August 2011 Archives

Eric Cantor Can't Or Won't?

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Maybe it's just that Republicans like Eric Cantor are less mean spirited than they are simply incapable of grasping the degree of sociopathic reasoning that inhabits their seemingly walnut-sized brains.

The New Resentment of the Poor

NY Times OpEd

In a decade of frenzied tax-cutting for the rich, the Republican Party just happened to lower tax rates for the poor, as well. Now several of the party's most prominent presidential candidates and lawmakers want to correct that oversight and raise taxes on the poor and the working class, while protecting the rich, of course.

These Republican leaders, who think nothing of widening tax loopholes for corporations and multimillion-dollar estates, are offended by the idea that people making less than $40,000 might benefit from the progressive tax code. They are infuriated by the earned income tax credit (the pride of Ronald Reagan), which has become the biggest and most effective antipoverty program by giving working families thousands of dollars a year in tax refunds. They scoff at continuing President Obama's payroll tax cut, which is tilted toward low- and middle-income workers and expires in December.

Until fairly recently, Republicans, at least, have been fairly consistent in their position that tax cuts should benefit everyone. Though the Bush tax cuts were primarily for the rich, they did lower rates for almost all taxpayers, providing a veneer of egalitarianism. Then the recession pushed down incomes severely, many below the minimum income tax level, and the stimulus act lowered that level further with new tax cuts. The number of families not paying income tax has risen from about 30 percent before the recession to about half, and, suddenly, Republicans have a new tool to stoke class resentment.

Representative Michele Bachmann noted recently that 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income tax; all of them, she said, should pay something because they benefit from parks, roads and national security. (Interesting that she acknowledged government has a purpose.) Gov. Rick Perry, in the announcement of his candidacy, said he was dismayed at the "injustice" that nearly half of Americans do not pay income tax. Jon Huntsman Jr., up to now the most reasonable in the Republican presidential field, said not enough Americans pay tax.

Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and several senators have made similar arguments, variations of the idea expressed earlier by Senator Dan Coats of Indiana that "everyone needs to have some skin in the game."

This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes. Only 14 percent of households pay neither income nor payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institution. The poorest fifth paid an average of 16.3 percent of income in taxes in 2010.

Economically, reducing the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit -- which would be required if everyone paid income taxes -- makes no sense at a time of high unemployment. The credits, which only go to working people, have always been a strong incentive to work, as even some conservative economists say, and have increased the labor force while reducing the welfare rolls.

The moral argument would have been obvious before this polarized year. Nearly 90 percent of the families that paid no income tax make less than $40,000, most much less. The real problem is that so many Americans are struggling on such a small income, not whether they pay taxes. The two tax credits lifted 7.2 million people out of poverty in 2009, including four million children. At a time when high-income households are paying their lowest share of federal taxes in decades, when corporations frequently avoid paying any tax, it is clear who should bear a larger burden and who should not.

Perspective

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East Coast Survives Earthquake

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Sermonette #61

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The Art of Divorce










My Favorite Mondegreen

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What's a Mondegreen you ask. It's a mishearing of song lyrics often to hilarious results.
Quoting from the site that collects such things for all posterity, Center for the Humane Study of Mondegreens :

The word Mondegreen, meaning a mishearing of a popular phrase or song lyric, was coined by the writer Sylvia Wright.

As a child she had heard the Scottish ballad "The Bonny Earl of Murray" and had believed that one stanza went like this:

Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands Oh where hae you been? They hae slay the Earl of Murray, And Lady Mondegreen.

Poor Lady Mondegreen, thought Sylvia Wright. A tragic heroine dying with her liege; how poetic. When it turned out, some years later, that what they had actually done was slay the Earl of Murray and lay him on the green, Wright was so distraught by the sudden disappearance of her heroine that she memorialized her with a neologism.

And here's my favorite Mondegreene :

"I pledge a lesion to the flag, of the United State of America, and to the republic for Richard Stans, one naked individual, with liver tea and just this for all."

FL Gov Rick Scott Proved to be a Liar

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Who knew...well most anybody in Florida including those who don't care and elected him anyway because he wasn't a liberal.

But the definitive proof of his lying is shown by the results of his much maligned drug testing attack on poor people receiving welfare. Liar Scott's rationale for the testing was that welfare recipients are "known" to be heavier users of illegal drugs compared to the general population. Now the results are in from the first round of tests showing that in reality only 2% of tested recipients failed the tests while other studies demonstrate that over 8% of the general Florida population use illegal drugs. So basically,Scott's legislation has been outted as nothing more than an prejudicial assault on poor people. Go figure.

Study on the Tea Party

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Basically it shows that the Tea Party members are NOT independent, grass roots, small government people as has been touted by its organizers and the main stream media, but rather the real indicator of whether someone is going to be a Tea Party member is whether they were previously a member of the religious right. So really the Tea Party is not a new group of independent, politically inexperienced uprising of common folks, it is just a re-branding of the same old religious right political pros gaming a new angle to gain control of the government.

To most people this comes as no surprise since the same extreme anti-government/anti-tax/anti-abortion/nativist idiocies and general social policy inflexibilities of the religious right's historical showings are being pursued by the Tea Party people. But it's nice to have this study as proof of that intuition.

More information about this study and the actual questions which were asked can be found on americangrace.org.

