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Saturday, December 17, 2011

The World Could Use More Christians Like Mark Sandlin

"Whatever the reason, the perspective in these clobber verses were based on an understanding of sex and sexuality that was just as misinformed as their understanding of the earth in relationship to the sun, of fish, of pork and of reasons for stoning children. In our scientific age, it is time to let go of archaic perspectives and start recognizing the things that are truly an abomination in the eyes of God: lacking in compassion and love, exercising judgment against others, and practicing and encouraging hate."


Read Minister Sandlins' entire blog post, Clobbering "Biblical" Gay Bashing, at http://www.thegodarticle.com/7/post/2011/10/clobbering-biblical-gay-bashing.html

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Perry's Bigoted Christian Ad




I couldn't believe this was real when I saw it.

http://youtu.be/3K1o78mQjYU

Maybe I can get the conversation started by asking some questions based exactly on the things he says.

1. What is so wrong with gays serving openly in the military?
Have we been attacked since repeal of DADT? Have their been mass resignations? Are the well-armed and well-trained gays suddenly forcing straight servicemen and women to engage in homosexual acts at gun point?

How about we all grow up on this question and stop acting like sex is the only thing that matters or that it's anyone's business but the people involved?


2. Who is keeping anyone from celebrating Christmas openly?
I haven't seen any jack-booted Obamanators rounding up and burning Christmas trees. Christians just seem to be acting like selfish children (again) by not acknowledging that theirs is NOT the only holiday being celebrated at this time of year.

Besides, this whole "season" is mostly about commerce.


3. Prayer in school is a resolved issue.
It flies in the face of separation of church and state. Everyone knows that. If you want your kid to pray in school, send him to a private school that allows open prayer, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or whatever.

How come you never hear Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Druids or whatever whining about this?


4. Obama's war on religion?
What war? Where? Against whom? Being waged how? Everyone knows what he's implying here: that scary half-black Barack HUSSEIN Obama is really a Muslim, and we all know what that leads to next, right?

Yep. The birth certificate.


5. What Liberal attacks against religious heritage?
No one I know denies the role religion has played in our cultural and national development.

In fact, we liberals seem to be the ones who have to keep reminding people like Perry about that pesky First Amendment to the Constitution.


Look, I get it. Everyone gets it. Faith plays an important role in many people's lives. There's nothing wrong with that. What's wrong, IMHO, is the endless attempts by zealous Christians at rewriting history to somehow claim that it was because we were and are a predominantly Christian nation as the only reason we grew strong as nation and now is how we can somehow regain whatever it is they claim we've supposedly lost.

This ad is just another example of incredibly irresponsible and erroneous hyperbole meant to rile up a segment of the GOP base. It makes me roll my eyes in wonder at what in the world has happened to the GOP and how it is that rational Republicans aren't outraged by Perry.

In my book, the only thing separating a guy like this and a mullah in the tribal regions of Afghanistan is which "flavor" of monotheism he wants to see become the law of the land....at any cost.

Friday, November 11, 2011

PSU, Paterno, and Pedophilia. How I see it


This is a sad, shameful, and completely unforgivable chapter in PSU's history. It's already not looking good for Paterno. No one is above the law, and any concerns about "JoePa" and how he's being treated is ridiculous, shallow, and empty. He's already admitted that he was told what Sandusky was doing to those kids. Reporting it to the AD? Please. For all intents and purposes, he did nothing. There can be no forgiveness for Sandusky's heinous acts or for Paterno for being part of the culture that swept it under the rug. That includes McQueary, at the time a 28-year old grown man.

To the PSU students "protesting" Paterno's firing, I say this: You are an embarrassment. Your only defense is the ignorance of youth. You will look back on this one day and wonder what you were thinking.

As for the current players, I'm sorry but IMHO the rest of the football season should be canceled. You should be men about this and accept that this is the only right and honorable thing to do. If the season isn't canceled, you should have the morality and strength of character to quit the team. That is what the person we all thought Paterno was would have wanted - would have expected - you to do.

As for Paterno, all the "good" you have ever done cannot make up for this. Your name and likeness needs to be forever erased from every plaque, building and likeness on campus.

The Grand Jury's report can be read here.

Class of '82

Sunday, October 30, 2011

When 1% is Bigger than 99%


What I love most about stats and math is that they are apolitical (or at least they used to be). They care not for party affiliation, for whom you vote, or where you get your news.

To wit.....
....If your household income isn't at least $386,000 a year you're in the 99%, not the 1%
....14,000 American families make up the top 0.01% and AVERAGE $31million a year

0.01% is 1 out of every 10,000 families. They earn 5%, or 5 out of every 100 dollars, of all income earned in America. That leaves the other 95 to be split up among the remaining 131,986,000 American households(1).

Is it any wonder poverty in America is now at 14.3%(2)? That's 14 out of every 100 people. 14% is just over 2 out of the 17 people listed in the To: field of the original email from which this post was created. Think about that. 2 people out of every group this size in America lives in poverty. Not working poor. Not middle class. Not having to sacrifice that European vacation or third car in the driveway this year. Not cutting back on eating out or trading in filet mignon for ground chuck at the grocery store.

Poverty.

What is poverty? Poverty defined for a family of 4 is earning $22,314/year(3). That's $10.72/hour if it's full-time work; 40 hours a week, 2080 hours a year, at $10.72 per hour.

The second largest single employer in the U.S. (behind the federal government which, btw, includes everyone in the military before anyone starts ranting about the size of government) is, you guessed it, Wal-Mart. Average employee take home pay at Wal-Mart is $250 a week, or $13,000 a year if they actually work all 52 weeks. Wal-Mart's "full-time" employees average $6 - $7.50 an hour for working 28 - 40 hour weeks(4)

The federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour(5).

Am I the only one who thinks it's madness for companies to be required by law to pay $3.50 an hour LESS than the poverty rate?

I'm not against wealth or the wealthy. I am not a communist.

I'm all for a strong, vibrant, and sustainably-consuming middle class because we are the true engine of the economy. Without us, there are no markets to whom corporations can sell their goods and services, make a profit, and create more wealth for themselves and their shareholders. I am perfectly fine with that.

Something has gone terribly wrong, though, over the last 30 years or so and we need to get back to what we know works.

I'm no big devotee, but for all his faults and his anti-union stance Henry Ford seemed to understand how things could work for himself, his company, and his workers. He knew that in order to build a big, successful company he had to:
a) build a product people would want,
b) price that product (based on cost and a reasonable profit) so enough people could actually afford to buy it and,
c) create a big enough and sustainable market to buy his cars, partly by paying his workers enough to actually buy the damned things.

Like I said, there's a lot about Ford's business methods I don't like, but what confuses me now is how we seem to be living in an age when some of us in the middle class have forgotten this "symbiotic" reality between producing goods and services that markets want and can afford versus how much the people at the top want to earn from that buying and selling.

In other words, without all of us in the 99% underneath the 1% from where is their wealth supposed to come?

Oh, yeah. Wait. That's right.

Their wealth can still come from record-level profits derived at least in part from continuing to outsource what we used to call middle class jobs to the absolute cheapest overseas labor markets. The government isn't forcing them to do that. In fact, "free trade agreements" help to facilitate that. It's a P&L decision made easier by government removing regulation.

If that's not enough, their wealth can still come from duping some of us into believing that what we need to do is elect people who will bring "certainty" to their business, as if that's ever supposed to be a component of a free market and capitalism. Exactly how does government provide certainty to those poor, abused, and fearful titans of industry and commerce? I thought government was supposed to get out of their way, not do things for them?

From what we're being told by one party in particular (and only to a lesser degree by the other), certainty would come if only the following could be realized:

1) Deregulation
If corporations - and especially the financial services sector - were utterly and completely deregulated, the economy would just grow like crazy because who needs a watchdog when you have the "invisible hand" to guide you? We've seen - and even Greenspan has admitted - that hasn't worked out all that well, but what does he know?

2) Lower - even zero - taxes
If only the wealthy "job creators" and corporations - which, when it comes to corporations, we are now told by the Supreme Court and certain GOP candidates are people just like us - could just pay even less - better yet, no - taxes they could hoard even more cash until "certainty" finally arrived. Then they would have the confidence they need to create all those wonderful minimum wage and non-union jobs, and everyone could stop all their occupying and whining about not being able to find a job and get back to work.

