Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pity the poor billionaires.

SIphotography | DepositPhotos
Oh, woe is our poor billionaire class. Someone has suggested that they've amassed too much wealth and wants to take it from them -- and that someone has a shot at winning the presidency next year. Why, she has even come up with a plan to tax a portion of their wealth -- not their income, their wealth -- so the government can spend it however it sees fit.

The candidate is Elizabeth Warren, and since she announced her wealth tax plan, the country's billionaires, and those who serve them, have cranked up their P.R. efforts to discount her proposal. Now as you all know, this is not a political blog. So I'm not going to talk about the plan itself. Instead, I'd like to talk about the billionaires -- and this one billionaire in particular: Leon Cooperman, chairman of Omega Advisors, a hedge fund based in New York.

As you might imagine, Cooperman doesn't much like Warren's plan. He was quoted in Politico as saying her attacks on the wealthy are unfair. "What is wrong with billionaires?" he asked. And then he said, "I believe in a progressive income tax and the rich paying more. But this is the fucking American dream she is shitting on."

Warren fired back in a tweet: "Leon, you were able to succeed because of the opportunities this country gave you. Now why don’t you pitch in a bit more so everyone else has a chance at the American dream, too?"

In response, Cooperman sent her a five-page letter to say she had him all wrong. Billionaires have done great things for this country. Moreover, he's a signatory to a billionaires' Giving Pledge that promises they will give away half of their fortunes, and in fact he pledged to give away all of his.

In the wake of this letter, Cooperman was interviewed on a CNBC program this past Monday. And on the show, he teared up while talking about Warren's plan.

I'll be honest: I've read about Warren's plan, and I think I may have read the Politico story when it was published, but I didn't know about this spat between Warren and Cooperman until I saw the story about his CNBC appearance. And I didn't watch the interview until tonight.

Besides the part where he tears up, there's another section that I thought was key. You can watch it yourself at the link I posted above. Scroll down the page to the second video -- the 12-minute-long one. The quote that struck me starts at the 6:44 mark: "She's screwing with the wrong guy. I want to give it all away. Not 50-60% -- I want to give it all away. But I want to control the decision. I don't need the government giving away my money."

(By the bye, he's actually not giving it all away. He's giving away half in his lifetime, and putting the other half in a trust for his family to give away as they see fit after his death.)

Warren responded to all this in another tweet, pointing out that Cooperman is on the board of Navient, a student loan company that, she says, "has cheated borrowers and used abusive, misleading tactics. He even went so far as to ask how I might impact his investment in the last earnings call with Navient." And while he's worried about protecting his billions, young people can't pursue their dreams due to crushing student loan debt. The American dream worked great for him, Warren says, but on the backs of American students who now can't get ahead.

There are a lot of things we could do in this country if billionaires weren't sucking up nearly all of the country's wealth. CEOs at firms in the S&P 500 Index earned 361 times more than their average workers in 2017; back in the '50s, the ratio was 20-to-1. Taxes were a lot higher on the rich back then, too. PolitiFact says in 1952 and 1953, the top marginal tax rate was over 90%.

Back then, it didn't pay to be too rich; instead, company owners invested in their employees by paying them more. Now the rich want to pick who gets their money, instead of paying their employees more -- and instead of doing something to help the whole country. I'm just guessing here, but I'm pretty sure Cooperman isn't going to donate his fortune to people struggling to pay off their student loans.

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These moments of non-political blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Curmudgeon's Corner: This is why we can't have nice things.

I shared a meme on Facebook this weekend that got a lot of comments. I can't swear to the accuracy of the information in the caption, but just look at that list of ingredients:


Morphine! Cannabis! 10% alcohol! As my father used to say, that stuff will put hair on your chest.

Yes, he would say that to me. Then I'd remind him that I was a girl and didn't want any hair on my chest, and he'd just chuckle. Today's dad jokes are lame in comparison.

