31 March 2011

Sermon on the Woman at the Well from SARCASTIC LUTHERAN 28MAR11

Saint Pphotini Icon

But the hour is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
The story of the woman at the well is the longest recorded conversation with an individual that Jesus had in any of the gospel accounts.  And isn’t it really  just like Jesus to linger in public talking to a half-breed divorcee? She walks up and in the unforgiving light of a noon sun Jesus just sits there for everyone to see languishing in conversation with a discarded woman. Much has been made of the outsider status of this person Jesus talks to the longest… she’s a woman and a Samaratin but she might as well be a homeless trannie with bad teeth or An Enron executive, or a meth-addict, or Ann Coulter, or the guy who bullied me in High School. The point being that Jesus just sits there chatting it up with whoever we wish he’d have the good taste to dislike as much as we do.  I’m sure there were important things to do, important people to see but he just seems to have no concept of time. I imagine his disciples were beyond irritated – they kept butting in tapping their watches Um…Jesus?  It’s lunch time.  And Jesus just sits there talking with her as though he’s got all day.

She’s carrying more than a jar with her.  The woman at the well. As she walks up to the well at the noon of the day…hours after the respected and respectable women of her village have already come and gone she walks up burdened by a water bucket and a story.  The text is silent on why she has had 5 husbands, the church has always assumed she is a floozy but she very well may have simply been discarded, widowed, abandonded or maybe some combination of all these things, but the point is…I’m willing to bet that her past whether it be as victim or vixen is connected to why she’s at the well at noon and not at sunrise with the other women.
She’s come for water but she carries with her a jar and a story.
There’s this thing about this passage which has always baffled me.  It’s toward the end…she has a conversation in which Jesus lets on that he knows she’s had 5 husbands and the man she lives with now is not her husband and she runs back to her village saying come and see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done...  as though that’s a good thing.  I, for one, would very much not enjoy having someone tell me everything I’d ever done; other than sounding really time consuming, there are things I really don’t want to be reminded of.  So then why would Jesus telling her everything she had done lead her to believing he might be the messiah?  Here’s the thing: I think there’s more to it than Wow this Jesus is a great psychic soothsayer fortune teller guy.  I think it had to have been more than the fact that he told her what she’d done.  I think it had to have been the way in which he told her what she’d done without implying that what she’d done defines who she is. 
Perhaps standing there in the stark and unforgiving light of the noon sun she came carrying more than a water jug.  She came carrying her past as a mark of identity thinking and being treated as though she is nothing more than the sum total of her mistakes or the sum total of her victimization.  And taking his sweet time Jesus says yes.  what you have done and what you have left undone and what has been done to you and what has been left undone to you has really happened, yes, it’s true.  And it is not who you are. And in that moment suddenly the distance between how others see her and how God sees her disappears.
She came carrying more than a water jug in the stark light of a noon sun, she came carrying the past as a shackle and the future as the key.  She knew the future was the time in which the messiah would come and make everything right, a time some time out there when the Christ will be revealed. And Jesus says to her I am he. Jesus speaks to her the truth of who she is by speaking to her the truth of who God is. Jesus says to her now is the time in which God seeks you in the very truth of who you are in this, the present moment.
In today’s gospel Jesus says the hour is here for us to worship God in truth and God seeks such as these.  The hour is indeed here in which God is seeking you in truth…the truth of who you are not the regrets of who you were, not the ideal or the promise of who you might become – God is seeking you now in the truth of who you are.

There is a crass but true saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: “When you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future you’re basically pissing on the present”  How often are we not present to others, not present to ourselves and not present to God in the moment because of regret, nostalgia, and worry.  We too allow ourselves to be so absorbed with either the hurt or the glory of the past or we allow ourselves to be so absorbed with either the fear or hope of the future that we miss the only thing that is real which is the sacrament of the present moment.
I love the way Paul in his epistles uses the word “now”. In his letter to the church in Corinth he writes: For God says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, Paul writes, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! I just don’t think that when Paul says Now he meant that one moment in time 2,000 years ago when he penned the letter.  I think he meant the NOW.  The present moment continues to be the “acceptable time” in which God is present to you in the truth of who you are.  In other words, Ram Dass didn’t invent that whole Be Here Now thing. 
So, if the Samaratin woman at the well did come burdened with more than her water jar, then I think verse 28 is pretty great – it goes like this: -then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
I guess that’s what I wish for you. That you know how known you are.   That you are filled with the love of a God who knows you and loves you…that you are so filled with the presence of Christ in the sacrament of the present moment that you leave your water jug or whatever it is you think you came here for …leave it here at this table where God is seeking you in the truth of who you are.
You may be here this evening and feel like nobody could ever love you, if they knew who your really are. But the good news is that God knows it all, God’s seen it all, and God loves you. May you leave behind whatever it is you think you came here for and instead be filled with the truth of this present moment, the truth that there is quite enough of God’s love for everyone, because God sees you through the indiscriminate eyes of Jesus.
(my thanks to Rev. Paul Fromberg for letting me steal the last 3 sentences of this sermon)

Will the White House agree to weaken EPA? Now everyone disputes the story, from CLIMATE PROGRESS. 31MAR11

WHAT  sad comment on the gop / tea-baggers that not one of them can committ to protecting the EPA, and so all of us.......their corporate masters just won't allow it!

