Nel's New Day

December 31, 2012

Myths, Odd Stories

For the end of the year, a few myths that conservatives have pushed enough to persuade some progressives—and the rest of the populace–in their validity.

  1. Social Security is causing the deficit. No, it doesn’t! Social Security would be self-sustaining for the next few decades if the government would just replace the $2.7 trillion that it took out of the Social Security fund. And it could be permanently self-sustaining if the tax were proportionately raised on the wealthy.
  2. The “morning-after pill” causes abortions. No it doesn’t!  Also known as Plan B, the pill just delays ovulation, the egg’s release, but it doesn’t cause abortions. It works the morning after unprotected sex, not the morning after fertilization. Because sperm takes up to five days to fertilize an egg, emergency contraception allows time for the sperm to die off before an egg is released.
  3. Tax cuts help the economy. No they don’t! Maine governor Paul LePage just found that out—and he’s surprised. After the tax cuts didn’t grow the state’s economy, he slowed payments for bonds. That didn’t work so he claimed more tax cuts would solve the problem. Maine now faces its largest deficit in history and is considered the worst state in the nation for business.
  4. Alan Greenspan is gone. No, he isn’t. The Fed chair behind the great recession during George W. Bush’s terms, the man who ignored the $8 trillion housing bubble because he believed in the “integrity” of banks, may not have an official position in the government but he’s working with “Campaign to Fix the Debt.” This is the group of more than 80 CEOs that has raised over $60 million to lobby to reductions in corporate taxes made up for added costs to poor and elderly, including lessening Social Security payments.
  5. Republicans want to be bipartisan. No, they don’t. If they were, we would have increased the minimum wage to $10; that’s still $.40 under what $7.25 would be if indexed to inflation. We would have had transparency in campaign finance instead of the opaque wall that the Supreme Court created through Citizens United. We would have had a minimum tax on millionaires, a non-discrimination act in employment, a U.N. treaty to protect the equal rights of the disabled, and the Payment Fairness Act to ensure that men get the same pay as men.  

Beyond the myths are the stories that tell how peculiar far-right conservatives are. Possibly the oddest story of the year—and there’s a lot of competition—is the one about Dick Armey’s separation from FreedomWorks after being a co-founder of the ultra-conservative Tea Party group. At first, it appeared to be a difference of opinion with Matt Kibbe, the organization’s president. Freedomworks offered Armey $8 million to leave, and he walked. But the story become even more bizarre.

Washington Post reported that the day after Labor Day Armey went to the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide wearing a holstered gun. Army’s assistance took two top employees off the premises, and Armey suspended several others. The coup lasted six days before Armey was gone, and the ousted employees had returned, thanks to Illinois millionaire Richard J. Stephenson who offered to pay Armey $400,000 annually during the next 20 years if he would leave.

After Armey’s departure, Stephenson put over $12 million into two Tennessee corporations that then fed the money into FreedomWorks’ Super-PAC for a last-minute campaign push. A goodly sum, $1.7, was provided to Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL), Stephenson’s local congressman, in his disastrous campaign against Iraqi veteran winner Tammy Duckworth . Nobody’s talking, but two watchdog groups have asked the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department to investigate these donations.

Add to this, the bizarre story of Washington, D.C.’s police investigation of David Gregory after he help up two empty high-capacity magazines while questioning NRA’s Wayne LaPierre on Meet the Press two days before Christmas. Possession of the 30-round magazine is illegal in the city where the program was filmed. But the police did nothing about Armey’s armed security guard carrying a concealed weapon, also illegal in Washington, D.C.

Three federal judges in California, two appointed by Ronald Reagan and the other by George H.W. Bush, have ruled that only publishers have the right to determine the content of newspapers. The case started in 2006 when reporters gave the address of a lot that Rob Lowe, the publisher’s friend, wanted to develop. Lowe complained, and the publisher sent letters of reprimand to the reporter and three editors. The remaining employees joined the union, and the publisher fired them for this affiliation. Yes, wealthy people can purchase the control of the media in the United States.

This is something that should be closed down! A website called “Potential Prostitutes” allows anyone—anyone!—to post a woman’s photo, phone number, and location without her consent. Anyone wishing to be removed from the site must pay $99.95.

Another “blame the woman” judgment comes from Iowa’s all-male Supreme Court. After Dr. James Knight, an Iowa City dentist, fired his female assistant because she was “irresistibly attractive” and a threat to his marriage. Melissa Nelson, employed in Knight’s office for ten years, sued, and lost in what Knight’s lawyer called a home-run for family values. “These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires,” Nelson’s attorney, Paige Fiedler, said. “If [the bosses] get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”  Nelson said, “I wore a long-sleeve or short-sleeve T-shirt and I wore scrubs.” She added that she’s “happily married.”

It’s just a few hours before midnight in Washington, D.C., the time when the 112th Congress can no longer address the fiscal issues of the country. Rumors fly about whether an agreement is close, whether the president is going to cave, whether there will be a disaster because of the stalemate.

“Tomorrow is another day,” as Scarlet O’Hara said at the end of Gone with the Wind 73 years ago. And tomorrow is the 113th Congress.

December 30, 2012

2012 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 4:50 PM

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Buddhist Calls Norquist’s Pledge ‘Treasonous’

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 4:32 PM
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It’s one day before the end of the year, and the GOP refuses to compromise on the tax cuts that take effect in a little over 24 hours. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Fox News that there would be no agreement without taking money away from the elderly and disabled by lowering Social Security.