Anyway, in chatting with a FB friend about this, I mentioned a particular cough syrup that my mother used to buy. Here's a photo of what the bottle looked like, back in the '60s:


Anybody else remember Cheracol D? It had codeine (an opiate, as is morphine) in it. Mom used to give it to me when I was little and had a cold. You could buy it off the shelf at the local drugstore. Then you started to have to ask the pharmacist for it. That lasted for a few years, and then you had to start signing the pharmacist's log book every time you bought a bottle. Now you need a prescription for it, and the warning list will curl your hair:
Codeine can slow or stop your breathing, and may be habit-forming. MISUSE OF THIS MEDICINE CAN CAUSE ADDICTION, OVERDOSE, OR DEATH, especially in a child or other person using the medicine without a prescription.
Do not give this medicine to anyone under 18.
Seriously? I was raised on this stuff. Now it'll kill you.

(In all seriousness, codeine can kill you. So can morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin, and fentanyl -- they're all opioids, and lots of people have died from abusing them. In 2016, the death toll in the U.S. was more than 42,000, with nearly half of those deaths due to abusing fentanyl.)

There's an over-the-counter version of Cheracol D nowadays, but it doesn't have codeine in it. It might help you cough less, but you won't sleep like a baby on it, either.

Which reminds me of another thing: decongestants.

I'm allergic to a number of things: trees (specifically maple trees), dust, and mold. You know, stuff that's easy to avoid. The reaction is usually mild, except for the few weeks a year when the maples are sending their pollen everywhere. When I was in my mid-20s, I saw an allergist, had the pinprick tests (which is how I know what I'm allergic to), tried a bunch of different prescription antihistamines, and survived the series of shots. In my late 20s and early 30s, I had a bunch of sinus infections. Then we left Norfolk, VA, and things got a lot better -- I could basically get by with tissues. (Before you suggest it, I've tried a prescription steroid nose spray, but my nose got used to the regular dose too fast, so I quit using it. I've also tried a neti pot; I'm not a fan.)

But over the past year or so, it's gotten worse. I had a cold in the spring that morphed into a sinus infection, my first in years. Antibiotics knocked that back. But then this summer, I came down with another cold that overstayed its welcome, and I finally picked up a combined antihistamine and decongestant so that one wouldn't turn into a sinus infection, too.

It was heaven. I was able to breathe through both nostrils at the same time! I still had gunk pouring from my nose due to the cold, but now it could get out, instead of backing up into my ears!

Nearly all of the antihistamines I needed a prescription for in the '80s are now available over the counter. You used to be able to get the decongestant pseudoephedrine over the counter, too, but then some enterprising drug lords discovered that you could use pseudoephedrine to make crystal meth. So the decongestants containing pseudoephedrine went behind the pharmacist's counter, and you have to let the pharmacist scan your driver's license and promise that you're only buying it because you're sick.

Oh, you can buy decongestants off the shelf, but they contain phenylephrine hydrochloride, which in my opinion is pretty much useless.

I probably should lay off the decongestants, but it's just such a pleasure to breathe through both nostrils at once. I suspect the true cure will involve moving away from swampy DC to the much drier Southwest. But I expect I'll have just a few years of easy breathing before I develop an allergy to something out there.

Anyway, the point is that my life would be easier if I could get drugs that work when I need them, without having to jump through extra hoops. But too many people make big money by hooking people on dangerous drugs -- and that includes the big pharmaceutical companies that have made big money by hooking patients on opioids. My inconvenience is nothing compared to saving lives. So I guess I'll shut up now.

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I might also be in a cranky mood because NaNoWriMo's word count widget is borked. The website got a major upgrade after CampNaNo in July, and the word count tracker is not playing nice with the new software. Supposedly fixing the bug is at the top of the programmers' to-do list, but I'm sure it's sharing that #1 spot with a host of other bugs that need to be fixed immediately if not sooner.

Anyway, I am at 5,417 words for Book 4 of the Elemental Keys series, which is right where I want to be. Someday the word counter on the NaNo site will be accurate, but this is not that day.

