Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Monday, December 31, 2012

Beyond Outrage

Just finished another book:  Beyond Outrage by Robert Reich.  He served as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton and most recently was an advisor to President Obama.

Robert has been sounding alarms for several years now, most of them seeming to fall on deaf ears.  He carefully spells out how things have gone awry economically in this country, which no one can really doubt, except perhaps the 1% and above.  They are doing better than ever, which is a large part of the problem.  The 1% and above are doing fabulously well while the rest of us are mired in stagnating or dropping incomes, while costs continue to rise.

Robert demonstrates how the "regressives" (read: GOP) want to turn back the clock to the 1920's, and how the Democrats have failed miserably to counter their push.

There is one common refrain in Robert's book that you have no doubt heard elsewhere, if you pay even a little attention to politics, and that is: you (and I) have to get involved and stay involved if things are to improve.  FDR said it; Teddy Roosevelt said it;  Barack Obama has said it.   

You want the President to do the "right thing?"  "You have to make me."

Many Americans feel that they don't have the time to "make" their elected reps do the right thing.  Or they are just not willing to become seriously and consistently involved.  I am sympathetic to both of those camps.

To recap a few things from Robert's book:

"Leaders get people to actively work on what needs to be done.  To do this, leaders need to help people overcome the four "work-avoidance mechanisms: that most of the rest of us carry around in our heads.
Those mechanisms are denial that a problem exists, the desire to escape responsibility even when we recognize the problem, the tendency to scapegoat others for causing it, and - worst of all - cynicism about the possibility of ever remedying the problem.

In addition to listing the things that have gone wrong over the last 30 years to get us to where we are today, Robert does list things that should be done to turn the ship around.  In brief, they are:

"Raise the tax rate on the rich to what it was before 1981.
Put a 2 percent surtax on the wealth of the richest one-half of 1 percent. 
Put a one-half of 1 percent tax on all financial transactions.
Cut the military budget more than scheduled.
Use Medicare to control soaring health-care costs.
Fight for Medicare-for-all.
Use these added revenues and budget savings to invest in public goods - especially education and infrastructure.
Resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act.
Cap the size of Wall Street's biggest banks.
Require big banks to modify underwater mortgages.
Get big money out of politics."

Piece of cake, huh?  That's quite a list.  I agree with every single one of them.  Now, to fight or not to fight.  That is the question.

Highly recommended:  Beyond Outrage (2012) by Robert B. Reich

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fiscal Cliff?

Oh, what the hell!!

Shall we go over the fiscal cliff? Together? Let's go! 


The positives outweigh the negatives, in my opinion.  And many of the negatives can still be countered by Congressional action anytime after January 1.


In the summer of 2011, the Republicans recklessly threatened not only the U.S. economy but the world's economy by refusing to approve the raising of the U.S. debt ceiling.  In exchange for finally raising it at the last minute in August of 2011, they demanded substantial budget cuts, and thus the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, was passed.  


The BCA created a bipartisan "super committee" that would agree on $1.2 trillion of budget cuts.  If the super committee could not agree and could not create an actual bill that would pass the House and Senate by November 23 of 2011, then "Sequestration" would kick in, meaning that come January 1, 2013, $1.2 trillion of automatic cuts would begin to hit the economy.  This $1.2 trillion in cuts would be stretched out over 10 years.


So, come January 1, the total cuts for 2013 are projected to be $109 billion.


Half of these cuts are to come from military discretionary spending, and the other half from non-military discretionary spending.  Exempted from the cuts are some big ones:  Social Security, Medicaid, Veteran's benefits, CHIP, unemployment insurance, federal worker's wages and several other items.


I am all for major cuts to our bloated military budget, but have you found it hard to get any hard data on the actual cuts required by 

Sequestration?  I know I have.  The media has not been all that forthcoming or useful.  They'd rather hype the "FISCAL CLIFF!!" than actually explain it to people.  But there ARE a lot of components in this "fiscal cliff."  There is a link here that explains a lot of it.

Although unemployment insurance spending is exempted from the "Sequestration" cuts, which is good, "Extended" unemployment benefits will expire on December 31 anyway, which is bad.  The longest period that anyone will allowed to be on unemployment will go back to 26 weeks.  Unemployment benefits had been "extended" from the 26 weeks to 99 weeks, since so many people were still unemployed.  So, a lot of unfortunate people stand to lose their unemployment benefits on December 31, unless Congress acts.  


Another boulder in the "fiscal cliff" but not cut by Sequestration is the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).  The AMT, created in the 1960's to stop the rich from using accounting tricks and tax havens to avoid paying their fair tax share, has been "adjusted for inflation" every year until....the Tea Party Republicans came to town!!  Although the AMT was not all that successful at getting the rich to pay their share, this Republican refusal to adjust it for inflation means that about 28 million more American families will now be subject to the AMT.  Oh boy, a new tax on top of the others!  This alone will take about $64 billion out of the pockets of these people who would now be subject to the AMT.  On the other side of the coin, the government gets a fresh $64 billion.


