Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

What is Looting?

“Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance.” — Guy Debord, “The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy.”

The photograph used in Andy Warhol’s 1964 print, “Race Riot” was taken by Charles Moore and was published in LIFE magazine in May of 1963. Warhol used it without permission and Moore sued. Eventually there was an out-of-court settlement. The scene depicted was not a “Race Riot” as Warhol’s presumably ironic title claimed. It was a police attack ordered by Police Commissioner “Bull” Connor on a nonviolent demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama.

A Carrier Named Stennis

That’s Stennis as in John C. of Mississippi. An Aircraft Carrier as in a really big ship that cost $4.5 Billion in 1995. John C. Stennis was a renowned segregationist who rose to power in the US Senate on the basis of seniority which means that he was very popular in Mississippi; US Senate from 1947-1989. Senator Stennis was always generous with northern states’ money when it came to the Defense Department Budgets. Never met an aircraft, tank, or ship that he wasn’t in favor of; sort of Mississippi’s entitle. So it isn’t surprising to learn that the Navy named a Carrier after him; excepting for the segregationist part, that is.

Modern US Navy Aircraft Carriers are huge and powerful. The Stennis is more than 1,000 feet long, displaces (weighs) more than 115,000 tons, and is very powerful. With 260,000 shaft horsepower she has a top speed around 40 knots; she can throw a rooster tail. Just guessing, I would say that each of her 4 screws is about 27 feet in diameter and that at full speed there is 2 and 1/2 turns torque in her number two shaft. US Navy Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carriers were once designated CVA(N)s. The A stood for Attack. Now CVNs without the A, attacks in faraway places is still what they are built for. They go all around the world, are known by their names, are seen by millions in faraway places.  At any given time, some 3,000 sailors have the Carrier’s name on a shoulder.

Mississippi is in the process of changing her state flag because of the old flag’s racial connotations. The US Navy needs to change the name of the USS John C. Stennis to something more in-tune with the 21st Century.

When a post office is not a post office: USPS celebrates 130th anniversary of the Bellville GA post office by closing it

Steve Hutkins USPS celebrates 130th anniversary of the Bellville, GA Post Office by closing it

I’ll tell you all a story that I think you’ll understand
Traveling through Georgia, rambling across the land
I passed the Bellville Depot and something said to me
Stop here son, there’s something you should see.
— Tom T. Hall, “God Came Through Bellville Georgia”

Bellville is a very small town (pop. 123 in 2010), but it was once a thriving railroad community. Established in 1890, it was “named for James Bell Smith’s mother, who was Miss Fannie Bell before her marriage. The railroaders called it BELLEVILLE, supposedly named to honor the lovely ladies of the town.”

Bellville is the hometown of writer/director James Kicklighter, and it’s the home of Pinewood Christian Academy, a school with alumni like ET’s Brooke Anderson (@BrookeAnderson), actor Michael Moncrief, Comedy Central’s Drew Tarver (@drewtarver), Drew’s sister, singer Katelyn Tarver (@katelyntarver), and tennis pro Al Parker. They probably all had occasion to visit the post office as students.

There’s a great song named after Bellville by Country Music Hall of Famer Tom T. Hall entitled “God Came Through Bellville Georgia” (on Youtube). It’s also performed by bluegrass star J.D. Crowe and the New South band (on Pandora or Amazon).

A few weeks ago, the Postal Service informed residents of Bellville that their post office would be closing on August 31. Services, including PO boxes, will be relocated to another facility a couple of miles away.

Bellville has appealed the decision to close its post office to the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Postal Service wants the appeal dismissed on the grounds that the post office is not a post office. I’m not joking. Here’s the story.

On July 24, Bellville’s City Attorney Dylan Mulligan filed an appeal with the PRC based on the claim that the Postal Service “has failed to adhere to the applicable laws and regulations governing the discontinuance of post offices, in particular the requirements of 39 U.S.C. § 404(d) and 39 C.F.R. § 241.3.”

Why Democracy

Look what they’ve done to my song Ma ♪♫♪

Thanks, Melanie

Polls show that most Americans believe in democracy; that most Americans believe that America is a democracy. That even those who aren’t sure what democracy is think that they would recognize it if they saw it. That’s close enough; as close as one’s going to get these days. We think we are a democracy, therefore we are. FDR said that our constitution was a work in progress; so our democracy. A democracy, if we can keep it.

