine from being a Marxist, his proclamation cannot but evoke Marx’s well-known characterization of religion as the “opium of the people” (from his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right).

And this characterization is worth quoting here: "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

One can immediately notice that Trump (who wants to begin his war on opioids by prohibiting the most dangerous drugs) is a very vulgar Marxist, similar to those hard-line Communists (like Enver Hoxha or the Khmer Rouge) who tried to undermine religion by simply outlawing it. Marx’s approach is more subtle: instead of directly fighting religion, the goal of the Communists is to change the social situation (of exploitation and domination) which gives birth to the need for religion. Marx nonetheless remains all too na├»ve, not only with regard to his idea of religion also in his reaction to different versions of the opium of the people.

For instance, it is true that radical Islam is an exemplary case of religion as the opium of the people: a false confrontation with capitalist modernity which allows some Muslims to dwell in their ideological dream while their countries are ravaged by the effects of global capitalism – and precisely the same holds for Christian fundamentalism. However, there are today, in our Western world, two other versions of the opium of the people: the opium and the people.

Online goals

As the rise of populism demonstrates, the opium of the people is also "the people" in itself, the fuzzy populist dream destined to obfuscate our own antagonisms.
And, last but not least, for many of us, the opium of the people is actual opium, the escape into drugs, which is precisely the phenomenon Trump is talking about.

So, to paraphrase Marx, where does this need to escape into opium come from? Like Freud, we have to take a look at the psychopathology of global-capitalist everyday life. Yet another form of today’s opium of the people is our escape into the pseudo-social digital universes of Facebook and Twitter and other social media platforms.

Indeed, in a speech to Harvard graduates in May 2017, Mark Zuckerberg told his audience: “Our job is to create a sense of purpose!” – and this from a man who, with Facebook, has created the world’s most expanded instrument of the purposeless loss of time!

The country whose daily life is most impregnated by the digital virtualization is South Korea. Here is Franco Berardi’s report on his journey to Seoul: “Korea is the ground zero of the world, a blueprint for the future of the planet... after colonization and wars, after dictatorship and starvation, the South Korean mind, liberated from the burden of the natural body, smoothly entered the digital sphere with a lower degree of cultural resistance that virtually any other population in the world. In the emptied cultural space, the Korean experience is marked by an extreme degree of individualization, and simultaneously it is headed toward the ultimate cabling of the collective mind. These lonely minds walk in the urban space in tender continuous interaction with the pictures, tweets, games coming out of their small screens, perfectly insulated and perfectly wired into the smooth interface of the flow... South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world. Suicide is the most common cause of death for those under 40 in South Korea. Interestingly, the toll of suicides in South Korea has doubled during the last decade... in the space of two generations, their condition has certainly improved by the point of view of revenue, nutrition, freedom, and possibility of traveling abroad. But the price of this improvement has been the desertification of daily life, the hyper-acceleration of rhythms, the extreme individualization of biographies, and work precariousness which also means unbridled competition... the intensification of the rhythm of work, the desertification of the landscape and the virtualization of the emotional life are converging to create a level of loneliness and despair that is difficult to consciously refuse and oppose.”

Soulless future

What Berardi’s impressions of Seoul provide is the image of a place deprived of its history, a worldless place. Badiou has reflected that we live in a social space which is progressively experienced as worldless. Even the Nazi anti-Semitism, however ghastly it was, opened up a world: it described its critical situation by suggesting an enemy, which was a "Jewish conspiracy;" it named a goal and the means of achieving it. Nazism ruptured reality in a way which allowed its subjects to acquire a global cognitive mapping, which included a space for their meaningful engagement.

Perhaps it is here that one should locate one of the leading dangers of capitalism: although it is global and encompasses the whole world, it sustains a worldless ideological constellation, depriving the vast majority of people of any meaningful cognitive mapping.

Capitalism is the first socio-economic order which de-totalizes meaning: it is not global at the level of meaning. There is, after all, no global-capitalist worldview, and no capitalist civilization proper: In fact, the fundamental lesson of globalization is precisely that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East. Capitalism’s global dimension can only be formulated at the level of truth-without-meaning, as the reality of the global market mechanism.

This, then, is what makes millions seek refuge in our opiums: not just new poverty and lack of prospect but the unbearable superego pressure in its two aspects - the pressure to succeed professionally and the pressure to enjoy life fully in all its intensity. Perhaps, this second aspect is even more unsettling: what remains of our life when our retreat into private pleasure itself becomes the stuff of brutal injunction?
- Slavoj Zizek, "America's opioid crisis & modern anxieties prove the limits of capitalism"

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Maryland Democrats Demand Republicans Emulate Their Own Self-Serving Rush to Judgement

from the Baltimore Sun
The Maryland Democratic Party challenged the state’s only Republican in Congress on Friday to denounce Alabama GOP senate nominee Roy Moore.

A spokesman for the state Democratic Party said Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, should withdraw his endorsement of Moore, the subject of allegations he initiated relationships with minors in the 1970s and 1980s.

A woman alleged that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her in 1979, when she was 14 and he was 32, according to The Washington Post. Three other women said he took them on dates when they were teenagers.

Harris backed Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice, long before the allegations were reported Thursday. Harris’s campaign committee contributed $1,000 to Moore’s campaign in September, and his leadership PAC gave another $1,000 in August.

“Congressman Andy Harris owes it to his constituents and all decent Marylanders to withdraw his endorsement of Roy Moore,” said Maryland Democratic Party spokesperson Fabion Seaton.

Harris’ campaign released a one-sentence statement late Friday that referenced one of the four allegations against Moore: “If the allegations regarding Leigh Corfman are accurate, Judge Moore should withdraw from the race.”