Coinciding with all these mandatory cuts and the expiration of other cuts or extensions, all of the Bush tax cuts are also set to expire January 1, prompting an income tax increase across the board.  This is not a particularly good time to increase income taxes on those whose incomes have already taken a hit by the mega-recession of 2008.  Of course, those millionaires and billionaires will have their top rate restored to 39.6% from the current 35, and even though they can easily afford to pay more in taxes, they will likely cry and whine the most, and they will find new loopholes or get Congress to create new loopholes to help them shelter their precious booty.  The rest of us will see about a 3% increase in our income tax rates, and that's going to squeeze some of us pretty hard.


Don't get me started (too late!).  Historically speaking, the top tax rates are VERY LOW right now, even at 35% of 39.6%.  Strange how it seems that when upper tax rates were significantly higher than they are now, the country thrived quite well, thank you.  And now that they have been cut drastically, starting back with Ronald Reagan, things haven't worked out so well for the vast majority of workers (and people) in the U.S.  But the rich are doing QUITE WELL, so fuck off, peons! 


Another digression:   Let's remember that the Republicans have pledged to shrink the size of government so small that it could be "drowned in a bathtub."  They have largely been successful at reducing government revenues significantly (through lowered taxes on everything from income to capital gains) and thus, when the government starts running low on money, well then, services will have to be cut.  Lower revenues = more cuts.  The Republicans are effectively bleeding this country to death.


Capital gains are currently taxed at 15%, which is VERY low.  Not because of the Sequestration, but part of the "fiscal cliff", the capital gains tax is set to increase January 1 from 15% to 20%.  This is a good thing.  It will mostly affect the rich.  


Barring any Congressional action, stock dividends, currently treated like capital gains and taxed around 15%, will now be taxed at the earner's regular tax rate, as high as 39.6%.  This won't hurt the super-rich, but it will make dividends less attractive to those of us in the middle-income brackets.


The inheritance tax (which Republicans insist on childishly referring to as the "death tax") will go from 35% on estates valued over $5.1 million to 55% for estates valued over $1 million.  This will only affect the top 1-2% of estates, so you and I won't see much effect here, but it could substantially increase badly-needed revenue to the federal government.  


Lower-income taxpayers will be hit pretty hard by the expiration of Obama's payroll tax reductions December 31.  The payroll tax will increase from the current 4.2% back to the earlier 6.2%.  


There are several big loopholes which are not in any way affected by this "fiscal cliff" hype but cry out for attention:

  • The "carried interest" bullshit has to go.  It allows those who run investment funds - like hedge funds - to reclassify their income as a capital gain, taxable at the lower 15%.  While the capital gain would go up to 20% on January 1, that's still absurdly and unnecessarily low.  Their income should be taxed at their normal income tax rate.  Eliminating "carried interest" entirely would generate another $20 billion over 10 years.
  • Subsidies to major oil companies have to stop.  They are not needed by the oil companies and only hamper development of alternative energy sources.  This costs the government around $10 to $40 billion per year, depending on what you count.
  • The effective Corporate tax rate is TOO LOW, around 12%, thanks to all the loopholes, credits, deductions, and use of tax havens, despite sky-high corporate profits.  The tax rates may look high on paper, but in reality, they are VERY LOW.  TOO LOW.  All these loopholes must be closed and the revenue restored to the government.  
  • Firms can deduct "business expenses" of moving overseas, in effect giving a tax credit for moving jobs overseas, has to stop.  Duh!  Gee, why does it seem like practically every rule is for the benefit of the already-wealthy?!  Because the super-rich practically own Congress.  And, now, thanks to Citizens United, they can tighten their grip on Congress' throat even more.

While the "fiscal cliff" would change many tax structures, on the whole, I think we should, to borrow Obama's phrase, continue "forward" and go over the cliff without any action from Congress.  

The government seems sure to end up with a lot of new revenue that it could use to plug up some gaps in unemployment insurance, food stamps or tax deductions for children, among many other needs that are going to be slashed by the near across-the-board 10% cuts in non-military discretionary spending prompted by the Sequestration, and there would actually be some money available.


I think that public pressure is eventually going to force the Republicans to then cut income taxes again, at least on those of us that actually do struggle from paycheck to paycheck.  


Cuts to the military are long-overdue, and it's high-time the rich start to contribute again to the overall health of the nation.  This rapidly-expanding canyon between rich and poor is not sustainable.


OK, got to publish this eventually.  Goodnight!  And Happy New Year!   

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Iceland was right

The evidence is clear.  Anyone with clear eyes, no preconceived notions and no axe to grind can see that austerity does not work during recessions or depressions.  It's borderline criminal that those "in power" still seem so enamored of the austerity idea.  Could it be that they like austerity because it helps to keep "them" on top and everyone else squirming below?

Just look at Europe.  Austerity is not working and has not been working for a few years now.  We have to break this absurd stranglehold, and that includes America's own traitors, the GOP.

Iceland Was Right, We Were Wrong: The IMF
By Jeff Neilson

For approximately three years, our governments, the banking cabal, and the Corporate Media have assured us that they knew the appropriate approach for fixing the economies that they had previously crippled with their own mismanagement. We were told that the key was to stomp on the Little People with “austerity” in order to continue making full interest payments to the Bond Parasites — at any/all costs.