3) Fear-driven cuts and bailouts
And if all else fails? Well, the powerful elite will still have their bought-and-paid for minions in Big Government in both parties who will be more than happy to cut social programs for the poor (who have no power anyway) while they take that money - our tax dollars - and distribute what's left to banks and private companies as tax breaks and bailouts for the mistakes they made because, as we all know, a free market based on libertarian principles and pure capitalism cannot afford to fail.


Sources:
(1) Where the One Percent Fit in the Hierarchy of Income, New York Times, 10/28/2011.
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/30/nyregion/where-the-one-percent-fit-in-the-hierarchy-of-income.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=thab1


(2) U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts.
http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html


(3) U.S. Census Bureau Poverty Data.
http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/threshld/


(4) Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town, PBS.
http://www.pbs.org/itvs/storewars/stores3.html


(5) U.S. Department of Labor; Wages.
http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/wages/minimumwage.htm

Sunday, October 16, 2011

CHARTS: Here's What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About...


I think this Business Insider article is one of the best collections of facts I've ever seen assembled about the economy.


Each graph is linked to its source or has the source stated as part of the chart image. Most come from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Others are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CIA (yeah, that CIA), UC Santa Cruz, Institutional Risk Analytics, Reuters, and the New York Times.

It is apolitical. It is simply historical data in graphical form about unemployment, corporate profits, banking, and the like. It doesn't project or forecast anything. It does offer brief descriptions about what that data means to everyone, not just the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The author, Henry Blodget, is no left-wing loon. Besides being CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Business Insider, he has firsthand and what some might call a "colorful" history in the financial services industry.


On a related note, I also thought that the image above was telling. It comes from The Atlantic

Was hoping we all might borrow this idea from that article:
"The greatest threat to our economy is neither corporations nor the government. The greatest threat to our economy is both of them working together," Sinclair writes. "There are currently two sizable coalitions of angry citizens that are almost on the same page about that, and they're too busy insulting each other to notice."


---
"If we can't persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause we'd better reexamine our reasoning."
Robert McNamara, former president of Ford Motor Company, Secretary of Defense to JFK and LBJ, and former president of the World Bank in the 2003 documentary, "The Fog of War", on America's involvement in Vietnam and the fact that we, as a nation, are not and never have been omniscient or perfect.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reagan--No Loopholes For Millionaires




So if the holy man of the GOP said it, and the holy man of the Democrats (who ain't so much what was hoped for after all) is saying it, how come the resistance is almost exclusively from just one side?




Hint: It has nothing to do with facts.

59 seconds of undeniable reality at http://youtu.be/cgbJ-Fs1ikA

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Inconvenient Truths About the Economy and the GOP


First Trust chief economist Brian Wesbury's 2nd Quarter GDP research reports...

"Corporate profits were also revised up slightly, to a new all-time record high. Profits were up at a 13.7% annual rate in Q2 and are up 8.5% versus a year ago."


How's that for an inconvenient truth for the GOP, for their big business puppet masters, and for the inexplicable non-two-percenters who defend them both?

So where are the jobs?
Where's the recovery?
Anyone? Anyone?

Greta? Gretchen? Shawn? O'Reilly? Anyone?

Herman? Michele? Rick? Mitt? Sarah? Anyone?

How come none of them talk about this?

Corporate profits are at historic levels, as is the wealth gap. Taxes are already at historically low levels, as are interest rates on credit for those rich corporations and individuals who have access to it and the neo-cons, Randians, tea baggers and the GOP want to blame all of our problems in our economy on, what, overpaid civil servants, the 11% of American workers still in a union, illegal immigrants, and the poor and working poor?

Isn't that just a little bit ridiculous?

Saturday, October 1, 2011



While it does sometimes seem like things never change, I still hope for something different in my lifetime.

During my daily commute I've been listening to the book "Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned" (http://amzn.to/nGQl0J).

It's amazing how similar the times we live in now resemble the Gilded Age's concentrated corporate wealth dictating to government the policies and laws that only increased the imbalance and led to economic collapse.

My kids understand the the lunacy of our generation better than we do. They know how badly some of us have gone astray and screwed things up. I'm encouraged by their morals, ethics, and sense of right and wrong.

What's happening on Wall Street now and in places elsewhere in the country is another positive sign. Here's Lee Camp's take on it: http://youtu.be/E9BKKr_CAAI

The invitation is still open if anyone wants to meet up in DC on Oct 29. http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/

Saturday, August 13, 2011

30 Years Ago: The Day the Middle Class Died


Had to add a few comments to this one.

The Reagan worshipers don't want my emails. Too bad. I would truly like to understand how this narrative can be repudiated.

Didn't they actually live the life described below, too? I can't say with absolute certainty, but I'm pretty sure that no one I know grew up in places like today's Westlake, TX, Kenilworth, IL, Mission Hills, KS, or a whole list of NYC suburbs (http://www.forbes.com/2011/01/18/americas-most-affluent-communities-business-beltway.html), and they don't live there now.

My father was a high school graduate who put 3 of his 4 kids through college without crushing debt and with one decent paying union job at Westinghouse. He owned his own home after paying off the 30-year mortgage. We went on vacations to "exotic destinations" like Washington, DC, and Ocean City, MD. We occasionally but not all that often ordered a pizza or went out for dinner. (Anyone else remember the Ho-Jo fried clams? That was big time for us!). Every 6 or so years he was able to buy new middle class sedans like Plymouth Satellites, Dodge Darts and Ford Futuras (woo-hoo!) made in America by fellow middle class workers. He had decent enough benefits so that he and we weren't bankrupted when he was diagnosed with heart disease and needed a quadruple bypass in the late 70s.

He retired with dignity and with a pension that wasn't anything like a lottery windfall but at least was sufficient enough to keep him from having to find part-time work at a McDonald's or WalMart just to make ends meet.

What was so wrong with that America?

What would be so wrong with having some of that back?

How the hell did we screw things up this badly?

I'll tell you. The unvarnished, bald-faced, honest and harsh truth is that we got here exactly and precisely by believing the lies we were told by Reagan, Greenspan, the GOP, and the rest of the trickle-downers who convinced too many of us that if the rich got richer all our boats would rise with that tide.

It was and still is a lie. Now those of us left in the middle class are left to drown in that rising tide.


Published on Saturday, August 6, 2011 by CommonDreams.org
30 Years Ago: The Day the Middle Class Died
by Michael Moore

From time to time, someone under 30 will ask me, "When did this all begin, America's downward slide?" They say they've heard of a time when working people could raise a family and send the kids to college on just one parent's income (and that college in states like California and New York was almost free). That anyone who wanted a decent paying job could get one. That people only worked five days a week, eight hours a day, got the whole weekend off and had a paid vacation every summer. That many jobs were union jobs, from baggers at the grocery store to the guy painting your house, and this meant that no matter how "lowly" your job was you had guarantees of a pension, occasional raises, health insurance and someone to stick up for you if you were unfairly treated. [On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who'd defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days.] On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who'd defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days.

Young people have heard of this mythical time -- but it was no myth, it was real. And when they ask, "When did this all end?", I say, "It ended on this day: August 5th, 1981."

Beginning on this date, 30 years ago, Big Business and the Right Wing decided to "go for it" -- to see if they could actually destroy the middle class so that they could become richer themselves.

And they've succeeded.

On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who'd defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days.

It was a bold and brash move. No one had ever tried it. What made it even bolder was that PATCO was one of only two unions that had endorsed Reagan for president! It sent a shock wave through workers across the country. If he would do this to the people who were with him, what would he do to us?

Reagan had been backed by Wall Street in his run for the White House and they, along with right-wing Christians, wanted to restructure America and turn back the tide that President Franklin D. Roosevelt started -- a tide that was intended to make life better for the average working person. The rich hated paying better wages and providing benefits. They hated paying taxes even more. And they despised unions. The right-wing Christians hated anything that sounded like socialism or holding out a helping hand to minorities or women.

Reagan promised to end all that. So when the air traffic controllers went on strike, he seized the moment. In getting rid of every single last one of them and outlawing their union, he sent a clear and strong message: The days of everyone having a comfortable middle class life were over. America, from now on, would be run this way:

* The super-rich will make more, much much more, and the rest of you will scramble for the crumbs that are left.

* Everyone must work! Mom, Dad, the teenagers in the house! Dad, you work a second job! Kids, here's your latch-key! Your parents might be home in time to put you to bed.

* 50 million of you must go without health insurance! And health insurance companies: you go ahead and decide who you want to help -- or not.

