Saturday, September 12, 2015

Interesting trivia: Apple richer than U.S. Treasury

In June of 2011, the U.S. government had an operating cash balance of $73.8 billion, while Apple boasted a whopping $76.2 billion in cash reserves.

This was four years ago and I assume it's no longer true, probably because Apple has reduced its cash reserves, and the U.S. has reduced its deficit, shifting the balance.  

Even though it's old news now, I thought it was an interesting commentary on what the digital revolution has wrought:    The most valuable U. S. corporation -- and the most valuable product worldwide (the iPhone) -- did not exist a generation ago.


New rules at DoJ for prosecuting white-collar crime

Why didn't the Justice Department charge any individuals in the financial meltdown and housing crisis of 2008?  That question has been hanging around for years now, and it's pretty clear that it's not going to be answered directly.

But here's a pretty good indirect answer.   The Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has written a memo that outlines the future rules for federal prosecutors, which she announced in a speech on Thursday at the NYU Law School.

Reuter's news service reported that Yates' memo said:
"Crime is crime . . . And it is our obligation at the Justice Department to ensure that we are holding lawbreakers accountable regardless of whether they commit their crimes on the street corner or in the board room.   In the white-collar context, that means pursuing not just corporate entities but also the individuals through which these corporations act."
She said the Justice Department wanted to "change corporate culture to appropriately recognize the full costs of wrongdoing, rather than treating liability as a cost of doing business."  And she outlined some steps that will be implemented -- apparently in the future, rather than retroactively -- that spell out how this will be carried out.

What this suggests is that this was not the policy but will be in the future.   Does this really mean that the DoJ under past AGs could not go after CEO's and other corporate officials?   Or just that it wasn't the tradition, as a sort of  'go easy on Wall Street' philosophy?

At least it's good to know that in the future individuals will be held accountable.   As an individual whose private retirement fund has not yet recovered from the crash of 2008, I deeply resent that we on Main Street suffered -- and the bank CEO's and hedge fund managers just got insanely richer.  And not a one of them was held accountable.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Another huge win for President Obama

When 42 Democratic senators stood firm yesterday and used the filibuster to stop the Republicans from killing the Iran nuclear deal, it was another huge accomplishment for President Obama.     He is building the kind of legacy we anticipated in 2009 . . . but that seemed impossible when he began his second term in 2013.

Now a win in the Middle East can be added to Obama's legacy:  the triumph of diplomacy and negotiation over war mongering, the Affordable Care Act, the economic recovery, saving the auto industry, getting rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and being on the winning side of marriage equality, re-establishing diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba, and much more.

Of course, John Kerry and his team at the State Department deserve a major share of the credit for negotiating successfully with the Iranians and with our five partners.   But getting 42 senators to support it is more than anyone expected.   Credit Joe Biden with some of that.  A couple of weeks ago, it was not even assured that Obama would get the 34 needed to sustain a veto.  But it won't come to that, since the bill was killed by the filibuster.

Many people, myself included, would have like to have a vote on the merits of the deal itself.  But there was no way they could have gotten 51 votes, with all Republicans opposed.   They have no cause to complain on the use of the filibuster, since they routinely used it even for far less important matters when they were in the minority.


Hillary's foreign policy speech

Hillary Clinton gave a major foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institute this week that is being characterized as "hawkish" and as a break from Obama on foreign policy.

She does, in fact, say he should have been more aggressive with regard to Syria and ISIS and Russia, just as she emphasizes how she would be tough on the Iranians as the nuclear deal gets implemented.   Obama is temperamentally inclined more to negotiation and compromise to get to the best solution that is possible at the time -- which is good, in my opinion. 

But there's not much real policy difference between them.   For example, she supports the Iran nuclear deal.  This tough talk is campaign rhetoric, more than real difference.   Hillary's standing in the primaries continues to slide.   Bernie Sanders now ties and threatens her front-runner status in both Iowa and New Hampshire -- and she's being constantly attacked by the Republicans.