34 Senators, enough to sustain veto, call for continued implementation of the Clean Air Act.

Is the White House, in the quest for a budget deal, quietly preparing to accept some aspects of a House GOP effort to roll back the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency, which would represent a significant weakening of the Obama adminstration’s commitment to combat global warming? So reported the Associated Press, but in a statement sent my way, the White House is denying it….
UPDATE: Dem Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (a member of which was the source on the AP story), has also released a statement denying it: “The anonymous source who contributed to the Associated Press story was inaccurate.”
UPDATE II: The Associated Press, which originally reported this story, did a subsequent version that watered down the original claims, so it seems like there’s no one out there on any side vouching for the original assertion.
That’s the WashPost’s Greg Sargent who blogs at “The Plum Line.”  When I first saw the story reported at places like Grist and then Alternet, it seem unlikely and incorrect to me and the folks I know who are familiar with these discussions.
Because I thought the story was wrong, I didn’t blog on it.  But enough readers have raised concerns that it’s clearly worth a post.
I should also note that the Senate vote on the amendments to limit EPA’s power to regulate CO2, which were supposed to be held this week, have been pushed back until next week.  At the end, I’ll post a release from the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that make clear The Senate has enough votes to sustain a veto of any bill on this issue.
As for the White House story, Sargent has done the heavy lifting, so I’ll excerpt his story, which continues:
There’s a nugget buried in an AP story on the budget wars that claims the following:
A Democratic lawmaker familiar with a meeting Wednesday between Obama and members of the Congressional Black Caucus said the administration made it clear that some House GOP proposals restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory powers would have to make it into the final bill. In order to characterize the White House’s position, the lawmaker insisted on anonymity because the meeting was private.
It’s not clear which proposals the White House might accept, but those backed by Republicans would block the government from carrying out regulations on greenhouse gases, putting in place a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution.
If true, this would be striking. It would mean the White House may part ways with Chuck Schumer, who has adamantly insisted that Dems will not support any budget deal containing “riders” on Planned Parenthood or weakening the EPA’s regulatory powers. And as Kevin Drum notes, this would also amount to major capitulation: “It would mean that Obama has essentially given up completely on anything other than token action to address global warming.”
Precisely.  That’s why it seemed unlikely.
But White House spokesman Clark Stevens emails that the White House is still committed to opposing any EPA “riders”:
As the administration has made clear, the funding bill should not be used to further unrelated policy agendas, and we remain opposed to riders that do that, including as it relates to the environment.
It’s also worth noting that the original AP story said that it wasn’t clear which of the GOP proposals on the EPA the White House was supposedly prepared to support. The original story floated the possibility that the White House might only give on EPA plans to clean up Chesapeake Bay or shut down mountaintop mines — and not on the core GOP proposal of scuttling EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.
As a side note, even Republicans I’ve spoken with privately concede that they’re well aware that it’s unlikely that the latter is a concession they could win, since it would be very hard for many Congressional Dems to support any budget deal containing it.
It is always possible that the Obama administration will do the wrong thing at the last minute, lord knows, but if they were to stand firm they can certainly block these amendments.  And given the the public’s strong support for EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, this is a winning issue if the Administration will do the kind of messaging on it that it has intermittently in the past (see 63% of Americans say “EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water”).
Here’s the release from Sen. Sanders office:
Senators Stand up for Clean Air Act
WASHINGTON, March 31 – Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and 30 colleagues today introduced a resolution calling for continued implementation of the Clean Air Act.
In the face of efforts by House Republicans and some senators to weaken the nation’s clean air protections, the resolution which specifies the benefits of the Clean Air Act has 34 original cosponsors who and will continue to seek additional support from their colleagues.
The landmark law saves 160,000 Americans from premature death every year and helps avoid tens of thousands of cases of lung disease, heart attacks, and emergency room visits. The act also has reduced major air pollution by 41 percent over the last 20 years even as the economy grew by 64 percent.
Sanders said, “It is absolutely unconscionable that in the year 2011 the Congress is debating amendments to gut the Clean Air Act and I am going to fight back.  I also think that at a time when House Republicans might force a government shutdown unless the EPA backs down from protecting public health, we must not let the budget process be used to deregulate polluters.”
Whitehouse said, “Americans are expecting us to roll up our sleeves and get to work, solving today’s pressing issues – putting America back to work, and reducing the federal deficit.  Instead, radical Republicans are using the budget process to push for extreme policy positions that would gut the Clean Air Act and roll back important public health protections.  These same Republicans are literally demanding that we compromise our children’s health to get a short-term budget deal.”
Carper said, “For the last forty years, the EPA has use the Clean Air Act to foster economic growth and protect Americans from life threatening air pollution.  Since the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the EPA has saved thousands of lives and saved billions of dollars in health care costs,  while keeping electricity rates – adjusted for inflation – constant.  At the same time American jobs in engineering and design, as well as in manufacturing, installing and operating pollution control and clean energy technology are being created to meet our clean air needs.   Put it another way, the Clean Air Act benefits outweigh the costs by a margin of 30 to 1. Talk about a return on investment. It just doesn’t get much better than that.”
Kerry said, “Ever since Richard Nixon signed it into law, the Clean Air Act has saved tens of thousands of lives by curbing air pollution and helped jumpstart new technologies that created millions of jobs in the process. But somehow our political environment has become so divorced from reality, facts, science and history that today even a commonsense law like the Clean Air Act can be used as a partisan punching bag. This Resolution showcases just some of the Clean Air Act’s many achievements, and I hope it will remind my colleagues that under this law we were able to grow our economy and cut harmful pollution that threatens our families.”
The Senate is expected to vote soon on up to four amendments that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to reduce carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. An amendment by the Senate Republican Leadership would overturn EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a public health threat and allow the biggest polluters to spew carbon pollution without restrictions. It also would undermine fuel economy standards that are projected to save drivers of new vehicles up to $2,800 at the gas pump, save more than 2 million barrels of oil per day (roughly as much as the U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf), and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
House Republicans are also reportedly pushing for riders attached to their budget bill, which would shut down Clean Air Act enforcement of big polluters’ greenhouse gas emissions, to be included in a congressional budget deal.
Sanders’ resolution is also sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Environment Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Democrat Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Of course, 34 is the number of senators needed to block a veto override, if it should come to that (that is, if Obama vetoed a bill that had language restricting EPA).


"The power of nonviolence is not circumstance-specific. It is as applicable to the problems that confront us now, as to problems that confronted generations in the past. It is not a medicine or a solution so much as a healing process. It is the active spiritual immune system of humanity."
-  Marianne Williamson, from her book The Healing of America


THAT all the Christian politicians in Congress would remember the poor and the least among us.....

"They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do."
- Galatians 2:10

A SLAP IN THE FACE & Jay Carney On GE's Zero Income Tax Payments: One Might Say 'What The Heck' 30 & 31 MAR 11

POOR ge, they just can't afford to pay their fair share of taxes and obscene executive pay too!!! Click the link to sign the petition against jeffery immelt as chairman of the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. From and HuffPost......

According to The New York Times, last year General Electric (GE) made over $14.2 billion in profit, but paid NO federal tax.1 None.

In fact, thanks to the millions GE spent lobbying Congress, we American taxpayers actually owed GE $3.2 billion in tax credits.2
Now GE is slashing health benefits and retirement benefits for new employees among non-union workers and is expected to push unions to accept similar cutbacks3, while its CEO, Jeff Immelt, gets a 100% pay raise.4
What's worse? Immelt now sits as chair of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (Jobs Council), representing corporate America to the President on matters like job creation and corporate taxation. That's a slap in the face to every hardworking, tax-paying American—especially GE employees.
That's why we're teaming up with Russ Feingold and his new group Progressives United today to call for Immelt to go. Will you join the call?
One of the chief ways GE avoids paying taxes is by shifting a large portion of its profits overseas, and jobs follow.5 Now GE's CEO is the person charged with helping the President create jobs here in America. That's just perverse.
And if the American people got back just the $3.2 billion GE took in tax credits, it would pay for the programs that House Republicans want to gut, like community health centers providing care to over three million low-income people6 and food and health care assistance to pregnant women, new moms, and children.7 We'd even have enough left to save the jobs of over 21,000 teachers across the country.8
The American deficit is being weighed down by hundreds of billions spent on bailing out major corporations. The tea party's plan is to make working families pay through devastating cuts, instead of making corporations with billions in profits pay their fair share.
But if we can hold Immelt accountable for GE's corporate irresponsibility, the nation will turn its attention to the injustice of corporate tax evasion in the face of the Republicans' budget-slashing attack on working families.
Make it all happen by signing the petition calling for Immelt to go. Just click below—and share this email with your friends, family, and social networks today.
Thanks for all that you do.
–Lenore, Tim, Marika, Kat, and the rest of the team
1. "G.E.'s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes All Together," The New York Times, March 24, 2011
2. Ibid.
3. "After Paying Zero Income Taxes, GE Plans To Ask Its Union Workers To Make Wage and Benefits Concessions", ThinkProgress, March 28, 2011
4. "UPDATE: GE Doubles CEO Immelt's Compensation, Shrinks Board", Smart Money, March 14, 2011
5. "G.E.'s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes All Together," The New York Times, March 24, 2011
6. "NACHC Statement in Response to the Budget from the House Appropriations Committee," National Association of Community Health Centers website, February 9, 2011
7. "Bye Bye, Big Bird. Hello, E. Coli.," The New Republic, February 12, 2011
8. Based on an annual teacher's salary of $42,500, as noted in the Payscale website (updated March 19, 2011), accessed March 30, 2011