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These moments of cranky blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who nevertheless is grateful for breathing freely.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Political ads don't have to be true. Not even on Facebook.


Gordon Johnson | Pixabay

Truth in advertising was a topic on Capitol Hill this week, when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) questioned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about whether Facebook would allow candidates to lie in their ads on the site.

Zuckerberg said he would, because voters should be able to hear all sides of an issue or dispute, so they can make up their own minds about what's true. In other words, he's saying it's a question of freedom of speech. Here's video of the exchange:


This wasn't Zuckerberg's first comment this month on Facebook's policy, and he was drawing fire from the left even before the congressional hearing on Thursday. One blogger suggested that if Facebook continues to run misleading political ads, then it should acknowledge that it's spreading misinformation -- and making money from it.

Sounds like the sort of thing a truth-in-advertising law would cover, doesn't it? In fact, the United States has truth-in-advertising laws, administered by the Federal Trade Commission, and they cover ads for lots of things. But not politics. Why the exemption? Because of the danger of placing limits on freedom of speech.

A truth-in-political-advertising law might have helped John Kerry. The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee's campaign was severely wounded by an opposition group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group challenged Kerry's record as a Vietnam War hero, among other things, and the idea that he'd lied about his record stuck -- even though vets who'd served with Kerry agreed with his version of events.

It turns out that this argument about lies and half-truths in political ads surfaces at least every four years -- not just in 2004, but in 2008, in 2012, and of course in 2016. And the answer is always the same: political ads are protected speech. The place to sort the liars from the truth-tellers is in the marketplace of ideas, and the job belongs not to those who provide the platform but to the voters.

That worked well enough back in the day, when everybody read the same newspapers and watched the same TV networks, and thereby got the same ads. But now, Facebook sells ad space that can be targeted to, say, certain zip codes, age groups, and interests. That's great when you're selling books, say. It's not so great when you're selling real estate and trying to keep blacks from seeing your ads in mostly-white neighborhoods. Or when you're selling a political candidate and looking for people who would believe anything you say about your client's opponent.

I'm not saying we should enact truth-in-advertising laws for political speech. I guess what I'm saying is that we voters should make an effort to hear what all the candidates have to say -- and make a concerted effort to determine which politicians' claims are true and which ones aren't. 

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These moments of bloggy truthiness have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.



Monday, October 21, 2019

Pausing for autumn.


It's finally beginning to feel like fall here in DC. Summer seemed to extend into October, and it was a bit of a shock when our first true autumn temperatures arrived. Sixty degrees Farenheit is really quite pleasant, but it feels cold when it was 90 degrees just a couple of weeks before.

Still, the leaves are only beginning to turn here, and due to a moderate late-season drought, I suspect they won't be very showy, unlike the photo above. I wish I could say I took it, but alas, I bought it from a stock photo site.

I'm writing this on Monday night because the girls and I spent a long weekend at one of our favorite places -- Pipestem Resort State Park in West Virginia. They, too, have been suffering from a moderate drought, so their fall colors aren't as dramatic as I was hoping for. Still, I had some time to read, and to sit on the porch and knit, and listen to the river rushing by.

I did get one photo I liked a lot. It will probably look lousy on your screen -- I had to zoom allll the way in with the iPhone -- but here it is anyway. The vaguely bird-shaped thing on the branch is a crow, who kindly posed for me while I took the photo from several hundred feet away. Eh, let's call it an impressionistic shot.

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
I'm determined to enjoy the next couple of weeks of relative peace and quiet before NaNo starts. Thanks, by the way, to those of you who had suggestions for my Tool of Ultimate Destruction. I'm still pondering, but all of your ideas are helpful.

And big thanks to those of you who have bought a copy of Molten Trail -- I hope it doesn't disappoint.

So that's it for now. I'm going back to enjoying my autumn respite. Talk to you next Sunday as usual.

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These moments of quiet blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.