Following three years of this continuous, uninterrupted failure, Greece has already defaulted on 75% of its debts, and its economy is totally destroyed. The UK, Spain and Italy are all plummeting downward in suicide-spirals, where the more austerity these sadistic governments inflict upon their own people the worse their debt/deficit problems get. Ireland and Portugal are nearly in the same position.

Now in what may be the greatest economic “mea culpa” in history, we have the media admitting that this government/banking/propaganda-machine troika has been wrong all along. They have been forced to acknowledge that Iceland’s approach to economic triage was the correct approach right from the beginning.

What was Iceland’s approach? To do the exact opposite of everything the bankers running our own economies told us to do. The bankers (naturally) told us that we needed to bail out the criminal Big Banks, at taxpayer expense (they were Too Big To Fail). Iceland gave the banksters nothing.

The bankers told us that no amount of suffering (for the Little People) was too great in order to make sure that the Bond Parasites got paid at 100 cents on the dollar. Iceland told the Bond Parasites they would get what was left over, after the people had been taken care of (by their own government).

The bankers told us that our governments could no longer afford the same education, health care and pension systems which our parents had taken for granted. Iceland told the bankers that what the country could no longer afford was to continue to be blood-sucked by the worst financial criminals in the history of our species. Now, after three-plus years of this absolute dichotomy in economic policymaking, a clear picture has emerged (despite the best efforts of the propaganda machine to hide the truth).

In typical fashion, the moment that the Corporate Media is forced to admit that it has been serially misinforming us for the past several years; the Revisionists are immediately deployed to rewrite history, as shown in this Bloomberg Businessweek excerpt:

…the island’s approach to its rescue led to a “surprisingly” strong recovery, the International Monetary Fund’s mission chief to the country said.
In fact, from the moment the Crash of ’08 was orchestrated and our morally bankrupt governments began executing the plans of the bankers, I have written that the only rational strategy was to put People before Parasites. While I wouldn’t expect national policymakers to take their cues from my writing, when I wrote out my economic prescriptions for our economies I didn’t base my views on compassion, or simply “doing the right thing.”

Rather, I have consistently argued that it was a matter of simple arithmetic and the most-elementary principles of economics that “the Iceland approach” was the only strategy which could possibly succeed. When Plutarch wrote 2,000 years ago “an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all Republics,” he was not parroting socialist dogma (1,500 years before the birth of Socialism).


Plutarch was simply expressing the First Principle of economics; something on which all of the modern capitalist economists who followed in his footsteps have based their own theories. When modern economists produce their own jargon, such as the Marginal Propensity to Consume; it is squarely based on the wisdom of Plutarch: that an economy will always be healthier with its wealth in the hands of the poor and the Middle Class instead of being hoarded by rich misers (and gamblers).

So when the Bloomberg Revisionists attempt to convince us that Iceland’s strong (and real)economic recovery was a “surprise”; this could only be true if none of our governments, none of the bankers and none of the media’s precious “experts” understood the most-elementary principles of arithmetic and economics. Is this the message the media wants to convey?

What is even more disingenuous here is the congratulatory tone in this exercise in Revisionism, since nothing could be further from the truth. As I detailed in a four-part series one year ago, the campaign of “economic rape” perpetrated against the governments of Europe over the past two and half years (in particular) has been expressly designed to take away “the Iceland option” for Europe’s other governments.

The rest here

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Henri 2

And now for something completely different...

Monsieur Henri, the existential cat


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Christmas sure isn't what it used to be.  As a child, the excitement was pretty much all about getting gifts.  Now, giving is more enjoyable.    


Our family actually gathered around and sang a few Christmas songs on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning now and then, but those times were rare and not exactly looked-forward to.  After a little while, the parents gave up on that.  


It was really all about the presents!    

Since we don't have children, the magic of Christmas is pretty much gone.  About all that's left is the astronomical wonder of the inexorable changing of the seasons.  That, and the retail aspect, including watching the wallet.  

I do enjoy getting time off from work, of course.  My employer gave me two days off; my wife's employer only one, because the market being open takes precedence.  At least we don't work in retail, which can be quite insane this time of year, and if you are a small-business owner, you might just be open on Christmas Day.

We know the drill by now:  at this time of year  the Pagans celebrated the Winter Solstice with feasting and long parties; the church co-opted the celebration to become the more-somber birthday of Christ; now the business interests of Wall Street, Madison Avenue and Main Street have turned it into the biggest retail season of all.  
This time of year sure can be good for the economy.  Now all three of those interests: the Pagans, the church and business all celebrate the season together.  Not equally, by any means, but, hey, where's real equality anywhere?

So whatever Christmas means to you, whatever you might need or want the season to be, I wish you all peace and love and warmth as the sun slowly makes its way back North*.  Let's go around again!

*only applicable to those in the Northern Hemisphere.  


Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Texans suck

No, I'm not talking about the citizens of the state of Texas, although there are many, many problems and yahoos in this state.  I mean the Houston Texans, the NFL team.  They appear to be mostly smoke and mirrors.  

3rd and 10 and they throw a 4-yard pass?  Three and punt.  And Minnesota just marched down the field for a quick TD.  That's just a snapshot, but I see it over and over.