Harris, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, endorsed Moore in September ahead of Alabama’s Republican primary runoff. In a campaign news release at the time, Harris described Moore as someone who would bring “principle to the Senate” and said he had a “backbone of steel.”

Attempting to pin a scandal involving one member of a party on everyone else in the party is a well-worn political tactic, though Maryland Democrats have generally not spent much time engaging with Harris. The congressman represents a solidly Republican district that covers portions of the Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore’s northern suburbs.

The allegations against Moore — which he has denied — have prompted other Republicans to weigh in.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters traveling with the president in Asia that “the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life,” but added that “the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Friday that Moore should drop out of the race and called him “unfit for office.”

“Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections,” Romney wrote on Twitter.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Harford County's Moslem Only Community?

from the Washington Post
JOPPATOWNE, Md. — Dueling legal complaints and allegations of Islamophobia have marred an unfinished retirement community in Maryland after homes were sold only to Muslims.

Planners say interest in the River Run development was strong before stalled county permits halted construction. Some elected officials and residents complained that the community violated fair-housing laws.

Stuck in the middle are Muslims who put down deposits to live in the quiet neighborhood overlooking the Gunpowder River — and non-Muslims who already live there.

The River Run development is slated for about 35 wooded acres in Joppatowne, Md., a community of about 12,000 people 20 miles northeast of Baltimore. More than 56 homes were approved for the lot more than a decade ago, but the project fell into disrepair after just four homes were built when a previous developer folded.

Then, last year, 46-year-old Faheem Younus, an infectious-disease doctor and an immigrant from Pakistan, teamed up with a different developer to build a retirement community for older Ahmadiyya Muslims, adherents of a branch of Islam who preach tolerance and face repression from other Muslims around the world.
"There are many Jewish, Christian communities — we're not reinventing the wheel here," Younus said.

After a nationwide search, Younus settled on River Run. With a planned mosque and views of the river, the development offered what was advertised as a "peace village" for people 55 and older.

"This will be a community of 49 spacious brand new homes (Villas) for Ahmadi Muslims with a dedicated mosque within walking distance," read a website this year advertising the community. That language was later removed, replaced with an update that touted an "audio feed from the adjacent mosque" for the daily call to prayer — before that language also was removed.

The plan to market to Muslims proved successful, Younus said, and 22 units were sold within months after a lottery was held among Ahmadis who wished to buy them.

Some elected officials and residents, however, complained, saying the planned community violated fair-housing laws. Others questioned whether their town should open its arms to a neighborhood initially designed for Muslims.

Real estate agent Gina Pimentel filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last month, claiming she couldn't get information about the River Run units because Younus was "unlawfully privately marketing and selling only to Ahmadi Muslims."

In an interview, Pimentel said she is not worried about Muslims living in the community, but about her business. She can't earn a commission if she can't sell homes, she said, and she was also concerned that lenders charging market interest rates might be cut out by Islamic rules against usury.

"It's not about religion for me," she said. "My husband's Puerto Rican . . . do you want to live with 106 Puerto Ricans?"

Elected officials entered the debate, including Maryland Del. Richard K. Impallaria (R-Baltimore County), who held two meetings about the community last month. Impallaria said the controversy is not about faith, but fairness.

"The leading problem on this project is the housing discrimination," he said. "We really don't need a group of people coming in that's going to isolate themselves from the rest of the community — come in and do an end run around state, federal, county laws. It's not a good way to start out as a good neighbor.

At several town hall meetings, Younus and two fellow Ahmadis responded as about 25 residents asked about mortgages, diversity and Islam.

The meeting occasionally grew heated. One man wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt challenged Younus about the definition of "jihad."

"Jihad is a war on the infidel, and I am the infidel," he said. (The man declined to give his name to The Washington Post, calling it the "lying press.")

Younus said there were many misconceptions about the Joppatowne retirement community. River Run is open to everyone, he said, and was initially marketed only to Ahmadis because demand was high, which meant further advertising was unnecessary. Its planned mosque would now be a community center, he said.

Yes, Ahmadi Muslims can have mortgages, he said. No, he said, the word "jihad" doesn't necessarily mean "armed struggle."

Younus acknowledged "mistakes along the way" in marketing River Run.

"We have to go out and tell you who we are," he said. "We are not trying to be unlikable. We are trying to be transparent."

During a public meeting at a firehouse, Younus was joined by Mansoor Shams, an Ahmadi Muslim from Baltimore. He said he's patient with questioners but bristles when people insist the Koran is a violent text.

"It's such a disrespect to me and my [Marine] uniform," Shams said. "If you ask a question, at least take my word for it."

Reactions among the crowd at the community meeting were mixed.

"I have some trepidations, I admit it," said David Miceli, 71, wearing a blue "Las Vegas" hat to honor the victims of the mass shooting there. "But the man looked me in the eye and said 'I'm telling you the truth.' I have to give him the benefit of the doubt."

But Pat McLaughlin, 81, worried Younus was "pushing an agenda."

"He never answered my question," she said. "Why did they sell them in secret?"

That question is part of a lawsuit that Gemcraft Homes chief executive Bill Luther, the developer who worked with Younus, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Maryland against Harford County officials. It alleges the county stopped issuing building permits for River Run, halting construction and complicating the sale of existing homes purchased by Muslims.

The suit alleges the county's delay is "motivated by racial and religious animus to keep members of the Islamic faith from purchasing lots and exercising their religious freedoms."

Harford County officials declined to comment, citing the pending litigation, but told the Baltimore Sun last month that the project is being treated like any other and permits are on hold until issues such as storm water management are resolved. Impallaria, a defendant in the suit, likened Younus's outreach to a bank robber who claims he is just "an inexperienced person who filled out a withdrawal slip wrong."