Meanwhile Robert Thurman, noted Buddhist scholar, prolific author, respected academician, and one of Time’s most influential people of 1997, expressed his concern about Republicans refusal to raise any taxes because of their pledge to Grover Norquist. Thurman has made a video to explain how the pledge is seditious and treasonous. (Yes, Mr. Norquist, we understand that you claim the pledge is made to the constituents and not you, but there wouldn’t be a pledge without you.)

According to Thurman, those who have taken the anti-tax pledge, “have taken an oath to an outside organization which is not supported by the U.S. Constitution–which gives Congress the right to levy taxes, to do the work of the people through the government –but this is a non governmental organization, not elected by anybody and supported by big money people who are making money by not having to pay taxes.”

Thurman adds:

“And these people have signed a sworn oath that contradicts their oath of office. And therefore, in fact, they do have mental reservations, and they do have purpose of evasion and they are not sincerely taking their oath of office. And if they persist in that, and if they are held to that by this outside person who is not a member of the government, then they are, in fact, breaking their oath of office and they are not serving what they swore to serve the American people.”

Thurman also takes umbrage with Norquist’s rationale for the pledge: “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” By their loyalty to Norquist, the pledge-takers become anarchists, agreeing that government is useless and that they should “starve the beast.” The beast reference, as defined by fundamentalists, refers to Satan in the Book of Revelations, “a very negative way of depicting the U.S. government,” Thurman said.

People have an obligation to their constituents. If they cannot compromise to keep the government successful, they have a serious and actionable conflict of interest—grounds for impeachment. Thurman said that they are “unfit for office.”

He concludes, “…they must, as a single body, reject their oath to Grover Norquist, renounce that oath in order to retake their oath of office; sincerely, without mental reservation, and without purpose of evasion; which is what they must do to be reinstated in our good graces, the people of the United States, of whom they are the employee.”

On this, the last Sunday of the year, the self-identified Christians in Congress, should pay attention to a Buddhist. Thurman wants to save the country; the GOP wants to destroy the country in order to keep their jobs.

December 29, 2012

Krauthammer Blames Obama

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 3:32 PM
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After twelve years of George W. Bush’s disastrous tax cuts, we’re still waiting for the solution to the country’s economic difficulties. With the deadline for raising all the taxes in the country a little more than 48 hours away, the Republicans are still playing politics, but the president is keeping to his word.

The GOP refuses to admit why Bush lowered the tax rates. His rationale was that the country was in such good fiscal shape that reducing the deficit even more would damage the economy. Thus he claimed that he would moderate this reduction.

In his first address to Congress (February 2001), the appointed president said that he would eliminate $2 trillion in debt over the next decade while keeping a “contingency fund” of $1 trillion for emergencies. At the same time he claimed that the country had “money left over” for a tax cut. At least one Republican understood that Bush’s approach was wrong. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits to go the most fortunate among us.”

Two years later the deficit was $378 billion. It was evident that the tax cuts plus the two unfunded Bush wars plus the housing bubble had begun to devastate the entire country. Any sensible person would recognize that Bush’s program had to be reversed. Yet the GOP denies that these were the causes.

These Bush problems decimated the country, but conservatives ask how long people can blame Bush. We can blame the country’s fiscal problems on Bush until the debt is paid off by the wealthy and not by those who failed to benefit from the advantages that the wealthy have during the last decade.

The United States is in the midst of four major struggles: allowing the wealthy to maintain their tax cuts; providing more money for defense as the wars wind down; stripping money from Social Security; Medicare, and Medicaid; and raising the debt ceiling.

The GOP has currently caused a stalemate because it wants to give money to the wealthy at the expense of the bottom 98 percent, pay for more excesses at the Pentagon, steal money from Social Security and Medicare funds, and refuse to pay their bills. The GOP has already taken the Social Security funds and doesn’t want to pay it back. Then they claim that refusing to pay the bills through increasing the debt ceiling will save money.

If you listen to Charles Krauthammer on Fox, President Obama is to blame for the stalemate. “[The president has] been using [the fiscal cliff talks]–and I must say with great skill, and ruthless skill and success–to fracture and basically shatter the Republican opposition. The only redoubt of the opposition is the House. And his objective from the very beginning was to break the will of the Republicans in the House, and to create an internal civil war. And he’s done that.”

If the problems with the GOP weren’t so serious, this accusation about the president would be laughable. The Republicans don’t need any help self-destructing; they’re managing just fine on their own, thank you very much. The Tea Party takeover has been going on far longer than this election, for example taking Indiana’s Dick Lugar out of the Senate and handing his Republican seat to a Democrat because of the weak candidate.

Even Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) wasn’t sure he would get re-elected, and now he’s so concerned about losing the Speaker position that he’s willing to see out the country. Meanwhile Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has the lowest approval rating in the country (37 percent) even by his personal poll. And performer Ashley Judd could defeat him!

After the Republican states did their gerrymandering magic, hyper-partisan districts provided a cult-like atmosphere in the GOP elite, frequently the ultra-conservatives. This resulted in a party that ignores the country’s evolution while it tries to return to a fantasy of life in the 1950s. They ignore the fact that the high taxes used to build the country’s infrastructure and the growing number of unions during that decade made the United States an economically successful country.