The Tea Party favorable ratings have taken a serious beating of late as show by the two charts below. In the second instance, the Tea Party comes in dead last out of 24 groups which includes Muslims, and atheists. Given that, you've got to ask why the Republicans are allowing this group to be so instrumental in their policy making.

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Below, one of the study's authors, Robert D. Putnam is interviewed by Rachel Maddow:

Ghandi's 7 Deadly Social Sins

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Politics without principles

Wealth without work

Commerce without morality

Pleasure without conscience

Education without character

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

I Witness

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Study after study after study has shown eyewitness testimony to be infamously unreliable and now at last the New Jersey Supreme Court is coming to grips with the problem it presents the justice system.

It isn't like the eye is a camera nor the brain behind the eye like a piece of film or memory card. Eyewitness should really be termed I-witness because the emotional state and predispositions of the witness to any event totally colors and shapes the recall of events to fit the personal context. This is especially true when the events being recalled are violent or shocking in some manner and the witness has no training in observation under stress.

Because of these factors it is highly appropriate that the New Jersey court has implemented a call for more thorough reviews of eyewitness testimony as a precaution against unintentional but highly probably miscarriages of justice against a defendant.

In New Jersey, Rules Are Changed on Witness IDs

By Benjamin Weiser

The New Jersey Supreme Court, acknowledging a "troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications," issued sweeping new rules on Wednesday making it easier for defendants to challenge such evidence in criminal cases.

eyewi.jpgThe court said that whenever a defendant presents evidence that a witness's identification of a suspect was influenced, by the police, for instance, a judge must hold a hearing to consider a broad range of issues. These could include police behavior, but also factors like lighting, the time that had elapsed since the crime or whether the victim felt stress at the time of the identification.

When such disputed evidence is admitted, the court said, the judge must give detailed explanations to jurors, even in the middle of a trial, on influences that could heighten the risk of misidentification. In the past, judges held hearings on such matters, but they were far more limited.

The decision applies only in New Jersey, but is likely to have considerable impact nationally. The state's highest court has long been considered a trailblazer in criminal law, and New Jersey has already been a leader in establishing guidelines on how judges should handle such testimony.

Stuart J. Rabner, the court's chief justice, wrote in a unanimous 134-page decision that the test for reliability of eyewitness testimony, as set out by the United States Supreme Court 34 years ago, should be revised.

The new rules come at a time of increased scrutiny of the eyewitness identification issue among lawyers, law enforcement officers and the scientific community. The opinion noted that task forces have been formed to recommend or put into effect new procedures to improve reliability.

The State Supreme Court's ruling was seen as significant because it was based in part on an exhaustive study of the scientific research on eyewitness identification, led by a special master, a retired judge, who held hearings and led a review of the literature on the issue. The special master, Geoffrey Gaulkin, estimated that more than 2,000 studies related to the subject had been published since the Supreme Court's original 1977 decision, the court noted.

"Study after study revealed a troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications," Chief Justice Rabner wrote. "From social science research to the review of actual police lineups, from laboratory experiments to DNA exonerations, the record proves that the possibility of mistaken identification is real.

"Indeed, it is now widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country."


Today's Double Insanity

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The banks want absolute immunity for everything they might be found to have done to cause the worst economic collapse since the last Great Depression in exchange for a single 20 billion dollar payout and all but three of the Attorneys General of the 50 states are actually considering it.



Ok, now for the real nutso and most dangerous thing (you knew it had to involve Glenn Beck trying to start WWIII, right?):


Just Gimme da Dough

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Greek police smash violent doughnut ring

THESSALONIKI, Greece -- It took an undercover operation, but Greek police have blown a hole in a ring of alleged crooks who had cornered the doughnut market in a beach resort.

It started with complaints that two Bulgarian men and a former Greek wrestling champion were using violence to choke off the trade by other doughnut vendors on Paliouri beach in the Halkidiki peninsula near Thessaloniki.

So an undercover officer posed as a doughnut seller, police said Tuesday, and he was attacked, leading to the arrest of the three aggressive doughnut sellers.

As a result, they have been charged with blackmail and fraud. They also were charged with food safety violations after police found they had stashed their product in an abandoned hotel that was open to the elements and used by bathers as a toilet.

Financial Sector Out of Control

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When the monsters under your bed scare you,
cut the legs off of your bed.
-Forrest Grump

Should Banks be a Public Utility?



More at The Real News

Bill Moyers & Company

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Bill Moyers Returns to Public Television, but Not PBS

By Elizabeth Jensen

Bill Moyers says he is returning to public television in January, but he won't be found on the PBS lineup.

His new hourlong weekly show, called "Moyers & Company," will focus on one-on-one interviews with people not often heard on television, "thinkers who can help us understand the chaos of this time," Mr. Moyers said in a telephone interview. "We're going to be concerned with the state of democracy and the state of affairs, but we will leave the daily and weekly story to others and try to do the back story."

The program will be based at WNET in New York City and distributed free to public television stations by American Public Television, an alternative distributor to PBS. Stations will be able to broadcast it at whatever time they choose. In a letter to public television executives announcing the new program, Mr. Moyers, who is 77, said that WNET was looking at showing the program on Sundays at 6 p.m.

