Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Via Visual Capitalist we get "The Salary Needed to Buy a Home in 27 Cities in America" ...

- Mark

Monday, July 24, 2017


The Guardian has a nice overview of how the Trump administration - in spite of colossal incompetence when it comes to health care, tax reform, and foreign affairs - is still accomplishing  something. Unfortunately that "something" is the gradual dismantling of safeguards and protections we don't see but nonetheless have made a significant difference in our every day lives.

How do these safeguards and protections work, you ask? Think of the hypothetical below, and you should understand what we're talking about.

Imagine you have the option of being in a skyscraper in Seattle or Thailand. If you knew there was going to be an 8.5 earthquake, and you had the option of being on the 30th floor of a building in Seattle or Thailand, which would you choose? You would choose Seattle, of course. Apart from the building codes and inspections that many contractors and building owners might complain about, standards make a difference. Then we have the tax supported and publicly managed emergency response teams (fire, police, ambulance, etc.) that provide another level of protection and security.

Protocols, rules and regulations are all there for a reason. They provide safeguards and protections we don't think about, but are there to make our lives better, and safer (think vaccines).

President Trump, as this Guardian piece points out, isn't much concerned about these safeguards. The primary reason he's not concerned is because - in spite of his wide use of government bankruptcy courts, his abuse of government tax codes (for the write-offs), and his team of government sanctioned lawyers - he believes government only gets in the way of people like him making money.

Below is a synopsis, with my commentary, of the Guardian's six ways Donald Trump is 'dismantling' the United States.
1. ECONOMY / BUSINESS: Apart from freeing up firms to pollute our rivers and streams, the Trump administration has "scrapped a rule" that prevented companies from receiving federal contracts if they had a history violating worker wage, labor, and safety laws. Worse, almost ten years after the market started its downward spiral into a mega-collapse, the Trump administration is working to dismantle the rules designed to guard against another 2008-like market collapse. 

2. THE ENVIRONMENT: From going after emission standards to dismantling the EPA, to opening public lands to coal mining, to dismissing the scientific consensus on climate change, the Trump administration has made it clear if science and health get in the way of the bottom line they will be questioned, and then ignored when possible. And let's not forget our exit from the Paris Accord. These people are Flat-Earthers.

3. IMMIGRATION: By going after Muslims and undocumented migrant families, Donald Trump is both feeding, and feeding off of, the paranoid and bigoted fears of America. Citing non-existent terrorist fears (you're more likely to win the lottery and get hit by lightening than get wrapped up in a terrorist related activity), Trump is going after the weakest and most vulnerable communities. This might keep his base motivated, but it also pits those who understand the spirit of America against those who are driven by fear and hate. 

4. DIPLOMACY: While Trump hasn't started a war, yet (a definite plus), there's no doubt that the global community think he's either a lunatic, a joke, or both. He embarrasses America daily on the world stage, which undermines our prestige and capacity to lead. Then we have this: The Mother of All Diplomatic Giveaways. Donald Trump is doing Russia's bidding on the global stage, and has become Vladimir Putin's stooge.

5. GENDER: Whether it's ignoring sexual assault on our nation's college campuses, going after Planned Parenthood, eliminating Obamacare's birth control mandate, or defunding the Legal Services Corporation (the main source for women attempting to escape domestic violence) the Trump administration has made it clear issues tied to gender are not a priority; unless rules need to be rolled back.

6. CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Campaigning on a non-existent "rising crime" theme, Donald Trump has commissioned a task force to make policy recommendations about a rising threat that even Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledges doesn't exist. Then we have AG Session's agenda, which includes upping the use of "civil forfeiture" which allows law enforcement to confiscate assets of anyone accused of making money criminally, even if they haven't been convicted of a crime. AG Sessions has also made it clear that he's not really interested in going after, or even investigating, rogue and corrupt law enforcement agencies.

Critical to all of this is how the Republican Party is enabling Trump's slow dismantling of America. For them, it doesn't matter what our nation's intelligence agencies say about Russia meddling in our elections, and what is slowly being leaked about collusion between Trump's inner circle and the Russians. It also doesn't matter that Trump's inciting division and fear, and how he does nothing to appeal to our better angels.

The GOP is putting party above country. Period.

You can read the entire Guardian article by clicking here.

- Mark

Friday, July 21, 2017


So the United States is pulling up its covert (CIA) stakes, and leaving Syria. What this means is that there is no longer "official" U.S. support for the rebels fighting the autocratic Bashar al-Assad, or the radical Islamic State in Eastern Syria, which the U.S. has been doing since 2013.