"They had a conspiracy," Impallaria said. "They already carried it out by selling homes to a select religious sect. I'm not buying their story now."

Luther, who lives in Harford County, disagreed. Walking through River Run — much of it still a construction site strewn with earth-moving equipment, stacks of plywood and piles of I-beams — Luther said he is more like a grocer with a "a case of Cokes" who sells them to the first people in line, no matter who they are.

The county's delays put the future of the project in doubt, Luther said. He has $5 million tied up in River Run, subcontractors who can't work and people who bought homes they can't move into.

"I've never seen such discrimination," he said. "It's sickening. I don't know what the heck they are doing."

Ajaz Khan, a 63-year-old systems analyst from North Liberty, Iowa, said he fled Pakistan in 1974 after Sunni Muslims burned his family's home and killed two of his cousins in front of him. After landing in Europe as a refugee, he ended up in England, where he met his wife, Jamila, before moving to the United States in 1991. They had five boys, three of whom work for Apple and one who served as a Marine.

In February, the Khans put a $10,000 deposit on a River Run property. Although it will mean relocating about 1,000 miles, the move made sense for them. Other families they knew were buying there. Ajaz could commute to his company's office in Trenton, N.J., when necessary. And the couple love boating and camping — northern Maryland specialties.

"This is a dream come true," said Jamila Khan. "It looks like it's going to be a beautiful place to settle."

The Khans had planned to move their belongings in November. Now, they're not sure what to do.

If fair-housing complaints and a federal lawsuit weren't enough to rile Joppatowne, there's a further complication: Some people already live in River Run.

Tony Whitt bought his house, one of four completed homes next to the undeveloped lots, in 2016, before Younus teamed up with Luther. Little more than a year later, Whitt was concerned that he would be living in what looked to be an all-Muslim community.

"I have no opposition to the group," Whitt said. "But it's not promoting diversity. It promotes segregation."


Like Whitt, Ashley Barnes and her sister own a completed home near the houses purchased by Ahmadis, having inherited it when their mother died in August. The sisters are not Muslim — but they want to sell the property to any buyer, Muslim or not, and the legal quagmire may complicate their efforts.

"I know nothing sinks property values like abandoned homes," Barnes said. "All values suffer with half-built houses."

It's not clear how HUD and the courts will handle the dueling complaints.

Tim Iglesias, a professor at the University of San Francisco who specializes in fair-housing law, said the Ahmadis could be accused of discrimination by "steering" the homes toward Muslims — but Harford County could also face that charge for "treating the development differently . . . because they think that Muslims are going to be living there."

"This is so complicated it would be perfect for a law school exam," he said.

Younus will host additional meetings at the firehouse to try to convince the mostly white residents nearby that River Run is not a threat — and that anyone in the community can move there if they wish. Twenty-seven properties, he pointed out, remain on the market.

"This is not an exclusive community," he said. "The only way you can prove me wrong is to buy a house there."

Monday, October 23, 2017

More Judicial Over-reach

from the Baltimore Sun
Gov. Larry Hogan called a federal appeals court ruling that a cross-shaped war memorial in Prince George’s County unconstitutional "outrageous" and an "overreach," and vowed that his administration would fight it.

In a social media post, the Republican governor wrote Friday that he has passed by the memorial in Bladensburg known as the Peace Cross thousands of times. He said the 40-foot Latin cross is an "incredible tribute" to veterans.

A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found Wednesday that the World War I Veterans Memorial “aggrandizes the Latin cross” to the point that an observer would conclude that the government entity that owns and maintains it is endorsing Christianity.

Hogan, who was raised in Prince George’s County, identified himself in his post as “a native Prince Georgian.”

“The idea that memorializing our soldiers killed in battle on foreign lands to make the world safe for democracy is somehow unconstitutional goes against everything we stand for as Americans,” he wrote. “Enough is enough.”

It is not clear what role Hogan's administration would have in the litigation. The cross is owned and maintained by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The commission was was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1927, but its board is appointed by Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Asked whether the governor is seeking an appeal in the case, a Hogan spokeswoman said only that "all options, legal or otherwise, are being considered.”

The decision by the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond, Va., reversed a 2015 District Court ruling. Attorneys defending the cross offered inconsistent information this week about whether they would appeal it.

An attorney for the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, which is representing the American Legion in the case, told The Washington Post that it would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Another attorney for the same group told The Baltimore Sun that lawyers were considering their options. If it decided to challenge the ruling, the group could appeal for an en banc review from the 4th Circuit rather than seeking a hearing in the Supreme Court.

Hogan’s reaction raises the political stakes of the litigation, and could weigh into any decision to appeal. Hogan is up for re-election next year.

Erected in 1925, the cross honors 49 men from Prince George’s County who died in World War I. The structure stands at the intersection of Route 450 and Alternate U.S. 1 on a rectangular base inscribed with the words “valor,” “endurance,” “courage” and “devotion.”

The initial lawsuit challenging the cross was filed by the American Humanist Association, a Washington-based group that advocates for the separation of church and state. The group noted that the cross sits on public land, and the commission had spent $117,000 to maintain and repair it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Republicanism Jumps the Shark

from The Hill
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted “half-baked, spurious nationalism” in the United States in an emotional speech Monday night after receiving the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal.

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain 'the last best hope of earth' for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,” McCain said in the speech.

The Arizona senator said “we live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil” and said Americans “are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad.”

“We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did,” McCain said.

“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent.”

McCain’s remarks came after he was presented the prestigious medal by former Vice President Joe Biden. The Arizona Republican received the award for his “lifetime of sacrifice and service” to the United States.

Past recipients of the Liberty Medal include the Dalai Lama, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai.