We have been warned that our democracy is fragile, that preserving our democracy demands constant vigilance, …; warnings that our democracy has enemies. And, lest we forget, democracy is complex; needs to be taught to be understood.

The American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation, the ex-Confederate States, Gingrich’s War on America, Mitch McConnell, Gerrymandering, former States of The Confederacy Republicans, The John Roberts’ Court, Tea Party Republicans, The NRA, Dictators around the world, Governors like Georgia’s Kemp, Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, …; democracy has lots of enemies.

The American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation are quick to remind us that America is a republic; not a democracy. Rich coming from the two of them as they claim themselves to be something called Federalists; that’s the before the Constitution, not in the Constitution, gone since the early 19th century, Federalists; not the long after the Constitution, 1982, organization of right-wing conservatives and libertarians Federalist Society. Or, maybe, … it is that they wish to be associated the both? The two are quite different, you know.

Without democracy, a small minority like the Federalist Society might tyrannize the nation by securing the appointment of right-wing, libertarian judges to the benches of the Federal Courts. They already have. The Federalist Society, shown as having a membership of around 70k, now controls the US Supreme Court by way of having 5 of the Court’s Justices as members or former members by way of a non-representative US Senate led by Mitch McConnell from the small, backward, non-representative state of Kentucky. The Federalist Society isn’t a political party; has never stood for election to anything. We really needn’t bother asking.

Remembering The Bombing Of Sterling Hall A Half Century Ago

Remembering The Bombing Of Sterling Hall A Half Century Ago

 A half-century ago at 3:42 AM on Monday, August 24, 1970, the New Year’s Gang set off an ammonium nitrate bomb in the back of a Ford pickup truck next to Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  They were aiming it at the Army Mathematics Research Center, then directed by my later father, J. Barkley Rosser [Sr.]. However, they were notoriously the Gang That Could Not Bomb Straight and hit the physics department instead, killing a physics post-doc, Robert Fassnacht, and injuring several other people, as well damaging buildings even blocks away, aside from the major damage to Sterling Hall itself.

Of the gang, three would eventually be apprehended and serve time in jail: the two Armstrong brothers from the east side of Madison, sons of an Oscar Mayer plant worker, Karl, the group’s leader who was caught first and served seven years, and his younger brother, Dwight, who served three years and is no longer alive, with David Fine of Baltimore also serving three years.  The fourth member, Leo Burt, remains at large.

Last October I wrote an 8-page essay reminiscing about the bombing that contains details both representing my peculiar perspective as well as some tidbits not widely public information.  I am willing to send it to anybody who requests it of me.  It contains six parts.

The first and longest part is about my relations with my parents, with a lot of information specifically about my late father.  We respected each other personally, but disagreed politically, although I never approved of violence and thus severely disapproved of the bombing, as well as some personal mistreatment my parents experienced.

On Demanding Dignity

In 1968, when Richard Nixon called for Law and Order, a term used by Goldwater in 1964 and Reagan in 1966, he was appealing to working-class voters who would normally be expected to vote Democratic but were becoming more and more uneasy about a perceived increase in crime and frequent stories of protests in the streets. In 1968, the real domestic issue was the economy, but that was far too complicated for American political discourse, and, besides, this group might have found Nixon’s and the Republican Party’s real thoughts on economic policy unsettling. While Johnson had waged a War on Poverty to end a very real poverty in America, Nixon would wage a War on Crime to stoke fear and paranoia. Though economics, poverty, and crime are inextricably linked; that wasn’t a connection he was going to be making publicly lest he affront one of his Party’s most sacred cows. Catchy phrases and slogans can win elections; the under the hood stuff like economic policy might turn off voters; is best left for think tanks, universities, and board rooms. Richard Nixon was not above appealing to baser instincts; both the Law and Order and War on Crime phrases intentionally connoted racial overtones. Besides, there was the specter of George Wallace. Wallace an overt racist, nominally a Democrat, was in reality a Dixiecrat, aka Southern Democrat; one of those Dixiecrats who did not switch over to being a Republican after the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. Getting the vote of those yet and former Dixiecrats was all a part of Nixon’s and the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy. As a consequence of the success of these strategies, we would see more and more of this fine art of appealing to baser instincts being practiced by Republican candidates in the coming years. No more of that aspirational stuff for the once GOP, thank you. The once GOP was soon to become a Republican Party controlled by southern white Republicans, née Dixiecrats, who brought along with them their attitudes toward democracy. In the 1968 presidential contest, George Wallace carried Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Thanks mostly to his friendship with Billy Graham, Nixon got 69% of the national Evangelical Christian vote. — Evangelicals felt that Nixon would protect the nation against Catholicism. Became gatekeepers to nomination.