If the Texans don't tighten up their defensive secondary and get a decent QB, they are going to be eliminated quickly in the playoffs.  Home-field advantage or not.

I think I will turn off the game.  I am such a fickle fan....they are down 7-3 in the first quarter, but it already looks pathetic.

This team is NOT a powerhouse.

Friday, December 21, 2012

deadly fungus

Here's another bizarre one, probably once attributed to "God" working in "his" mysterious ways.  It becomes rather obvious that anything that we human cannot readily explain gets attributed to God.  That made sense hundreds or thousands of years ago, but there's really no excuse for it now, other than lazy thinking.

Fungus Stirred by Tornado Can Infect Disaster Survivors

Father comforts his daughter in the
aftermath of Joplin, Missouri's 2011
tornado disaster.  Researchers are
warning public health officials of a
potentially deadly infection that can
quickly begin to kill people after
deadly tornado outbreaks.
Studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Translational Genomics Research Institute focused on the deaths from infections in the Joplin, Mo., 2011 tornado disaster zone.

They found some were infected by the fungus Apophysomyces, which is common in the soil, wood or water. It usually has no effect on humans.

But when it is stirred up by tornado-force winds and enters deep puncture wounds caused by debris, it can spread uncontrollably through the body if not caught early.

Five of the 13 people infected with it around Joplin died within two weeks of the tornado that devastated the community.

Once the infection begins to ravage the body, the only option is to surgically remove sections of dead, damaged or infected tissue, in a process known as debridement.

“There's clearly an entire world out there that we're not seeing on a regular basis. It takes a severe event like this tornado for us to come face-to-face with some of the more dangerous pathogens out there,” said David Engelthaler, former State of Arizona Epidemiologist.

Original.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

1 in 6

Although it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get an accurate counting, recent studies show that about 1 in 6 people worldwide claim to have "no religion."  That makes that group (of which I am a member) the third-largest in the world, behind Christians and Muslims.   Fantastic!

As science continues its inexorable march forward, more and more people are going to "wise up" and join the ranks of the non-religious.  Up to 1/3 of those under 30 report having no religion.  Unfortunately, at the same time, Islam is the fastest-growing religion.  That's pretty depressing, as Islam is one of the most backward of all religions.  

Education is key, again.  There is little doubt that the more educated a person is, the less likely it is that they will be religious.  Hence the Republican push to dumb down education and cut its funding.  They know that the less educated you are, the more likely you are to be religious. 


I applaud Richard Dawkins "The Clergy Project."  This year alone, they identified 200 pastors that turned atheist.  

The picture is a long way from rosy for atheists, of course.  There are 7 countries on Earth where you can still be executed for being an atheist, and 7 states in the U.S. that prohibit atheists from holding public office.  THAT should be illegal. 

We've got a long way to go.  Keep the faith!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

at the bar



Having already downed a few power drinks, she turns around, faces him, looks him straight in the eye and says,

"Listen here, good looking, I will screw anybody, anytime, anywhere, their placemy place, in the car, front door, on the ground, standing up, sitting down, naked or with clothes on ... it doesn't matter to me, I just love it."

His eyes now wide with interest, he responds, 

"No kidding ... I'm in Congress too. What state do you represent?"

(thanks, Lee)

Saturnalia



In ancient Rome, December 17 was declared to be Saturnalia, a festival that was tied to the winter solstice.  It honored the god Saturn, the god of agriculture and the harvest.  Houses were decorated with candles and lamps, evergreen trees were decorated with sweets and ornaments, and bonfires were built to help lure the Sun back. It was a time of feasting and good cheer.  Gambling was even allowed.  

People performed acts of charity, like forgiving debts and making donations. They also exchanged small gifts and ate and drank too much.   Masters waited on slaves, and temples held feasts that were open to the poor and homeless.

Saturnalia began as a single-day affair but proved so popular that it quickly expanded to six days.

Many of Saturnalia’s customs survive in the celebration of Christmas.  In fact, there may be a relation between Saturnalia and the date of Christmas.

The early Christian Church was looking for a way to overcome the many pagan solstice celebrations throughout Europe. In essence, it followed the philosophy of, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” It picked December 25th as the date to commemorate Christ’s birthday, and incorporated some of the trappings of the older festivals into the new celebration of Christmas.


So, how far back do you want to go to celebrate the season?  





Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gun control

The events in Connecticut seem to have caught the attention of just about everyone.  For obvious reasons, when one person kills so many others, it is news.  But when one or two here and there are murdered in your city, they hardly merit a mention, except maybe for a quick blurb on the news.  The daily carnage wrought by firearms is staggering, but it gets lost in the daily grind.



This one in Connecticut is particularly horrible, as the killer targeted children in an elementary school.  Why?  We don't know yet.  How?  He broke into a locked school with several weapons and methodically gunned down the kids, putting at least two bullets in each one.  

The parents are in shock.  

The town is in shock.

Even the media seems to be in shock.

But one element of our society seems to not be in shock:  the religious wackos.

Behold Mike Huckabee, the ex-Governor of Arkansas, an ordained Baptist Minister who ran for President in 2008.  Mr. Huckabee claimed that we should not be surprised at this violence, as we have "systematically removed God from our schools".  