Jay Carney On GE's Zero Income Tax Payments: One Might Say 'What The Heck' 31MAR11

 WASHINGTON -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged once more on Thursday that average Americans would be confused, if not appalled, by the fact that General Electric Co. did not pay any federal income taxes in 2010 despite more than $5 billion in profits.

One "might say, 'what the heck, I don't get this,' " Carney said during his daily briefing, adding that, "the president shares that opinion. ... He believes our corporate tax structure needs to be reformed."
But in having to reiterate the administration’s continued commitment to tax reform and equity (and with it, the closing of corporate loopholes), Carney underscored the extent to which GE’s non-existent 2010 payments have become a political liability. The company’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, serves as the chair of the president’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. And despite the apparent advantages that he was able to secure for his company, the White House has indicated no willingness to drop him from that post.
“The tax system is complex,” Carney said in a briefing back on March 25, “it is filled with loopholes and other pieces of it that make it possible for corporations to reduce their tax burden. And it's not good for the companies in terms of their competitiveness and potential for growth and this is obviously not good overall for job creation in the United States.”
Immelt, to his credit, has not ducked the issue. On Thursday, the GE CEO spoke at the Economic Club of Washington D.C. and was pressed on a wide-range of company practices -- from the company’s outsourcing of jobs to its seemingly lax tax requirements. "Like any American, we do like to keep our tax rate low,” he acknowledged.
Both there and in a follow up interview with ABC News’ Jake Tapper, however, he was forced to defend charges that his company had somehow beat or cheated the system.
In an excerpt of the interview that Tapper provided to The Huffington Post in advance of broadcast on ABC World News Thursday, Immelt was asked to respond to the critique that GE “was not there for taxpayers.”
“On taxes we had billions of dollars of losses on GE Capital,” he responded. “Our taxes are going to go up this year, over the last five years we’ve paid more than 14 billion dollars in taxes. I’m going to work my best on behalf of the president on the jobs council, I’ll do it with passion and focus and that’s what I’ll do.”
This story was edited after publication.

Bernie Sanders' Top 10 Tax Avoiders 29MAR11

THE corporations and economic groups that are NOT paying taxes and getting away with it! From Mother Jones....
In a Sunday press release calling on wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their share, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont offered a list of what he calls "some of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders."
Sanders, you'll recall, made headlines for his epic 8.5-hour speech/filibuster this past December, dealing with how Obama's pending tax-cut deal with the GOP would be bad for America. The speech—published this month as a paperback simply titled The Speech—was in vain: Congress passed the deal, extending tax breaks not merely to the poor and middle-class, but to America's richest people.
It also slashed the estate tax from 55 percent to 35 percent and exempted the first $5 million of an estate's value ($10 million for a couple)—up from $1 million pre-Bush. In his speech, Sanders warned against this change, noting, "Let us be very clear: This tax applies only—only—to the top three-tenths of 1 percent of American families; 99.7 percent of American families will not pay one nickel in an estate tax. This is not a tax on the rich, this is a tax on the very, very, very rich. (Click here for our blockbuster charts showing just how rich the very, very, very rich actually are.)
If the estate tax—which Republicans have cleverly rebranded the "death tax"—were to be eliminated entirely (another GOP goal), Sanders says it would cost US taxpayers $1 trillion over 10 years. "Families such as the Walton family, of Walmart fame, would have received, just this one family, about a $30 billion tax break," he said in the speech.
As one of few voices in Congress calling seriously for balance between cuts and new revenues, Sanders wants to close corporate tax loopholes and get rid of tax breaks for Big Oil. He's put forth a bill that would impose a 5.4 percent surtax on household income north of $1 million, and earmark that money for deficit reduction. He estimates it would bring in $50 billion a year, whereas Congress' recent tax-cut deal will add around $700 billion to the deficit.
So, without further ado, here's Bernie's tax-avoiders list. In this case, one of his staffers informed me, "refund" means "negative federal income tax liability." If you have any quibbles with his facts, let us know in the comments.
1) ExxonMobil 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. [Note: Our post last April reported that ExxonMobil was owed $46 million by the IRS.]
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.
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.
4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.
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.
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.
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.
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.
9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.
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.

Michael Mechanic is a senior editor at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. You can stalk him on Twitter here. Get Michael Mechanic's RSS feed.

If You Liked This, You Might Also Like...