When Reagan gave his ‘Birth of a Nation’ speech in Philadelphia Mississippi in 1980; he was telling white segregationist Mississippians, some yet Southern Democrats/Dixiecrats and some recent converts to the Republican Party, that it was OK to think about race the way they thought about race. In doing so, he validated their racism, and abetted their mendacity; accorded dignity to their odious opinions. By pandering to their racism and bigotry, he had, to their minds, legitimized their racism and bigotry. Reagan stooped for, welcomed, their votes.

The 2020 Presidential and Senate nowcasts: Positions are getting entrenched, and spreading down-ticket

The 2020 Presidential and Senate nowcasts: Positions are getting entrenched, and spreading down-ticket

Here is my weekly update on the 2020 elections, based on State rather than national polling in the past 30 days, since that directly reflects what is likely to happen in the Electoral College. Remember that polls are really only nowcasts, not forecasts. There is nothing inherent in their current status which tells you they will remain in the same category in early November.

Which brings me to the matter of Nate Silver, who unveiled his “forecast” this past week.

Here are the two problems: (1) it is not falsifiable; and (2) it’s *not* a forecast! At best it is a forecast of what he currently expects his nowcast to be on Election Day.
Here are a few of his tweets that demonstrate the problem:

Now

WWII was America’s finest hour. Before that, her multitude of sins had always been covered up by her bounty of natural resources, her yet unsettled land, … her offer of opportunity. There was room to grow, chances for people to start over, … In the lead up to, and during, the War, America stepped up. Then, the situation was well defined. Usually, it’s hard to discern what is going on at a given time; what is going on ‘now’. Before the War, we sometimes got away with not knowing what was going on ‘now’; could and did attribute success or failure to fate, to an invisible hand, … . Then, working class Americans couldn’t expect much more than the ‘short brutal life’. After the War, returning veterans weren’t willing to let their government off the hook that easy. They had fought and died for their Nation; now their Nation owed them, had to do better by its people. During the War, working class Americans who had been unable to find gainful employment during the Great Depression found gainful employment; learned that they were quite capable, knew what it meant to have money to spend. A new generation of leaders who had met people from all over the world, had seen how other people lived, stood ready to take over.

During those first few years after the War, America was blessed with her industrial capacity being left intact. She was production-ready when no one else was. Working-class Americans had money in their pockets from all those wartime jobs. They were looking to buy. The world; needing everything, looked to America. In the years following the War, the wealth generated by her production was plenty enough to pay off the War Debt and have some left over for the worker’s savings.

During the 1950s, there were warning signs; like recessions and stagflation. But defense, aircraft and automobile manufacturing, and all those exports, were still generating enough wealth to go around.

By 1965, Europe and Japan were becoming more and more self-sufficient. America, manufacturer to the world, began losing her markets; That was what was going on ‘now’, then. So, what to do?

In the 1960s, it wasn’t uncommon to hear or read that the economy needed war. Business was inclined to blame it on the unions or taxes. Loss of markets was seldom heard. Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam raged on, costing dearly in ‘blood and treasure’. Then, as now, to most politicians, the economy is magic, works on fairy dust called forth with buzzwords; will self correct, …, … . LBJ may have been the best President since FDR at knowing what was going on ‘now’. He foresaw the consequences of 6.5 million southern blacks being displaced by the mechanical cotton picker. He knew that the time had come for Civil Rights, Medicare and Medicaid, The Clean Air Act, … He blew it with Vietnam; came from looking through the lens of the past, I suppose.

Can A President Appropriate Funds for a Program?

With regard to Trump’s three memos and one Executive Order.

We did go through this one time before with the ACA and funding for the Risk Corridor Program as I wrote “Risk Corridor, Healthcare Premiums, Companies Leaving the Exchanges, and Republicans.” The GAO said the President can not appropriate funds for funding of programs. Only congress can do so as stated in a letter to then Senator Jeff Sessions. However, a president can transfer funding from one program to another.

“Questioning whether the Risk Corridor payments were being appropriated correctly, the Appropriations Panel forced the HHS to make changes in how they appropriated funds allowing Congress to stop all appropriations. As stated in this letter, the PPACA could no longer appropriate the funds as they were subject to the discretion of Congress. The GAO issued an opinion on the legality of what the HHS was doing with funds.