Hillary is primarily trying to show that she will be a tough president on foreign policy.  And she will be.   Obama's overall style has been constrained to avoid him looking like "the angry black man."   Clinton needs to show that she's not a "weak woman."

Having said that, it's also true that she is more hawkish than Obama.  She voted for the Iraq war;  he voted against it.    But she was also involved in the decision to go the diplomatic route with Iran.   Then Obama had to oversee, along with John Kerry, the delicate negotiations with Iran.   She didn't.   

That's a big difference in what kind of sword-rattling rhetoric you use.   It's as much to do with that as with the substance of policy.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Legal clarity about the Kim Davis case

Geoffrey Stone, Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Chicago, has an especially clear legal opinion about the Kim Davis case -- in contrast to some others involving religious liberty.

He says that, as a public official, she simply cannot place her own religious beliefs above her duty as an agent of the government and above the constitutional rights of citizens. 
"Davis is the moral equivalent of the elevator operator in a government building who, for her own religious reasons, refuses to let gays and lesbians ride in "her" elevator, which is the only one in the building. This, quite simply, she cannot do."
*   *   * 
In spite of the absurdity of the legal claims by Davis' lawyer, this whole debacle has been a useful public educational opportunity to clarify the limits of one person's religious liberty when it interferes with another person's legal rights.

Unfortunately, Kim Davis, her lawyer from the Liberty  Council, several of the Republican presidential candidates, and the religious right they court -- all seem not to have learned any lesson at all from this.   They're treating this as a victory.   In fact, they have lost.   Davis is out of jail, for now, based only on the fact that, without her interference, the office of clerk is functioning as it must.   If she tires to claim that marriage licenses they issued are not valid, and tries to stop further licenses . . . then she may be going back to jail.


PS:   To readers who have had enough of the Kim Davis story:   I hope this is the last I will write about this.   But that depends on whether she complies with Judge Bunning's order not to interfere.   Is she chooses to continue defiance of court orders, there will be more news -- perhaps more jail time.   But, for me, the question is settled -- at least when it comes to an official government agent doing her job.    There is going to be ongoing controversy in the private sphere over the limits of one person's right to religious expression when that interferes with another person's rights.

Kim Davis' lawyer mistakes the losing SCOTUS opinions for the winning opinion

Point 1:   Even Fox News host Gregg Jarrett said this about Kim Davis:   “When she took the job she swore to uphold the law. . . . We rely on government officials to do that. They can’t just pick and choose what laws they like, which ones they don’t. If they were allowed to do that, wouldn’t that lead to chaos, anarchy and so forth?”

And Fox News host Shepard Smith pointed out that Kim Davis and her lawyer keep moving the goal post:   first they wanted accommodation, so she didn't have to sign the licenses herself.   On release from jail, the judge gave her that accommodation:   just don't interfere with deputy clerks issuing licenses.   Now she threatens not to comply with that.   It was also Shep Smith who contrasted how religious zealots fear-monger about Sharia law but are all in for theocracy when it is their theocracy.

The point is:   These are Fox News hosts.  Even they get it  -- at least some of them do.

Point 2:   Where did Davis' attorney and all the other conservative politicians and pundits get the idea that SCOTUS might not have the authority to do what it did?   That's easy.   It's right there in the dissenting opinions of Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito in the marriage equality case.    As John Culhane says:  "all four . . . brim with the kind of intemperate language that seems calculated to foster disrespect for the rule of law."

Scalia, in particular, denounced the decision as not based in law but rather "far beyond the outer reaches of this Court's authority."  Thomas warned that it would have “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”  Chief Justice Roberts himself predicted that people might not accept the court's decision.    Culhane concludes his article with this:

It was the U.S. Supreme Court’s dissenting Justices who dug the rabbit hole. . . . their questioning of the very legitimacy of the Supreme Court is having predictably pernicious consequences. They should be ashamed of the anarchy they have unleashed. 