The Republicans Lack the Seriousness to Govern 31MAR11

rep eric cantor r-va would have been right at home in the fascist governments of the 1930's and would fit right in with right wing facist political movements of today. I am not talking about the the government of nazi germany, but of the governments and political organizations and movements who work and manipulate the electorates prejudices, fears and insecurities for the economic benefit and strengthening of the wealthy, corporations and the military-industrial complex. He is the face of hate and greed and self-righteousness, and there will come a time when he will be held accountable for his actions, for the harm he has inflicted on people, for the damage he has done to the nation. This from HuffPost...
The Republicans shouldn't be taken seriously anymore.
It seems obvious, but in order to be taken seriously, politicians have to be, you know, serious. Not just in terms of personality or behavior, but primarily in terms of policy and lawmaking. If a politician refuses to propose serious ideas and only pumps out nonsensical bumper-sticker sloganeering, fear-based histrionics or symbolic legislative measures that pander to kneejerk interest groups, then he or she ought to be summarily refused the privilege of our deference, respect and, especially, our vote.
Very few modern Republicans and conservatives qualify. They fail the seriousness test at almost every level -- from the Republican leadership on down the line.
Take Eric Cantor, for example. The House Majority Leader. The second most powerful Republican in Washington. Whenever I write about Eric Cantor, I'm generally met with the reaction of crickets chirping. He's not as well-known or as incendiary as Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck. But he's exponentially more important, and so we have to pay attention to what he's doing.
You might recall how Cantor, along with 228 House Republicans, permanently attached their names to proven scam-artist James O'Keefe by voting to de-fund NPR in reaction to O'Keefe's latest sting video. Like all of O'Keefe's work, the NPR video was selectively and deceptively edited to make it seem as though an NPR executive was expressing personal views about tea party Republicans. Within days of the release of the video, Eric Cantor publicly embraced O'Keefe and expressed outrage at the dubiously-attained videotape. In his public remarks, Cantor announced the effort to de-fund NPR. Later, the House successfully voted to codify the work of a known fraud.
Should Eric Cantor really be taken seriously? No way. And it gets worse.
Yesterday, Cantor announced a piece of legislation that might as well legalize hobbit marriage and cut the budget for time-traveling DeLoreans. It's just that fantastical.
On Friday, the House Republicans will hold a floor vote on the Government Shutdown Prevention Act. Sounds positive and responsible, doesn't it? No one except for tea party Republicans and Grover Norquist wants to shut down the government. But it's not that simple or serious. The legislation basically says that if the Senate doesn't pass a satisfactory budget act before April 6, HR 1 would automatically become a law.
Here's why that's incredibly weird and wrong.
First, HR 1 was the House budget bill that cut $61 billion from the budget. The Senate subsequently voted it down, more or less killing the bill. Second, as some of us learned from Schoolhouse Rock and some of us learned in eighth grade social studies, this is not how bills become laws. I realize many Republicans and conservatives are a little fuzzy about the Constitution, but this is absolutely not how lawmaking works. Both chambers of Congress have to approve a bill, and then it has to be signed by the president in order to become a law. You just can't pass a bill that says another bill -- POOF! -- becomes a law, ostensibly by some form of magic.
This is Eric Cantor's big idea -- not some radical freshman tea party Republican. It's not a fringy proposal from a fire-eating talk radio host or one of the more wacky House Republicans like Louie Gohmert or Steve King. The House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is supporting the bill, and I won't be at all shocked if the Republicans vote in lockstep to pass the Government Shutdown Prevention Act. In fact, I'm not only predicting the passage of this bill, but I'm expecting an amendment honoring He-Man and Man-at-Arms as congressionally-designated Masters of the Universe. I'm being facetious, of course, but look at this bill. It can't possibly be more serious than a He-Man amendment. It's utter nonsense, and it's coming from the real-life House Majority Leader and one of the two major political parties in America.
Cantor even said, "We're serious."
No. They're not.
Yet they continue to be taken seriously, and the traditional press, for its part, self-consciously offers the Republicans the benefit of the popular "both sides" meme. Somehow both sides are equally crazy, they say. Subsequently, if both sides are crazy, then no one is truly crazy. Everything is even-Steven, and the entire game is played with that baseline. So the Republicans are perpetually given the majority of airtime on cable news and on the Sunday shows, regardless of their level of mendacity and lunacy.
And, by the way, the Democrats aren't helping.
Somehow in the midst of this budget cutting austerity fever, the Democrats have accepted the false Republican framing that we have to cut spending or else we're all doomed. While deficit reduction will eventually be a solid idea to tackle when economic growth is steady and unemployment is back down to six or seven percent, until then it should never be addressed during a slow-growth, jobless recovery months after a major recession. Why? When families are tightening their collective belts, as the short-sited metaphor goes, the government is in a unique position to spend money in order to make up the difference. It has a responsibility to do so. If government and families both stop spending, the economy suffers -- especially during or immediately after a recession. Even the president fails to grasp this concept. But despite insisting (and rightfully so) that Republican Reaganomics is primarily responsible for the Great Recession, and despite the failure of austerity in Europe, the Democrats are merrily going along with Republican budget-cutting. Just not as much cutting, but they're still insisting they have to cut spending. Again, why is anyone taking the Republicans seriously on the economy and the deficit when their economic and fiscal policies from the last 30 years ballooned the deficit and totally flummoxed the economy?
They simply can't be trusted to govern. At some point in recent history the Republicans ceased to be serious participants in governing.
Take a look at their presidential field for 2012.
With roughly ten months to go before Iowa, the Republican presidential candidates more closely resemble the Mos Eisley cantina aliens from Star Wars than a very serious collection of future leaders. Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and even the otherwise somnambulant Tim Pawlenty seem increasingly more clownish by the day.
How so? The prospective candidates are pledging allegiance to Birtherism -- a pander to race-based conspiracy mongering and, shockingly, 51 percent of primary voters. Their positions are nothing more than the opposite of what the Democrats say. They're contradicting their own previously-stated positions. The most visible 2012 prospect, Sarah Palin, doesn't understand the First Amendment. And, while they attack the president for timidity and dithering on Libya, not a single one of the frontrunners has been bold enough to officially declare their candidacy with just ten months to go. Bold of them.
Until the Republicans begin to take seriously the task of governing, and then achieve some successes at doing so, there's no reason why anyone should take them seriously. They need to earn it. If they're unwilling to try, then they have to be replaced.
Listen to the Bubble Genius Bob & Elvis Show, with Bob Cesca and Elvis Dingeldein, on iTunes.
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog! Go!

30 March 2011

Planned Parenthood funding: Did the GAO really find millions missing? from POLITIFACT 25MAR11

SO many feel they are justified in lying to justify their position, but if they have to resort to telling lies, how honorable is their position on an issue? If they are right they shouldn't have to resort to lying. This from PolitiFact.....
The Truth-O-Meter Says:

"A U.S. Government Accountability Office report says Planned Parenthood Federation of America cannot find some $1.3 billion given to it by the federal government from 2002 through 2008."

WorldNetDaily on Saturday, July 10th, 2010 in a news report

Planned Parenthood funding: Did the GAO really find millions missing?

Congress is looking to reduce federal spending, and one of the organizations under scrutiny is Planned Parenthood, a group that promotes contraception and family planning.

Planned Parenthood is also a well-known abortion provider. Opponents of abortion charge that while Planned Parenthood gets federal dollars ostensibly tagged for preventive health care -- things like pap smears and HIV prevention -- the money supports the overall organization and its abortion services.

We noticed one argument made by several websites and columnists recently, that Planned Parenthood was awarded more money from the federal government than it spent.

One of the earlier versions of the claim was from the conservative website WorldNetDaily. A July 2010 news report said: "A U.S. Government Accountability Office report says Planned Parenthood Federation of America cannot find some $1.3 billion given to it by the federal government from 2002 through 2008."

WorldNetDaily’s statement was made last year, but we feel it’s fair to check since it’s being repeated now that Planned Parenthood is again in the news.

WorldNetDaily went on to note that Planned Parenthood had received $2.02 billion in federal grants from 2002 through 2008, even though "the nation's largest abortion-industry player only reported spending $657.1 million of the taxpayer funds."

Did the GAO find that $1.3 billion in funds went missing? We decided to check it out.

The official number: $657.1 million

The Government Accountability Office report in question, published May 28, 2010, compiled federal funds disbursed to family planning agencies for the fiscal years 2002 to 2009. The agencies included Advocates for Youth, the Guttmacher Institute, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Population Council and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

Members of Congress who requested the report oppose funding for abortion providers. But we should note that the GAO is a nonpartisan, respected office, whose findings are often cited by both parties.

The report documented how much different groups received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for HIV/AIDS, family planning, and reproductive health, both in the United States and abroad.