* Unions are evil! You will not belong to a union! You do not need an advocate! Shut up and get back to work! No, you can't leave now, we're not done. Your kids can make their own dinner.

* You want to go to college? No problem -- just sign here and be in hock to a bank for the next 20 years!

* What's "a raise"? Get back to work and shut up!

And so it went. But Reagan could not have pulled this off by himself in 1981. He had some big help:

The AFL-CIO.

The biggest organization of unions in America told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers and go to work. And that's just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers -- they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike. And union members of all stripes crossed the picket lines and continued to fly.

Reagan and Wall Street could not believe their eyes! Hundreds of thousands of working people and union members endorsing the firing of fellow union members. It was Christmas in August for Corporate America.

And that was the beginning of the end. Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything -- and they did. They slashed taxes on the rich. They made it harder for you to start a union at your workplace. They eliminated safety regulations on the job. They ignored the monopoly laws and allowed thousands of companies to merge or be bought out and closed down. Corporations froze wages and threatened to move overseas if the workers didn't accept lower pay and less benefits. And when the workers agreed to work for less, they moved the jobs overseas anyway.

And at every step along the way, the majority of Americans went along with this. There was little opposition or fight-back. The "masses" did not rise up and protect their jobs, their homes, their schools (which used to be the best in the world). They just accepted their fate and took the beating.

I have often wondered what would have happened had we all just stopped flying, period, back in 1981. What if all the unions had said to Reagan, "Give those controllers their jobs back or we're shutting the country down!"? You know what would have happened. The corporate elite and their boy Reagan would have buckled.

But we didn't do it. And so, bit by bit, piece by piece, in the ensuing 30 years, those in power have destroyed the middle class of our country and, in turn, have wrecked the future for our young people. Wages have remained stagnant for 30 years. Take a look at the statistics and you can see that every decline we're now suffering with had it's beginning in 1981 (here's a little scene to illustrate that from my last movie).

It all began on this day, 30 years ago. One of the darkest days in American history. And we let it happen to us. Yes, they had the money, and the media and the cops. But we had 200 million of us. Ever wonder what it would look like if 200 million got truly upset and wanted their country, their life, their job, their weekend, their time with their kids back?

Have we all just given up? What are we waiting for? Forget about the 20% who support the Tea Party -- we are the other 80%! This decline will only end when we demand it. And not through an online petition or a tweet. We are going to have to turn the TV and the computer and the video games off and get out in the streets (like they've done in Wisconsin). Some of you need to run for local office next year. We need to demand that the Democrats either get a spine and stop taking corporate money -- or step aside.

When is enough, enough? The middle class dream will not just magically reappear. Wall Street's plan is clear: America is to be a nation of Haves and Have Nothings. Is that OK for you?

Why not use today to pause and think about the little steps you can take to turn this around in your neighborhood, at your workplace, in your school? Is there any better day to start than today?

P.S. Here are a few places you can connect with to get the ball rolling:

Main Street Contract for America
Showdown in America
Democracy Convention
Occupy Wall Street
October 2011
How to Join a Union by the AFL-CIO (they've learned their lesson and have a good president now) or UE
Change to Win
MoveOn
High School Newspaper (Just because you're under 18 doesn't mean you can't do anything!)


---
"I thought Republicans believed in government out of our lives, the precious right of privacy, and the right to be left alone. Well, then what they hell are we doing in abortion, and gay/lesbian issues, and mental health…I have a cousin who was gay who was a war hero, World War II. We're all human beings.”
Former Wyoming GOP Senator Alan Simpson (http://bit.ly/k5FRjB)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Food as Fuel - A Very Bad Idea

....$11B a year in corn subsidies.

I wonder where the Libertarian, tea party, and GOP outrage over this government subsidy of private enterprise is? Perhaps they just don't have the strength and the energy to be simultaneously outraged over that and....oh....I don't know.....the social programs that benefit poor women like Planned Parenthood at the same time. Maybe they consider PP's $70million in annual funding and the $293 million they get through Medicare reimbursements (1), Senator Kyl's NITBAFS lies about abortions notwithstanding, to be a bigger budgetary problem than corn subsidies.

If so, perhaps some remedial math will help. PP's $363million is only 3.3% the size of the corn subsidies, and PP's funding is still only 0.0104% of the 3.5trillion fed budget.


..."Eating up just a tenth of the corn crop as recently as 2004, ethanol was turbocharged by legislation in 2005 and 2007 that set specific requirements for its use in gasoline, mandating steep rises from year to year. Yet another government bureaucracy was born to enforce the quotas."

Perhaps someone can remind me who controlled both houses of Congress and the White House in 2005?

I know. Dems are the ones always being accused by tea-baggers, Randians, and GOPpers of bloating government, but even they must admit in this case that when, "...another government bureaucracy was born to enforce the quotas" that that birth could reasonably be assumed to have happened in 2005 and not 2007, right? Maybe someone will be interested enough to look that one up.

I don't suppose there's much point in reminding anyone about the truth of the Reagan, HW and Wjr years and GOP Congresses when it comes to bloated bureaucracies and budget deficits, either, is there?


Besides all the downsides of treating foodstuffs as fuels that this article brings to light, here are a few final related food facts I also thought worth sharing....
....The average American family wastes $1,200 - or about 500 pounds - of food each year. Add in restaurants and farms, and the total comes to $155billion (with a 'b') worth of food going into landfills every year (2)
....925 million people are hungry. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That's one child every five seconds(3).

In the time it took you to read this far, 30 kids died from hunger.

-----
Sources
(1): http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/planned-parenthood-center-budget-shutdown-threat/story?id=13328750

(2): http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/07/23/earlyshow/contributors/susankoeppen/main4285083.shtml#ixzz1QPOW0xhL

(3): http://www.bread.org/hunger/global/

-----



FEELING the need for an example of government policy run amok? Look no further than the box of cornflakes on your kitchen shelf. In its myriad corn-related interventions, Washington has managed simultaneously to help drive up food prices and add tens of billions of dollars to the deficit, while arguably increasing energy use and harming the environment.
Related
· Times Topic: Corn

Even in a crowd of rising food and commodity costs, corn stands out, its price having doubled in less than a year to a record $7.87 per bushel in early June. Booming global demand has overtaken stagnant supply.

But rather than ameliorate the problem, the government has exacerbated it, reducing food supply to a hungry world. Thanks to Washington, 4 of every 10 ears of corn grown in America — the source of 40 percent of the world’s production — are shunted into ethanol, a gasoline substitute that imperceptibly nicks our energy problem. Larded onto that are $11 billion a year of government subsidies to the corn complex.

Corn is hardly some minor agricultural product for breakfast cereal. It’s America’s largest crop, dwarfing wheat and soybeans. A small portion of production goes for human consumption; about 40 percent feeds cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens. Diverting 40 percent to ethanol has disagreeable consequences for food. In just a year, the price of bacon has soared by 24 percent.

To some, the contours of the ethanol story may be familiar. Almost since Iowa — our biggest corn-producing state — grabbed the lead position in the presidential sweepstakes four decades ago, support for the biofuel has been nearly a prerequisite for politicians seeking the presidency.

Those hopefuls have seen no need for a foolish consistency. John McCain and John Kerry were against ethanol subsidies, then as candidates were for them. Having lost the presidency, Mr. McCain is now against them again. Al Gore was for ethanol before he was against it. This time, one hopeful is experimenting with counter-programming: as governor of corn-producing Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty pushed for subsidies before he embraced a “straight talk” strategy.

Eating up just a tenth of the corn crop as recently as 2004, ethanol was turbocharged by legislation in 2005 and 2007 that set specific requirements for its use in gasoline, mandating steep rises from year to year. Yet another government bureaucracy was born to enforce the quotas.

To ease the pain, Congress threw in a 45-cents-a-gallon subsidy ($6 billion a year); to add another layer of protection, it imposed a tariff on imported ethanol of 54 cents a gallon. That successfully shut off cheap imports, produced more efficiently from sugar cane, principally from Brazil.

Here is perhaps the most incredible part: Because of the subsidy, ethanol became cheaper than gasoline, and so we sent 397 million gallons of ethanol overseas last year. America is simultaneously importing costly foreign oil and subsidizing the export of its equivalent.

That’s not all. Ethanol packs less punch than gasoline and uses considerable energy in its production process. All told, each gallon of gasoline that is displaced costs the Treasury $1.78 in subsidies and lost tax revenue.