McCain, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in July, served in the Navy for more than two decades and spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

The former Republican presidential nominee made headlines earlier this year after casting a dramatic vote against a GOP bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, killing the legislation.
Sorry Senator McCain. The United States wasn't created so that US Senators could create "injustice" at home in order to attempt "justice" in the rest of the world. We'll settle for "justice" within the United States of America. Better a half-baked loaf of "justice" than none.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Study: 31 percent of Marylanders would pay more under Trump tax plan

from the Baltimore Sun
About 31 percent of Maryland households would pay a higher tax bill and roughly two-thirds would receive a tax cut under a proposal announced by President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

The study, by the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, found 30.5 percent of Marylanders would face an immediate increase — the largest share in the nation — due mostly to the proposal to eliminate the frequently claimed state and local tax deduction.

Nearly 60 percent of Marylanders earning between $73,700 and $126,500 would receive an average tax cut of $1,280, according to the report. Another 41 percent in that income range would receive an average tax increase of $2,200.

Virtually all state residents earning above $657,800 would receive a large cut in taxes.

“What I see here is that this tax plan is incredibly skewed toward the ultrarich,” said Benjamin Orr, executive director of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy. “Most middle class and upper middle class Marylanders would see their taxes go up.”

It’s still a bit early to take any such analysis to the bank, however, because key details are missing from the GOP proposal. It’s not clear what income ranges will be used to define the plan’s proposed three tax brackets. It is also not clear which exemptions will be jettisoned.

Republicans have released only a nine-page memo, not bill text.

While many of the provisions most likely to affect middle class families remain murky, policies affecting the wealthy have been clearer — giving opponents an easy target. The proposal would eliminate the alternative minimum tax, a mechanism created to ensure rich families don’t skirt liability. It would also lower the top-rate for “pass-through” income earned by businesses and claimed on individual returns.

For Maryland, a state with one of the nation’s highest median incomes, the proposed elimination of the state and local tax deduction is among the most discernible impacts now. Forty-five percent of Maryland filers took that deduction in 2014, the highest percentage of filers in the country.

Most of the states that would be most affected by ending the deduction — New York, California, Maryland — tend to vote for Democratic candidates in national elections.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Trump Tax Plan Rewards "Bigness" and Punishes "Smallness"?

If 20% is to be the top big corporate tax rate, why is the top proposed Individual tax rate 35% and Small Business rate 25%?
from Bloomberg
Framework for tax overhaul would slash corporate rate to 20%
Rate for pass-through businesses would be capped at 25%
President Donald Trump and Republican leaders launched an urgent effort to get a major legislative win this year, announcing a long-awaited tax plan that will immediately set off a fight over how much top earners should pay.

The framework proposes cutting the top individual rate to 35 percent -- but leaves it up to Congress to decide whether to create a higher bracket for those at the top of the income scale, according to the document released Wednesday.

Read Proposed Plan HERE

The rate on corporations would be set at 20 percent, down from the current 35 percent, and businesses would be allowed to immediately write off their capital spending for at least five years. Pass-through businesses would have their tax rate capped at 25 percent.

U.S. stocks pushed toward all-time highs, with a Goldman Sachs basket of companies that pay the highest tax rates pacing gains. The group added 0.5 percent at 10:20 a.m. in New York, poised to outperform the broader market for a sixth straight day.

The plan sets out three tax brackets for individuals -- 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent, down from the existing seven rates, which top out at 39.6 percent. But that’s not firmly set, as congressional tax-writing committees will be given flexibility to add a fourth rate for the highest earners -- an effort to prevent the overhaul from providing too much of a benefit for the wealthy.

There’s significant support among Republican members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee to create a special top income-tax bracket for the highest earners, according to a GOP member of the panel who asked not to be named because discussions are private. Still, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas has said he’s committed to offering across-the-board tax relief. Trump has repeatedly said he’s focusing on middle-class individuals.

At the same time, though, the tax plan calls for repealing the alternative minimum tax, the estate tax and the generation-skipping estate tax, all of which would be a boon for higher earners and the wealthy.

“The last thing we should be doing right now is providing hundreds of billions in tax breaks to the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in this country,” Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said in an emailed statement. “It is particularly obscene to repeal the estate tax that would provide a $269 billion tax break to the top 0.2 percent.”

The release of the plan -- which Trump will tout Wednesday during a speech in Indiana -- is the result of a months-long process to craft a tax overhaul that was a key promise in Trump’s campaign. But it marks only the start of what could be a brutal fight in Congress among lawmakers who disagree on key elements of the framework. One influential skeptic has been Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, who pledged his committee would not be a “rubber stamp” for the plan.

Other Republicans cheered the plan. “At first glance, the policies released today are good news to the American people,” Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina, chairman of a large conservative caucus, said in statement. “We need to begin acting on this framework legislatively as soon as possible.”

Trump selected Indiana for the speech because of the manufacturing resurgence experienced during the tenure of Vice President Mike Pence, who served as the state’s governor before his election last year. Democrats have attributed increases in manufacturing to recovery programs championed by former President Barack Obama. The speech is expected to include references to Indiana citizens who believe they would benefit from the proposed changes to the tax code.

The tax effort begins one day after Senate leaders decided not to move forward with a vote on repealing Obamacare, one of the most central promises of Trump’s presidential campaign. But Trump has said that tax legislation -- which he calls essential for stimulating economic growth -- has been his main focus.

Trump has told others that he expects lawmakers to work at a brisk pace. If not, he and the Republican Congress would end 2017 without a single major legislative victory.

International Plans

On the international side, the plan would move toward a “territorial” approach that would scale back the U.S.’s unique worldwide approach to taxing corporate profits regardless of where they’re earned. But it includes “rules to protect the U.S. tax base by taxing at a reduced rate and on a global basis the foreign profits of U.S. multinational corporations.” The amount of that reduced rate isn’t specified.