GAO Letter to Senator Jeff Sessions. September 30, 2014: Discussion; “At issue here is whether appropriations are available to the Secretary of HHS to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). Agencies may incur obligations and make expenditures only as permitted by an appropriation. U.S. Const., art. I, § 9, cl. 7; 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1); B-300192, Nov. 13, 2002, at 5. Appropriations may be provided through annual appropriations acts as well as through permanent legislation. See, e.g., 63 Comp. Gen. 331 (1984). The making of an appropriation must be expressly stated in law. 31 U.S.C. § 1301(d). It is not enough for a statute to simply require an agency to make a payment. B-114808, Aug. 7, 1979. Section 1342, by its terms, did not enact an appropriation to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). In such cases, we next determine whether there are other appropriations available to an agency for this purpose.”

Further down in the GAO letter, the GAO leaves the HHS an out of using other already available appropriations for the Risk Corridor payments to insurance companies. Classifying the payments as “user fees” was another way to retain the authority to spend other appropriations already made by Congress. Otherwise if revenue from the Risk Corridor program fell short, the administration would need approval for addition appropriations from Congress. As it was, the HHS could no longer appropriate funds to make Risk Corridor payments unless the funds were already appropriated by Congress or Congress approved new funds which was not going to happen with a Republican controlled House.”

The transfer of funding from another healthcare program to the PPACA Risk Corridor Program was blocked by the insertion of Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014) which escaped notice by Congressional Representatives Kingston and Upton. In the 2015 Appropriations Act (Cromnibus), the sentence inserted said no “other” funds in this bill could be used for Risk Corridor payments. See: Risk Corridor

What is reprehensible is the total alliance by Senator “Moscow” Mitch McConnell and his sycophants’ who have locked stepped in accordance with a psychotic president in the White House blocking any economic help to the citizens of this nation during a catastrophic event. It remains to be seen if the Senate comes back to reality to stop this president. And McConnell? McConnell shall definitely be remembered in history as something.

Healthcare Workers Union Pushing Medicaid Expansion in States

Oklahoma
If you remember, I wrote about Oklahoma squeaking through its own initiative to expand Medicaid for low-income people. In theory, the state will be in the driver’s seat (mostly) in deciding how much money it will allocate to the program rather than the Federal government. Political interests will have a difficult time killing Medicaid without another ballot initiative to override what The State Question 802 initiative was passed by a margin of less than 1 percentage point amongst voters.

Missouri
This last week, Missouri approved the expansion of Medicaid for many of the state’s poorest adults up to 138% FPL (which is 90% funded by the Federal Government. The expansion under Missouri Amendment 2 makes their conservative state the second to join the ACA through a ballot imitative changing the Missouri constitution during the pandemic.

The Missouri ballot measure expands Medicaid to about 230,000 low-income residents at a time when the state’s safety net health care program is already experiencing an enrollment surge tied to the pandemic’s economic upheaval. If you are unemployed you may qualify for Medicaid if you have income less than 138% FPL. Medicaid looks at current income and not annual income. The Medicaid expansion measure was supported by 53 percent of voters.

Fairness Project and the United Healthcare Workers Union West
Backing these initiatives is a nonprofit organization called the Fairness Project which grew out of the frustration of healthcare strategists with 19 states, governed by Republicans, refusing to pass the Medicaid Expansion . . . which from the start of the ACA covered Medicaid expansion costs at 100% up till the end of 2016 and then gradually decreased to 90%.

A memo written by a California union leader in 2014, warned of steep declines in union membership potentially could leave workers unprotected with fewer benefits.

Dave Regan, president of United Healthcare Workers West, a union of 95,000 hospital workers; “Unionism is in decline, and there is no end to that in sight. We still need to give regular people the opportunity to have positive change in their lives.”

Regan proposed creating a nonprofit to promote the ballot initiative process to secure policies that would benefit workers, like increased access to health coverage and a higher minimum wage.

“Ballots are an opportunity to put a question, in its undiluted form, in front of millions of people as opposed to traditional legislative work, where things get watered down to get out of committee. You end up with what you actually want when you use the ballot.”

The Fairness Project came into existence in 2016 with initiatives to increase the minimum wage in both California and Maine. The following year it returned to Maine to work on healthcare and Medicaid. Five times, the Maine legislature passed bills to expand Medicaid and each time they were vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. Efforts to override the veto failed by a vote or two each time.