The GOP spent four years trying to get one job—the one that now belongs to the president for another term. He can’t run again, but the Republicans continue to have just that one target—the president’s job. With this intent, they have polarized the country in a manner reminiscent of the decades during the Civil War and its aftermath. Now Republicans believe they are in control of a government with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president.

Thank you, President Obama, for maintaining your resolve. May you continue to do so.

December 28, 2012

GOP Types

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:51 PM
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Since the election, the Republicans have looked like a batch of ants after someone destroyed their hill as they run in circles trying to figure why they lost the election. They haven’t been able to coalesce into an organized party yet. Perhaps they never will because of their diversity. Paul Begala has broken down these differences into a few distinct classifications:

The Vince Lombardi Republicans. The emphasis is winning at any costs. If they think they lost the election because of the GOP immigration policy, candidates need to tell people that they have a different one. Pragmatism is the call of the day. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is now praising the hardworking Hispanics, and super-conservative Fox pundit Sean Hannity wants a more “comprehensive” immigration policy. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) looks as if he’s working with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Bill Kristol, who served in the Bush 41 White House, said, “It won’t kill the country if Republicans raise taxes a little bit on millionaires.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has gone full-blown into practicality by claiming that the GOP must “stop being the stupid party” and decrying the current GOP worship of wealth: “We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys.”

The Sour Grapes Republicans. Coaches teach their teams not to blame the other team and not to complain about the officials. Republicans like Donald Trump haven’t learned this lesson. He used Twitter to call President Obama’s reelection “a total sham and a travesty,” to propose a “revolution in this country,” and to allege (falsely) that Obama had lost the popular vote.

“The media,” Brent Bozell wrote, “lauded Obama no matter how horrendous his record, and they savaged Obama’s Republican contenders as ridiculous pretenders.” Those poor savaged contenders included Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Rick “Oops” Perry.

Richard Mourdock lost the U.S. Senate position from Indiana after he said in a debate that “when life begins in that horrible situation of rape … it is something that God intended to happen.” Now he’s asking supporters for money and blaming the media: “After a bitter, hard-fought campaign, many Republicans all over the country were forced to accept defeat rather than celebrate victory. In our case, we found our campaign caught in the liberal media crosshairs.” He referred to the media coverage as “false accusation,” despite the fact that there’s video of everything he said.

The Flat-Earthers. These people think that the GOP won the election. Karl Rove, for example, the man who got a 4 percent return from the $300 million that his group spent. “We did good things this year,” Rove claimed.

Paul Ryan joined Rove in the country of Denial. He was surprised because the Democrats got out the vote in the urban areas, but he missed the part about the president getting lots of votes from rural and suburban areas. Did Ryan notice that President Obama took Rock County (WI) by 61 to 39 percent. The biggest town in that county is Janesville, with a population of 63,575. Janesville is Ryan’s home town.

The most recent Republican who has moved to Denial-Land is Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the minority leader who faces re-election in two years. Faced with the poll that he is the least popular Senator with a likability rating of 37 percent, his response through campaign manager Jesse Benton is that Public Policy Polling is part of a Democratic conspiracy. In fact, PPP had the best year of any pollster in 2012.

And now the GOP claims that President Obama is a “lame-duck president” because the Republicans have the majority in the House.

The Crazies. An Arizona woman who supported Mitt Romney ran over her husband with her SUV because he didn’t vote. The treasurer of the GOP in Hardin County (TX) called Democrats “baby-murdering, tax-raising socialists” and proposed that Texas have an “amicable divorce” from the United States of America. He was joined by over 100,000 Texans calling for the state to secede. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.

The Blame America Firsters. Romney’s the leader of this group. He started his post-election life with a conference call to his donors, explaining that he lost because Obama gave stuff to all those people who voted for the president, “especially the African–American community, the Hispanic community, and young people.” He even defined the “gifts”: “With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college-loan interest was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obama-care also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people.”

This whining came from the man who used his father’s money to enroll in the best schools and made millions while canceling his factory workers’ health benefits. He also doesn’t know Rep. George H.W. Bush wrote subsidized contraception for poor women into a law that was signed by President Richard Nixon.

Romney should take comfort in the fact that conservatives in the media support his view. “People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?” Bill O’Reilly said. The Ann Coulter declared, “It’s over. There’s no hope if takers outnumber makers.” Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night.  It’s just very difficult to beat Santa Claus.”

The last category, not described by Begala, comes from former Republican Jeremiah GoulkaMirror Republicans, those who blame themselves for their losses. Goulka describes the cosmetic changes that many Republicans think might be successful as the Botex Solution. These GOP members blamed Romney and other weak candidates and claimed that a better “ground game” would have succeeded.

Goulka’s Titanic analogy is probably the most accurate: Republicans count on the diminishing numbers of whites, particularly white Christians to put them in control in the future. They ignore the rest of the Democratic iceberg that hit them: non-white Christians, Jews, observers of other faiths, and the growing number of the religiously-unaffiliated. President Obama received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in this past election; already 10 percent of this year’s voters, this population accounts for half the growth of the U.S. population. Asian Americans voted like the Hispanics, and they are the nation’s fastest growing demographic group.

Unmarried women, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, make up 53 percent of all women in the U.S. Two-thirds of the millennial generation (born between 1978 and 2000) has been voting Democratic and will be 40 percent of the eligible voting pool by 2020.