Nor does ethanol live up to its environmental promises. The Congressional Budget Office found that reducing carbon dioxide emissions by using ethanol costs at least $750 per ton of carbon dioxide, wildly more than other methods. What is more, making corn ethanol consumes vast quantities of water and increases smog.

Then there’s energy efficiency. Studies reach widely varying conclusions on that issue. While some show a small saving in fossil fuels, others calculate that ethanol consumes more energy than it produces.

Corn growers and other farmers have long exercised outsize influence, thanks in part to the Senate’s structural tilt toward rural states. The ethanol giveaway represents a 21st-century add-on to a dizzying patchwork of programs for farmers. Under one, corn growers receive “direct payments” — $1.75 billion in 2010 — whether they grow corn or not. Washington also subsidizes crop insurance, at a cost of another $1.75 billion last year. That may have made sense when low corn prices made farming a marginal business, but no longer.

At long last, the enormity of the nation’s budget deficit has added momentum to the forces of reason. While only a symbolic move, the Senate recently voted 73 to 27 to end ethanol subsidies. That alone helped push corn prices down to $7 per bushel. Incredibly, the White House criticized the action — could key farm states have been on the minds of the president’s advisers?

Even farm advocates like former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman agree that the situation must be fixed. Reports filtering out of the budget talks currently under way suggest that agriculture subsidies sit prominently on the chopping block. The time is ripe.

Steven Rattner was formerly counselor to the secretary of the Treasury and lead auto adviser. He has spent nearly 30 years on Wall Street as an investor and investment banker and is a contributing writer to Op-Ed.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Will We in the Middle Class Never Learn?

Joe Nocera's New York Times op-ed of June 17, 2011, "The Banking Miracle", makes me wonder why it's so hard for some people to accept what history has to tell us?

America's economic greatness is measured by its middle class, not the wealthy. We seem to be doomed without a vibrant, optimistic, and prospering middle class that has the money to spend on the goods and services that the economy produces. An irony in all of this is that we in the middle class are partly to blame. We are so caught up in striving to be wealthy - or at least occasionally feel like we can live a little of our lives as if we were - that we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to racking up personal debt. The difference between us and the bankers, however, is that our debts are our own and, as we should have learned from history and are so painfully learning again, so are Wall Street's.

We also become our own worst enemies when we start believing and supporting the fallacy of trickle down economics. History proves that model doesn't work. Correction. That model works perfectly well for the very wealthy. It's a superb model for widening the wealth gap and concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

So I continuously wonder how many more times will it take before intelligent individuals look at history, do the math, and accept that the rich consider the rest of us to be little more than economic chattel; property, as it were, to be bought and sold for the benefit of the uber-rich and powerful? By supporting failed economic models and legislative policies that benefit the wealthy over the middle class, we are doing little more than engaging in wishful thinking while clinging to a blind faith that by prostrating ourselves at the feet of the wealthy we might some day be invited to a seat at their table. Even without such an invitation, some of us cling to an even more dangerous and failed belief that what's needed now is to remove any last bit of regulation and to put our full faith and trust in the hands of wealthy capitalists and bankers. These are the very people who not only have caused the last two great economic collapses, they have mastered the art of duping an uninformed and blissfully ignorant portion of the population into believing that without them we will have even fewer opportunities to live a life that has any hope, dignity, or comfort at all.

IMHO, those of us in the middle class who believe these fairy tales do ourselves and our fellow citizens a grave injustice by thinking that the best a free market system has to offer is whatever scraps the richest among us care to share from their plates.

Economic collapses aren't and never have been caused by unions, the middle class, the poor, or illegal immigrants. Men from places like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and other big houses on Wall Street have been at the root of our economic collapses. They've never really been the catalyst of economic growth and prosperity, either. They've never built a single car, computer, or line of software code. They don't build buildings and they don't grow food. They don't mine minerals and they don't teach our kids in schools or deliver health care. To be sure, they play a role as middle men in making the financing possible to do those things. They ostensibly provide the supposed financial expertise to evaluate the risk-reward equation. They have the contacts to be able to put monied interests together with those who need the investment capital. So at the end of the day, what are they? They are the hosts of a multi-trillion dollar Match Game for which they are paid astronomical sums and for which we are supposed to be grateful for their parts in the "jobs creation" equation.

Here's the rub. When their bets win, they reap the rewards in terms of massive personal wealth which never really trickles down very far, if at all. Good for them. Our system is supposed to reward intelligence and achievement, and I'm all for that. But what happens when there are no rules in place and their gambles go south? Who suffers? Who has to pay for those bad bets?

History cannot be denied. We know by looking back that when there are either too few or no borders, boundaries, or rules by which people - including capitalists - must play, bad things tend to happen. Call it a sad reality of human nature. Call it whatever you like. The reality cannot be denied. The concentration of wealth - and the unregulated power that goes with it - is what was at the root of the Great Depression and the Great Recession. And while the post-WWII prosperity this country enjoyed for the latter half of the 20th century is not completely the result of Glass-Steagall, the undeniable truths are that the bill existed until Reagan and Greenspan successfully vilified government and financial regulation, and Clinton signed a GOP piece of legislation into law that the Republicans had wanted since the 30s to reverse Glass-Steagall known as Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

And where do we find ourselves again and as a result? In an economy that widens the wealth gap, divides us on ideologies to the point where people stop talking to each other, and where, saddest of all, facts no longer matter.

Know what else cannot be denied? It's who pays for the *unregulated* bets that Wall Street makes and loses. Bets that we're now learning that Wall Street was making both ways by continuing to sell unregulated securities like mortgage backed securities and collateralized debt obligations even while they bet against them with credit default swaps? I can tell who didn't pay for those bad bets; the Wall Streeters who made them and who, despite the collapse, continue to make historic bonuses instead of being fired or going to jail. Whatever happened to accountability? Whatever happened to paying for one's mistakes? Whatever happened to business ethics?

So I have to ask, "Is the desire to regulate really socialism, and what is it called when an economic system privatizes all the gains and socializes all the losses?"

Are we witnessing a perversion of capitalism? Is the erosion of the middle class and vilification of the poor what happens when a wealthy and powerful oligarchy wields ever more unchecked and unregulated power, reaps all the rewards, and passes all of their losses onto us?

Is what we are witnessing really the truest expression of capitalism? Is the ultimate manifestation of our system really the plutocracy we are seeing now; a system where the rich few tell all the rest of us what to think and what's good for us and, out of shear fear and panic, we believe them?

Are we really going to become a society in which social programs are seen as wasteful and frivolous; where the availability of medical science and technology that can improve and save lives is reduced to an economic ROI calculation; where average people who have played by the rules and worked hard all their lives become indigent in their old age; and where we gladly pursue and support economic and political policies that produce short term gains for a few with no regard for long term pains for the many?

Are we that blind? Are we that cold? Have we really lost our intelligence and our humanity at the same time?

What happens next? Do we continue to allow our system to devolve into a kleptocracy where government is replaced by capitalism, ruled completely by and for the exclusive and sole benefit of the richest among us, and where we finally and completely see them steal any lingering shreds of dignity and paltry wealth we have left?

It just seems to me that we are hurtling toward a doom that comes only from a completely unregulated capitalist system - at least as capitalism is being practiced today in America. IMHO, we have some people within the middle class who support the idea of less regulation, who refuse to learn from history, and who won't face reality to partially thank for it.

If we were united in the middle class and in our demands for fairness, equality, and sensible rules to protect the economy as a whole, I could see us creating the environment for real recovery and prosperity just as was the case during that period in the 20th century when the wealth gap wasn't so wide and legislation like Glass-Steagall kept people from making fortunes by knowingly making bets that only paid the dividends and never saddled them with the losses.


Related Sources
Rampell, Catherine. (June 17, 2011). For Want of a Word, Arizona’s Jobless Lose Checks. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/18/business/18benefits.html

Howard, John. (June 2, 2011). Goldman Hit With Subpoena Over MBS Antics. Law360.com Retrieved from http://www.law360.com/topnews/articles/248863

The Daily Show: Exclusive - William Cohan Interview Parts 1 and 2 (April 28, 2011). Retrieved from
http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-april-28-2011/exclusive---william-cohan-extended-interview-pt--1
http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-april-28-2011/exclusive---william-cohan-extended-interview-pt--2


----- Original Message -----

Sent: Saturday, June 18, 2011 7:15:29 AM
Subject: The Banking Miracle

The president of the American Bankers Association was railing against excessive regulation in a speech at the Waldorf Astoria. The banking reform bill, he complained, “would destroy a substantial part of our bond-distributing machinery.” He added, “Can anyone expect that a step of this kind will improve the quality of our long-term investments?”