Mike, you're a real prick.

#1 - the comment is very insensitive to all of the parents who just lost a child in the massacre.

#2 - you're an idiot if you really think that if we'd just put "God" back in schools that this type of thing would cease to happen.  But this is the kind of simplistic thinking you get from brainwashed religious retards.

Tell me, Mike, did we also remove God from our churches?  After all, priests have been molesting and RAPING children in churches for EONS now.  I don't think you can find a place where God is more "present" than in a church, and that didn't protect many children from depraved priests, now did it?

This issue is about the lack of access to mental health facilities and the easy access to firearms.   Almost every state in the nation has been cutting back on funding for mental health facilities.  Several years ago, my home state of Texas shut down all of its state-funded mental health clinics and just dumped the patients that were there on the streets of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin.  Real responsible government, huh? 
  

There is still a stigma around mental illness.  It is ridiculed and mocked, as if it's a sign of laziness or worse, atheism.  If you ask me, all religious believers are exhibiting a form of mental illness, but it's such a pervasive one that it is considered normal.  Now THAT is fucked-up.

No doubt soon we will hear from Fred Phelps, that awesome leader of the Westboro Baptist Church that pickets funerals of dead soldiers with signs that read things like, "God hates fags" or "This is God's punishment for tolerating homosexuality!"  



Did you see the Facebook post from ex-Saturday Night Live cast member and ex-human Victoria Jackson?  She likened the Connecticut massacre to the abortion procedure and said, "When you forget the Ten Commandments, people, this is what you get".  Pure, unadulterated ignorance.  You want to see an example of mental illness?  Look up Victoria Jackson.

So today we hear stories about an Indiana man who was arrested for threatening a local school who just happened to have 47 weapons and untold ammunition hidden in his house;  

another story about three shot and wounded in an Alabama hospital before police killed him;

another guy in a California mall parking lot shooting 50 rounds, and amazingly, no one was injured;

two dead in a murder-suicide at a Las Vegas hotel;

a nut in North Carolina was arrested for shooting and killing his wife and mother-in-law;

and this is just from TODAY!!

What to do?  One thing people have been talking about for years now is getting money out of politics.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) is probably the most powerful lobby group in Washington.  Politicians simply cower  from the NRA, so much so that no one even wants to discuss gun control.  Remove big money from politics and you remove a lot of power from the NRA.

Another thing is to pass another assault weapons ban.  Hunting is fine, but no hunter needs an assault rifle or even a semi-automatic weapon.  

A third thing would be to seriously clamp down on all of the traveling gun shows in this country.  Just yesterday I saw a mobile sign announcing a "high-caliber gun show" in downtown Houston.  Seriously?  Can I get a bazooka too?  Why not?!?!  There is a gun show almost every week in Houston.  

Finally, start putting money back into mental health facilities coast-to-coast and realize that mental illness is a serious problem.



I certainly don't have all the answers, but I can guarantee you that "putting God back in our schools" is not going to solve a goddamn thing.  

wild sex

Gotcha!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

CRS study

The GOP is in denial about so many things, and here's one of the big ones:  tax cuts for the wealthy do nothing to grow the economy.  

CRS re-publishes unpublished truths

by Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog

In mid-September, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service published a detailed report, documenting what many already knew: giving tax breaks to the rich helps concentrate wealth at the top, but it does not boost the economy. Republican lawmakers, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), had the report killed.
fascinating controversy followed, culminating in the facts making a comeback today (thanks to Mike Yarvitz for the tip).
On Thursday, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service republished an analysis that found no clear relationship between marginal high-end tax cuts and economic growth. [...]
The new version (PDF) stands by the larger conclusion: "This analysis finds no conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year reduction in the top statutory tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data conducted for this report suggests the reduction in the top tax rates has had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. It is reasonable to assume that a tax rate change limited to a small group of taxpayers at the top of the income distribution would have a negligible effect on economic growth."
Good for the CRS. It's safe to assume McConnell's office will throw another fit -- the notion that cutting taxes on the rich necessarily boosts economic growth is a bedrock tenant of contemporary conservative thought -- but free inquiry and intellectual integrity demand that accurate government reports see the light of day, regardless of political ideology.
To reiterate a point from earlier in the month, it's important to understand that the Congressional Research Service, generally recognized as Congress' own think tank, has a well-deserved reputation for non-partisanship. The CRS is counted on to provide lawmakers with the most reliable and accurate information available, and the notion that partisan lawmakers can pressure, censor, and possibly even intimidate independent researchers is simply unacceptable.
In other words, we just can't have public offices' scholarship being stifled because Republicans find reality politically inconvenient. Our system of government isn't supposed to work this way.
Republicans have adopted trickle-down, supply-side economics as the foundation for their entire worldview. The Congressional Research Service used reliable, objective information to report what most mainstream economists widely accepted -- if the goal is boosting economic growth, giving people who are already rich a tax break doesn't do anything except make the gap between rich and poor more dramatic.
But as is the case too often on the right, it's easier to bury reality than deal with it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Richard Carlile


The item below, celebrating Richard Carlile's birthday December 9, appeared on the Freedom From Religion website.  It demonstrates how far freethinkers and atheists have come in the last century or two.  As late as the 19th Century freethinkers, agnostics, atheists, and heretics were regularly charged with blasphemy and jailed - or worse, even put to death - for daring to challenge the religious orthodoxy of the day.

