Good news

From our new attorney general:

The Florida gun loophole, which allowed Philadelphia gun owners to skirt the city’s strict handgun-carrying rules, was closed today by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. Florida gun permit holders in Pennsylvania now must be legal residents of Florida.

The loophole allowed about 900 city residents to carry a weapon in Philadelphia if they had a mail-order permit issued by Florida.

Jon Stewart criticizes Al Gore for selling Current to Al Jazeera

Many of us work our way through complex sustainability issues (quinoa, anyone?). My local urban farmer tells us it’s better to buy local vegetables and fruits rather than organic because of the carbon footprint incurred by shipping produce across the country. Is she right? I don’t know; but I know her to be a thoughtful person of integrity, so I’m willing to trust her judgment.

And I have to say, I think I’m willing to trust Al Gore on this:

“I’m proud of the transaction,” Gore told Stewart, reiterating the message he’s given everyone: that Al Jazeera is a well-respected organization with high-quality coverage of climate change issues. (Critics of Gore’s sale to Current TV have pointed to, among other things, Gore’s reputation as a environmental activist focused on climate change.)

“Can mogul Al Gore — who has Current TV and sells it to Qatar, which is an oil-based economy — can mogul Al Gore coexist with activist Al Gore?” Stewart asked. “If you couldn’t find for your business a more sustainable choice to sell to—“

“I think it is sustainable,” Gore interjected. “What is not sustainable about it?”
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“This is a uniquely bad time for austerity.” Which of course makes it that much more likely. Thanks, stupid and craven leaders!

But aren’t we facing a fiscal crisis? No, not at all. The federal government can borrow more cheaply than at almost any point in history, and medium-term forecasts, like the 10-year projections released Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, are distinctly not alarming. Yes, there’s a long-term fiscal problem, but it’s not urgent that we resolve that long-term problem right now. The alleged fiscal crisis exists only in the minds of Beltway insiders.

Still, even if we should put off spending cuts for now, wouldn’t it be a good thing if our politicians could simultaneously agree on a long-term fiscal plan? Indeed, it would. It would also be a good thing if we had peace on earth and universal marital fidelity. In the real world, Republican senators are saying that the situation is desperate — but not desperate enough to justify even a penny in additional taxes. Do these sound like men ready and willing to reach a grand fiscal bargain?

Realistically, we’re not going to resolve our long-run fiscal issues any time soon, which is O.K. — not ideal, but nothing terrible will happen if we don’t fix everything this year. Meanwhile, we face the imminent threat of severe economic damage from short-term spending cuts.

So we should avoid that damage by kicking the can down the road. It’s the responsible thing to do.

The plot to sell off the postal service

Dean Baker with some info I didn’t know:

The Washington Post, along with most other news outlets, reported without comment that the United States Postal Service (USPS) lost $15.9 billion last year. Some comment would have been appropriate since almost 70 percent of this shortfall is due to a payment of $11.9 billion to the postal workers’ retiree health fund.

This is noteworthy because Congress has required that the Postal Service prefund its retirement fund at a level that has no match in the private sector. It also mandated that it build up to its targeted prefunding level in just 10 years making the burden much greater. In addition, the USPS is required to invest these funds, as well as its pension, exclusively in government bonds. In contrast, private sector competitors like UPS invest largely in equities which provide a much higher return on average. The result is to place an enormous burden on the Postal Service putting it at a serious competitive disadvantage. (Here’s more on this one.)

Congress has put the Postal Service in an impossible situation. It has imposed restrictions, like the requirement that all assets in its pension and retiree health fund be invested in government bonds, that substantially raise its costs relative to competitors. It has also prohibited USPS from getting into new lines of business that take advantage of its resources in order to protect private sector companies from competition. However it still expects the USPS to be run at a profit.

Clearly the Post Service would face difficulties in any case as technology has led to a shift away from first class mail, the system’s main source of revenue. However the restrictions that Congress imposes makes it impossible for USPS to adjust to changing economic conditions.

So the reason the USPS can’t compete with the private sector is that a Republican Congress passed a law preventing them from doing so. Got it? So much for “running government like a business,” huh?

Crazy commercial

Is there really a grown woman in this world who would be turned on by getting a human-sized Vermont Teddy Bear for Valentine’s Day? “It’ll pay off for you,” the voiceover croons while a scantily-clad babe caresses her bear. Could this possibly work? Or am I just not cynical enough?

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