The report stated that Planned Parenthood spent $657.1 million in federal funds between 2002 and 2009. That was the amount Planned Parenthood itself reported to the government in the form of audited annual reports, which the GAO described as "sufficiently reliable for our purposes."

The WorldNetDaily account said unequivocally that "the GAO report said that Planned Parenthood had received $2.02 billion in federal grants from 2002 through 2008 but that the nation's largest abortion-industry player only reported spending $657.1 million of the taxpayer funds."
But there was no statement nor any evidence anywhere in the GAO report that Planned Parenthood received $2.02 billion or that any money was missing.

The other number: $2 billion

The first reference we found to $2 billion or more was a June 2010 op-ed in the Washington Times by Rita Diller, the national director of Stop Planned Parenthood, which is part of the American Life League. (Diller is quoted in the WorldNetDaily story. We contacted her for comment but did not hear back.)

In 2010, Diller wrote that "Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s (PPFA) audits show the organization spent just $657.1 million between 2002 and 2008 from federal government grants and programs, but the abortion behemoth’s own annual reports show that it took in $2.3 billion from government grants and programs during the same time period."
Unlike WorldNetDaily, Diller made it clear that she was questioning the difference between the GAO report and Planned Parenthood's previously published numbers.

Diller’s Stop Planned Parenthood web site tracks money that Planned Parenthood lists in its annual reports. According to those reports, Planned Parenthood received a total of $2.02 billion in federal funding for the years 2002 to 2008. We compared the information from Diller’s site with Planned Parenthood’s actual annual reports and found the numbers appeared to be in order.

Different ways to count the money

So the GAO report never said that there was $2 billion in funds with only $657 million spent. But it still raises the question: Why the difference between the GAO report and Planned Parenthood’s annual reports?

The report itself explains one difference. GAO said it was not able to count all the federal funds that ultimately go to Planned Parenthood, because sometimes the group receives government contracts or grants indirectly. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, gives grants to states that then give money to Planned Parenthood. Similarly, USAID gives money to other groups that sometimes subcontract with Planned Parenthood. The report didn’t include those funds. "As a result, obligations and disbursements in this report may understate the actual amount of federal funds provided to the selected organizations and their affiliates," the report noted.

We next contacted Planned Parenthood. Spokesman Tait Sye offered several additional reasons for the difference between the amount in the GAO report and Planned Parenthood's numbers.

• In its annual reports, Planned Parenthood reports all government funding as one category, which includes federal, state and local funding. The GAO report counted only direct federal funding.

• Planned Parenthood sometimes gets money from Medicaid, a state-federal partnership that offers health insurance to the poor. The GAO report does not appear to count money from Medicaid.

• Planned Parenthood has more than 80 affiliates, many of which get subcontracts paid for with federal funding. The GAO report noted that it only counted money for 21 affiliates.

Finally, Sye noted that the federal funding Planned Parenthood receives is routinely audited to make sure it is spent appropriately.

Our ruling

WorldNetDaily wrote, "A U.S. Government Accountability Office report says Planned Parenthood Federation of America cannot find some $1.3 billion given to it by the federal government from 2002 through 2008." We found other websites making similar claims.

The GAO never reported that Planned Parenthood and its affiliates couldn’t find $1.3 billion. It simply said that Planned Parenthood spent $657.1 million. The GAO also didn’t say that there was any sort sort of discrepancy or that money was missing, as the headline on WorldNetDaily’s news report said. The website's conclusion was reached by looking at numbers not even mentioned in the GAO report.
In fact the statement conflates two different sets of numbers and is an extreme case of comparing apples to oranges, taking one number calculated by the GAO, and another calculated by adding numbers published in Planned Parenthood’s annual reports. The difference is what is claimed to be missing.

Planned Parenthood includes all federal, state and local money under the category "government grants and contracts" in its annual reports. The GAO only looked at direct federal funding and noted it was likely undercounting the amount Planned Parenthood receives.
The statement irresponsibly suggests misappropriation of federal funds without any evidence. That makes it not just false, but ridiculously so. As a result, we rate the statement Pants on Fire.
About this statement:
Published: Friday, March 25th, 2011 at 5:05 p.m.
Subjects: Abortion, Federal Budget
WorldNetDaily, Missing: $1.3 billion in taxpayers' money, July 3, 2010

Scripps Howard News Service, End for federal funding for Planned Parenthood?, March 10, 2011

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Federal Funds: Fiscal Years 2002-2009 Obligations, Disbursements, and Expenditures for Selected Organizations Involved in Health-Related Activities, May 28, 2010
The Washington Times, Diller: Planned Parenthood’s missing millions, June 18, 2010
Stop Planned Parenthood, Stats and Analysis - Government, March 25, 2011
E-mail interview with Tait Sye of Planned Parenthood
E-mail interview with columnist Ben Boychuk
Congressman Pete Olson, Olson: GAO Reports Close To $1 Billion In Taxpayer Dollars Spent By Abortion Advocates, July 2, 2010
Planned Parenthood, Annual Report, 2008 - 2009

Planned Parenthood, Annual Report, 2007 - 2008

Planned Parenthood, Annual Report, 2006 - 2007

Guidestar, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, financial information, 1998 - 2009
Written by: Angie Drobnic Holan
Researched by: Angie Drobnic Holan
Edited by: Martha Hamilton


MY two latest loans through Kiva.......loaned $50, all but $9.64 was from repayments from earlier loans.......I just keep recirculating the loan money, and all the groups I have loaned to have paid back in full, on time, or are paying back on schedule! I read this the other day and it applies to all who try to help those in need....

"It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice."
- Psalm 112:5

Hala Nazzal
Hala Nazzal
Services, Jordan
Raising Funds
60% raised
Parsman Ismailov
Parsman Ismailov
Agriculture, Georgia
Raising Funds
39% raised