While we are no longer jailed for our beliefs, atheists and freethinkers are still today derided as far out of the mainstream, even immoral, for professing no religious belief.  It is as if WE are the deficient ones, while those who cling to unproven, irrational beliefs are still unquestioningly accepted into society and the higher echelons of power.  Someday this will change.  It will be the atheists and freethinkers that will be the vast majority of the population and those that continue their supernatural belief systems will be the ones that are shunned and shut out.

This attitude was becoming common in America and in other "western" countries in the late 19th Century, but alas, another wave of religious hype and paranoia swept across the land, especially in America.  

Nowadays, church attendance is plummeting.  Freethinking and atheism are commonplace among those under 35 years of age, and with the continued advancement of science, and the dying off of older believers, our numbers will only grow.

I don't think that religionistas have that much to worry about, however.  Even as the believers numbers shrink to tiny fractions of what they once were, we freethinkers are not going to be as petty, vindictive, or intolerant against believers as the believers were against freethinkers throughout the ages.  Believers may be pitied, but they will not be prosecuted.  Everyone has the right to their own mind, an idea that the believers never have quite come to grips with.

Happy Birthday, Richard Carlile

On December 9, 1790, freethinker and tireless free speech champion Richard Carlile was born in Ashburton, Devon, England. After attending charity schools, Carlile began working at age 13. In 1813, Carlile moved to London. He was jailed for selling political satires in 1817. Carlile, a freethinking deist, then published an inexpensive version of The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, and the Deist, a pioneering and popular freethinking weekly. Carlile was prosecuted for blasphemy and seditious libel in 1819 by the Society for the Suppression of Vice. He became a cause celebre during two trials in the Guildhall where he defended himself. He was convicted and sentenced to pay £1500 and spend three years in prison. Carlile's prison stay was doubled after he refused to pay the fine. He spent 1819-1825 at Dorcester prison, where he published freethought tracts with wide circulation and influence, including reprints of freethinkers such as VoltaireShelleyByron and Bentham.

He took over publication of the weekly Republican, a major freethought periodical with a circulation of 4,000 to 5,000, in 1822, also from prison. Carlile's wife, Jane, and sister and many supporters were imprisoned for disseminating Carlile's tracts. A campaign, called the "war of the shopmen," continued until Carlile, his workers and vendors were released. Carlile opened up a shop to print and promote freethought literature, and teamed up with "Rev." Robert Taylor in the late 1820s, on freethought speaking tours. Together, they opened the Rotunda in London, a hub of dissent. Both men were arrested and convicted of various blasphemies in 1831. Carlile continued organizing and writing from prison, with the help of Eliza Sharples, known as "Isis," who became his common law wife (or "moral mistress") after he separated from his first wife. Carlile spent more than a decade of his life in prison. Carlile's gallant fight was "the greatest fight ever waged for a free press and free speech," according to freethought biographer Joseph McCabe, lessening future prosecutions. His influence and cachet with other reformers gradually diminished and his final years were spent in great poverty. He is remembered for his pioneering support for birth control, women's suffrage and rights (which he called for in the 1820s), against child labor, for parliamentary reform and his one-man fight to free speech. D. 1843.
“The fable of a god or gods visiting the earth did not originate with Christianity.”

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Weird Al

I picked up Weird Al Yankovic's latest ... uh ... release from the library last month, and there is some hilarious stuff on there.  I put a new Video stream from Wierd Al in the Video Bar segment mid-page, and posted "Another Tattoo" here below.

Enjoy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Texans implode

Could be very ugly in New England.

Hey Gary!  Kubiak!  Ever heard of the "shotgun" formation?


Huge penises

No, not talking about the GOP again.  Although most of them are GIANT PRICKS, it's not the same thing.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

17 bills

There has been a lot of talk about "filibuster reform" in the U.S. Senate lately.  It's long overdue.   The Senate Republicans used the filibuster a record number of times during Obama's first term.  I can see going to extreme measures if you had a Hitler in office, but despite the anti-Obama hysteria, he is certainly no Hitler.  You can't get much further from Hitler than Barack Obama.  

In case anyone asks you "what bills were filibustered?!" with a hint of disbelief here's a list of 17 bill that got MORE THAN 50 votes but didn't pass because of the obstructionistas in the GOP.   We can only wonder how much better things might be if the Republicans weren't so anti-science, anti-education, and anti-anything-from Obama.

I can certainly understand having an "opposition" party but the GOP has carried it to an irrational extreme.