GOP’s constantly push fundamentalist Christian morality and small government. In practicality, the majority of people in this nation don’t want smaller government if it means losing Social Security or letting the wealthy pay lower taxes than the middle class.

And the GOP really wants big government. On Fox news, Bobby Jindal said, “We… need to make it very clear… that we’re not the party of Big: big businesses, big banks, big Wall Street, big bailouts.” It’s hard to pass along that message when everyone knows that the GOP supports these “bigs.”

In its current survival mode, the GOP brags about being the party of Abraham Lincoln. They lost the right to do that after the Southern Democrats moved into Lincoln’s party after Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Voting Rights Act. White flight in the South moved into suburbs, cultivated by the Party of No members from evangelical Protestant Christians.

Republican success is based on dropping the “entitlement reform” racket and supporting food stamps for the poor. During the economic crisis, Hispanic households lost two-thirds of their median net worth, falling to $6,325 in 2009, compared to $113,149 for white households that lost only 16 percent. Success also means supporting equal pay for equal work and defending people from the upper class.

As Goulka wrote, “It looks like the GOP is at the wheel of the Titanic, sailing toward that iceberg, while the band plays “Nearer My God to Thee” for all it’s worth.”

December 27, 2012

If Six People Had Lost the Election …

One example of what the Republicans wanted to do in the 112th Congress came from Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) who lost his campaign to switch to the Senate. Earlier this year, he proposed a “license to bully” amendment to the defense budget guaranteeing blatant discrimination against harassed LGBT people in the military because there could be no discipline for this action. The House even passed the amendment. The Senate didn’t consider the amendment, but the lame-duck Senate is trying to put it back into the bill. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is working with Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), both with anti-gay records. McKeon had pledged to pass clean defense bills that were “not weighed down” by social issues but has done just the opposite.

Imagine if the Republicans had taken over the Senate and the presidency as well as the House. Only six elections made the difference—five Senators and one president. If President Obama had lost and if six more Senate seats had gone to the GOP, both the legislative and administrative parts of the government would have been Republican joining a highly conservative Supreme Court.

Michigan is an example of how destructive this could have been.

Worried about the loss of his super-majority in the legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder pushed through 282 laws since November 6 during the lame-duck session. The law that got the greatest media notice was the union-busting “right-to-work” bill that Snyder put through the legislature after he said he had no interest in taking away union rights. No warning, no hearings, no public input, no floor debate—just two days between its passage and Snyder’s signing.

All private-sector and public-sector unions—except firefighters and police—are blocked from their rights. Maybe because the two exempted unions have a large number of Republicans? The law requires that employees cannot be required to pay union dues. The process not only weakens bargaining for better wages and working conditions but also limits the unions’ participation in elections.

The Koch brothers political machine and the conservative lobby group ALEC, which write bills for legislators, had been planning this action for months. The non-profit Mackinac Public Policy Center spent $5.7 million in 2011 alone to fight unions. The two major financiers of the company are Charles Koch and Dick DeVos, son of Amway’s founder and loser to Democrat Jennifer Granholm for governor in 2006.

Mackinac was also a major supporter of the “financial martial law” allowing “emergency financial managers” to take over municipalities and drive out the elected officials. Upset by this law, voters removed the Republican super-majority in the November election and overturned this law, forcing Snyder to work fast. After the people overturned the law, the legislature put it back—again including the managers’ ability to void union contracts and labor agreements.

These bills are harder to overturn with a ballot referendum because both are attached an appropriations measure.

Not content with attacking workers and elected officials, Snyder attacked women’s rights. The so-called “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act” states that “[h]ealth care providers could refuse to perform certain medical procedures, and employers could opt not to provide coverage for certain medical services as a matter of conscience.” The 1978 state law allows any medical professional and institution to refuse to perform abortions. Now they can refuse to provide contraception and “other services and medications that they oppose as a matter of conscience.”

Just in case the “Protection Act” doesn’t stop enough abortions, Michigan also passed an anti-abortion law which has been called “the nation’s worst.” Ms. reported, “HB 5711 requires that clinics meet the same standards and regulations as surgical centers and that fetal remains are to be treated the same as a dead human body, including authorization from the local or state registrar before cremation. The bill also requires that doctors provide a written ‘risk assessment’ to patients at least 24 hours before having a procedure and prohibits the use of telemedicine to prescribing abortion-inducing medication. Doctors will also have to certify that a woman is not being coerced into having an abortion by asking probing and invasive questions as a result of HB 5711.”

One House bill that failed was barring the use of “foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights”—the “anti-Sharia” bill.  The courts had already overturned a similar Oklahoma law that specifically mentioned Sharia. Some Michigan Republicans are still convinced that President Obama is a Muslim, bad because Rep. Dave Agema thinks “just about every terrorist is a Muslim.” Agema’s bill was similar to model legislation produced by David Yerushalmi, the conservative attorney who once urged the U.S. to declare war on Islam and referred to liberal Jews as “parasites.”

Other religious groups in the state, such as the Michigan Catholic Conference, opposed the bill because it might affect any religious group that chooses to enter into a contract based on their religious beliefs. After all, the Pope doesn’t live in the United States.

The only bill that Snyder vetoed was the right to carry concealed weapons in schools. He probably would have signed that one too if not for the 26 people killed in the Newtown (CT) school.