25 March 2011

Constitution Changes Pass In Egypt Referendum 20MAR11

THE results of Egypt's vote on changes to the constitution, the people exercising the freedom and democracy they brought to Egypt through their blood, sweat and tears. 
Mohammed Attiya, chief of Egypt's elections commission, announces the results of the referendum  Sunday.
 Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images Mohammed Attiya, chief of Egypt's elections commission, announces the results of the referendum Sunday.
Egyptians voted overwhelmingly in favor of amendments to their constitution in the first free election held in their country in more than a half-century.
The changes eliminate restrictions on political rights and open the way for parliamentary and presidential elections within months.
Referendum Chairman Mohammed Attiya told a news conference Sunday that Egyptians voted more than 3-to-1 in favor of the amendments. He says about 41 percent of eligible voters turned out — fewer than expected. Many of those who did were casting ballots for the first time in their lives.
Few voting irregularities were reported during Saturday's referendum, in stark contrast to last November's parliamentary elections that were plagued by allegations of voter intimidation and ballot box stuffing.
Voters were asked in Saturday's referendum to vote on nine amendments to Egypt's 40-year-old constitution that proponents say will ease restrictions on political and civil rights. But opponents feel the whole constitution should be scrapped. They claim it's a holdover from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak's regime that places too much power in the hands of the president.
Opponents argued that the time frame was too quick for political parties to organize. Egypt's best organized political forces, the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former ruling party, campaigned for passage.
The Brotherhood, which has strongly campaigned for the adoption of the changes, advocates the installment of an Islamic government in Egypt. The ambivalence of its position on what role women and minority Christians play under their hoped-for Islamic government — like whether they could run for president or be judges — worry large segments of society.
Egypt's military rulers plan to use the amended constitution as a road map to transferring power to a civilian government in the coming months.
Attiya said 41 percent of 45 million eligible voters cast ballots in Saturday's referendum. More than 14 million — 77.2 percent — voted in favor, with around 4 million — 22.8 percent — opposed.
The results are likely to open a frenzied campaign season, with liberal pro-democracy forces scrambling to put together political parties to contest the upcoming races.
The parliamentary and presidential elections are key because the next legislature and government are to lead the process of wider change, including likely drawing up a new constitution.
In an interview with the daily El-Shorouk, a top member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said the council will issue "a constitutional declaration" right after the announcement of the final vote to lay down next steps, with approval leading to a timetable for parliament and presidential elections.
Saturday's vote was by far the freest since the military seized power in a 1952 coup, toppling the monarchy and ending decades of a multiparty system that functioned while Britain was Egypt's colonial master. Only men with military backgrounds have ruled Egypt since.
While Mubarak's overthrow has left Egyptians euphoric about their newfound freedoms, many are also worried about the social tensions and instability that could spiral in the wake of the autocratic leader's departure.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.
  Syrians Mass For Demos; Reporters Banned From City The coming days will be a test of the discontent that has unseated autocrats in other countries.

TAKE ACTION! No New Leases In The Arctic Ocean from EARTHJUSTICE 24MAR11

PLEASE participate in this campaign to prevent oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, the government is accepting comments until 30MAR11. Click the link to go to the page to submit your comments......

Earthjustice - Take Action Today
TAKE ACTION! No New Leases In The Arctic Ocean
Polar bears are in a constant search for food as they navigate through the Arctic ice. They can smell food from tens of miles away. Beaufort Sea, Alaska. (c) Florian Schulz /
Sec. Salazar is looking to the public for input on where and when to drill for oil in our oceans for the next 5 years. Please tell the Interior Department:
The Arctic Ocean should not be considered for drilling!
As the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster approaches, the Department of the Interior is in the midst of planning where and when to drill for oil in our oceans for the next five years.
Millions of acres of our outer continental shelf are already leased to oil companies, and now the administration is deciding what additional areas to open up for drilling. One of the places in which Interior is considering unleashing drilling is the Arctic Ocean, a remote, fragile region—home to polar bears, whales, walrus, seals among many others—that we know very little about and that is already under tremendous stress due to climate change.
Right now, Secretary Salazar is looking to the public for input on these decisions. Please take action now and make sure your voice is heard! Tell the Interior Department that the Arctic Ocean should not be considered for drilling when there are such large information gaps in science and oil spill response. It should not be included in Interior's leasing plan.
Last year, the Gulf spill tragically demonstrated that offshore drilling is a risky business, and it is essential that this risk be considered when deciding whether to open new areas to leasing. Drilling in the ocean puts entire ecosystems at risk, particularly in places like the Arctic, where icy, stormy and remote conditions would make it would be impossible to clean up a large oil spill were one to occur. The Arctic Ocean is also one of the least understood places on earth. Without basic science about the region, it is not possible to assess, or manage, the effects of industrial activity there. Add to this that the region is undergoing rapid climate change, and it is clear that there should be no new drilling here.
Please tell Secretary Salazar to heed the warnings of the President's Oil Spill Commission and be cautious in the Arctic. Until we have a better understanding of the region and can fully clean up a large oil spill there if it occurs, Secretary Salazar should not offer additional oil and gas leases in the Arctic. Instead, the Secretary should use the next five years to undertake a comprehensive scientific study of the area to understand the basic ecology of the Arctic Ocean, how it is shifting due to climate change, and what effects oil and gas drilling would have on the region's wildlife and people.
How to Take Action
Please submit your individual public comment through the Interior Department's official public comment form.
  1. Click on the button below to access the official public comment form. Or, copy and paste this link into your browser:
  2. Choose your privacy preference, and enter your information. (Only your first and last name are required.)
  3. Enter your comment. If you would like to use our sample comment, please consider prefacing the comment with a personalized note, expressing why this issue is important to you:
    RE: Hold No New Lease Sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea

    I am encouraged by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE)'s decision to take a deliberate and fully informed approach to the scoping process for the 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program. As a part of this informed approach, it must be understood that oil and gas activities on the Arctic OCS present unique and unknown risks. The lack of scientific information, the lack of effective spill prevention and response capability for the Arctic Ocean, and the potentially significant impacts of oil and gas activity on wildlife and subsistence practices make additional leasing inappropriate at this time.

    First, we lack baseline science necessary to make informed Arctic Ocean leasing decisions. In particular, more scientific analysis is needed to understand how species utilize Arctic habitat and function in the larger Arctic ecosystem, and how industrial development will affect those species and the ecosystem, especially in the face of climate change. The President's National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling said scientific data gaps should be filled before making decisions about where and when to drill in frontier areas like the Arctic Ocean. Secretary Salazar has himself directed United States Geological Society to conduct a gap analysis. These are encouraging steps, but a meaningful scientific analysis will require time. The Secretary should use the next five years to obtain missing science needed to effectively manage the Arctic Ocean. He should not offer further oil and gas leases in the region during this time.

    Second, spill response capacity is inadequate in the Arctic. The President's Commission's report confirmed that both the government and industry failed to fully understand or prepare for a large spill. If a similar spill were to occur in the Arctic Ocean it would be catastrophic. Also specific to the Arctic, the Commission wrote that Interior must ensure that companies do in fact have the response capabilities they state, and recommended increasing the Coast Guard's capacity in the Arctic. In addition, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen has clearly stated that cleaning up a spill Arctic would be a major challenge. Experts all agree: we do not have the ability to clean up an oil spill in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean.

    To avoid irreversible impacts to marine life and the surrounding ecosystem of the Arctic, I urge you to exclude the Beaufort Sea and the Chukchi Sea planning areas, including Hope Basin, from the 2012-17 leasing schedule.