So, why are we surprised that this is the line of attack taken by Liberty Council in representing (or manipulating) Kim Davis?

Point 3:    Yes, but remember this:
Those dissents were the losing opinions in the case.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

QE II becomes England's longest-reigning monarch in history, and its oldest

At just past noon today EST, the young woman who ascended the throne of England at age 25, unexpectedly upon the death of her father in 1952, surpassed her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria as the longest reigning monarch in British history.  She is also the oldest at age 89 and the 40th in a long line of monarchs extending back to William the Conquerer in 1066.
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Queen Elizabeth has surpassed the 63 years, 7 months, 2 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes that her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria spent on the throne.</span>

Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, saying "Over the last 63 years, Her Majesty has been a rock of stability in a world of constant change and her selfless sense of service and duty has earned admiration not only in Britain, but right across the globe."

Reuters News Service reports that "she is fairly blase about the milestone, believing it represents little more than the fact she has lived for a long time."

"The year she became queen, the Korean War was raging, Joseph Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union and Britain announced it had the atom bomb. . . . Since becoming queen, she has seen 12 prime ministers, starting with Winston Churchill, and there have been 12 U.S. Presidents, from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama.
"Not only has Elizabeth reigned the longest but according to a poll in the Sunday Times this week, Britons also think she is the country's greatest monarch, ahead of her Tudor namesake Elizabeth I and Victoria, who was queen for much of the 19th century when Britain built up its empire."
*   *   *
It's traditional to say, "Long live the Queen."   But of course on everyone's mind is the question:  "Who next . . . and when?"   Would this milestone be the natural time for her now to step down?   And is it necessary that we endure Charles and Camilla as King and Queen . . . or will they do what everyone wants and skip right over them to William and Kate and their adorable kids?

If England is going to continue the tradition of having a royal family, let them have a modern family that the people can admire and love.    Not a middle-aged fuddy-duddy tainted by divorce from the beloved Diana and marrying his dowdy mistress Camilla.   That might just kill off the monarchy altogether, if that's what they want to do.


Huckabee offers to take Davis' place in jail . . . . . . , , , just after she's released from jail.

Readers of ShrinkRap know that my disdain for Mike Huckabee has grown enormously over this campaign season as Mike has stooped ever lower in his too, too obvious pandering for popularity.

But my scorn has become complete today when he turned up as Kim Davis was released from jail to put his arm protectively around her and proclaim:
"If somebody needs to go to jail, I'm willing to go in her place."
Pardon me while I puke.   Mike!   You're offering to take her place in jail -- as she's being released from jail?????

Do you seriously think that's going to make somebody think you're a hero or something?   Come on.   How stupid or gullible do you think we are?   


Davis released from jail . . . but ordered not to interfere with office issuing marriage licenses

U.S. District Judge David Bunning issued an order that released Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from jail.   It also ordered her "not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples."

Judge Bunning made the decision, saying he was satisfied that the clerk's office was now "fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples."

This does not change the discussion about the issues involved, and tomorrow I will post what I've found that clarifies the issues.

This also does not seem to change Kim Davis' ideas about what happens now in the clerk's office.   The federal judge orders her not to interfere, and he will get reports of applicantions and licenses issues to make sure they're doing their job.   Her lawyer said that she will never abandon her conscience;  and he said that the licenses that have been issued in her absence are not valid. 

This does not sound like someone who plans to follow the judge's orders.  There may be more jail time if she continues to deny orders or if she interferes. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Two more birthdays before the election

Way back on August 12th, I quoted my favorite comedian/satirist John Oliver's vivid comparison to show how long it still is until the 2016 election:   "Babies will be born on election night whose parents have not even met yet."

Today, I heard another good one and applied it to my family:   I have a grandson who was born in September.   He will have two more birthdays before election day.

His brother, born in October, will also have two more birthdays before the election. 


For the fifth time, predicting the demise of the Trump campaign. Probably wrong again, too.