Snyder still has 23 months before his next election, but his popularity is plummeting, down nine points since the sweeping legislation. His disapproval rating is up 19 points. The question is how long the voters’ memories are.

Governors across the nation will undoubtedly follow Snyder’s actions during the last month. The result:

  • Severe economic problems because lower wages from union-breaking means that people will have less spending ability;
  • Fewer elected officials retaining the right to perform their responsibilities because governor-appointed managers will take over towns and cities;
  • More deaths from illegal abortions because of the severe restrictions on legal abortions;
  • A greater number of unwanted pregnancies from severe restrictions on clinics limiting contraception for poor women.

This next year, the Michigan House still has a GOP majority but not a super-majority. The irony is that Michigan has more Democrats than Republicans. It is the gerrymandering of districts following the 2010 census that  allowed the GOP majority to continue.

gerrymandering

 

The same thing happened in the U.S. House where the GOP controls almost 54 percent of the seats in the 113th Congressional House although they lost the popular vote by at least 1.2 million.

Some Republicans in the House report that they are willing to let taxes on the wealthy increase. They’re coming back to town in three days; we’ll see what they do then with one day left to overturn the law they passed 18 months ago.

December 26, 2012

Fixing the Economy Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:52 PM
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Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) shut off the lights and left town because he couldn’t manage his Republicans. The Tea Party members refused to consider any compromise, and the House couldn’t pass a budget proposal without them. Today President Obama returned to Washington from his holiday vacation in Hawaii, but Boehner is nowhere to be seen.

Yesterday I provided a fantasy approach of income equality that would solve the country’s deficit problem. Richard Eskow has a more pragmatic approach that might get passed.  The most important part of Eskow’s positions is to do away with what is called the “chained CPI” or “chained Consumer Price Index,” a strange approach to figure out a cost-of-living revision for Social Security.

At this time, Social Security payments are tied to the cost of living increases, meaning that it goes up based on how much prices go up. But the chained CPI has a peculiar twist. The higher the prices, the less people can afford to buy things so the lower the cost of living because they can’t afford these purchases.

For example, if the price of gasoline triples from $3.33 to $10 per gallon, then this is a 200-percent increase. But not with the chained CPI. Because people can’t afford $10 per gallon, they would buy less, which means that the cost of living increase is less than 200 percent because people aren’t buying it. Thus people get poorer and poorer, swelling from $1.4 billion in the first year to $122 billion by the tenth year.

If prices of anything goes up and people buy less, then there’s no inflation, according to chained CPI, because people don’t spend more. For example, if seniors eat pet food because they can’t afford the rising prices of chicken, then the government will pretend that seniors are doing fine because they can still buy food.

Tell the president and your House representatives to forget the chained CPI and do these instead. Notice how much more than the $122 billion from the Social Security “savings” that the country can put against the deficit.

  • Close multiple loopholes in the capital gains law – $174.2 billion: These include the “carried interest” loophole, which taxes hedge fund managers’ service fees at the low “investors’” rate; the ‘blended rate,’ which taxes some quick derivatives trades as if they were long-term investments; the ability to ‘gift’ capital gains to avoid taxation; a dodge for bartering capital gains; and the ability to ‘defer’ gains to future years.
  • Eliminate the capital gains altogether – $900 billion in savings.
  • Keep the president’s $250,000 figure for increased taxation – $183 billion: Changing this figure to $400,000 would reduce the deficit reduction impact by $183 billion.
  • Reduce the budget for U.S. overseas military bases by 20 percent – $200 billion: Dropping 702 of 4,471 military ‘installations’ in 63 foreign countries wouldn’t include bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, just those in nations such as Germany, South Korea, and Japan. The ten-year cost for these 4,471 bases is approximately $1 trillion. The waste in the Department of Defense is also high. For example, armed forces has 963 generals and admirals, 100 more than 9/11 when the Pentagon’s budget was half what it is now. A retired U.S. Army Colonel and military analyst said that the military needs only one-third of these high-ranking officers. The rest of them operate as lobbyists for the Pentagon while they have private jet rides and huge personal staffs that costs over $1 million—per general, totaling  $100 million just for those officials. U.S. taxpayers spend billions of dollars a year for  other luxuries. The Pentagon, for example, runs 234 golf courses around the world at an undisclosed cost. DoD’s Sungnam golf course in the Republic of Korea, meanwhile, is reportedly valued at $26 million. The military ski lodge and resort in the Bavarian Alps, which opened in 2004, cost $80 million. Marching bands also cost $500 million annually.
  • Allow the government to negotiate with drug companies – $220 billion: Current law specifically forbids the government from negotiating for lower rates for Medicare prescriptions  although the government paid for much of the research to develop the drugs.
  • Enact DoD-friendly cuts to military budget – $519 billion: Experts in the defense community came up with options that balanced short-term readiness with long-term preparation.
  • Enact Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s ‘Fairness in Taxation Act’ for very high earners – $872.5 billion: This solves the current tax structure that “fails to distinguish the merely ‘well-off’ from the ‘super-duper rich.’” It also taxes capital gains and dividend income as ordinary income for taxpayers with income over $1 million. Brackets would be as follows: $1-10 million: 45%; $10-20 million: 46%; $20-100 million: 47%; $100 million to $1 billion: 48%; $1 billion and over: 49%. The very wealthy would still pay much less than under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, when the top rate was 91 percent as well as less than under most American presidents of the last century.
  • Eliminate corporate tax loopholes – $1.24 trillion: A 2007 Treasury Department report during George W. Bush’s second term concluded that “corporate tax preferences” (aka loopholes) lost $1,241,000,000,000 over a ten-year period.
  • Create a financial transactions tax for high-volume Wall Street trading – $1.8 trillion: The UK tax is 0.25 of each transaction, levied on both parties. Beyond the fiscal advantage, this might discourage the massive volume of ultra-high-speed computer-driven transactions that have turned the stock market into both an imperceptible “black box” and a real-time mega-casino operating in nanoseconds. “Algorithmic trading” doesn’t build economic value or encourage wise investment; instead it helped cause the 2008 recession.More than 200 economists have signed a letter supporting the concept of a financial transaction tax.