Modern echoes, for sure. But I read about the speech in a Jan. 27, 1933, article culled from the wonderful archives of The American Banker, the bankers’ bible now celebrating its 175th birthday. The speaker, one Francis H. Sisson, was complaining about an early version of the Glass-Steagall Act, the most famous of all Depression-era bank laws, and the one that, in retrospect, probably did the most good. Less than six months after Sisson’s speech, President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law.

From my vantage point here in 2011, Glass-Steagall seems miraculous. It was amazingly radical, not just for its time, but for any time; it didn’t so much reform banking as upend it. Most notably, it ordered banks to get out of the securities business. As Sisson complained: “The effect of the proposed banking reform is to renounce investment banking rather than regulate it.” Because investment banking was then the chief activity of the big banks, this was a very big deal.

Glass-Steagall also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insured customer deposits for the first time, and outlawed branch banking by national banks, among other things. It is impossible to imagine anything like it passing today; although the modern reform bill, Dodd-Frank, surely does some good, it’s not even comparable.

I’d long wondered how Senator Carter Glass, the powerful Virginia Democrat, and his House counterpart, the Alabama congressman Henry Steagall, managed to get it passed. What were the politics like? What did they fight over? Why didn’t people like Sisson have better luck pushing back against it, the way bank lobbyists do today? So I asked the editors at American Banker if they would send me some articles from the era that would shed some light on the question. Happily, they obliged.

The first thing I realized is that all the horse-trading over the bill’s provision was done by Democrats. The Republicans, having been badly defeated in the 1932 election, had no ability to block it or even amend it. For instance, Republicans tended to view the creation of deposit insurance as “socialism.” (Sound familiar?) But it didn’t matter: Steagall cared deeply about deposit insurance. Many community bankers — as strong a force back then as today — also supported the idea because they believed it would renew customers’ faith in the banks, and bring back deposits. (This turned out to be true.) Glass, though skeptical, went along so he could get things he cared about, mainly a stronger Federal Reserve with more power over the banks.

The second thing I realized was that, the Sisson speech notwithstanding, there was surprisingly little controversy over what we now think of as the law’s primary achievement: splitting commercial and investment banking. The fights were all over issues that seem inconsequential by today’s lights. It’s as if the notion of breaking the banking business into two was always a foregone conclusion.

And, for the most part, it was. Partly, this was because, unlike today, bank failures in the 1930s were often ruinous to customers. So reform was more pressing. But it was also because, for the entire time the legislation was under consideration, the Pecora hearings were going on — in which Ferdinand Pecora, the flamboyant chief counsel of the Senate Banking Committee, dragged one well-known banker after another before the committee and grilled them mercilessly, exposing how they had abused their investment banking roles, sometimes to the point of criminality. The Pecora hearings serve as a steady drumbeat in the American Banker articles.

Those hearings infuriated the country, and made it unthinkable that banks would continue to be allowed to sell securities. In fact, some banks, seeing which way the wind was blowing, applauded: “The spirit of speculation should be eradicated from the management of commercial banks,” declared Winthrop Aldrich, the chairman of Chase National Bank, according to Michael Perino, Pecora’s biographer. Ironically, Glass loathed the Pecora hearings, deriding them as “a circus, and the only thing lacking now are peanuts and colored lemonade.” But the hearings made his bill — which had been filibustered by Huey Long just 18 months earlier — not just possible but inevitable.

How inevitable? Charles Geisst, a finance professor at Manhattan College and an expert on the law, says that the House and Senate didn’t even bother with a roll-call vote for final passage. This seminal piece of legislation, which helped keep the banks out of trouble for the next 70-plus years, flew through on a voice vote. On Friday, June 16, 1933, when Roosevelt signed it into law, The American Banker gave the news all of three paragraphs. There was nothing left to say.



Joe Nocera

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dear Sen. Toomey (and GOP), We can't drill our way to so-called energy independence.

Dear Senator Toomey,

Let me say as respectfully, directly, and candidly as possible that I could not disagree with you more on your strategy as outlined in the following statement from your email below.

"It is for this reason that I have been disappointed by the President's reluctance to a significant expansion of oil exploration and energy production within our own borders, including in the north Alaska coast. More oil production in the United States - both offshore and on land - will create jobs and bring new supplies to market, making us less dependent on the Middle East for our energy security. I will continue working with my Senate colleagues on policies that will bolster domestic oil production."

This is, with all due respect, an idea that has no merit and makes absolutely no sense in the 21st century.

First of all, fossil fuels are fungible resources. There simply are insufficient resources within our borders and offshore in our waters to have any meaningful impact on prices globally(1).

Second and perhaps even more importantly, the risks to our environment as demonstrated most recently by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster last year proves that this is an industry that cannot be trusted to put safety for its workers and the environment above profit. It is time for us to stop subsidizing this wildly profitable industry and to start helping companies who want to provide us with energy solutions that do not put workers' lives at risk and which do not permanently and irrevocably harm our planet.

Therefore and in closing, unless and until you publicly reverse your position and instead advocate to the president and your colleagues for greater and more meaningful commitments to cleaner and greener energy technologies such as solar, wind, and geothermal, please know that I will advocate against you and your reelection. I will tell all of my family, friends and neighbors that yours is a short-sighted and doomed idea to "drill, baby, drill", and I will use precisely that kind of language to attach you to less serious political figures who share what I consider to be ridiculous and dangerous ideas about energy and our future.

Sincerely,
Greg *********


(1) http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/analysis_publications/arctic_national_wildlife_refuge/html/preface.html and http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/otheranalysis/ongr.html


----- Forwarded Message -----
From: "Senator Pat Toomey"
To: "greg
Sent: Monday, May 2, 2011 11:24:14 AM
Subject: Reply from U.S. Senator Pat Toomey

May 2, 2011


Dear Mr. **********,

Thank you for contacting me about energy prices. I appreciate hearing from you as I begin my service on behalf of Pennsylvania.

Like you, I am very concerned about the increased cost of gasoline and other fuels. High energy prices hurt the wallets of households across the country and pose a serious threat to our economy. It also is troubling that we continue to import billions of barrels of oil every year from unfriendly and unstable parts of the world. As Administrator Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recently noted, our dependence on foreign oil is the "most important factor" for the increase in gasoline prices. Clearly, we need to advance policies that tackle this problem and help Americans who are concerned about how much they are paying at the pump.

First and foremost, we need to produce significantly more energy here at home and put our country on the right track towards energy independence and affordable fuels. It is for this reason that I have been disappointed by the President's reluctance to a significant expansion of oil exploration and energy production within our own borders, including in the north Alaska coast. More oil production in the United States - both offshore and on land - will create jobs and bring new supplies to market, making us less dependent on the Middle East for our energy security. I will continue working with my Senate colleagues on policies that will bolster domestic oil production.

In addition, you may be interested to know that I have cosponsored an energy bill to protect Pennsylvania jobs and help lower energy prices. The Boutique Fuel Reduction Act of 2011 (S. 511) would reduce the probability of gas price spikes by simplifying our complex gasoline system and curbing "boutique fuel" regulations that can drive up prices at the pump. This bill is currently pending before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Lastly, some have argued that speculation in the oil markets is driving the increase in gasoline prices. In response to such concerns, my office has contacted the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission to learn more about the possible impact of energy speculation and about federal efforts to regulate the trade of energy futures. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on this issue, as well as on other possible factors that could be driving gasoline prices such as the Federal Reserve's recent efforts to pump an unprecedented amount of money into the economy.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.

Sincerely,

Signature

Pat Toomey
U.S. Senator, Pennsylvania

Monday, April 18, 2011

Senator Sanders asks, "Tax Time? Not for Giant Corporations"

From Senator Bernie Sanders

Release: Tax Time? Not for Giant Corporations


March 27, 2011
Sanders Calls for Shared Sacrifice

BURLINGTON, Vt., March 27 - While hard working Americans fill out their income tax returns this tax season, General Electric and other giant profitable corporations are avoiding U.S. taxes altogether.

With Congress returning to Capitol Hill on Monday to debate steep spending cuts, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations must do their share to help bring down our record-breaking deficit.