Companies with accumulated offshore profits would be subject to a one-time tax on those earnings -- clearing the way for that income to return to the U.S. The rates that would be applied are unclear, but there would be a higher rate for income held in cash compared to the rate for less liquid investments. Firms would be able to pay the new tax over several years.

Under current law, companies can defer paying U.S. tax on their offshore earnings until they bring them to the U.S. As a result, U.S. firms have stockpiled an estimated $2.6 trillion in profit offshore.

So-called pass-through entities, which include partnerships and limited liability companies, would see their rate capped at 25 percent. Currently, those businesses -- which can range from mom-and-pop grocers to hedge funds -- don’t pay income tax themselves but pass their earnings through to their owners, who then pay tax based on their individual rates.

While the pass-through rate cut would represent a major tax break for lucrative pass-throughs, tax-writers would craft measures aimed at preventing individuals from recharacterizing their personal wages as business income.

Middle-Class Benefits

In terms of middle-class benefits, the framework outlines a near doubling of the standard deduction -- to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples -- and calls for “significantly increasing” the child tax credit from the current $1,000 per child under 17. It would also expand eligibility to include more upper-middle class parents.

The tax plan still lacks extensive details about ways to offset its rate cuts with additional revenue. It says most itemized deductions for individuals should be eliminated, without providing specifics -- while calling for mortgage interest and charitable giving deductions to be preserved. The tax exemption for municipal bonds would also be retained.

However, the state and local tax deduction would be abolished. Ending that break, which tends to benefit high-income filers in Democratic states, would raise an estimated $1.3 trillion over a decade. The move faces some Republican headwinds from lawmakers in districts that use the deduction heavily.

The plan would also limit the interest deduction companies can take on their borrowing, but no additional details were provided. Congress’s tax-writing committees will be tasked with limiting other business credits to help generate additional revenue.

Seeking Offsets

House leaders have proposed abolishing the corporate interest deduction, a move opposed by debt-reliant industries like private equity and commercial real estate. Senate leaders, including Hatch and John Thune of South Dakota, the chamber’s No. 3 Republican, have said they want to maintain the deduction at some level at least.

The lack of consensus on how to offset tax cuts -- a prerequisite to making them permanent under the procedure that Senate leaders plan to use to pass the legislation -- poses hurdles. If they fail to raise enough money to avoid a long-term hit to the deficit, at least part of the package would have to expire within a decade under current rules.

But as tax writers surface ideas to raise revenue by closing loopholes or ending specific tax breaks, they’ll unleash a torrent of lobbying similar to the campaign that killed a proposed border-adjusted tax earlier this year.

“We’re already working on it,” said Carlos Curbelo, a member of the Ways and Means panel, in reference to finding offsets.

“There are a number of pay-fors out there that are not just pay-fors, but also good elements of tax reform that will level the playing field across the economy and lead to greater growth,” said Curbelo, a Florida Republican. He said the committee’s goal is to make the tax changes as permanent as possible.

“So we’re in search of it and we’re getting close, very close,” he said.
The tax rates proposed should be inverted, so as to encourage small independent enterprises and penalize large overcapitalized and legally-immortal corporate behemoths. Tax cuts for PEOPLE, not corporate Struldbrugs.

Snark, Inc.

They roused him with muffins--they roused him with ice--
They roused him with mustard and cress--
They roused him with jam and judicious advice--
They set him conundrums to guess.

When at length he sat up and was able to speak,
His sad story he offered to tell;
And the Bellman cried 'Silence! Not even a shriek!'
And excitedly tingled his bell.

There was silence supreme! Not a shriek, not a scream,
Scarcely even a howl or a groan,
As the man they called 'Ho!' told his story of woe
In an antediluvian tone.

'My father and mother were honest, though poor--'
'Skip all that!' cried the Bellman in haste.
'If it once becomes dark, there's no chance of a Snark--
We have hardly a minute to waste!'

'I skip forty years,' said the Baker, in tears,
'And proceed without further remark
To the day when you took me aboard of your ship
To help you in hunting the Snark.

'A dear uncle of mine (after whom I was named)
Remarked, when I bade him farewell--'
'Oh, skip your dear uncle!' the Bellman exclaimed,
As he angrily tingled his bell.

'He remarked to me then,' said that mildest of men,
' 'If your Snark be a Snark, that is right:
Fetch it home by all means--you may serve it with greens,
And it's handy for striking a light.

' 'You may seek it with thimbles--and seek it with care;
You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
You may charm it with smiles and soap--' '


('That's exactly the method,' the Bellman bold
In a hasty parenthesis cried,
'That's exactly the way I have always been told
That the capture of Snarks should be tried!')

' 'But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again!'


'It is this, it is this that oppresses my soul,
When I think of my uncle's last words:
And my heart is like nothing so much as a bowl
Brimming over with quivering curds!

'It is this, it is this--' 'We have had that before!'
The Bellman indignantly said.
And the Baker replied 'Let me say it once more.
It is this, it is this that I dread!

'I engage with the Snark--every night after dark--
In a dreamy delirious fight:
I serve it with greens in those shadowy scenes,
And I use it for striking a light:

'But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,
In a moment (of this I am sure),
I shall softly and suddenly vanish away--
And the notion I cannot endure!'
- Lewis Caroll, "The Hunting of the Snark: Fit the Third, the Baker's Tale"

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Popularity of "Not Trump"

from the Baltimore Sun
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan remains popular in Democratic Maryland, where he is largely viewed as a moderate who has taken the state in the right direction, a new poll has found.