These solutions would bring in over $6 trillion in ten years rather than the $122 billion that cutting back Social Security would. The poor and middle class didn’t cause the problems with the economy; they shouldn’t have to pay for solving the problem. And people paid into Social Security. The money still exists; it’s just that George W. Bush took it to cover how high the deficit was becoming after he lowered taxes and started two wars.

Appropriations are something to watch during the next term. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will chair that chamber’s Appropriations Committee after the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI. The position gives her power in setting the agenda for domestic spending, including policies that benefit women and families.

December 25, 2012

Fixing the Economy

The social decline facing the United States made possible by the loss of revenue during the two terms of George W. Bush has steadily moved the country lower and lower among the countries of the world. Both political parties want the American dream for everyone, giving all people the opportunity to escape poverty. According to James Gustave Speth in his new book, American the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (Yale University Press, 2012), a fair and equitable society in the U.S. is possible.

Speth uses the definition of “the American dream” from James Truslow Adams  in his 1933 book The Epic of America: “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Equality is vital for economic growth, according to the Center for American Progress. As Robert Reich explains in his 2010 book Aftershock: “Unless America’s middle class receives a fair share, it cannot consume nearly what the nation is capable of producing. . . . The inevitable result is slower economic growth and an economy increasingly susceptible to great booms and terrible busts.

Because today’s high productivity and economic growth stem largely from scientific and technological knowledge, most of which is inherited from the past, the greater portion of income and wealth “comes to us through no effort of our own,” as Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly point out in their book Unjust Desserts.  Herbert Simon observed, “[If] we are very generous with ourselves, I suppose we might claim we ‘earned’ as much as one fifth of [our income].” The major question comes from how to share the wealth that no one living today has created.

In the 20th century, both political parties were concerned with eradicating poverty, creating universal health care, providing high-quality and affordable education for all, guaranteeing meaningful and living-wage employment opportunities, and devising a just and fair tax system. Yet conservatives increasingly increased opportunities for the wealthiest in the nation while eliminating the possibility for the bottom 99 percent through the destruction of unions, lessening of minimum wages, and allowing the costs of health care and education to astronomically increase.

Harvard’s Howard Gardner argues that “no single person should be allowed annually to take home more than 100 times as much money as the average worker in a society earns in a year. If the average worker makes $40,000, the top compensated individual may keep $4 million a year. Any income in excess of that amount must be contributed to a charity or returned to the government, either as a general gift, or targeted to a specific line item (ranging from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the National Endowment for the Arts).” He further proposed that no individual would be permitted to pass more than $200 million to his or her heirs, and that any excess must be contributed to charity. “To those who would scream ‘foul’ to such limits on personal wealth,” he concludes, “I would remind them that just 50 years ago, this proposal would have seemed reasonable, even generous.”

Another good idea is a reverse income tax, as recommended in Aftershock. Using the negative income tax idea examined in the 1960s and today’s earned income tax credit, he urges that “full-time workers earning $20,000 or less (this and all subsequent outlays are in 2009 dollars) would receive a wage supplement of $15,000. This supplement would decline incrementally up the income scale, to $10,000 for full-time workers earning $30,000; to $5,000 for full-time workers earning $40,000; and then to zero for full-time workers earning $50,000. The tax rate for full-time workers with incomes between $50,000 and $90,000–whether the source of those incomes is wages, salaries, or capital gains–would be cut to 10 percent of earnings. The taxes for people with incomes of between $90,000 and $160,000 would be 20 percent, whatever the income source.”

Reich also promotes higher taxes for the wealthy. He said, “I propose that people in the top 1 percent, with incomes of more than $410,000, pay a marginal tax of 55 percent; those in the top 2 percent, earning over $260,000, pay a marginal tax of 50 percent; and those earning over $160,000, roughly the top 5 percent, pay 40 percent. These taxes, when added to the modest amounts contributed by taxpayers who earn between $50,000 and $160,000 under my plan, would raise $600 billion more than our current tax system per year.”

Another major step forward should be to implement the important proposal put forward by Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott in The Stakeholder Society: “As a citizen of the United States, each American is entitled to a stake in his country: a one-time grant of eighty thousand dollars as he reaches early adulthood. This stake will be financed by an annual 2 percent tax levied on all the nation’s wealth. The tie between wealth-holding and stakeholding expresses a fundamental social responsibility. Every American has an obligation to contribute to a fair starting point for all. Stakeholders are free [to] use their money for any purpose they choose: to start a business or pay for more education, to buy a house or raise a family or save for the future. But they must take responsibility for their choices. Their triumphs and blunders are their own.”