Sanders renewed his call for shared sacrifice after it was reported that General Electric and other major corporations paid no U.S. taxes after posting huge profits. Sanders said it is grossly unfair for congressional Republicans to propose major cuts to Head Start, Pell Grants, the Social Security Administration, nutrition grants for pregnant low-income women and the Environmental Protection Agency while ignoring the reality that some of the most profitable corporations pay nothing or almost nothing in federal income taxes.

Sanders compiled a list of some of some of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders.
1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings. (Source: Exxon Mobil's 2009 shareholder report filed with the SEC here.)

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion. (Source: Forbes.com here, ProPublica here and Treasury here.)

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS. (Source: Citizens for Tax Justice here and The New York Times here. Note: despite rumors to the contrary, the Times has stood by its story.)

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009. (Source: See 2009 Chevron annual report here. Note 15 on page FS-46 of this report shows a U.S. federal income tax liability of $128 million, but that it was able to defer $147 million for a U.S. federal income tax liability of $-19 million)

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year. . (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here and Citizens for Tax Justice here.)

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction. (Source: the company's 2009 annual report, pg. 112, here.)

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department. (Source: Bloomberg News here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2006 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction. (Sources: Profits can be found here. The deduction can be found on the company's 2010 SEC 10-K report to shareholders on 2009 finances, pg. 127, here)

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent. (Source: The New York Times here)

Sanders has called for closing corporate tax loopholes and eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He also introduced legislation to impose a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires that would yield up to $50 billion a year. The senator has said that spending cuts must be paired with new revenue so the federal budget is not balanced solely on the backs of working families.

"We have a deficit problem. It has to be addressed," Sanders said, "but it cannot be addressed on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the poor, young people, the most vulnerable in this country. The wealthiest people and the largest corporations in this country have got to contribute. We've got to talk about shared sacrifice."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

GOP and Tea Party Budget Cuts Make No Sense Mathematically or Logically


To any and all self-proclaimed supporters of Ryan or the Tea Party:

Where would you start on a 2012 White House proposed budget that is projected to take in $2.6 trillion and spend $3.7 trillion? (http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2012/assets/budget.pdf)

Numbers with the word trillion after them can be hard to comprehend. I got a quizzical look recently from a family member when I used million-million. So here's what I do.

$3.7trillion = $3,700,000,000,000 = $3700 billion

Drop all the extraneous zeros and start out talking about $3700.00. Thirty seven hundred dollars is a number anyone can understand. That turns tens and hundreds of millions into pennies and dimes, respectively.

Even a number as large as one billion becomes easier to grasp out of 3700 billion when you realize that it's one "dollar" out of 3700. That one (billion) dollar(s) becomes a paltry and practically meaningless - in a relative sense - 0.027% of the total.

With that in mind, I would be curious to know where the following would end up on anyone's list for cuts greater than might already be built into the 2012 budget.


Planned Parenthood (Title X)
“Unlike the House Republicans’ Continuing Resolution for the rest of Fiscal Year 2011, which Congress is debating this week, the president’s budget proposes a $10 million increase to the Title X program, calling for this critical program to be funded at $327 million."
(Source: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/statement-planned-parenthood-president-cecile-richards-president-obamas-2012-budget-36197.htm)

327 million = 0.327 billion. That's 33 cents out of 3700 dollars. It's 0.00891% of the total budgeted expense of our federal government.


CPB
"CPB requests a $495 million advance appropriation for FY 2014, an increase of $50 million over the last enacted advance appropriation ($445 million in FY 2012)."
(Source: http://www.cpb.org/appropriation/)

445 million for FY 2012 is 0.445 billion. That's 45 cents out of 3700 dollars, or 0.01216%.


Head Start
"Continues strong support for high-quality early childhood programs with more than $8 billion for Head Start and Early Head Start to serve approximately 968,000 children and families"
(Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/factsheet_department_health/)

8 (billion) is 0.216% of 3700 (billion)


EPA
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mission is to protect human health and the environment. The President’s 2012 Budget includes $9 billion to continue to deliver on this mission, a decrease of $1.3 billion.
(Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/factsheet_department_epa/)

A $1.3 billion decrease on $10.3 billion is a 12.6% REDUCTION in spending for the EPA.

$9 (billion) is 0.24% of 3700 (billion).


DoD
The President's 2012 Budget for the Department of Defense (DOD) reflects that commitment, proposing $553 billion - an increase of $22 billion above the 2010 appropriation.
(Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/factsheet_department_defense/)

A $22 billion increase to $553B is a 4% INCREASE in spending on defense.

$553 (billion) is 14.94% of $3700 (billion)


So, do we start with more cuts to tiny programs that may have already had their budgets cut, or do we cut those where there's a planned increase and that account for significant percentages of the total? I say the latter.

Mathematically and logically, do we start with expenses that represent 33 cents, 45 cents, 8 dollars, 9 dollars, or 553 dollars out of 3700? Doesn't make sense to me to cut pennies when hundreds of dollars are possible.

Do we cut more from programs that represent 0.00891%, 0.01216%, 0.216%, 0.24%, or 15% of the total projected expense? I say the one that is 15% ought to be cut first.


Tax Revenues
Depending on what numbers one wants to accept and acknowledging that it seems impossible to do this with any certainty by people way more smarter than I, one thing seems clear even to me. The Bush era tax cuts and their extension is costing the government anywhere from 1.6 to 2.5trillion in uncollected tax revenues - mostly from the rich - and has not done one friggin' thing to improve the economy as far as I can tell.
(Source: http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/26314.html)

IMHO, it's crazy and dangerous to pretend the budget can be balanced and the debt reduced only by cutting expenses. Tax revenues also have to be increased.

My plan would be simple because I'm simply not fully informed or smarter than anyone else. It's just where I - a common man like any tea bagger...except without the pointy hat and Ben Franklin get-up - would start.

1. Raise income and capital gains taxes on richest 2% and on corporate profits immediately to Clinton era levels. Even higher would be ok, too. I'm using that era in our history if for no other reason than it was a time when there was economic expansion and a budget surplus.

2. Change the tax code immediately to a more progressive schedule that captures more tax the more income that individuals make (and presumably, then, encouraging the true heroes of capitalism - and I mean it sincerely - the small business owner to make a decent living while having a tax incentive to invest "excess" income back into their business)

3. Close every corporate tax loop hole there is, starting with the ones that benefit oil, coal, gas, and financial services industries. They are doing just fine without them, thank you very much.

4. Not only *not* increase the DoD budget, but find ways to cut it by....I don't know....10% seems reasonable. More is better. Stopping the pissing away of lives and money in the Middle East would help, too.

Just my 2 cents. It's about all I have left.....

Monday, March 14, 2011

Do the Math: Nibbling at the Edges Won't Work

I received an email from a friend recently that was purported to be from a recent speech by Senator Tom Coburn. It's supposed to be his frustration about some items in the federal budget.

I'm all for fiscal responsibility. I wish the GOP was, too.

The federal budget is over 3.6 trillion dollars. I agree that's huge. It's way too big and out of control. I agree that something - lots of things, really - need to be done, but what exactly? And how do we put that "what" into some kind of perspective people can come to some agreement about?

To try to understand this, I started out with what the number 3.6 trillion really is. Yeah, I know. It's BIG! ;)

I had to break it down. It's 3600 billion. Still sounds pretty big! 3600billion is also 3600 million-million. Anytime you start saying "million-million" together, you know it's big!

What I don't understand or care much about is how many trips back and forth to the moon that is or what it's height would be in 100 dollar bills stacked up or some shit like that because that's meaningless to me, too. What I can do to understand all these numbers, though, is to compare them against each other. Here's what I discovered when I compared the total budget to some of the budget items that Coburn talks about.

What does it really mean when legislators complain about $150million for the Smithsonian or $500million for state and local fire stations or even $79billion for state education? Hard to say until one puts those numbers into perspective relative to the total budget. That I can do and understand.

So, $150,000,000 for the Smithsonian out of a total budget of $3,600,000,000,000 is 0.00416% of the total. That's 4 one-thousandths of one percent. $500million for state and local fire stations is 0.0138% of the total. Even $79billion for education is only 2.19%.