About 62 percent of state residents approve of the job Hogan is doing as governor, according to Goucher Poll results released Monday. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats approve of his work.

At the same time, more than a quarter of Hogan’s GOP base believes the governor has put too much distance between himself and President Donald J. Trump, a fellow Republican.

The distance, analysts say, might have worked to Hogan’s advantage.

Trump’s disapproval ratings have climbed since the February poll. But he’s still more popular than Congress.

About 71 percent of people surveyed disapproved of Trump’s tenure. Fifty-six percent said they strongly disapproved. Ninety-three percent of Democrats disapproved of the president’s work so far. Seventy-one percent of independents and 21 percent of Republicans disapproved.

Pollsters interviewed 671 Maryland adults from Sept. 14 through 17. Five hundred thirty-three said they were registered voters. The survey has a 3.8 percentage-point margin of error.

Although 28 percent of Republicans think Hogan has distanced himself too much from Trump, it hasn’t dampened GOP enthusiasm for the governor. The governor’s approval rating among Republicans is 82 percent.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by more than two to one.

Hogan’s popularity is driven by ”just consistency,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, which conducted the poll.

“People like hearing a clear, consistent economic message from the governor,” she said.

Most of the poll’s findings painted a positive picture of Hogan’s reelection chances in 2018. {***DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!!***}

A majority of registered voters — 51 percent — say they either plan to vote for Hogan, or are “leaning” toward doing so. The poll found a 6 percentage-point uptick since February in the percentage of voters who say they’ll definitely vote for someone else. That group now represents 21 percent of respondents.

“If we were going to see some sort of Trump effect, you would have expected it to show up by now,” said Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College.

“His approval rating fell among Republicans, and I have to imagine some of that is the party base upset about him breaking with Trump, upset about” Hogan’s support for removing the statue of former Chief Justice Roger B. Taney from the State House grounds, Eberly said. “I don't think that in 2018 that would make them go out and vote for a Democrat.”

Seven Democrats have announced plans to run against Hogan: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous, Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea, author and tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, and Krish Vignarajah, a former aide to Michelle Obama.

A growing number of residents think the state is on the wrong track, but they’re still in the minority.

“Folks are a little bit less optimistic about the direction of the state,” Kromer said. “It's always difficult to disentangle what exactly that’s about.”

Fifty-five percent of respondents thought Maryland was on the right track. Most of the people who felt that way were also Hogan supporters.

The percentage of respondents pessimistic about the state’s direction increased by nine percentage points since the February poll.

Twenty-four percent said the economy was the most important issue facing the state. Fourteen percent thought education was the top issue, and 10 percent worried most about crime and criminal justice.

Hogan focused on pocketbook issues during his 2014 campaign, and has hewed closely to financial and business issues during his first two and a half years in office. Poll respondents were generally optimistic about Maryland’s economy. Fifty-seven percent said they felt “mostly positive” about it.

Residents don’t agree on where Hogan falls on the ideological spectrum. A little less than half of all residents, 45 percent, identified Hogan as a moderate, but about a third, 31 percent, thought he was conservative. Seven percent defined him as a liberal.

There were also mixed views among residents about Hogan’s place within broader Republican politics.

Forty-four percent said he represented “the future” of the party, and 24 percent said he represented the past. (The rest thought he represented both, neither, or they didn’t know.)

Congress continued to have dismal approval ratings, reflecting a national mood about the effectiveness of federal lawmakers. About 88 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the job Congress was doing. Fifty-nine percent said they “strongly disapprove.” That’s the most disillusionment with Congress since October 2013, when the federal government shut down amid a budget dispute.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tolls, Tolls Tolls. Whatever Happened to "Free"ways?

from the Baltimore Sun
Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday proposed a $9 billion project to add four express toll lanes each to the entire stretches of three of Maryland’s most congested highways — the I-495 Capital Beltway, the I-270 spur connecting Frederick to D.C. and the 295 Baltimore-Washington Parkway that connects the city to Washington.

“This problem has been marring the quality of life of Maryland citizens for decades,” Hogan said at a news conference. “Today, we are finally going to do something about it.”

The massive project involves persuading the federal government to give the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the Maryland Transportation Authority. Hogan said he has already met with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke about the transfer, and instructed state staffers to “finalize the details.”

He told reporters that the federal government wanted to give the state the road, according to a state spokeswoman.

Hogan proposed adding four toll lanes to the entire stretch of that roadway, from Baltimore to D.C. The price tag of that project is estimated at $1.4 billion. In addition, Hogan said his office has started writing a formal request for proposals for private companies to bid on the $7.6 billion projects to widen I-495 and I-270. The companies would finance, design, build, operate and maintain those express toll lanes.

Existing lanes on each road would remain free to drivers, a spokeswoman said.

Hogan predicted the “three massive, unprecedented projects … will be absolutely transformative and will help Maryland citizens go about their daily lives in a more efficient and safer manner,” Hogan said.

which the private sector helps build roads in return for revenue the project generates have become increasingly common. That method is being used to build the Purple Line light-rail project in the Washington suburbs.

Hogan said his new plan would be “the largest P-3 highway projects in North America.”

He proposed adding four toll lanes to the entire stretch of the Capital Beltway in Maryland, from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Prince George’s County to the American Legion Bridge in Montgomery.

He also proposed adding four toll lanes to I-270, from it’s connection to the Capital Beltway to where it meets I-70 in the city of Frederick.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Environmentalists Demand Marylanders Pay MORE than DOUBLE for Energy!

from the Baltimore Sun
A coalition of environmentalists, clergy and solar and wind energy companies launched a campaign Wednesday calling for half of Maryland's electricity to come from renewable sources.