Russian leaders, as you can imagine, responded immediately, praising the move, and then vowing to cut ties to moderate rebels in Syria.

If this is part of Donald Trump's secret plan to rid the region of ISIS - because he has a secret plan built around the fact that he knows so much more about ISIS than the generals - I'm not impressed. The Free Syrian Army is not only upset, but they're making sure everyone knows they were blindsided by the move.

In their view, the jihadists and al Qaeda just got stronger.

But wait, it gets better (worse?).

On a broader geo-strategic level President Trump is effectively saying, "Let's leave Syria to the Russians ... and the Iranians" (who support al-Bashar). Acknowledging this, one Trump surrogate even went so far as to comment, "Putin won in Syria."

So, yeah, in one move, we just created a vacuum in the Middle East, and made Russia (and Iran) stronger in the region.

If you needed more evidence that Donald Trump is doing Russia's bidding around the world, walking away from Syria, just one week after meeting Putin in Europe, has to be the last piece you need.

It fits with a longer Trump policy train (wreck) that I pointed out would happen at this time last year (more than once too).

Specifically, the United States is now ceding it's foreign policy positions around the world, both tactically and strategically. And all for what? Because Trump got into bed with Russian oligarchs, and owes them money. Throw in the fact that it looks like Vladimir Putin has some incriminating evidence on our president, and it's easier to understand why America's leadership positions around the world are being had for a song and a dance ... an American song, combined with a Russian dance, to be sure.

But, wait, it gets better (worse?). 

The Washington Post's Michael Gerson took a look at President Trump's superpower giveaway today, asked why, and came up with this:

There is nothing normal about an American president’s subservience to Russia’s interests and worldview. It is not the result of some bold, secret, Nixonian foreign policy stratagem — the most laughable possible explanation. Does it come from Trump’s bad case of authoritarianism envy? A fundamental sympathy with European right-wing, anti-democratic populism? An exposure to pressure from his checkered financial history? There are no benign explanations, and the worst ones seem the most plausible.

What we end up with is a Trump "strategery" that weakens NATO, dismisses Europe, abandons the mess in Syria, treads lightly around China, blusters in North Korea, and, quite frankly, hands the keys to the kingdom to Putin.

How we got here is a mystery to many. But make no mistake. Vladimir Putin has been putting his global chess pieces in order for the better part of the last decade. Michael Gerson writes:

Russia has employed a sophisticated mix of conventional operations and cyber-operations to annex territory and destabilize governments. It has systematically encouraged far-right, nationalist leaders and supported pro-Russian, anti-democratic parties across Europe. It is trying to delegitimize democratic processes on the theory that turbulence in the West is good for a rising East. This is a strategy that allows Russia to punch above its strategic weight, especially since Trump has chosen to abdicate the United States’ natural role in opposition.

But wait. It gets better (worse?).

President Trump is now the head of a Republican Party that has decided that they can put their twisted Ayan Rand inspired interests of their party ahead of the long term interests of our nation.

Even after being told by our nation's top intelligence agencies that the Russians intervened in our presidential elections, the GOP have chosen to sit on their hands, and say nothing. Indeed, 49 percent of Republicans now believe Russia is an ally or friend, for no other reason than because they've been told to believe it by their leader, Donald Trump.

To hell with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. They knew nothing about Russia, compared to Trump.

My Republican friends are telling me, "Don't judge Trump today. Only time will tell."

Yeah, he could still hand over Alaska.

That is better, for the Russians.

Sigh ...

- Mark


Trevor Noah points out, once again, why Fox News is pretty much useless when it comes to reporting the news and evaluating President Trump ...

In a few words, Noah takes a look at the Doncathlon "events" that Fox News engages in to promote and protect Donald Trump. The events include the Hillary Leap (diverting attention from Trump to Hillary Clinton), the Giant Leap (inventing conspiracies), and Semantic Judo (using the weight of the truth against itself).


- Mark

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Two days ago I made another appearance with Republican Cathy Abernathy on KGET 17 News' 5:30 pm segment. The topic was the Republican-led effort to kill Obamacare, and replace it with the health care equivalent of, well, nothing.