Earlier this year, Mr. Moyers, who retired from PBS in April 2010, said he had received $2 million in financing from the Carnegie Corporation of New York for the new show, but PBS had told him it couldn't find an appropriate time slot.

Since word went out on Monday afternoon, Mr. Moyers said he had heard from a number of stations that they were interested in broadcasting the program. He said he had also heard from many former viewers in recent months. "There's an audience there that missed the campfire," he said.

Anne Bentley, a PBS spokeswoman, said in a statement, "Bill Moyers has been a distinctive voice on public television for decades," adding that his new project "will build on this legacy."

Nick Ashford: The Songs Live On

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A great writer and human and a great loss.

Nick Ashford May 4, 1942 - August 22, 2011

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Nick Ashford, who with Valerie Simpson, his songwriting partner and later wife, wrote some of Motown's biggest hits, like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," and later recorded their own hits and toured as a duo, died Monday at a hospital in New York City. He was 70 and lived in Manhattan.

The American Nativists Finally Get a Slap

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The mean streak hysteria that runs through much of the right wing who champion nativist sentiments against illegal immigrants got a back hand from the Obama administration with the announcement of a policy change that will suspend deportation against some people who have otherwise clean criminal records and/or who arrived here as children or are spouses of American citizens.

It's a sensible and compassionate policy shift that will be heralded by the Latino community and cause calls for Obama's removal in 2012 by the right.

U.S. Issues New Deportation Policy's First Reprieves

by Julia Preston

The call came in the morning to the lawyer representing Manuel Guerra, an illegal immigrant from Mexico living in Florida who had been caught in a tortuous and seemingly failing five-year court fight against deportation.

With the news early Thursday that federal immigration authorities had canceled his deportation, Mr. Guerra became one of the first illegal immigrants in the country to see results from a policy the Obama administration unveiled in Washington that day. It could lead to the suspension in coming months of deportation proceedings against tens of thousands of immigrants.

Administration officials and immigrant advocates said Monday that the plan offered the first real possibility since President Obama took office -- promising immigrants and Latinos he would overhaul the law to bring illegal immigrants into the system -- for large numbers of those immigrants to be spared from detention and deportation.

For Mr. Guerra, who said he wants to remain in the United States to study to become a Roman Catholic priest, the news "was like something from above, from heaven. I don't want to go back to Mexico," he said, "and I've been fighting this for five years."

A working group from the Homeland Security and Justice Departments met Friday to initiate a review of about 300,000 deportation cases currently before the immigration courts. Under the policy, immigration authorities will use powers of prosecutorial discretion in existing law to suspend the deportations of most immigrants who, although they have committed immigration violations (which generally are civil offenses), have not been convicted of crimes.

In particular, officials will look to halt deportations of longtime residents with clean police records who came here illegally when they were children, or are close family of military service members, or are parents or spouses of American citizens.

"This is a great first step," said Hector E. Sanchez, a Hispanic labor leader who oversees immigration policy for the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of the country's major Latino groups. "We really need to see action on a common-sense approach to immigration and not just promises."

Mr. Obama had been facing increasingly vocal protests from disappointed Latino and immigrant groups after he made no progress in Congress on his immigration overhaul agenda, and enforcement authorities set a modern record for deportations, with nearly 800,000 foreigners removed in the past two years.

Homeland Security officials said Monday that their goal is to quickly identify noncriminals on swollen immigration court dockets and close those cases, clearing the way for speedier removals of gang members, drug traffickers or foreigners who repeatedly return after being deported. Wait times for a hearing in immigration courts can now be as long as 18 months.

A senior Homeland Security official said that deportations would be canceled case by case. While many immigrants in those cases will be eligible for work permits, he said,
employment authorization will come only after a separate process.


Some Prescient Writing from Dylan Ratigan

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The Cost of Corporate Communism

October 26, 2010

Lately I have been using the phrase "Corporate Communism" on my television show. I think it is an especially fitting term when discussing the current landscape in both our banking and health care systems.

As Americans, I believe we reject communism because it historically has allowed a tiny group of people to consolidate complete control over national resources (including people), in the process stifling competition, freedom and choice. It leaves its citizens stagnating under the perpetual broken systems with no natural motivation to innovate, improve services or reduce costs.

Lack of choice, lazy, unresponsive customer service, a culture of exploitation and a small powerbase formed by cronyism and nepotism are the hallmarks of a communist system that steals from its citizenry and a major reason why America spent half a century fighting a Cold War with the U.S.S.R.

And yet today we find ourselves as a country in two distinctly different categories: those who are forced to compete tooth and nail each day to provide value to society in return for income for ourselves and our families and those who would instead use our lawmaking apparatus to help themselves to our tax money and/or to protect themselves from true competition.

If you allow weak, outdated players to take control of the government and change the rules so they are protected from the natural competition and reward systems that have created so many innovations in our country, you not only steal from the citizens on behalf of the least worthy but you also doom them by trapping the capital that would be used to generate new innovation and, most tangibly in our current situation, jobs.

We are losing the opportunity cost of all the great ideas that should be coming from the proper deployment of that 23.7 trillion in capital. Everything from innovation in medical delivery systems to accessible space travel, free energy to the driverless car; all of these things may never come to bear because those powerful individuals who have failed, been passed over by technological advancements, innovation and flat-out smarts, have commandeered our government to unfairly sustain their wealth and power.