The federal government should spend more on social and jobs programs, environmental protection, and neglected needs abroad while our annual federal budgetary deficits should be brought down to sustainable levels. High growth rates will not provide sufficient revenue to the government. There are many ways to raise new revenues–closing down tax breaks for the rich, shifting taxes from things we want to encourage to things we want to discourage, taxing luxury items, closing corporate tax loopholes, strengthening the estate tax, and moving toward a more progressive tax structure.

A 2009 report by John Cavanagh and his colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies proposed the following plan that would raise an additional $3 trillion in federal revenues over a five-year period without slowing the economy. That’s over double what President Obama currently proposes.

1. Repeal tax breaks for households with annual incomes over $250,000: $43 billion per year.

2. Tax financial transactions: $100 billion per year.

3. Eliminate the tax preference for capital gains and dividends: $80 billion per year.

4. Levy a progressive estate tax on large fortunes: $40–60 billion per year.

5. Establish a new higher tax rate on extremely high incomes: $60–70 billion.

6. End overseas tax havens: $100 billion per year.

7. Eliminate subsidies for excessive executive compensation: $18 billion per year.

Making sure that the bottom 99 percent of the population has a living wage makes the economy grow. They are the ones who spend the money that they get, not the top 1 percent.

 

December 24, 2012

The First ‘War on Christmas’

The conservative claim of War on Christmas will end tomorrow—for another nine or ten months when Fox “News” gears up for holidays in 2013. Here are some notable skirmishes from the past couple of weeks, frequently led by Bill O’Reilly.

A few weeks ago, O’Reilly questioned Pastor Robert Jeffress last week about the lack of outrage at this mythical war on the holiday representing the birth of Christ—the same holiday that many people have described as secular. Jeffress blames the religious leaders: “Wimpy pastors produce wimpy Christians, and that is why we are losing this culture war and I believe it’s time for pastors to say, you know, ‘I don’t care about controversy, I don’t care whether I’m going to lose church members, I don’t care about building a big church, I’m going to stand for truth regardless of what happens.’”

The truth, according to Jeffress, is that Jesus was a fighting man. If he were here, he would pick up his cudgel and force radio stations to play Christmas music. Everyone would be required to say “Merry Christmas,” and every government building would have a Christmas tree.

O’Reilly might want to turn to conservative Christian radio host Matt Barber for help. Barber is ready to go to war. After the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a complaint to stop a Michigan man from putting a nativity scene on public land, Barber said they should be punched “in the mouth.” The 6th Circuit Court ruled in favor of the nativity scene, but Barber is still angry. He told his listeners that they should contact Liberty Counsel’s toll-free number if they find any “religious cleansing.”

“You know, what do you do with a bully?” Barber explained. “If a bully keeps getting his way and intimidating kids on the playground and nobody stands up for themselves then the bully is encouraged and emboldened and continues to bully more and more people. But when a little kid is being bullied and he turns around and punches the bully in the mouth–metaphorically speaking, of course–then the bully is oftentimes proven to be a paper tiger.”

Atheists aren’t the only cause of the war on Christmas. LGBT and pro-choice people are also instigators—according to O’Reilly and his associates. In a discussion with O’Reilly, Bernard McGuirk, producer of Imus in the Morning, said, “The war on Christmas is very, very real, and if you ask me, in addition to some grouchy misanthropic heathen atheists it has to do — at the root of it — with two things — abortion and the gay rights agenda, because Christianity is against those things.”

O’Reilly’s response was emphatic. “Hundred percent agree. I absolutely agree 100 percent that the diminishment of Christianity is the target, and Christmas is the vehicle because the secularists know the opposition to their agenda, legalized drugs is in that as well, comes primarily from the Judeo-Christian traditionalist people.”

Perhaps O’Reilly should call out his own station for rejecting the word “Christmas” when referring to office parties. In a four-minute segment about how to deal with the upcoming festivities, the hosts referred to “holiday party” experiences twice as many times as to “Christmas party.” Maybe that makes it just a skirmish instead of a war.

bit of information about the holiday. Although the New Testament gives no date for the birth of Jesus Christ, historians and theologians have determined he was born either in the fall or the spring, about the time of Passover. December 25th was chosen to coincide with pagan celebrations in the Roman Empire which went from Europe through Asia Minor to the Middle East and Africa. Other cultures—Egyptians, the Norse, Greeks, etc.—celebrated their gods during late December.

Pragmatic Catholics connected December 25th, known by Romans as the birth of the “Sun” to the birth of the “Son.” Then the Catholics appropriated March 25, a pagan feast-day on the Spring Equinox (aka “the birth of Spring”), into the day that Mary conceived Jesus.

The three Wise Men didn’t appear at his birth. They traveled from their own country and arrived a couple of years later when Jesus and his parents were living in a house.

The word “Christmas” derives from fourth-century Roman Catholicism with the “mas” part coming from the Mass, or blasphemous Eucharistic service of western Catholicism. The actual word, Christmas, comes from 1050 AD.

People who choose to follow a literal translation of the Bible should know that its writings are opposed to using trees. Jeremiah 10 states: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk.”

The tradition of gifts comes from the requirement of nobility that subjects give presents to them during the Winter Solstice. Saint Nicholas, a Catholic bishop born in 270 AD, promoted the gift-giving ritual when he threw gold into the homes of poor people so that they wouldn’t have to sell their daughters into prostitution.