Out of the gate I made it clear that the GOP's plan really isn't about health care. What they're calling a health care plan - by first repealing and then replacing Obamacare, some time down the road - is really a tax cuts for the rich Trojan Horse (which I explain 1:20 into the clip). It's a promise of a fabulous health care system, but only after the Republicans get their tax cuts for the rich, and then get rid of something that's actually working, Obamacare.

How do we know that Obamacare is working? Because it has opened up access to health care, and slowed down projected pre-Obamacare health care costs.

What people forget is that health care costs had been rising at an unsustainable pace when President Obama was elected in 2008. Think about this. In 1970 for every dollar we earned as a nation we spent 7.2 cents of it on health care. In 2009, when Obamacare was introduced, for every national dollar we earned we spent 17.6 cents on health care!

This is simply not sustainable.

During President Obama's first term, the Congressional Budget Office even projected that our nation would spend 20 cents of every dollar earned on health by 2018, and 25 cents by 2025.

This has not happened.

Today, not only are we spending about 17.8 cents of every national dollar on health care but, as Forbes reported, health care costs during the Obama administration rose at its slowest rate since 1960. As well, between 2010 and 2016 Obamacare helped lower personal (medical) bankruptcies by nearly 50 percent. What this means is that Obamacare is a stunning success when it comes to creating access and reducing health care related costs in America.

This also means that when Cathy Abernathy said - 25 seconds into the clip - "We don't need Obamacare ... It's hurting the economy ..." she was flat out wrong (OK, she was "lying"). Let me repeat: Obamacare has slowed the costs of medical care in our nation's economy to rates not seen since 1960.

More importantly, as the Wall Street Journal reported, Obamacare has added years to the life of Medicare.

The other point I made in the clip - and what I want to emphasize here - was that the Republicans aren't serious about replacing Obamacare. Their "plan" to repeal and then replace Obamacare with something better (that only they know about) down the road is really a Trojan Horse.

I closed my comments by pointing out that the GOP's assumptions are based on wishful thinking (2.6% growth rates when the CBO projects it to hit 1.9%), and by reemphasizing that the Republicans current health care efforts are really just another round of tax cuts for the rich.

Cathy ended with some nonsense about "the government," which left us all looking at each other.

- Mark

You can access the KGET 17 News segment by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


- Mark

Hat tip to Leonel for the John Cole-San Jose Mercury News comic.


Six years ago pundits were writing California off, complaining about its migrant population, its business environment, and its politics. Today, all of that's changed.

With a democratic legislature and governor, a tech-based economy that's in tune with its Asian-Pacific partner nations, and a political culture that's embracing its migrant communities, California - according to Bloomberg News - is leading the U.S. economy, and the world away from Trump.


California's secret? Whatever Trump does, it does the opposite. And it's working.

To be sure, it's a little more complex than running away from everything that our national embarrassment does from the White House, but the point is made. The United States under President Trump is going in the wrong direction. States that buck Trump's initiatives, like California, are doing well.

Specifically, Bloomberg notes:

* California has one-eighth of the U.S. population (39 million) and one-seventh of the nation's gross domestic product of $2.3 trillion.

* Far from being a mess, California's economy is bigger than ever, rivaling the U.K. as No. 5 in the world.

* California is the chief reason America is the only developed economy to achieve record GDP growth since the financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing global recession

As Bloomberg notes, Governor Jerry Brown is making the point that much of the U.S. growth can be traced to California laws promoting clean energy, government accountability and protections for undocumented people. Indeed, rather than treating its migrant populations as pariahs, criminals and terrorists as President Trump and much of the Republican Party is doing, California's leaders are embracing its newcomers. Governor Brown, now in his fourth term, considers immigrants a major reason for the state's success.

And contrary to what President Trump and his Flat Earth society of climate deniers are saying about climate regulations hurting business, California is becoming the poster child for the right mix of smart regulations and a viable clean energy policy.

Bloomberg writes:

No state or country has created as many laws discouraging fossil fuels and carbon while promoting clean energy. That convergence of policy and voter preference is paying off in the stock market.

California is home to 20 of the 130 companies in North America and South America that meet the standard classification of clean energy. These 20 companies produced a total return of 45 percent during the past 12 months, beating the clean energy benchmark's 13 percent, the S&P 500's 19 percent and the S&P 500 Energy Index's 6 percent.

As evidence of California's power to attract and maintain tech talent, take a look at Apple's new $5 billion "Space Ship" Campus, which they're building in Cupertino, California ... Ground Zero for what Republicans claim is a tax and regulatory hell hole.