17 bills that likely would have passed the Senate if it didn’t have the filibuster

by Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post blogs:

Arguments over the filibuster tend to devolve into relatively esoteric debates about minority rights and majority rule. But let’s ground this conversation in real-world consequences: In the absence of the filibuster, what laws would have passed the Senate that didn’t?
In order to limit the size of the search, we begin the clock with the 111th Congress, which began in January 2009. We’re looking for bills that got more than 50 votes in the Senate but that didn’t make it to the president’s desk. In most cases, bills that failed due to a filibuster in the 111th Congress had already passed the House, so they would be law today. In the 112th Congress, the Republican House was less aligned with the Democratic Senate, and so passage in the Senate does not mean the bills would gave been passed into law.
A disclaimer: If there was no filibuster, the two parties’ strategies would be different. The bills they pushed would almost certainly be different. No examination of roll-call votes will reveal the bills that would’ve been passed in a world without the filibuster, but which the majority party didn’t bother pursuing because they recognized they would be filibustered.
111th Congress
DREAM Act
(Aurora Colon / AP)
Perhaps the most consequential blocked bill in 2009 and 2010 was the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were children when they immigrated, provided they serve in the military or go to college. It was blocked twice, once as an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that was paired with repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and once as part of the banal-sounding Removal Clarification Act of 2010. It had already passed the House, so if not for the filibuster, it would be law.
DISCLOSE Act
DISCLOSE Act sponsor Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). (Melina Mara / The Washington Post)
Also failing twice was the DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) Act, which would require corporations to disclose their political spending, and bar government contractors, TARP recipients and foreign firms from such spending. The bill was drafted as a response to the Citizens United ruling in 2010, and could have had a major impact on the 2012 elections if it had passed.
Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)
Union protesters in Wisconsin (Washington Post)
It’s less clear that the Employee Free Choice Act would have passed were it not for the filibuster than it is for DREAM and DISCLOSE, because the Senate never voted on Employee Free Choice Act in 2009. But at the time, well over Democratic Senators hadindicated their support of the bill, which also got 51 votes and passed the House in 2007, when Democrats had fewer seats, meaning it was especially likely to pass in 2009. The act would allow workers to form unions by collecting signatures of more than half of a workplace. Currently, workers hold elections to determine if they’ll have a union, a process which union activists complain is prone to management interference. One study, admittedly from a pro-union outfit, found that it would increase union membership in the United States by about 10 percentage points, a near doubling.
Public option
(John Moore – GETTY IMAGES)
In November 2009, the House passed the Affordable Health Care for America act, a health reform bill that included a government-run health plan or “public option” similar to Medicare that exchange participants could purchase instead of private insurance. That same year, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced that he had 51 votes for such a proposal in the Senate. But as anyone who followed the health care debate recalls, the proposal died when Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) declared their intention to filibuster a bill that included it. Absent a filibuster, it’s likely a public option would have gone through.
Paycheck Fairness Act
Democratic lawmakers, led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), center, spoke about the Paycheck Fairness Act during a Capitol Hill news conference in late May. (Chip Somodevilla – Getty Images)
This bill would make it easier for women to raise concerns about pay inequity in their workplaces, by requiring employers to demonstrate that any pay differentials between men and women are due to different responsibilities and not just gender, by allowing women to disclose their salaries for the purpose of investigating pay disparities even when otherwise prohibited from doing so, and by banning retaliation against women who bring up pay inequality. It passed the House easily but despite previous support for similar legislation by Republican senators such as Susan Collins (Maine), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), it only got 58 votes in the Senate. The bill was filibustered again in June, when it only received 52 votes.
Permanent middle-class Bush tax cut extension
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) (Marvin Joseph / Washington Post)
In late 2010, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) offered a bill to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for workers making less than $250,000. Barring further action, the bill would have let the high-income cuts expire. The measure, which had already passed the Housefailed, 53-46, with a number of Democrats, both moderate –Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Jim Webb (Va.)– and liberal — Russ Feingold (Wisc.) voting against it.
Rescinding of the upper-income Bush tax cuts
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). (Marvin Joseph / Washington Post)
At the same time that the Baucus amendment was being considered, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced a bill that would permanently rescind the Bush tax cuts for people making over $1 million, a much higher cutoff than the $250,000 mark used in the Baucus amendment and supported by the Obama administration. It failed by the same margin as the Baucus proposal, and almost certainly would have passed the House, which had passed the less-rich-friendly Baucus plan only days prior. Ultimately, the deal Obama reached with Congressional Republicans to extend all of the cuts for two years and pair them with a payroll tax holiday rendered both proposals somewhat moot.
Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act
Fire Station No.3 in Fairfax County (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/Fairfax County tTmes)
This bill, which passed the House in 2007, and almost certainly would have done so again in 2010, would have required states to provide collective bargaining rights to public safety workers such as police and firefighters. Twenty states at the time were in violation of the bill’s provisions; it’s unclear that Wisconsin’s notorious anti-collective bargaining law would be in violation, given that it exempts police and firefighters. Those states would need to allow police and firefighters to establish unions if the legislation had passed. But despite rumblings that some Republicans would cross the aisle to back the bill, it failed to break a filibuster, 55-43, and died for the foreseeable future in December 2010.
Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act
Citizens demand a Matlock Expressway. (Tracy A. Woodward / The Washington Post)
Normally, Social Security benefits are regularly increased to take into account increases in the cost of living, a process called a “Cost of Living Adjustment” or COLA. However, due to Congressional inaction, seniors in 2011 did not receive their COLA. This bill aimed to reverse that by issuing a $250 tax credit to all seniors, veterans, and non-senior Social Security beneficiaries. The act earned a large majority in the House, but because it was put to a vote under rules that required a two thirds majority, it failed there. But it failed in the Senate first, 53 to 45.
Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act
Source: Daniel Ramirez, Flickr
This bill would have barred corporations from benefiting on deductions and/or credits due to outsourcing and from deferring payment if taxes on profit earned abroad, a policy which encourages outsourcing. It would also exempt employers who “insource” jobs – that is, who move operations from abroad to the United States — from the employer portion of the payroll tax for those newly hired U.S. workers. The House never voted on the bill, but given its composition during the bill’s consideration in 2010, passage was probable. Nevertheless, the bill failed, garnering 53 votes with a few Democrats defecting.
112th Congress
American Jobs Act 
Members of the U.S. Congress applaud as  President Obama addresses a Joint Session at the U.S. Capitol. (Chip Somodevilla – GETTY IMAGES)
This bill is the Obama administration’s most recent stimulus proposal. It includes a 50 percent cut in the payroll tax for workers, and a similar cut for small businesses, as well as aid to states to pay teachers and other workers, infrastructure spending, unemployment benefit extensions and incentives to hire unemployed workers, and more. It gained 50 votes, which with the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who voted no for procedural reasons, would have been enough for passage (and even without Reid, Vice President Biden could have stepped in) absent the filibuster. 
  The Buffett rule 
President Obama presents a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Warren Buffett in February 2011. (Carolyn Kaster – AP)
The Buffett rule would set a 30 percent minimum tax for the very wealthy, phasing in from $1 million to $2 million. It got 51 votes in the Senate, with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) the only Democrat voting no. 
  Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act of 2011 
(Khalil Senosi – AP)
A subset of the American Jobs Act (see above), this bill would have provided $30 billion in funding for teachers as well $5 billion in funding for public service workers like police officers, and paid for it with a 0.5 percent surtax on income over $1 million. Like its parent legislation, it died a filibuster-induced death. Pryor, as well as Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), voted no, leaving the tally at 50-50, enough to pass with Vice President Biden breaking the tie.
Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act 
A derrick at work in the middle of the desert in El Chanar in energy-rich Neuquen province, southern Argentina. (Juan Forero / The Washington Post)
As the name implies, this legislation would have repealed a bevy of tax measures that benefit oil companies. For example, the industry would no longer count as “manufacturing” and thus not benefit from manufacturing tax credits, and royalty payments to foreign governments for the right to drill would not count as deductible foreign taxes. Nelson and Sen. Mark Begich (D-Ark.), a normally quite liberal Senator who nonetheless represents an oil-rich state, voted no, leaving the final tally at 51 votes in favor, not enough to break a filibuster.
“Shared Sacrifice” 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (Photo: AP)
Senate Democrats drafted a resolution stating that “any agreement to reduce the budget deficit should require that those earning $1,000,000 or more per year make a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort.” Shockingly, Republicans didn’t go for that. The resolution got 51 votes, with Nelson and Pryor voting no.
Withholding Tax Relief Act of 2011 
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). Chip Somodevilla — Getty Images
Introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), this bill would eliminate a specific tax requirement imposed on government contractors. Democrats liked this, but didn’t like what McConnell did to pay for it, namely taking $30 billion out of existing appropriations that Congress had already approved. The White House issued a veto threat, and while nine Democrats voted to invoke cloture, including lefties like Al Franken (D-MN) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), it still failed to break a filibuster, 57 to 43.
Burmese import restrictions 
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner. (Ricky Carioti / Washington Post)
In 2003, Congress passed the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, which was intended to bolster democratic forces within that country, which then as now is governed by a military junta. The bill specifically includes restrictions on imports from Burma, a measure intended to put pressure on the regime to reform. Those import restrictions have traditionally been renewed every year, and are supported by many Burmese dissidents, most notably opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
However, in September 2011 Republicans filibustered the measure. Six broke ranks to support it, including conservatives like Sens. Dan Coats (R-IN.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), but it failed, with 53 votes in favor and 33 opposed. As a consequence, the sanctions lapsed in July, against the wishes of dissidents.
Appointments 
These four nominees — for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a seat on the National Labor Relations Board, and a seat on bench for the U.S. District Court for D.C. — almost certainly would have gone through absent a filibuster. Goodwin Liu won 52 votes, Richard Cordray 53, Craig Becker 52, and Caitlin Halligan 54. With the exception of Becker, all were appointed in the 112th Congress.
Cordray and Becker both got recess appointments, with the latter’s term lapsing in late 2011, and the former’s set to lapse at the end of 2013. Halligan was renominated for the seat in September, and might face a vote in the coming year, if not in the lame duck session. Liu, a rising star in legal circles and likely future Supreme Court justice, withdrew his nomination and is now a justice of the California Supreme Court.
But the filibuster also blocked any number of other appointees who didn’t get a vote for fear they couldn’t break a filibuster. Notable among these are former Medicare administrator Donald Berwick and Fed nominee (and Nobel laureate) Peter Diamond. The filibuster messed up the whole appointments process from 2009 to 2013. Without it, Obama probably could have used his Democratic Senate majority to approve any nominees he wanted. 

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