Unfortunately, they use our wealth and laws not only to benefit their outdated, failed companies, but also spend a small pittance of their ill-gotten gains lobbying and favor-trading with politicians so the government will continue to protect them from competition and their well-deserved failure.

The massive spike in unemployment, the utter destruction of retirement wealth, the collapse in the value of our homes, the worst recession since the Great Depression have all resulted directly from the abdication of proper government.

Even with all that -- the only changes that have been made, have been made to prop up and hide the massive flaws on behalf of those who perpetuated them. Still utterly nothing has been done to disclose the flaws in this system, improve it or rebuild it. Only true rules-based capitalism ensures constant adaptation and implementation of the latest and best practices for a given business, as those businesses that don't adapt fail, and those who deploy the latest innovations to their customers benefit, prosper.

The concept of communism is rightly reviled in this country for the simple reason that it is blind to human nature, allowing a small group of individuals near-total control, while sticking everyone else with the same crappy systems -- and the bill. America spent countless lives and half a century fighting against this system of government. So why are we standing for it now?

Sic Tyrannis Semper

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Thus always to tyrants

LIBYA REBELS CHEER IN TRIPOLI

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Fake Conservatives Flood the Web

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Here's a fact: Conservatives (note the capital "C") are a relatively small part of the American populace and have to resort to all sorts of fakery to make their numbers appear larger than they actually are. Part of the Tea Partier's signature argument is that most people share their mindset when it is obvious that is not the case and is really part of their delusion and propaganda.

The following is an report on how the conservative elements are paying people to use fake IDs to infiltrate progressive blogs and damage the progressive cause.

It's just more negative BS from the people who have nothing to offer.

Fake conservative identities re-writing the web

By Thom Hartmann

I noticed for years that people have been going into my message boards - particularly around the time of elections - and posting right-wing propoganda - and one guy ADMITTED that he's being paid by Conservative organizations to do this. But it appears that the Chamber of Commerce may be up to something much more nefarious using fake internet identities.

Earlier this year - ThinkProgress obtained hacked emails from the defense contractor HB Gary Federal - that suggest that - with the help of other security firms - HBGF was working with the Chamber of Commerce to sabotage Progressive organizations like ThinkProgress and the union SEIU.

It appears their strategy was to use fake online personas - complete with fake Twitter - Facebook - and Linked-in accounts - to infiltrate and gather private data and intimidate people who work for organizations critical of the Chamber of Commerce.

fake.id.jpgFor example - meet Holly Weber - born in 1984 - attended Reynold High School - worked for Lockheed Martin - served time in the Air Forice and...is completely made up. Holly Weber is not real - she's one of the fake online personas created by HB Gary Federal. And it looks like the guy who created so-called Holly Weber - an executive at Gary Federal - Aaron Barr - apparently drew his inspiration from Maxim magainze - and this model whose name IS ACTUALLY Holly Weber - and WAS ACTUALLY born in 1984. So...what is going on here?


One Cool Ape

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Somebody may want to show this video to Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.

An orangutan at Japan's Tama Zoo delighted visitors with its cooling off skills, dipping a towel into a pool, wringing it out, dabbing its face and upper body, and repeating.

It may sound basic, but it's pretty amazing to watch the ape in action.

If we killed all the conservative thinking on the planet would we be worse off? I don't think so. Conservatism is based on fear of change and authoritarianism. The key to understanding the falseness of conservative thought is in the fact that everything they try to assert as true is at odds with the evidence and can only be supported by beliefs systems and telling lies.

As far as I'm concerned conservatism is THE toxin in the body politic and THE principle that both diminishes and holds the human hostage to the inane brutalities of its past.

Republicans' Biggest Fear:
Proof That Government Spending Works, Destroying Their Brand

by Paul Abrams

The president and the punditry seem perplexed that Republicans vote against their own proposals. The president in particular seems to believe that in a choice between voting for their constituents and exposing their hypocrisy, the Republicans will, in the end, vote for their districts.

That is wrong. Much more importantly, however, it "mis-underestimates" Republicans' devotion to their economic belief system, the alternative reality they constructed to maintain it, and the political, psychological and financial stakes they have invested in it.

When he fashions his jobs bill, therefore, President Obama should eschew calculations of what Republicans might support. They will not support anything, no matter how illogical or hypocritical that opposition may seem.

After all, if job-creating government spending works, it will constitute a real-life refutation of the economic mythology by which Republicans define themselves. It would be as if the early 17th-century pope peered through a telescope, recognized that the Earth indeed orbited the Sun, and freed Galileo of house arrest.

As much as the right wing hates President Obama and the prospect of his re-election, they know that with 41 votes in the Senate, they can block almost everything he, and the Democrats, want to do. They have already done it.

So, while Republicans are very willing to tank the economy to reduce the president's reelection chances, they know that if he wins, all they will have to do is bide their time for another four years, blocking Obama's nominees, blocking Obama's domestic policies, taking the country to the brink time and time again to extract concessions for their paymasters.

An Obama reelection victory will, for them, be unfortunate, but only a four-year blip on their road to absolute power. Indeed, Limbaugh and Hannity will likely do better with Obama around as their foil than if someone like Rick Perry​ entered the White House and suddenly had to take responsibility for the havoc he would wreak on the country.

