Paging Max Bialystock

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Actual Associated Press headline today: Producer admits bilking investors with fake Broadway play

A Broadway producer admitted on Wednesday that he scammed his friends and others into investing more than $165,000 in a nonexistent play about opera star Kathleen Battle supposedly starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. –Associated Press

He forgot to watch the original play or movie, I guess.

You have to produce a real play, but it is supposed to be a bad one.

You cannot skip the play entirely.  Please rewatch the entire video tape.

ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 27

Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

 Trump goes BIG with proposed tax cuts

New York Times: “Trump Proposes Sharply Cutting Tax Rates for Individuals”

The plan is still broad strokes, rather than details, but the strokes are bold.  The point men are Steven Mnuchin at Treasury and Gary Cohn at the National Economic Council.

The proposal envisions slashing the tax rate paid by businesses large and small to 15 percent. The number of individual income tax brackets would shrink from seven to three — 10, 25 and 35 percent — easing the tax burden on most Americans, including the president, although aides did not offer the income ranges for each bracket.

Individual tax rates currently have a ceiling of 39.6 percent and a floor of 10 percent. Most Americans pay taxes somewhere between the two.

The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them. –New York Times

The Times also has a perceptive story: Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks

The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the question will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. –New York Times

Comment: The main story on tax cuts is riddled with editorial attacks on Trump and often personal ones. The opening line of the lead story is that the tax cuts benefit the rich. And all the stories emphasize the NYT’s speculation–and that is all it is–that the cuts will benefit Trump personally. The implications are that he is self-dealing and that this plan is just another “favor-the-rich, Republican plutocrat” idea. They also love to follow the “benefit the rich” with the words “like Donald Trump.” They have given up all pretense of distinguishing their hard-news reporting from their editorial stance. The difference is the first thing student journalists learn.

 US THAAD anti-missile system, sent to South Korea, to be active within days  (CNN)

Comment: The US has also sent major naval assets to the area, while China and Russia have deployed significant land forces, possibly fearing an influx of refugees if the Kim regime collapse. But also a signal to Kim Jong Un that he is facing pressure on multiple fronts. 

 Obamacare repeal: House GOP factions making progress, Senate Republicans still an obstacle.  Politico reports: GOP senators not so keen on House’s Obamacare repeal

The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.

The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate. –Politico

Comment: The pressure to get this done will be enormous. The GOP knows that they face electoral disaster if they don’t pass their biggest promise of the past seven years.

 How good is the economy in Austin, Texas? “Employers struggling to find workers who will take less than $15 an hour” (KXAN)

The story also notes, oddly, that unemployment there has crept up slightly in the past few months.

Comment: When I was in Austin this winter, I asked some workers at a fast-food chain what the starting wage was. “$12 an hour.” I often ask that question when I travel since the starting wage at a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen is the effective minimum wage in the area. 

I draw two lessons from the Austin story.

First, the only lasting way to raise the minimum wage is to strengthen business demand for workers, which means making it easier for them to do business and prosper. That’s the Texas story, in a nutshell.

Second, if unemployment is creeping up (though still very low in Austin) but businesses cannot find workers, then something is wrong. Either people don’t have the right skills or there are disincentives to work. Either way, those are problems that need solutions.

 First settlers came to America 130,000 years ago, long before previous estimates, according to a new study.  (Science News)

An unidentified Homo species used stone tools to crack apart mastodon bones, teeth and tusks approximately 130,700 years ago at a site near what’s now San Diego. This unsettling claim upending the scientific debate over the settling of the Americas comes from a team led by archaeologist Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and paleontologist Thomas Deméré of the San Diego Natural History Museum. If true, it means the Cerutti Mastodon site contains the oldest known evidence, by more than 100,000 years, of human or humanlike colonists in the New World, the researchers report online April 26 in Nature. –Science News

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zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Michael Lipson
 for the Austin, Texas, story

 

Occasional Quote: What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

These quotes come from “Brockmire,” a new IFC television show about a one-time major-league baseball announcer, now attempting to revive his career after an epic, on-air meltdown.

He’s working as the public address announcer in Morristown, PA, and living with the woman who owns the struggling team, Jules (Amanda Peet).

Both Jules and Jim (the names might be an homage to the eponymous movie) drink all day but still seem to function.

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Jules to Jim: What do really want?

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Jim: The urge to pee, usually.

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The IT guy at the stadium–the wonderful nerd, Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams)–comes up with an idea to create a podcast around Brockmire telling stories.

The podcast becomes a huge hit when Ira Glass says he loves it, which brings all fans of This American Life to the stadium in rural Pennsylvania to see Jim Brockmire.

Jim Brockmire to Jules: Who are all these bespectacled, ironicially-dressed people?

Jules: You got [Ira Glass’] fans: Rich, white people who feel bad about being rich and white.