    Thank you for considering my comment.
  4. Click on the "Submit Comment" button at the bottom of the form, and your comment will be delivered.
  5. Thank you for taking the time to make sure that your voice is heard! Drop us a note at to let us know that you took action!
To get started, click on the button below:
Take action today!
Because the earth needs a good lawyer
Things are changing rapidly in the Arctic. Oil companies are planning offshore oil development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, two key marine habitats in the Arctic.These oil platforms are what we could expect to see in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas if oil development projects proceed. Cook Inlet, Alaska. (c) Florian Schulz /
©2011 Earthjustice | 426 17th Street, 6th Floor, Oakland, CA 94612 | 510-550-6700 |

BOHICA!!! Who Screwed the Middle Class? 25MAR11

BOHICA working and middle class America! This from Mother Jones explaining why unemployment and economic inequality are government policy....
I've written several times before about Winner-Take-All Politics, in which Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue that middle-class wage stagnation and growing income inequality are due as much to political decisions over the past 30 years as they are to broad economic trends. I find their arguments persuasive, but there's no question that it's a tough case to make. After all, exactly which political decisions are we talking about? Can we point to specific pieces of legislation or specific agency decisions that have retarded wage growth? In fact, we can—things like tax policy, financial deregulation, the decline of antitrust enforcement, and anti-union rulings by the NLRB all played a role. By themselves, though, these just aren't enough to account for what's happened. So what's the smoking gun when it comes to the impact of politics on wage stagnation and growing income inequality?
I think Lane Kenworthy fingered the right culprit a few weeks ago: the abandonment in recent decades of full employment as even a rhetorical goal of American economic policy:
The post–World War II experiences of the rich democracies suggest three routes to rising working- and middle-class wages. One is an environment in which firms face only moderate competition in product markets and limited pressure from shareholders, allowing them to pass on a significant share of growth to their employees. This characterized the period from the late 1940s through the mid 1970s, but it’s now long gone. The second is strong unions. I see little hope of that in America’s future. The third is full employment.
But full employment is only possible if the Federal Reserve is committed to it, and this is decidedly no longer the case: "Since the late 1970s, independent central banks such as the Fed almost always have prioritized low inflation, rendering low unemployment difficult to achieve. If the Fed isn’t on board, even a workable plan for full employment supported by the American public and our elected officials probably won’t be enough."
Following the stagflation of the 70s, conservatives decisively took over Fed policy and put it in the service of the wealthy, prioritizing low inflation over low unemployment and tacitly promising bailouts whenever Wall Street found itself in danger (a practice charmingly known as the "Greenspan put"). Matt Yglesias has a useful piece in Democracy this month arguing that progressives need to take the Fed far more seriously if we ever want to have any chance of reversing this:
Central banks and monetary policy are the primary determinant of short-term economic conditions—of the unemployment rate, and thus of workers’ ability to bargain for wages. This is, clearly, a hugely important subject in its own right. But it’s also a critical determinant of overall political conditions.
....But when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he rather hastily chose to reappoint [Ben] Bernanke, creating a situation in which no Democrat has held the most important domestic policy job in the land since 1987. He inherited two vacancies on the Board of Governors that he left open for over a year, only putting names forward after a third vacancy emerged in 2010....Of course, no one can know for sure what the Fed would have done had Obama picked someone other than Bernanke to chair it or filled the vacancies more rapidly. But it’s certainly plausible that different personnel would have led to swifter and more forceful moves toward monetary stimulus, a more rapid end to the recession, and a lower unemployment rate.
A lot has happened over the past 30 years, but if you're looking for a single political sea change that's had the biggest impact on middle class wages—more important than union decline, more important than NAFTA, more important than the end of Glass-Steagall—it's the political consensus that underlies the Fed's reluctance to allow labor markets to stay tight enough to generate wage increases in the real economy. And it's something we're seeing all over again right now, as the DC chattering classes have almost unanimously decided that inflation is our real enemy right now, even though core inflation is running around 1% and unemployment is still near 9%.
This is a policy beloved of the business community, which prefers loose labor markets that keep wages low and executive compensation high, but it hasn't always been the Fed's policy and it's not written in stone that it has to be now. Tight labor markets and rising middle-class wages are, to a large extent, a choice we make. Politics took them away 30 years ago, and politics can return them to us if we want.
Front page image: Celine Nadeau
Kevin Drum is a political blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. Get Kevin Drum's RSS feed.

Five Fun Facts About the $14 Trillion National Debt 24MAR11

HERE are some facts about our national debt, note the greatest contributor to our debt is NOT SOCIAL SECURITY but is the U.S. military, the military-industrial complex. Just imagine what life in the U.S. would be like if we spent more on education, housing, health care, mass transit, renewable, clean energy, instead of having our government controlled by the greed of corporate America and the production of weapons of repression and destruction. From AlterNet.....
They say China is our banker, but did you know it holds less than a tenth of our outstanding debt?  
Our public debt – now at around $14 trillion dollars ($14,233,559,283,692.40 as of this writing, to be precise) – has been in the news lately, but how we accrued it, who holds it and whether it represents a problem are not well understood.

In one sense, for better or worse, our growing public debt has put trillions into the pockets of the American people. There's an economic principle known as “Wagner’s law,” which holds that as a country gets wealthier, its tax burden tends to increase. Wagner’s law makes perfect sense: in a poor country, citizens are happy to have a paved road; in a middle-income country, they expect a public school on that road; and in the wealthiest countries in the world, the public expects safe air-traffic control to guide them into an airport where they can catch a cab to a world-class public university. As the expectations of what we want government to do rise, so do the tax revenues that are necessary to pay for it all.

Wagner’s law holds true for every country in the world except the United States, where conservative economic discourse prevails. Thirty years ago the Right convinced a lot of Americans they could enjoy tax cuts without losing out on any of the services they’d come to expect. That's a big part of why our public debt jumped from $997 billion when Reagan took office to over 14 times that number today.

We could have paid for everything as we went through higher taxes but we didn't – in 2008,we ranked 26th out of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of our total tax burden (the share of our economy we fork over to the government), coming in almost 9 percentage points below the average of the group of wealthy nations.

Here are five more fun facts about the national debt.

1. We've Always Been In Debt

Before the first session of the U.S. Congress came to a close, the public debt stood at more than $75 million, and since that time it has never been paid down. In 1835, we came close – that year, the national debt stood at just under $34,000.

The last time the public debt decreased was in the mid-1950s, so every year since we've hit a “record high” debt in dollar terms. But a better measure is how much debt we have in relation to our economic output, and that number peaked at around 120 percent of GDP during World War II.

2. The Chinese Are Not Our “Bankers”

It's become conventional wisdom that central banks in China and Japan hold a ton of U.S. debt. In The Hill this week, Tom Schatz, president of the conservative disinformation outfit known as Citizens Against Government Waste, offered some typical fearmongering, writing that the public debt will not only result in “a lower standard of living for future generations,” but that “the Chinese, who own the largest foreign share of U.S. debt, will have the American people 'working' for them.”

The reality is that, as of last year, China held 9.5 percent of our outstanding debt. The largest lender to the U.S. government is the people of the United States – we own 42.1 percent of the national debt in the form of Treasury bills held in our pension funds, 401(K)s, etc.

And 4.6 trillion – about a third – is held by the government itself. Almost 18 percent of the T-bills outstanding are sitting in the Social Security trust fund, earning interest and making the retirement program incredibly secure despite all the claims to the contrary.

3. Republicans Leave More Debt Than Dems

Between 1960 and 2010, federal spending as a share of the economy has bounced around within a fairly narrow range of between 17.7 percent (under Eisenhower) and 21.8 percent (during the first George Bush's term in office). Republicans are just as happy to spend, but they run on tax cuts, and the result is that since the middle of the last century, contrary to the “tax-and-spend” label, it's been Democrats who are far more conservative when it comes to keeping deficits under control than their Republican counterparts.