But, if major job-creating legislation is passed, and millions of jobs are indeed created, the right-wing economic catechism that government spending and counter-cyclical deficit spending do not work, carefully perpetuated by four decades of lies and distortions, and promulgated by the investment of billions of dollars to erect an alternative reality, will be vanquished.



Is Capitalism Doomed?

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Unless it's forced to mitigate its excesses by the left, yes.

Gerry Epstein comments on Nouriel Roubini's blog that "Marx was right"


More at The Real News

A grassroots movement is the only way. We need 100 million citizens to join the Mad as Hell campaign started by Dylan Ratigan

Of course anyone with even half a brain knew it from the get go...but, finally there's proof that most Americans consider the Tea Party to be composed of ignorant, bible-thumping, racist assholes..

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Crashing the Tea Party

By David E Campbell and Robert D Putman

Given how much sway the Tea Party has among Republicans in Congress and those seeking the Republican presidential nomination, one might think the Tea Party is redefining mainstream American politics.

But in fact the Tea Party is increasingly swimming against the tide of public opinion: among most Americans, even before the furor over the debt limit, its brand was becoming toxic. To embrace the Tea Party carries great political risk for Republicans, but perhaps not for the reason you might think.

teapartyfacts02.jpgPolls show that disapproval of the Tea Party is climbing. In April 2010, a New York Times/CBS News​ survey found that 18 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of it, 21 percent had a favorable opinion and 46 percent had not heard enough. Now, 14 months later, Tea Party supporters have slipped to 20 percent, while their opponents have more than doubled, to 40 percent.

Of course, politicians of all stripes are not faring well among the public these days. But in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about -- lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like "atheists" and "Muslims." Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.

The strange thing is that over the last five years, Americans have moved in an economically conservative direction: they are more likely to favor smaller government, to oppose redistribution of income and to favor private charities over government to aid the poor. While none of these opinions are held by a majority of Americans, the trends would seem to favor the Tea Party. So why are its negatives so high? To find out, we need to examine what kinds of people actually support it.

Beginning in 2006 we interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 Americans as part of our continuing research into national political attitudes, and we returned to interview many of the same people again this summer. As a result, we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later. We can also account for multiple influences simultaneously -- isolating the impact of one factor while holding others constant.

Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party's "origin story." Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party's supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.

What's more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.

So what do Tea Partiers have in common?


Hope from a Different Angle

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Getting money out of the electoral process seems impossible. Here's the first realistic thing I've seen on it.

What if the Euro Crashes?

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Or why to restructure world debt instead of instituting worldwide austerity. Screw the banks.

One for the Guillotine

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Warren Buffet proves by the article in the post just prior to this one that he is a decent, conscious and compassionate business person. The article on Issa following shows him to be a sociopath who serves only his self interest - and if these were the days of King Louie a perfect subject for the guillotine. He is a primary example of the fat cat politician destroying this country for his own gain and at the expense of everyone else.


A Businessman in Congress Helps His District and Himself

by Eric Lichtblau

issa.jpgHere on the third floor of a gleaming office building overlooking a golf course in the rugged foothills north of San Diego, Darrell Issa, the entrepreneur, oversees the hub of a growing financial empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Just a few steps down the hall, Representative Darrell Issa, the powerful Republican congressman, runs the local district office where his constituents come for help.

The proximity of the two offices reflects Mr. Issa's dual careers, a meshing of public and private interests rarely seen in government.

Most wealthy members of Congress push their financial activities to the side, with many even placing them in blind trusts to avoid appearances of conflicts of interest. But Mr. Issa (pronounced EYE-suh), one of Washington's richest lawmakers, may be alone in the hands-on role he has played in overseeing a remarkable array of outside business interests since his election in 2000.

Even as he has built a reputation as a forceful Congressional advocate for business, Mr. Issa has bought up office buildings, split a holding company into separate multibillion-dollar businesses, started an insurance company, traded hundreds of millions of dollars in securities, invested in overseas funds, retained an interest in his auto-alarm company and built up a family foundation.

As his private wealth and public power have grown, so too has the overlap between his private and business lives, with at least some of the congressman's government actions helping to make a rich man even richer and raising the potential for conflicts.

He has secured millions of dollars in Congressional earmarks for road work and public works projects that promise improved traffic and other benefits to the many commercial properties he owns here north of San Diego. In one case, more than $800,000 in earmarks he arranged will help widen a busy thoroughfare in front of a medical plaza he bought for $10.3 million.

His constituents cheer the prospect of easing traffic. At the same time, the value of the medical complex and other properties has soared, at least in part because of the government-sponsored road work.

But beyond specific actions that appear to have clearly benefited his businesses, Mr. Issa's interests are so varied that some of the biggest issues making their way through Congress affect him in some way.

After the forced sale of Merrill Lynch in 2008, for instance, he publicly attacked the Treasury Department's handling of the deal without mentioning that Merrill had handled hundreds of millions of dollars in investments for him and lent him many millions more.

When a Rich Man Tells the Truth

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Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

By Warren E. Buffett

buffett.jpgOur leaders have asked for "shared sacrifice." But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as "carried interest," thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they'd been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It's nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill -- the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf -- was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income -- and that's actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine -- most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It's a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn't refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone -- not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 -- shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what's happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion -- a staggering $227.4 million on average -- but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn't mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country's finances. They've been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It's vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country's fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.

Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can't fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million -- there were 236,883 such households in 2009 -- I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more -- there were 8,274 in 2009 -- I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Warren E. Buffett is the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway.

Sermonette #62

|

When the cheerfullness keeps breaking through...

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it's lonely here,
there's no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every other living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that's an order!

Give me crack and careless sex
Take the only tree that's left
stuff it up the hole
in your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I've seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul

When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant
When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant.

You don't know me from the wind
you never will, you never did
I was the little jew
who wrote the Bible
I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all
but love's the only engine of survival

Your servant here, he has been told
to say it clear, to say it cold:
It's over, it ain't going
any further
And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil's RIDING crop
Get ready for the future:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide ...

There'll be the breaking of the ancient
western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There'll be phantoms
There'll be fires on the road
and a white man dancing

You'll see a woman
hanging upside down
her features covered by her fallen gown
and all the lousy little poets
coming round
tryin' to sound like Charlie Manson​
and the white man dancin'.

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St Paul
Give me Christ
or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don't like children anyhow
I've seen the future, baby:
it is murder.

Things are going to slide ...

When they said REPENT REPENT
I wonder what they meant...



How and why bacteria talk

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by using a chemical language that lets them coordinate defense and mount attacks. The find has stunning implications for medicine, industry -- and our understanding of ourselves.




Humans

|

'Grease Devil' attacks sow panic in rural Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Panic over nighttime assaults blamed on "grease devils" has struck across rural Sri Lanka, leading to the deaths of at least three people this week, prompting women to stay indoors and men to arm themselves, police and local media said.

Historically, a "grease devil" was a thief who wore only underwear and covered his body in grease to make himself difficult to grab if chased. But lately, the "grease devil" has become a nighttime prowler who frightens and attacks women.

"The story we hear is he comes and bites young women's necks and breasts. Despite several complaints, the police have failed to act on that and in fact in two places have released the culprits," a 36-year-old airline ticketing agent from the Hill Country district of Matale said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting authorities.

On Friday, police said they fired tear gas to disperse dozens of people who besieged a police station in the eastern town of Potuvil, demanding the release of four men who had captured and planned to lynch a suspected "grease devil."

Police had arrested the four after they allegedly beat officers who rescued the suspect from the mob.

Two men whom villagers identified as "grease devils" were hacked to death on Wednesday by a mob in the central Sri Lankan village of Kotagala, in a tea-growing area, police said.

A 22-year-old man hunting for a "grease devil" in the jungle died after stepping into an electric trap set for wild boars, the Tamil-language newspaper Sudar Oli said on Friday.
Advertis

The magic of truth and lies

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Rumsfeld Yet to Face Trial for Torture?

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How 2 American Whistleblowers Allegedly Tortured in Iraq May Force Donald Rumsfeld to Pay for His Crimes

By Eric W. Dolan

The U.S. Court of Appeals has refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Rumsfeld for creating policies that caused American civilians to be tortured in Iraq.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Monday refused to
dismiss a lawsuit against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for
creating policies that caused American civilians to be tortured by the U.S.
military in Iraq.

In a 2 to 1 decision, the court ruled that the lawsuit filed by Donald Vance
and Nathan Ertel, two American citizens who were allegedly tortured at a U.S. military prison in Iraq in 2006, provided adequate evidence that Rumsfeld was personally responsible for their treatment and that Rumsfeld was not entitled to qualified immunity.

"If the plaintiffs' allegations are true, two young American civilians were trying to do the right thing by becoming whistleblowers to the U.S. government, but found themselves detained in prison and tortured by their own government, without notice to their families and with no sign of when the harsh physical and psychological abuse would end," they wrote their decision (PDF).

The court did not address the factual allegations made by Vance and Ertel, only the validity of their lawsuit. The former Bush and current Obama administration have tried to have the case dismissed.

The two young men moved to Iraq in 2005 and 2006 to help "rebuild the country and achieve democracy." They worked for a privately-owned security company called Shield Group Security.

Vance and Ertel began working with the FBI after they became suspicious that Shield Group Security was engaged in corruption and other illegal activities. The two men shared Shield Group Security documents with U.S. officials and reported their observations, including evidence that U.S. and Iraqi government officials were involved with illegal arms trading, stockpiling of weapons, and bribery.

Shield Group Security soon became suspicious of Vance and Ertel's loyalty to the firm. The company revoked the credentials that allowed them to travel inside the "Green Zone," effectively trapping them inside the dangerous "Red Zone" in Baghdad.

After contacting U.S. officials, the two men were told to barricade themselves inside Shield Group Security's compound. U.S. military forces then rescued Vance and Ertel from the compound and took them to the U.S. Embassy for
questioning.

In the middle of the night, they were arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and transferred to Camp Prosperity, where they claim to have been held in solitary confinement for two days and threatened with "excessive force."

Vance and Ertel were then transferred to Camp Cropper, where they were
allegedly psychologically and physically tortured for the duration of their
imprisonment.

They were both kept in solitary confinement. Their cells were kept intolerably cold and the lights were never turned off. Both men slept on a concrete slab. Guards would wake them if they were ever caught sleeping and blast heavy metal music into their cells at "intolerably-loud volumes." The two men were also allegedly slammed into concrete walls while blindfolded.