And want an authentic experience that doesn’t scare them.

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The cast:

 

ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 26

Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

 The story today that will most affect Americans for years to come: a proposed big tax cut for business, with a special focus on small businesses.

The Washington Post frames it this way “Trump to propose large increase in deductions Americans can claim on their taxes

President Trump on Wednesday plans to call for a significant increase in the standard deduction people can claim on their tax returns, potentially putting thousands of dollars each year into the pockets of tens of millions of Americans, according to two people briefed on the plan. . . .

Trump will call for a sharp reduction in the corporate tax rate, from 35 percent to 15 percent. He will also propose lowering the tax rate for millions of small businesses that now file their tax returns under the individual tax code, two people familiar with the plan said.. –Washington Post

The New York Times is far grumpier. “Trump Tax Plan: Low Rate for Corporations, and for Companies Like His” and “The ‘Voodoo Economics’ of the Laffer Curve Return

Comment: The NYT slant reminds me of the old joke about their front page headline: “World to End. Poor Affected Most” 

Where’s Perry White? Save the editorials for the editorial page.

 No Sanctuary? Another judge from the 9th Circuit nixes a major Trump policy, this time blocking policies that could defund Sanctuary Cities

The Reuters story is here.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge William Orrick III in San Francisco said Trump’s Jan. 25 order targeted broad categories of federal funding for sanctuary governments and that plaintiffs challenging the order were likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional.

The Republican president’s moves on immigration have galvanized legal advocacy groups, along with Democratic city and state governments, to oppose them in court. –Reuters

Fox counters, predictably (but interestingly): Judge Who Blocked Trump Sanctuary City Order Bundled $200K for Obama and personally donated more than $30k to groups supporting him.

Comment: I’m going to make a wild guess here: the DOJ will appeal. Since this case will go to the 9th Circuit, which will rule predictably against Trump, this one will go up to the Supremes.

◆ Iran Nuclear Deal: Politico publishes a major investigation headlined, “Obama’s Hidden Iran Deal Giveaway”  The article goes further, effectively saying the Obama Administration misled the American public about the scale of their giveaways in their desperate effort to get a deal with the Mullahs.

In his Sunday morning address [January 17, 2016] to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran. –Josh Meyer investigation in Politico

It gets worse–and more dangerous:

In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort. –Josh Meyer in Politico

One immediate effect: House Foreign Affairs chair, Ed Royce, asks DOJ and State to revive probes that the Obama Administration “may have” killed. (Politico)

Comment: If you think the major networks gave this major story any play at all, you still believe in the tooth fairy. Story on non-reporting here

While ABC, CBS and NBC on Monday and Tuesday found time to celebrate the return of “easy-going,” rested Barack Obama to the public scene, none of them covered the release of a blockbuster expose that reveals the buried secrets of the ex-President’s Iran deal giveaway. –Newbusters

 Ann Coulter to speak in public plaza in college town Thursday; Berkeley police prepare for D-Day Invasion.  (Washington Post)  

Comment: The fact that people riot at this is simply insane. This was once the home of the free-speech movement. Now, it’s “free speech for me but not for thee.”

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Michigan’s infamous Mddle East specialist, Juan Cole, comes up with another doozy

Carbon dioxide, Cole says, is “a far more deadly gas” than what was used in “the gas attack in Syria on April 4.”

His basic argument is encapsulated in the headline of his recent article in The Nation:

The Other Poison Gas Killing Syrians: Carbon Dioxide Emissions

If Trump and his cronies really cared about children killed by noxious gases, they wouldn’t be trying to spew ever more CO2 into the atmosphere –Juan Cole

You see, it’s about drought. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s the drought that caused everything to go wrong in Syria.

Oh, yes, and Trump is to blame. Plus, he’s a hypocrite for bombing a Syrian base to stop more chemical weapon attacks because Trump doesn’t also agree with Al Gore on climate change. If you can follow that logic, check with your doctor. If you agree with it, apply to graduate studies with Prof. Cole at Michigan.

Again, to quote the professor:

The Syrian civil war has left more than 400,000 people dead, among them graveyards full of children and innocent noncombatants. About half the country’s 23 million people have been left homeless, and of those, 4 million have been driven abroad (some of them contributing to Europe’s refugee crisis and its consequent rightward political shift). The war occurred for many complex reasons, including social and political ones. The severest drought in recorded modern Syrian history in 2007–10, however, made its contribution. –Juan Cole

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Comment:  Notice that, in the fine print, Cole relegates the drought to a much more ambiguous status. It “made a contribution” to the humanitarian disaster, he now says. How much contribution? He refuses to say.

Yet the whole point of the article is that carbon dioxide in Syria is more deadly than poison gas attacks, which are war crimes (for good reasons). In short, the article is bait-and-switch, seasoned with hyperbole, political correctness, and a steadfast refusal to look true evil in the eye.