That would double a policy adopted last year requiring that renewable energy account for 25 percent of the state’s electricity portfolio by 2020. The new campaign is setting a target of 2030.


“We cannot wait another moment to begin bringing about the clean-energy future we need,” said Brooke Harper, Maryland and District of Columbia policy director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

The campaign is casting the state’s renewable energy mandate as a tool to create “green” jobs, particularly in economically depressed communities and among women and people of color. Among the groups endorsing what has been dubbed the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Initiative are branches of the NAACP from across the state, Interfaith Power and Light, SEIU 1199 and the Maryland-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association.

They are also stressing it as a way to promote environmental justice.

“For too long here in Maryland’s communities of color, our children and our elders have paid for dirty energy with their health,” said Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

The policy does not require utilities to buy renewable power, but it mandates that they buy certificates that each represent a megawatt of renewable power. Utilities like Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and retail electricity sellers are required to buy enough of the credits to equal a set and growing percentage of their power supply — 15.6 percent in 2017 — or pay a penalty.

The certificates cost Maryland electricity ratepayers $126.7 million in 2015, according to the state Public Service Commission.

The 25 percent goal became law last year when when the Democratic-controlled General Assembly voted to override a veto by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The legislature had passed it the year before, but the governor rejected it, deriding the measure as a “sunshine tax.”

That suggests another difficult political fight ahead in Annapolis.

Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said the coalition is prepared for that.

“We have a lot of momentum,” she said. That is especially true coming off a stretch of natural disasters “where you see the impacts of climate change,” she said.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, did not respond to questions about the governor’s position on the proposal. She said he “strongly supports efforts to combat climate change,” including statewide greenhouse gas reduction goals, Maryland’s participation in a regional cap-and-trade system for Northeast power plants’ carbon emissions, and incentives for use of electric vehicles.

No lawmakers attended an event marking the launch of the campaign Wednesday in Charles Village. Del. Bill Frick, a Democrat from Montgomery County, plans to sponsor the bill in the House; Harper said the campaign is still working to line up a sponsor in the state Senate.

Del. Shane Robinson, another Montgomery Democrat, said he meanwhile plans to push a bill that would move the state to getting 100 percent of its power from solar, wind and geothermal generation.

Those sources combined for just 27 percent of the state’s renewable energy supply in 2015. The bulk of ratepayer subsidies go to trash incinerators, hydroelectric dams and paper mills, which burn a byproduct known as black liquor.

He called the 50 percent renewable energy goal “laudable,” but said Maryland is too small for its policy to make a meaningful impact on global climate change — unless it adopts a policy so aggressive it prompts other states to follow suit.

“If we can get other states and then other countries to act more quickly because of actions we take here, that’s how Maryland has an impact on climate change,” he said.

Harper said while the campaign’s bill and Robinson’s bill may appear to be competing, “we all have the same goal of getting Maryland to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.” She called the 50 percent goal “a critical benchmark and step” to getting there.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Clear and Present Danger to the Republic; Trump or Hillary?

from Yahoo News
In an interview released Tuesday, Hillary Clinton called President Trump a danger to America.

Clinton was asked on the “Pod Save America” podcast about the Democratic Party’s messaging and whether, going forward, Democrats should focus on promoting their economic agenda or drill down on opposing President Trump.

Clinton seemed to admit her campaign struggled with that balance, lamenting that her policy proposals were “just not competitive with the reality TV show” her general-election opponent provided.

“And we tried so many different ways to break through that,” Clinton continued. “And we did, of course, advertise what we saw as the threats that Trump posed to the country.”

She continued: “Because frankly, we thought — and I still believe — he’s a clear and present danger to America. And I would have been less than responsible if I didn’t talk about that. But we tried to do both, we tried to make the case for both, and I’d be the first to tell you, it was difficult to break through.”

Later, Clinton reiterated the “danger” she said Trump poses, saying, “I think Trump, left to his own devices, unchecked, would become even more authoritarian than he has tried to be.”

Clinton largely receded from public life after her stunning election loss, but she is set to participate in a round of interviews in conjunction with the release of “What Happened,” her election memoir. The tome officially went on sale Tuesday, but a number of excerpts have already made waves.

In both the book and in the “Pod Save America” interview, Clinton also took a number of digs at her primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

In “What Happened,” Clinton charges Sanders with “impugning my character,” thereby inflicting “lasting damage” and “making it harder to unify progressives” in the general election.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Immigration Flashbacks

Partial Transcript:
THE PRESIDENT Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization. Now, let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. It is –

Q (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT: — the right thing to do.

Q — foreigners over American workers.

THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me, sir. It’s not time for questions, sir.

Q No, you have to take questions.

THE PRESIDENT: Not while I’m speaking. Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act.

from Politico
President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of immigration programs and Congress’ refusal to lift a cap on work visas meant many seasonal businesses had to hire American this summer — and pay their workers more.

That's good news for Trump, for U.S. workers, and for supporters of Trump's “American First” agenda, but business groups complain that increased spending on wages will ultimately cost jobs and sap company profits. Across the country, enterprises ranging from oyster shuckers to landscapers say they were forced to give up contracts and forgo revenue because they just couldn’t find enough workers to do the jobs this summer.

"There were a lot of businesses that lost a lot of revenue,” said Laurie Flanagan, co-chair of the H-2B Workforce Coalition, a lobbying group with a membership that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Trump has blasted programs that allow foreign guest workers to take jobs in the U.S. legally. “Widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers of all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries to fill the same job for sometimes less pay,” he told workers in Wisconsin in April. “This will stop.”

The Trump administration hasn't moved specifically against the visas for summer workers — known as H-2Bs. His own companies use H-2B workers, especially at his Mar-a-Lago resort, which recently requested H-2B visas for 70 cooks, housekeepers and servers to start in October. But an executive order that Trump signed in April put the federal government on notice that he intended to tighten restrictions on guest-worker visas, and created a chilling effect.