Druids followed the ritual of kissing under the mistletoe, a medicinal herb, to increase fertility. The white berries represented drops of the Sun God’s semen. Red holly was a symbol of the menstrual blood of Diana, the queen of heaven, and witches used holly wood to make wands.

Maybe these are the reasons that the Puritans didn’t celebrate Christmas. The first War on Christmas came from the original settlers of New England who objected in the excess of revelry and contended that there is no Scriptural warrant for the celebration of Jesus’s birth. They understood that the holiday was superstitious at best, heretical at worst. The Puritans forbid merriment and ordered shops to stay open, churches to be closed, and ministers arrested for preaching on December 25.

Between 1659 to 1681, all people who celebrated Christmas in the American colonies were fined five schillings. The War on Christmas lasted until 1870 when the day was declared a federal holiday as a sop to the Southerners who lost the Civil War. Thus following our Founding Fathers, as many conservatives wish, we should not celebrate Christmas. Back to “Happy Holidays.”

Other December celebrations—which is why it’s a good idea to say “Happy Holidays”!

  • Jewish Chanukah
  • Secular Winter Solstice
  • Pagan Yule
  • Buddhist Rohatsu5
  • Baha’i Masa’il and Sharaf
  • Jain Maunajiyara
  • Sikh Gur-purab
  • Zorastrian Ghambar Maidyarem
  • African-American Kwanzaa
  • Kenetic Orthodox The Establishment of the Celestial Cow
  • And sometimes Muslim Ramadan, depending on their calendar.

For now, happy holidays!

December 23, 2012

Exorcism, Pentagrams, Climate Change–Sunday Bits

It’s Sunday again, and there’s so much news! We’ll start with a ray of sunshine. Earlier this month, the Orleans Parish School Board [Louisiana] amended their textbook selection with a caveat:  “No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the State of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.”

For people not aware of Texas textbooks, the state is such a huge purchaser that publishers often kowtow to that state’s demands—such as “revising” science and history to match what the Tea Party believes. (I almost said “thinks,” but they don’t.)

The pope, who described marriage equality as destroying the very “essence of the human creature,” has given his former butler an early Christmas present. After Pope Benedict XVI visited the jail where Paolo Gabriele was incarcerated following his conviction of aggravated theft in stealing and leaking documents that alleged the Holy See’s corruption, the pope pardoned him. Catholic policy: theft, okay; marriage equality, not okay.

Other parts of Catholic beliefs can be hard to understand. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News fame thinks that Caroline Kennedy, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention about women’s rights, should have had an exorcism for daring to be Catholic and pro-choice. He may have trouble finding a priest to do this. In 2010, the American Catholic bishops met to figure out a way to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. Part of the training is to figure out who really needs an exorcism and who just needs a psychiatrist or pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield (IL) who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.” Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized a return to traditional rituals and practices.

Catholics are not alone in their peculiar beliefs. In a “celebration” of 12/12/12, Brent Troy Bartel carved a large pentagram on the back of his 6-year-old son, claiming he do so “because it is a holy day.” Some people saw the date as significant because it appears only once in every century; the pentagram, a five-pointed star, can be connected to Satanism. Bartel didn’t explain what was going through his mind when he did this.

Two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants think that disasters such as Superstorm Sandy means that the end of the world is near, as predicted by the Bible. The survey from Public Religion Research found others who agree: almost 40 percent of everyone in this country believes this. Even over one-third of Catholics and white non-evangelical Protestants agree. According to 15 percent of the people in the survey, the end of time will occur during their lifetimes, and 2 percent think it will be before the end of 2012. (There’s only eight days left!)

Some of the respondents are hedging their bets. Seventy-five percent of non-white Protestants think that the disasters come from both climate change and the evidence of the Bible’s “end time.”

Over 50 percent of the people in the United States voted for Barack Obama, which may jeopardize their claim to be Christians. According to Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, leader of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Density, during a radio interview on 12/12/12, anyone who voted for the president cannot be a Christian. According to its website, BOND is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to “Rebuilding the Family by Rebuilding the Man.”

The fundamentalists who want a literal reading of the Bible—at least the parts that they like—have possibly found a leader in Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016. He may not know about the end of the world, but he’s not sure when it was created. First, he said that it could have been 6,000 years ago, but then he changed his mind for a more scientific approach.

Rubio does know, however, that kids should believe their parents over their teachers. Teaching students about evolution if their parents don’t believe it is like the strategy of the Communist Party in Cuba, according to Rubio until he decided that some people might not like this analogy. He backpedaled again: “Of course, I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.” Letting up on the brakes, he moved back to his other position, saying, “We should do nothing in government that undermines that relationship [between parent and child].” Rubio added, “And for me, personally, I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”

Rubio has also talked about how his religious views shaped his policy positions. Homosexuality is a sin, he thinks, but nobody is free from sin. He still opposes marriage equality. Then the science side won out when he said that it has proved that life begins at conception. In his first statement, the one in which he said he couldn’t say anything about how old the planet is because he isn’t a scientist, should have him removed from his position on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

And let us not forget the plethora of religious leaders blaming the recent shooting at Newtown (CT) on those who “take God out of the schools,” the atheists, and the LGBT community.

Notice that there’s nothing about the War on Christmas? That’s a whole blog tomorrow!

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