Although Congress has to share credit or blame for the budget situation at any given time, the numbers are fairly clear. As financial analyst Hale Stewart noted after George W. Bush’s first term,

Ronald Reagan started his term with total debt outstanding of 930 million and increased total debt outstanding to $2.7 trillion. This is a 13.71% compound annual increase. He never balanced a budget.

Bush I started his term with outstanding debt of $2.7 trillion and increased total debt to $4 trillion. This is a 10.32% compounded annual increase. He never balanced a budget.

Clinton started with total debt outstanding debt of $4 trillion and increased total debt outstanding to $5.6 trillion. This is a 4.2% compounded annual increase. He balanced his last three budgets.

George W. Bush started with $5.6 trillion total outstanding debt and increased total outstanding debt to $10 trillion. That works out to a 9.8 percent annual increase – just slightly more than the rate it has grown during Obama's first years.

4. You Never Paid for That Empire

It's ironic – or a testament to the influence of the conservative message machine on our discourse – that discussion of the public debt so frequently centers on “entitlements” like Social Security (which hasn't added a penny to the national debt). After all, we're still paying for Korea and Vietnam and Grenada and Panama and the first Gulf War and Somalia and the Balkans and on and on.

Estimates of just how much of our national debt payments are from past military spending vary wildly. Economist Robert Higgs calculated it like this:

I added up all past deficits (minus surpluses) since 1916 (when the debt was nearly zero), prorated according to each year's ratio of narrowly defined national security spending--military, veterans, and international affairs--to total federal spending, expressing everything in dollars of constant purchasing power. This sum is equal to 91.2 percent of the value of the national debt held by the public at the end of 2006. Therefore, I attribute that same percentage of the government's net interest outlays in that year to past debt-financed defense spending.

In 2007, when Higgs did that analysis, he came up with a figure of $206.7 billion just in interest payments on our past military adventures.

5. Public Debt Is Not Just About Borrowing

While our public debt has allowed us to violate Wagner's law, it's important to understand that we don't just sell bonds in order to borrow money. When countries with widely traded currencies like the U.S. issue bonds, they are considered the safest investments around, and are therefore issued, and purchased, regardless of the government's cash-flow needs.


What's Happening In Yemen Explained 21MAR11

THIS is a primer on what is happening in Yemen from Mother Jones. There are good links to Al Jazeera and other sources for information on the non-violent protest there and the violence of the government against it's own citizens. This is another country that will become and adversary of the U.S. and the West unless we support the people in their struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights......
SANAA, March 18, 2011—Bodies of those who were killed during the anti-government demonstration are bound with white cloth strips on their heads.
The following is a basic primer on what's happening in Yemen. If you're already caught up on that, you can also skip straight to advice on how to follow the latest developments in real time.
The basics: Yemen is a mostly Arab, mostly Muslim country on the Arabian peninsula. Its capital, Sana'a, is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world, and legend has it that it was founded by Shem, a son of Noah (you know, the one with the ark). Yemen's population is around 25 million, but those people are spread out over a land area that is over 30 percent larger than California. Yemen is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the east. Water forms Yemen's western and southern borders: the African nations of Eritrea and Djibouti are across the Red Sea to the west and southwest, respectively, and Somalia is across the Gulf of Aden to the south.
During the Cold War, Yemen was split into two countries; Ali Abdullah Saleh became the ruler of the North Yemen in the late 1970s and has ruled the whole country since unification in 1990. Yemen is the poorest country in the entire Arab world.
What's happening? The unrest sweeping across the Arab world hit Yemen early. Protests have been held in Yemeni cities since the earliest days of the Egyptian revolution back in January. But as protest movements in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya forced some degree of political change in those countries, the Yemen protests grew, and the crackdowns by the country's dictator, Saleh, grew increasingly violent. On Friday, March 18, (allegedly government) snipers killed at least 52 protesters with live ammunition. The European Union and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the attack, Saleh became even more unpopular at home, and the dictator's 30-plus-year rule started to unravel.
By Monday, March 21, Saleh's 66th birthday, the dictator seemed to be clinging to power by his fingertips. An array of senior diplomatic and military figures, including (crucially) members of Saleh's own tribe, "defected" to the protesters on Monday as the military deployed tanks and troops to central Sana'a to "protect" the uprising. Here's Al Jazeera's report:

How does this affect the US? Everyone knows about America's wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya. Lots of folks also know that our drones strike at targets in Pakistan, too. But few Americans are aware of the full extent of the US role in Yemen. Saleh has been a key US ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, but he doesn't have much power outside of the country's major cities. Anwar Al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born Al Qaeda propagandist and top target of the Obama administration, is thought to be hiding somewhere in Yemen's vast hinterland. (US authorities believe Al-Awlaki encouraged both the Fort Hood shooter and the Christmas Day "Underwear Bomber.")
Secret State Department cables released by Wikileaks show that Saleh worked extensively not only to help the US strike against its enemies in Yemen, but also to cover up America's role in his country. In a September 2009 meeting with John Brennan, the Obama administration's top counterterrorism adviser, Saleh reportedly offered the US "an open door on terrorism." In practice, as the Guardian explains, "Yemen has restricted access for US forces in order to avoid playing into the hands of Saleh's domestic critics." Last January, Saleh met with General David Petraeus, then the head of US Central Command. According to a cable describing the meeting, Saleh "agreed to a have U.S. fixed-wing bombers circle outside Yemeni territory ready to engage [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] targets should actionable intelligence become available." The cable continues:
Saleh lamented the use of cruise missiles that are "not very accurate" and welcomed the use of aircraft-deployed precision-guided bombs instead. "We'll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours," Saleh said, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just "lied" by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the [Republic of Yemen Government].
In other words, Saleh agreed to let Americans continue bombing his country, and agreed to continue lying about it.
The Yemeni government has also worked extensively with the US to reduce the number of foreign-born Muslims visiting Sana'a to learn Arabic. The US has long believed that "learning Arabic in Sana'a" was generally a front for terrorist training and radicalization. All the while, US "security assistance" to Yemen has shot up, from an already-impressive $67 million in 2009 to requests for first $150 million and then over a billion dollars in 2010. (NOTE: The $1 billion was just a request, a number under discussion according to the cables.)
Bottom line: if Saleh goes, US cooperation with Yemen on counterterrorism will be totally up in the air.
Why are Yemenis protesting? Yemen's citizens are the poorest in the Arab world, and Yemen, for all its talk about being a republic, is a particularly nasty dictatorship, complete with the usual secret police and torture and general repression. The US role in Yemen is also extremely controversial and shouldn't be underestimated as a contributing factor in the uprising against Saleh. Would you support a ruler who agreed to let another country bomb your country and then lied about it?
How do I follow what's happening in real time?
Nick Baumann covers national politics and civil liberties issues for Mother Jones' DC Bureau. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. Get Nick Baumann's RSS feed.