Putting it another way that I can actually comprehend, it's like saying that if the total federal budget was $3,600.00 Coburn and his colleagues in the GOP think we need to get fiscally responsible by cutting out 15 cents for the Smithsonian, 50 cents for fire stations, and just 79 bucks for education. I can understand that math............ but not the reasoning behind thinking we don't as a society need museums, fire stations, and well-educated kids.

To be sure, it all adds up and, yes, I agree with him that it isn't very smart or fiscally responsible to spend $448M on a new building and $248M on furniture for the Department of Homeland Security when there's supposedly $1.3trillion in empty buildings sitting on the books. What I wonder about is how come he and everyone else don't talk about big budget items like Defense?

I found it disturbing to read just this morning that the cost overruns alone in the Department of Defense these days are $300billion, an amount equal to Clinton's last FULL defense budget. (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/12/opinion/20100313_Pentagonsboondoggles.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=thab1)

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for defending America, but I think it's time to stop pretending we're actually capable of arming Luke Skywalker with missile defense systems costing hundreds of billions of dollars that can actually shoot one missile with another. As the above NY Times piece shows, we've been trying to do that since ancient times - the year I was born - and there's no projected end in sight. The physics and technology are just not realistic, certainly not anytime soon. We seem to be the victims of just a little too much sci-fi.

I didn't realize this until recently, either. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, we spend as much on our military as the next 15 largest countries combined. Our military expenditures in 2009 were #1 on the list at $663billion. China is #2 at $98.8billion. We outspend just China by 670%. Number 3 on the list is the U.K. Are we worried they'll invade our shores? Seems like we ought to be able to kick anyone's ass in a conventional sense even if we cut back some.

There's certainly more than a little work that needs to be done in this country about our finances. For my part, I'd rather see the so-called and self-proclaimed fiscal hawks in the Republican party doing things like cutting defense spending and having an "adult conversation" as they like to say about the fact that what's really needed are the elimination of tax breaks and subsidies to companies like big oil combined with increases in taxes on those who can afford it most - the richest 2%.

Instead, the GOP seems intent on trying to pit middle class Americans against each other over things like a union's ability to bargain collectively, as if killing unions will add one single cent to a budget. They also are trying to sell us bullshit ideas that we need to cut the pennies it costs to keep museums and firehouses open, and the few dollars it takes to educate our kids. Meanwhile, the Defense Department's budget of over $660billion is almost 20% of the total budget and isn't cut but expanded.

Big problems require big courage and big solutions, not politically motivated nibbling at the edges that eliminates vital social functions that are tiny fractions of a percentage of the budget.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The End of Clean Water in PA?

The New York Times published a disturbing article today, "Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers".

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With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.
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Pennsylvanians and Americans anywhere near hydrofracking are left to wonder about just how safe their tap water (and well water) really is. Bottled water is no answer as it's a path in all the wrong directions because of the amount of oil used to make the bottles, the health hazards those bottles themselves create, and the problem that billions and billions of them going into landfills create for thousands of years to come.

It's crazy what we tolerate as citizens from our elected officials who are supposed to be working for us. That has proven to be a complete fantasy in the Koch Party, and the Dems are not much different it seems.

Some interesting and disturbing facts about bottled water:
Out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, 80% end up in a landfill, even though recycling programs exist.
17 million barrels of oil are used in producing bottled water each year.

Bottled water costs 1,000 times more than tap water. Drinking 2 Litres of tap water a day only costs 50 cents per year.

Plastic leaches toxins into the water, which have been linked to health problems such as reproductive issues and cancer.


Here's a challenge for all the pro-business GOP shills out there: Take a drink from one of the water treatment facilities that have no means for testing for radiation and which are located downstream from a sewage plant where fracking water was sent, and then have that water tested.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Koch Party Part 2: Covert Operations




Here's more justification for changing the GOP to the Koch Party.

I was asked via email recently the following question:
"...isn't the Koch Industries thing kind of tiny compared to the money unions have funneled to the Dems for over 100 years?"

Here is my response.


100 years? Not sure how much of the American labor force was actually unionized in 1910. The National Labor Relations Act wasn't passed until 1934. I heard more stories today at a family funeral of the "blackjacks" - hired thugs - who were beating up my ancestors and their neighbors in the 20s for trying to unionize as coal miners.

OpenSecrets.org has data on contributions dating back 21 years, to 1989. The "Top Donors / Heavy Hitters" section is very revealing. http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/index.php Many of you will be pleased to see how much money is going to Democrats. Hold that thought. I'm coming back to it in a minute or two.

The following excerpts are from a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer from last August on the Koch boys called "Covert Operations". It's a really, really detailed expose. I can't encourage everyone strongly enough to read the whole thing. Yes, you'll need to turn off Beck and Faux Snooze for 20 minutes or so. Do yourself that favor. Things worth reading and learning about take a little quiet time. This is one of those times.

From (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer?currentPage=all)

Only the Kochs know precisely how much they have spent on politics. Public tax records show that between 1998 and 2008 the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than forty-eight million dollars. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by Charles Koch and his wife, along with two company employees and an accountant, spent more than twenty-eight million. The David H. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than a hundred and twenty million. Meanwhile, since 1998 Koch Industries has spent more than fifty million dollars on lobbying. Separately, the company’s political-action committee, KochPAC, has donated some eight million dollars to political campaigns, more than eighty per cent of it to Republicans. So far in 2010, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political contributions, as it has since 2006. In addition, during the past dozen years the Kochs and other family members have personally spent more than two million dollars on political contributions. In the second quarter of 2010, David Koch was the biggest individual contributor to the Republican Governors Association, with a million-dollar donation. Other gifts by the Kochs may be untraceable; federal tax law permits anonymous personal donations to politically active nonprofit groups.



Adding up just the numbers in the paragraph above is $257million in 10 years. Keep that in mind and go back and look at the data at OpenSecrets.org again. Notice again that that data spans 21 years: 1989 to 2010. Now start adding up the numbers up for yourself on the Top All Time Donors list. Be sure to account for the percentage split of those contributions between Dems and Kochs.

In half the time - 1998 to 2008 - and, again, using just the dollar amounts specified in the above paragraph, which clearly isn't everything, the Kochs outspent the top 8 contributors to the Democratic party combined. Half the time, 8 times the contributions.

Do the effing math.

For anyone ready to screech "What about George Soros?", the article goes on to make this point.

Of course, Democrats give money, too. Their most prominent donor, the financier George Soros, runs a foundation, the Open Society Institute, that has spent as much as a hundred million dollars a year in America. Soros has also made generous private contributions to various Democratic campaigns, including Obama’s. But Michael Vachon, his spokesman, argued that Soros’s giving is transparent, and that “none of his contributions are in the service of his own economic interests.” The Kochs have given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry. Gus diZerega, the former friend, suggested that the Kochs’ youthful idealism about libertarianism had largely devolved into a rationale for corporate self-interest. He said of Charles, “Perhaps he has confused making money with freedom.”



If you truly care about context and history and facts, then read the whole New Yorker article. The conclusion is inescapable.

You Republicans need to change the name of your party.

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Photograph: RICHARD SCHULMAN/CORBIS

Ann Coulter's Latest Drivel: Look For The Union Fable

Ann is up to her same tired act: talking out of her you-know-what.

This time she's making a pathetic attempt to comment about what's happening in Wisconsin with Walker's attempt to kill state unions. She then goes into some disjointed blathering about government in general.

Here are a few choice phrases from her rambling babble with my own following each! You decide which of us is crazy.


"Government unions have nothing in common with private sector unions because they don't have hostile management on the other side of the bargaining table."
-> That's idiotic on its face. Walker and the entire Koch Party is hostile to every state worker because they presumably tend to vote Democratic. If the Walkergate Tapes don't prove that, then you're living in the warm embrace of blissful and self-imposed ignorance.


"This is why the head of New York's largest public union in the mid-'70s, Victor Gotbaum, gloated, "We have the ability to elect our own boss."
- > Never heard of this guy so I did a search. Didn't find this quote. Even if it was something that he said, he does seem to be recognized at least in part for making concessions when it was in everyone's interest.
Under Gotbaum's leadership, DC37 successfully organized thousands of municipal hospital workers in the 1960s and helped create New York City's Office of Collective Bargaining. During the New York City bankruptcy crisis in the mid-1970s, Gotbaum and DC37 agreed to major collective bargaining concessions, which set a pattern that forced other municipal unions to do the same. The action helped the city avoid default on its bonds.[2] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Gotbaum#cite_note-1)

The reference source listed in the footnote led to this:
The New York unions in the Seventies, led by Victor Gotbaum and his colleagues, agreed to major concessions on their contract demands and to make investments in city bonds from their pension funds; both of these decisions will be difficult to duplicate. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2002/nov/21/from-new-york-to-baghdad/


Democratic politicians don't think of themselves as "management." They don't respond to union demands for more money by saying, "Are you kidding me?" They say, "Great -- get me a raise too!"
-> This is really effing stupid. Like Democratic politicians are the only ones who vote themselves pay raises and if they can't get that passed they just go to their pals in the government unions to decide how much to raise only Democratic pay. Typical idiotic Coulter hyperbole.