The most appropriate comment comes from the movie, Billy Madison. It is pitch perfect for Prof. Cole’s analysis:

In other words, a drought may have contributed, indirectly, to the carnage in Syria. But to emphasize it as a major cause is misleading, tendentious, and wrong.

To put it differently, California had multiple years of drought and, according to recent statistics, the civil war there has claimed far fewer than 400,000 lives. Perhaps under 300,000.

Hey, let’s at least give Jerry Brown some credit for avoiding barrel bombs in the Central Valley. So far.

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Hat Tip: Daniel Pipes and Campus Watch. They found the Cole article and publicized it. Kudos.

Tom Blumer at NewsBusters, who initially publicized the article.

Chris Stapleton nails two songs, one a classic, one an original

“Elvira” and “Might As Well Get Stoned”

I always liked “Elvira” even though it was so obviously written to be a commercial hit when the Oak Ridge Boys sang it in 1981. Bubble-gum country, you might say. Even though I knew that, I also knew it was–and is–wonderfully catchy. “My heart’s on fire-a . . . for Elvira,” followed by a doo-wop “giddyup” that could have come from the Coasters.

Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town show it has legs. Giddyup.

As a bonus treat, here’s a short interview with Little Big Town about how they decided to do that song and their love of the Oak Ridge Boys.

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Chris and Morgane are great in “Might As Well Get Stoned.” How deep is his accent? Well, he rhymes “on” and “stoned”

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Bonus: If you want another, here’s a heart-wrenching version of “You Are My Sunshine,” with Morgane Stapleton killing it. It’s a little too slow for my taste but it brings out the pain in the song.

Jimmy Davis, credited with co-writing the song in 1939, rode its success to become governor of Louisiana. Davis didn’t actually write it and never said he did. He bought it from another writer and put his name on it, as many singers did in those days.

 

 

 

Fascinating personal reflections by Prof. Jean Yarbrough: “How I Became a Conservative”

Jean Yarbrough, a distinguished political philosopher at Bowdoin College, describes her personal and intellectual journey in a brief, engaging campus talk, published here.

She entered college in the mid-1960s a liberal Democrat, from a “blue collar/middle class” neighborhood on Long Island, the first generation in her family to attend university.

In those heady days on campus, she moved left and eventually joined the Students for a Democratic Society, the most prominent leftist group of the era.

In graduate school, though, she began to rethink her views as she grappled with truly great books.

“Having wasted my undergraduate years protesting,” she said the first peg of her conservatism developed when she began studying the “great texts” in her graduate program at the New School for Social Research in New York City. “I read great books, and these books changed my life. They made me think more seriously about the world around me.” . . .

The books she read during this period pushed her to carefully consider the importance of natural rights, constitutional government, statesmanship, and virtue — its role in society and how it can be cultivated.

She goes on to discuss her changing views about foreign policy, marriage-motherhood-and-feminism, religion, and economics. It’s thoughtful, candid, and accessible.

At a time when students at so many schools refuse to hear alternative views, it’s wonderful to see Prof. Yarbrough given a respectful hearing on her campus and a chance to engage students with serious, often-difficult and controversial ideas. That’s what higher education should be about.

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As an addendum, Prof. Yarbrough includes some of her favorite books on politics. A specialist in American political thought, she knows the field well and has written highly-regarded books on Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. Her list is worth pondering–and pursuing.

  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Plato, Apology, Republic, Gorgias, Symposium, Laws
  • Aristotle, Politics, Rhetoric, and Nicomachean Ethics
  • Locke, Second Treatise of Government
  • Rousseau, Second Discourse, Emile
  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
  • The Federalist Papers
  • Abraham Lincoln’s writings
  • Hannah Arendt, On Revolution and The Human Condition
  • Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History and his Selected Essays
  • Harvey Mansfield, Taming the Prince
  • Harry Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided

Comment: If you read these books–and only these–you would have an unsurpassed education in political thought.

ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 25

Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

 Government Shutdown? Trump seeks to avert a disaster by showing flexibility on border wall (Washington Post)

Comment: I said recently he would cave on the wall, at least as a requirement for this week’s budget. Stopping illegal immigration is important to his voters, not the wall as such, despite his campaign promises. It polls poorly; the Republicans know the media would blame them for any shutdown; and, after all, they control the legislature and executive so how could they screw this up? The voters would be right to ask if they do screw it up.

 As France movements toward the runoff ballot, voters are anxious about growth and employment, as well as Muslim immigration and terrorism.On troubling signal: almost 60% of France’s young workers were on “temporary contracts in 2015.” (One reason for these “temporary contracts”: in France, you basically get tenure in many jobs after a few months. So, predictably, businesses don’t hire. This is economic malpractice.