First, there was the awful comment about Mexicans in his announcement speech.   Then the attack on John McCain's heroism and the fight he picked with Megyn Kelly.   Then refusing to say he would support the GOP nominee.    Each of those four can't-survive-this-one moments came and went -- and The Donald's poll numbers only went up.

So it is with not much conviction that I predict, for the fifth time, a coming demise of the Trump campaign.   But this one is different, because it's not based on something outrageous he said but on turning conventional and, therefore, boring.    And, as someone said:   "The one thing Donald Trump cannot be is boring."

So, it may take a while, but let's see.  What's the evidence that he has changed direction?

1.  He made a big show, belatedly, of signing the pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee for president and not to run as a third party candidate.

2.  He has begun serious campaign organizing and setting up local grassroots organizations in early primary states.

3.  He has begun fundraising appeals for small donors, saying he doesn't need the money but it gives the people an opportunity to participate in his campaign.

4.   He has toned down his rhetoric and avoids being goaded into making outrageous statements.

5.  He has developed a stump speech with five major talking points that he sticks to.   He avoids being pulled "off message."   In the past, his rally speeches were spontaneous riffs on whatever struck him at the moment.

6.  Since he threw the Latino journalist out of a press conference, he's toned down the way he treats challenging questioners.  No more insults.

One reporter following him on the campaign trail admitted that it's beginning to be a bit boring . . . like all the others.

So, is this the beginning of the end for Trump?    If he becomes a conventional politician, will he lose his appeal?   Trump and boring do not belong in the same sentence.

I'm not alone in seeing it this way.   Rachel Maddow responded to the tilt toward conventionality this way:  “Honestly, what this looks like strategically is a giant screwup -- a beautiful, giant, classy, huge screwup.”   Maybe he'll get bored himself . . . and quit.


Monday, September 7, 2015

A challenge to Mike Huckabee about these false exclusions based on "religious belief"

I'm collecting false "exclusions" that government workers might claim as excuses for not doing their duty based on their religious beliefs -- like Kim Davis refusing to issue marriage licenses.

On Sept. 5th I suggested that a Buddhist might refuse to issue gun permits because his faith forbids killing.   Another one floated by on the internet today:

A Muslim clerk in the drivers license bureau might refuse a license to women because some Islamist laws forbid women to drive.

Mike Huckabee says, yes, one should follow the law . . . but only if it is right.   Right according to whom, Huck?  Isn't that the duty of the U. S. Supreme Court, which has already brushed off Kim Davis' claim?  So then Huck cites the Dred Scott decision (that said no one of African descent may be a U. S. citizen) to show that SCOTUS makes mistakes and later overturns them.

Yes, Dred Scott was a terrible decision.  But that does not justify 300 million people each, willy nilly, on her own, choosing which laws to obey.    So, maybe, Huck, you would say . . .  it's OK if you give a Bible verse to back you up.  No, better not go there.   Too many forbidden things that Christian conservatives do every day (eating shellfish, being greedy, coveting neighbors wives, etc.)

So what's the answer, Huck, huh?  Only those with the right pipeline to God have the right answers to what is a right law?   Is that it?   And you, Huck, get to say if it is the right pipeline?  And which God?   Oh, I see.    And who appointed you the Protestant Pope?


D.C. Confederate flag rally fails

Reported by ThinkProgress from Washington, D.C.

"More than 1,300 people were expected to attend a “Southern Heritage” rally in support of the Confederate flag on Saturday in front of the U.S. Capitol.  Less than 50 showed up."

Biden may have revealed more than he intended about running for president.

Joe Biden continues his work meeting with Jewish communities to explain the Obama administration's reasons for supporting the nuclear deal with Iran.    Thursday night, he spoke at a synagogue in Atlanta, where he was asked about running for president.

What he said was something like this:    The deciding factor will not be who else is running, or whether he can raise the money or organize a campaign in time.   The real question, Biden said, "Is whether I can do it."   And, he added, whether his family can do it.