The U.S. had 66,000 slots this year for foreign workers to staff non-agricultural seasonal businesses — landscapers, hotels and seafood processors among them. By March, these slots were all filled. In previous years, Congress often dealt with such shortages by extending the guest workers' H-2B visas. But this year Congress ignored employers’ pleas, putting the decision in the hands of the administration. In response, the Department of Homeland Security added 15,000 visas in what then-DHS Secretary John Kelly called a "one-time increase." Even that somewhat grudging gesture didn't occur until mid-July, when nearly one-third of summer was already past.

The Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, a seaside village in southeastern Maine, didn’t receive the eight H-2B visas it requested to supplement its summer housekeeping staff. To make ends meet, owner Sarah Diment recruited college kids through her Facebook network and cobbled together part-time shifts, some filled by American students and some by foreign students here on cultural exchange visas. In the past year, Diment estimates she had to boost housekeeping wages roughly 10 percent to keep employees.

Diment could continue to increase wages, but the higher staffing costs, she says, would make it difficult to keep the business open year-round. “Raising wages is good in theory, until you put it into practice,” she said.

North American Midway Entertainment, a large traveling-amusement-park company headquartered in Indiana, requested roughly 400 H-2B workers this year, a quarter of its total seasonal workforce. But the Department of Homeland Security reached its 66,000-visa cap before the company could secure the guest workers. Company President Danny Huston said he had to skip three fairs and contract out some ride operations because of the visa shortage. In total, he estimates that North American Midway may have lost as much as $800,000.

But the company was able to cover about one-third of the vacancies by hiring American through job fairs, newspaper advertisements, and social media. "We even set up a job fair in Puerto Rico," Huston said.

Other employers say hiring American just isn't an option.

Michael Martin owns a Maryland-based landscaping company. Roughly 40 percent of his workers — and the majority of those performing manual labor — hold H-2B visas, he told POLITICO. Martin received his H-2B workers on time this year, but he knows other landscapers who didn't, and lost clients as a result. "It affects people, their bottom line," he said, "whether they’re still in business, whether they’re going to make it next year."

The H-2B program requires employers to first seek out U.S. workers before they bring in guest workers. But Americans, Martin says, just won’t take landscaping jobs. He paid $2,500 for a two-week want ad that ran in the Baltimore Sun (print and online) and on social media. The jobs Martin was advertising paid more than $14 an hour, slightly above the average wage for the job in his area. Even so, he got no applicants. “No parents in Maryland are raising their kids to swing a pickax,” Martin said.

Not everyone agrees with that view. Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said the recruitment standards for the H-2B program aren't sufficient to give U.S. workers a real crack at the job.

“The requirements aren’t that onerous, and the DOL isn’t really checking all that much,” Costa said. H-2B employers are required to offer a so-called prevailing wage — defined as the average wage paid to people in a similar role in the same area — but Costa said the benchmark should be higher. A rider inserted in a 2016 spending bill, and re-upped again this year, allowed employers to use their own private wage surveys rather than Labor Department data to calculate prevailing wages. “There’s always some sort of loophole,” Costa said.

If H-2B workers had skills that were hard to find in the U.S., one might expect H-2B wages to be rising faster than those of other workers. But in a recent report, Costa found the opposite: Wage growth over the past decade in nine of the top 10 H-2B occupations was slower than wage growth for all workers, and some occupations actually lost ground. (Waiters and waitresses were the exception, with 20 percent wage growth from 2004 to 2016.)

Some employers say they can't raise wages substantially without pricing their products out of the market. Raz Halili is an owner of Prestige Oysters, a seafood processing outfit with operations in Louisiana and South Texas. He says he lost $3.5 million in sales this year because he got only one-third of the 150 H-2B workers he needed to shuck oysters. Prestige Oysters posted the H-2B worker positions at $9.64 an hour, according to data provided to the Labor Department. That's $2.39 above the state minimum wage, but $2.63 below the national 2016 average hourly wage for “meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers,” according to EPI.

“You raise wages, and then you raise the prices of your crab meat,” says Jack Brooks, president of Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association. Customers will pay more for domestic crab meat, he says, but if the price goes high enough, they’ll buy from "the guy down the street who’s using Chinese crab meat.”

EPI’s Costa disagrees with that logic. “It’s true that you can only raise [wages] so high,” he said. “I’m not saying that you should be paying $30 to $40 to people picking crabs.” But more modest increases — from $9 to $12 an hour, for instance — could bear different results, he said. “If you don’t have a business model that requires you to pay a decent wage," Costa said, "then you have to think about your business model."

One reason guest-worker wages tend to be low, quite apart from questions about the scarcity of their skills, is that the workers are by definition vulnerable as temporary guests of the U.S. government. “This is a controllable and compliant workforce,” said Art Read, general counsel with Philadelphia-based Friends of Farmworkers. “A U.S. worker with a family may miss a day of work.”

But many employers say the jobs that H-2B workers perform are so miserable that few Americans would take them, even at substantially higher pay. Of oyster shucking, Prestige Oyster's Halili says, "It’s a dirty, gritty job that most people just don’t want to do. They’ll do it for a few days or they’ll do it for a week, and then they just won’t show up.”

Meanwhile, despite the high demand, the 15,000 H-2B visas that DHS added to the pile in August are not yet exhausted — a bit of a surprise given the intense lobbying efforts by business groups and members of Congress. The H-2B Workforce Coalition's Flanagan chalks it up to how late in the fiscal year the visas were made available.

“I think that it’s the timing,” she said. “It would have been a different story if we saw visas released earlier in the process.”