There's more, much more, about California's new successes - away from Trump, and Washington - which you can access here.

- Mark

Monday, July 17, 2017


An interesting look at how people from around the world arrived in the United States, beginning about 50 years after the Declaration of Independence ...

Another interesting look at migration patterns, into the Americas, from about 70,000 years ago ...


- Mark


I missed this one a few months back. During the height of the "travel ban" discussion, Alec Baldwin plays President Donald Trump on SNL's skit on The People's Court.

- Mark

Saturday, July 15, 2017


If you've read President Trump's comments with journalists on Air Force One - or just followed his daily antics since he was inaugurated - this Mike Luckovich comic makes all the sense in the world.

I'm not sure what's worse. President Trump's buffoonery, or the stubbornness of those who voted for Trump and now refuse to acknowledge they put a compromised man-child in the White House.

How bad is it? It's so bad that I don't even need to post commentary to President Trump's responses to journalists on Air Force One this past week. Check out these gems from President Trump on trade, health care, and the border wall ...



THE PRESIDENT: A big thing we have with China was, if they could help us with North Korea, that would be great. They have pressures that are tough pressures, and I understand. And you know, don’t forget, China, over the many years, has been at war with Korea — you know, wars with Korea. It’s not like, oh, gee, you just do whatever we say. They’ve had numerous wars with Korea.

They have an 8,000 year culture. So when they see 1776 — to them, that’s like a modern building. The White House was started — was essentially built in 1799. To us, that’s really old. To them, that’s like a super modern building, right? So, you know, they’ve had tremendous conflict over many, many centuries with Korea. So it’s not just like, you do this. But we’re going to find out what happens.

Very important to me with China, we have to fix the trade. We have to fix the trade.

And I’ve been going a little bit easier because I’d like to have their help. It’s hard to go ***. But we have to fix the trade with China because it’s very, very none-reciprocal.


THE PRESIDENT: ... I think, first, I want to do — well, we have a few things. We have a thing called healthcare. I’m sure you haven’t been reading about it too much. It is one of the — I’d say the only thing more difficult than peace between Israel and the Palestinians is healthcare. It’s like this narrow road that about a quarter of an inch wide. You get a couple here and you say, great, and then you find out you just lost four over here. Healthcare is tough.

But I think we’re going to have something that’s really good and that people are going to like. We’re going to find out over the next — you know, we just extended for two weeks. Which, that’s a big —


Q. You were joking about solar, right?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not joking, no. There is a chance that we can do a solar wall. We have major companies looking at that. Look, there’s no better place for solar than the Mexico border — the southern border. And there is a very good chance we can do a solar wall, which would actually look good. But there is a very good chance we could do a solar wall.

One of the things with the wall is you need transparency. You have to be able to see through it. In other words, if you can’t see through that wall — so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.

And I’ll give you an example. As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall. 

But we have some incredible designs.

But we are seriously looking at a solar wall ...


THE PRESIDENT: ... And I’m not saying it wasn’t Russia. What I’m saying is that we have to protect ourselves no matter who it is. You know, China is very good at this. I hate to say it, North Korea is very good at this. Look what they did to Sony Studios. They were the ones that did the whole deal to Sony. You know, we’re dealing with highly sophisticated people.

So, China is very good. You have many countries. And you have many individuals that are very good at this. But we can’t have — and I did say, we can’t have a scintilla of doubt as our elections and going forward.

Q Have you told him that?

THE PRESIDENT: I told him. I said, look, we can’t — we can’t have — now, he said absolutely not twice. What do you do? End up in a fistfight with somebody, okay? Because then I brought up Syria, and I said —

Q Afterwards?

THE PRESIDENT: Very shortly there afterward. And I said, there’s so much killing in Syria. We got to solve Syria. We’ve got to solve Ukraine. And you know, I’ve always said — and I’m not just talking about Russia — we’re a lot better off — like it’s a good thing that I have a good relationship with President Xi. It’s a good thing I have a good relationship with every one of them — Modi — you saw that. Every single one of them of all 19 — there’s 20 with us. All 19, I have a great relationship with.

There's no need to highlight all of Trump's syphilitic-addled responses, as chronicled in the NY Times, which you can access here. The key is understanding that the level at which President Trump speaks isn't much better than what I expect from a freshman in one of our introductory political science courses.

We are truly dealing with a compromised man-child, who's in over his head. What's worse is that his supporters can't see it, or simply don't care.

- Mark