Vance and Ertel were eventually released. Neither was charged with any crime
or other wrongdoing.

After returning to the United States, the two men sued Rumsfeld as well as
unidentified defendants.

Last week, U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled that another lawsuit against Rumsfeld could proceed to trial. The plaintiff in that case claims he was abducted by U.S. military personnel in 2005 as he was due to return home from Iraq. Over the course of nine months he was allegedly beaten and interrogated about providing classified information to coalition enemies, then was released without explanation. He was never charged with a crime.

Rumsfeld, an outspoken and highly controversial secretary of defense whooversaw the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, left his post after President George W. Bush was reelected to a second term.

Americans Elect.com

|

Click on the yes or no in the pic.

americanelect.jpg

Read about it:

The Web's Stealth Presidential Race

Ratigans's Vids To Begin Educating Yourself

|

Jobs Wanted: A Special Report on Trade, Taxes and Banking

Job numbers continue to be weakening in America, while politicians continue to talk about jobs without identifying the root cause of why we don't have them in the first place. How can you solve a problem when you can't identify the origin of it? How can any country create jobs when the flow of money is leaving by the trillions, not arriving?

Once you understand that investment flowing into a nation is a prerequisite for job creation, you can start to understand why this country is at a loss. The primary mechanisms this country needs to address to reverse the flow of money out and accelerate the flow of money in: trade, taxes, and banking.

Trade:


Tax Code:


Banking:


You knew intuitively and now there's study making it definitive. And don't think this doesn't apply to the wannabe rich types who are especially stingy because they're carrying anger that they've been thwarted in their pursuit for maxo lucre so far as well.

As behavioral economist Mark Wilhelm of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis pointed out, most people could quickly tell you how much they paid in taxes last year but few could put a dollar amount on how they benefited from government by, say, driving on interstate highways, taking drugs gleaned from federally funded medical research, or using inventions created by people educated in public schools.

The rich are different -- and not in a good way

The 'Haves' show less empathy than 'Have-nots'

Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner​ says the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish.

In fact, he says, the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults that are now roiling the stock market is partly rooted in an upper class "ideology of self-interest."

"We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way, and some work on compassion and it's the same story," he said. "Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it."

In an academic version of a Depression-era Frank Capra​ movie, Keltner and co-authors of an article called "Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm," published this week in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, argue that "upper-class rank perceptions trigger a focus away from the context toward the self...."

In other words, rich people are more likely to think about themselves. "They think that economic success and political outcomes, and personal outcomes, have to do with individual behavior, a good work ethic," said Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Because the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they come to denigrate the role of government and vigorously oppose taxes to fund it.

"I will quote from the Tea Party hero Ayn Rand: "'It is the morality of altruism that men have to reject,'" he said.


Jameel White moved on...so should we.

If this makes you cry,
girl, I didn't mean it
Next time I should lie,
the truth is inconvenient
I bet if you'd try,
you could live without me
I really don't know why
you bother to cry about me

Cry, cry baby, I guess that I'm a bad guy now
Cry, cry baby, just like all the other ones
Cry, cry baby, oh

I hate to see you cry,
sad to say I've seen it
We should say goodbye and this time really mean it
Once some time goes by,
I'm sure that you'll feel better
But if she needs to cry then maybe I should let her

Cry, cry baby, I guess that I'm a bad guy now
Cry, cry baby, just like all the other ones
Cry, cry baby, oh

Ah, help me find a way, yeah
What more can I say to you?

Cry, cry baby, I guess that I'm a bad guy now
Cry, cry baby, just like all the other ones
Cry, cry baby, you're the wall around your heart
Cry, cry baby, baby

Oh, oh, oh, just like all the other ones
Oh, oh, oh, just like all the other ones
Cry baby, cry baby I just wanna see you cry baby, cry baby
Oh, oh, don't cry baby

Cee Lo Green


If that doesn't make you laugh try this.

Finally Some Real Shit

|

Ratigan for Prez

Greedy Bastards Are Ruining America




The Righteous Rant :

Ratigan: "Yesterday, on TV, I exploded. I spent two minutes giving a primal yell at our political system, demanding the extraction of our money and dignity end. It was my most heartfelt and emotional moment on television, ever.

And the emails poured in. I hit a chord, because it's something we all feel. Take a look."

With the markets in turmoil and the global financial architecture groaning under the weight of fraud and corruption, it's a good time to think about what leadership would look like. Believe it or not, we have had good leadership, purpose, integrity, and aligned interests in this country.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy faced a dilemma -- how could he direct our intense competitive passion with the Soviet Union in a direction other than war? The answer was his call for America to beat the Soviets to the moon. Kennedy understood power; if he did not lead us towards peaceful productive competition, that same animus would have turned violent (see this key memo on the real rationale for the space race). So he took the passion and focus of our society, the technology of war and missiles, and turned it into a great mission to explore space. He gave us a shared goal.

But that's not the full story. Kennedy also demanded we use the finest scientists and engineers to design the rockets, and made sure that the path to the moon was based on the best possible solution to get there. For large rocket boosters, he was open to chemical, nuclear, liquid fuels, or any combination. He did not put a commission of astrologers in charge, and he did not put political cronies with no scientific background in charge of designing the rockets.