He said that, as of now, he honestly doesn't know the answer, and he cannot say when the decision will be made.

It wasn't as much what he said.   It was his tone and his body language that makes me think he will not run.  He seemed tired, depleted -- well, of course, he's still deeply grieving over the death of his son.   The old Biden energy and cheery optimism just wasn't there.

Of course, I only saw a very short video clip of this Q and A.    But, if this remains his mood and demeanor, I think it indicates that his answer will be no, when he does make a decision.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Is "Christian" too broad a term?

from CatM on Daily Kos, Sept. 4, 2015

". . . .  As an aside, do you suppose Huckabee and his ilk have ever considered the possibility that their over-the-top bigotry and advocacy for a theocracy are contributing to the decline in US Christians and the even steeper decline in Protestants? 

"Maybe those Christians who truly do believe in Jesus's messages of peace, love, and tolerance are becoming more reluctant to identify themselves with a label that is increasingly becoming identified with intolerance in the United States. Using the same label for Christians like Kim Davis and the kinds of Christians I have had the pleasure of knowing is a bit like using the word mammal to describe both a dolphin and a person. Sure, it's accurate but the differences between the two are monumental." 
*   *   *
In my own earlier experience in the Methodist church, you are a Christian if you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal savior and ask for forgiveness for your sins.   I, for one, would find the label more acceptable if, instead of theology and divinity, it was given to those who follow Jesus' social teachings about how to treat our fellow human beings here on earth.

And I ask, again:   Where are the liberal Christians in all this?   They were such a force for good during the Civil Rights movement.    Why not now?    Are they growing ashamed of what the label has come to mean, as CatM suggests?


Davis' attorney claims "persecution of Christians in this country," like Jews living in Nazi Germany

Whatever sincere religious beliefs Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis may have, she is being exploited to the maximum by her legal representation by the Liberty Counsel.

Liberty Counsel is a non-profit defender of "religious liberties."  Much of its notoriety comes from its anti-gay activities.  It has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Some are so cynical about the Liberty Counsel that they say they're making a martyr of Ms. Davis as a fund-raising ploy.   There's now no doubt that Liberty Council is pulling out all the stops to blow this up into something it's not.

For what purpose?    Sincere belief?    Money?   Political pandering?  As lawyers, they have to know that they cannot win.   On the other hand, perhaps they're fully aware and are not so much seeking to win in court as to create a martyr for political propaganda purposes.

Here's the latest, reported by Noah Michelson, Huffington Post:
Liberty Counsel's president and Davis' head legal counsel Mathew Staver claims that persecution of Christians exists in our country, and he likened it to what Jews faced in Nazi Germany.  Here's how he framed it:
"[Davis had a job and was] there to do a duty, a job and the job duty was changed. . . .  Does that mean that if you’re Christian, don’t apply here? . . .  [I]n Nazi Germany . . . first, they removed the Jews from government public employment, then they stopped patronizing them in their private businesses, then they continued to stigmatize them, then they were the ‘problems,’ then they killed them."
He doubled down on that statement in a radio show with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins:   "All of us would say we wouldn't do that . . . .  Well, we're about ready to walk into the moment.”

This is pretty scary demagoguery -- and it could be dangerous to rile up people with this false equivalence.   It also dishonors the memory of the millions of Jews who did die in Nazi concentration camps.

The Nazi laws that Jews were forced to abide by were patently discriminatory toward them.   The Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality is the opposite -- it overturns existing  discrimination.    Davis is in jail, not for being a Christian but for using her official government position to force others to follow her interpretation of Christianity.

If there is any parallel to Nazi Germany, it is Ms. Davis and the Liberty Counsel trying to force their ideology on others, not the government that is making our civil society more inclusive.

It's time for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to speak out and restore some legal sanity into this hysteria.   And where are the liberal churches in all this right-wing religious hoopla, anyway?    They were such an important part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.