BTW, it's become popular among both parties in Congress to suddenly come to the realization that not only are automatic pay raises a bad idea, maybe they can curry favor with us if they vote to cut their pay. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/nation_world/116523318.html

LOOK!!! YOU DON'T SEE THIS OFTEN!!!!!
I want to give special kudos to some GOP reps. Rigell (VA) is sending 15% of his pay back to the Treasury. Coffman (CO) wants to cut Congressional pay by 10%, supposedly saving the government $5.5billion. (You do realize that that means total Congressional compensation is $55billion. Can that be right?) Buchanan (FL) introduced a bill that would forbid any pay raises to Congress unless the budget was balanced. THIS ALL MAKES PERFECT SENSE TO ME!!!

Here was an eye-opening passage from the Philly.com article:
With the economy still reeling, members of Congress - nearly half of whom are millionaires - are eager to show they are in touch with their constituents' economic pain

These are the people we elect and who are supposed to represent us? Opens up a tiny crack of understanding as to why some people are attracted to the tea party. Want a real slap of reality? Here are some net worth numbers of both parties that are jaw-dropping. http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/overview.php?type=W&year=2009 Anyone not think these people fall under the generalized category of RWMFs?



In 1937, the American president beloved by liberals, FDR, warned that collective bargaining "cannot be transplanted into the public service."
-> FDR's letter sure has become popular.

Too bad the right continues to so blatantly take one or 2 phrases so badly out of context. The whole thing can be read at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15445

It's obvious that what FDR was actually saying about unions and collective bargaining is that:
a) the administration (i.e., management) are elected officials sent to their position by us to represent us and as such,
b) they cannot agree to any old desire or demand, especially if it violates the law.

That's it. The reason that collective bargaining "as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service" doesn't mean that FDR thought that public service unions should be dissolved, disbanded, or kept from collectively bargaining. All he basically said was that union and management, alike, need to understand that there are different circumstances that govern public versus private service.

Here's the paragraph from which the quote is surgically removed and grossly misused by Coulter and everyone else on the right.

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

The preceding paragraph in FDR's letter is where he expresses unequivocal support of unions, including even in government and with special considerations for the differences that exist when compared with private sector.

The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.


George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO for a quarter century, said unions were not appropriate for civil servants.
-> When I did a search on this sentence, the search results page was pretty much full of results pointing exclusively to Coulter. Hints strongly that she might have made this up. I couldn't find any other resources on the quote, but I did find this: http://www.basicfamouspeople.com/index.php?aid=1563.

Personally, I give no credence to anyone with "McCarthyist policies" regardless of who they were and what organization they led. In other words, who gives a if Meany said anything like unions are inappropriate for civil servants if he had anything in common with McCarthy.



There's never a recession if you work for the government. The counties with the highest per capita income aren't near New York City or Los Angeles -- they're in the Washington, D.C., area -- a one-company town where the company is the government. The three counties with the highest incomes in the entire country are all suburbs of Washington. Eleven of the 25 counties with the highest incomes are near Washington.
-> What's Ann claiming here, that overpaid school teachers, firefighters, park rangers, and government workers in DC are living in the lap of luxury?

And WTF does this have to do with Wisconsin?

As for DC, I wonder if she's ever heard of "government contractors?" I'd love to see some data on how much of the wealth encircling DC is actually private businesses started and/or led by ex-elected officials who legislated for corporate lobbyists instead of us and then turned that into a lottery win once out of office.

Teachers, whether in DC or Wisconsin? Clerks in state or federal government? Nurses in the VA? Low- and mid-level workers?

They are the ones living in mansions in Madison and Loudon County? Please.

Ann, you're an idiot.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GOP Should Just Go Ahead and Change Name to Koch Party


"In Wisconsin, union leaders agreed to concessions requested by Mr. Walker: to pay nearly 6 percent of their wages for pension costs, up from nearly zero, and double payments for health insurance. At that point, most governors would declare victory and move on. Instead, Mr. Walker has rejected union concessions and won’t even negotiate. His true priority is stripping workers of collective-bargaining rights and reducing their unions to a shell. The unions would no longer be able to raise money to oppose him, as they did in last year’s election, easing the way for future Republicans as well."

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/23/opinion/23wed1.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha211


The Wisconsin governor is dutifully following the Koch GOP playbook: kill unions because members and supporters tend to vote Democratic and, as everyone knows, elected GOP politicians will dutifully do the bidding of wealthy capitalists faster and with greater zeal than the Dems.

It's politics. It really isn't about balancing budgets. That's just a convenient excuse to lie some more but, once again, the math doesn't lie and the unions have already agreed to the $300million in concessions on a $3600million dollar budget shortfall. That's 8.3%, and the union has agreed to it so what's the problem?

Wisconsin, and more broadly labor unions everywhere, are targeted elements of a bigger and broader GOP strategy to.......wait for it.........control more of your lives from corporate boardrooms instead of state capitols. The beauty of the plan is that Charles and David Koch never have to appear in public, never have to defend their policies against their opponents in pre-election debates, and never have to run and win elections. They and their allies in conservative media like Limbaugh and Murdoch have gotten very good at spending relatively small amounts of their fortune to whip into a frenzy people who don't or won't bother with facts.

It's just too bad that there are as many Americans as there are who have bought into and now desperately cling to the biggest lie of all: that they are part of the Koch/GOP grand plan for greater American wealth and prosperity. They're not, except as chattel.

Anyone outside the richest 2% who still believes the lies of the GOP is just carrying their water like a dutiful servant is expected to do. They've been duped into the complete masquerade and utter sham that Republicans are fiscal conservatives interested in doing anything at all to improve the condition of average Americans.

Here are more inconvenient numbers from Gallup.

It's really only a slim majority of Republicans, 54%, who even agree with the idea of taking away collective bargaining rights of state union workers. It should be noted that two-thirds of Independents oppose it, as do two-thirds of all adults nationwide. The key word there is 'adults.' People with the maturity, wisdom, and experience to know right from wrong and to discern fact from fiction.

Put simply, if you agree with breaking state unions you are in the minority. There's a reason for that. Opposing workers is not just bad for them, it's bad for America and the economy. We have no economy without a thriving middle class, and state workers - teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, and even the dreaded "bureaucrats" - are part of that middle class.

You can be mad at me for continuing to say these things, and you can dig your heals in deeper because you hate me for rubbing your noses in the reality of where your party is on issues like this. It won't change the facts: the GOP is pro-business and anti-worker. Always has been.

While I've never been a member of a union and probably never will be, I don't see how America rises to such economic prosperity and prominence post-WWII without unions. I'm proud of the fact that my father provided a middle class life to us in part because he was a union worker. I wonder how many reading this are willing to say the same?

What about all that nostalgia for the post-WWII years to which conservatives always seem to want to "take our country back?"

I seriously doubt that my father and all the other hard-working men and women in the 40s, 50s, and 60s would have been able to own a home and raise kids in a working class (and barely middle class) neighborhood had he had to endure the indignities and oppression that his father, a coal miner at the beginning of the 20th century and at the start of the labor movement, endured. Given the generosity and benevolence of late 19th and early 20th century capitalist, I'm completely comfortable saying that the answer would be no. This country rose to economic prosperity as much on the backs of labor as it did on the business acumen of entrepreneurs and capitalists. It's symbiotic. One cannot exist and thrive without the other.

All the trickling down in the world - then and now - doesn't turn the GOP into a party that even remotely approaches being pro-middle class. Tax cuts for the wealthy are not stimulative. That was proven yet again in 2001, 2003, and 2010. Deregulation only opens up more opportunities for corporations and a select few to rig the system so they prosper with all the rewards and none of the risk. We - the middle class - are left with the economic, environmental, and social bills while the Kochs, Murdochs, Limbaughs, and Becks laugh their way to their overseas bank accounts.