As for the election, the centrist Macron is currently a 20 point favorite over right-wing nationalist Le Pen, says the Wall Street Journal.

European markets showed relief over the prospect of a Macron victory.

 Trump said to favor 15% corporate tax rate, less than half the current nominal rate (New York Times)

Comment: The depth of the cut may reflect the Trump Administration’s fear that they won’t be able to get the individual tax cut through Congress this year. Their calculation is that tax cuts are essential to economic growth and that, if personal cuts are delayed, then deep corporate cuts might do the trick.

The Democrats will attack corporate tax cuts, of course, saying they benefit the rich. That argument will gain traction if the economy is sluggish. It will sink in quicksand if the economy grows more rapidly.

BART, barf  Bay Area Rapid Transit “takeover robbery: 40 to 60 teens swarm train, hold up riders”  (SF Gate)

Dozens of juveniles terrorized riders Saturday night when they invaded the Coliseum Station and commandeered at least one train car, forcing passengers to hand over bags and cell phones and leaving at least two with head injuries.

The incident occurred around 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Witnesses told police that 40 to 60 juveniles flooded the station, jumped the fare gates and rushed to the second-story train platform. . . .

The attack was so quick, police reported, that the teenagers were able to retreat from the station and vanish into the surrounding East Oakland neighborhood before BART officers could respond. –SF Gate

Comment: The report at SF Gate should win a special award for “exceptional reporting services in never mentioning–or even hinting–at who these robbers might have been.” They conclude the report by noting that “last month, according to two television reports, a swarm of teenagers invaded a carnival near the Oakland Coliseum, beating workers and stealing prizes from the game booths.” 

 Waymo, the Google self-driving car, gets first real riders soon in Phoenix  (Bloomberg)

The cars are customized Chrysler minivans and have already been tested with Alphabet employees, but real drivers will give the company more data. The project has been in the works for a decade.

Comment: Autonomous cars and trucks are a remarkable achievement that will have a far-reaching impact on the economy and society.

 Comment: Thank you for all the kind words on my post about grits, school lunches, and creeping federal regulations. The post is here.

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How to know when gov’t regulations go too far? When they ban GRITS

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A silly story with a deeper meaning

The silly part:

Federal regulations effectively prevent schools from serving grits, which Southern kids enjoy eating. I sure do.

The deeper meaning part:

How a good-hearted program to help feed school children morphed into complete Washington control over all school lunches, with no federal laws ever making that explicit choice.

Read and Enjoy the story and a lagniappe–the Perfect Blues Song (about Grits) at the bottom

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First the came for the grits. And I said nothing.

Then they came for the biscuits and gravy,

And there was no one left at Waffle House to defend me.

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Todd Starnes writes

When President Obama promised to fundamentally transform America, we had no idea he was secretly plotting to ban biscuits and grits.

The 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act strictly limited calories, fat, salt, sugar and just about everything else that makes food edible – including grits. . . .

We could originally serve half whole grains but that changed in 2012 when we had to start serving 100 percent whole grains,” said Stephanie Dillard, the child nutrition director for Geneva County Schools in Alabama.

That meant no more grits.

“And grits are a staple in the South,” Ms. Dillard told me. “Students really want to eat their grits.” –Todd Starnes

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Comment: Here’s a genuine question–and an important one politically. When, exactly, did the United States make an explicit political decision that Washington and not local schools should decide what all children eat?

Answer: We never made such a self-conscious decision.

This was the creeping effect of Washington control. It always works the same way.

Here is the generic sequence by which local control is eliminated and moved to Washington without the peoples’ representatives ever making an explicit democratic decision to do so 

  1. The country perceives a problem, such as poor kids needing additional nutrition
    • We make a political decision to solve or manage the problem by passing a law and appropriating funding.
  2. Congress passes a general law saying, “Here’s some money for these kids’ nutrition.”
    • The goal, we hypothesize here, is worthy. In this case, it certainly is.
    • The President and his staff, who helped write the law sign it.
  3. Because the law needs implementation, a federal agency sets out rules and regulations with explicit criteria for key terms such as
    • Who is eligible? (“All children whose families are less than 4 (or 6 or 8) times the poverty level.”
      • Many of the key terms, such as “poverty level in 2017,” are defined by another bureaucracy
    • How much money goes to each school district
    • What foods the district has to serve to receive the money–and what foods it cannot serve. This restriction will apply to ALL their federal funds
  4. QED: All control over school lunches has been snatched away from local control without Congress and the President explicitly deciding on this change.

To put it another way, this is how the country ends up being ruled by mid-level bureaucrats, whose regulatory control has grown exponentially.

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Here’s the music to accompany the story: “If I don’t love you baby, grits ain’t groceries.” Little Milton and Bonnie Raitt do it right. Stay around for Little Milton’s interview about the early days at Sun Records.