We had a shared goal, and we had a problem-solving process with integrity and aligned interests. Kennedy was the leader of this initiative, but Americans at that time, possibly because of a shared experience in World War II​, had a shared purpose. They believed in prosperity as a goal, and they had a shared set of problem solving values to get there. They believed in education, in health and welfare, in mutual security, in dignified work and in Americans making things. The moon shot didn't just avoid war with the Soviets, it created the largest surge of American students into math and science in history.

Today, we face the same demons as decades past. We have passion, and focus, and we want to compete. What we lack is a set of shared prosperity goals, and a shared problem solving values to get there. There's no consensus, for instance, on the need to solve the problem of climate change. But even where we have some consensus, say on creating jobs, there's no integrity or aligned interests in how we're approaching the problem. It's well-known in DC among lobbying firms that every policy initiative must be wrapped in the shared goal of creating jobs. It's unclear whether anyone there has that as an actual goal, but even if they did, there's no integrity in the way they are going about creating jobs. We still trust the same corrupted economic establishment, an establishment with no ethos of the importance of problem solving. Astrologers (like S&P) are in charge of job creation.

The Follow-Up - What You Can Do:

Educate Yourself

Once you understand that investment flowing into a nation is a prerequisite for job creation, you can start to understand why this country is at a loss. The primary mechanisms this country needs to address to reverse the flow of money out and accelerate the flow of money in: trade, taxes, and banking.

Jobs Wanted: A Special Report on Trade, Taxes, and Banking.

The demise of guys?

|

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo asks, "Why are boys struggling?" He shares some stats (lower graduation rates, greater worries about intimacy and relationships) and suggests a few reasons -- and he asks for your help! Watch his talk, then take his short 10-question survey: http://on.ted.com/PZSurvey




Wisconsin Heads to Recall Votes Today

|

A microcosm of the infamous Citizen's United decision which allows unlimited coporate election spending has resulted in $40 million being spent in 6 state recall elections.

The Stupidest Analysts on Earth?

|

Go Lawrence!

Handy Debt Fact List

|

The next time one of those teaparty types starts whining about China owning the US, copy, print and hand them this list.


Who owns America? Hint: It's not China

By Tom Mucha, Global Post

Truth is elusive. But it's a good thing we have math.

Many people -- politicians and pundits alike -- prattle on that China and, to a lesser extent Japan, own most of America's $14.3 trillion in government debt.

But there's one little problem with that conventional wisdom: it's just not true. While the Chinese, Japanese and plenty of other foreigners own substantial amounts, it's really Americans who hold most of America's debt.

Here's a quick and fascinating breakdown by total amount held and percentage of total U.S. debt, according to Business Insider:

  • Hong Kong: $121.9 billion (0.9 percent)
  • Caribbean banking centers: $148.3 (1 percent)
  • Taiwan: $153.4 billion (1.1 percent)
  • Brazil: $211.4 billion (1.5 percent)
  • Oil exporting countries: $229.8 billion (1.6 percent)
  • Mutual funds: $300.5 billion (2 percent)
  • Commercial banks: $301.8 billion (2.1 percent)
  • State, local and federal retirement funds: $320.9 billion (2.2 percent)
  • Money market mutual funds: $337.7 billion (2.4 percent)
  • United Kingdom: $346.5 billion (2.4 percent)
  • Private pension funds: $504.7 billion (3.5 percent)
  • State and local governments: $506.1 billion (3.5 percent)
  • Japan: $912.4 billion (6.4 percent)
  • U.S. households: $959.4 billion (6.6 percent)
  • China: $1.16 trillion (8 percent)
  • The U.S. Treasury: $1.63 trillion (11.3 percent)
  • Social Security trust fund: $2.67 trillion (19 percent)

So America owes foreigners about $4.5 trillion in debt. But America owes America $9.8 trillion.


Kind of makes the panic over the debt ceiling stuff & Standard and Poor's credit rating fiasco pretty stupid - and really stupid considering how it has deflected the conversation from job creation and infrastructure investment doesn't it?


The Next Prez?

|

Look at those eyes & think about it.

bachmann.newsweek.jpg

Reversing Diabetes?

|

Maybe...I don't know about this. Needs major review.

New Research Finds Diabetes Can Be Reversed

by Marc Hyman MD

I have recently spent more time in drugs stores than I would like helping my sister on her journey through (and hopefully to the other side of) cancer. Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens all had large diabetes sections offering support for a "diabetes lifestyle" -- glucose monitors, lancets, blood pressure cuffs, medications, supplements and pharmacy magazines heavily supported by pharmaceutical advertising. Patients are encouraged to get their eye check ups, monitor their blood pressure, track their blood sugars, have foot exams and see their doctor regularly for better management of their blood sugars -- all apparently sensible advice for diabetics.

But what if Type 2 diabetes could be completely reversed? What if it weren't, as we believe, an inexorable, progressive disease that has to be better "managed" by our health care system with better drugs, surgery and coordination of care? What if intensive lifestyle and dietary changes could completely reverse diabetes?

A ground breaking new study in Diabetologia proved that, indeed, Type 2 diabetes can be reversed through diet changes, and, the study showed, this can happen quickly: in one to eight weeks. That turns our perspective on diabetes upside down. Diabetes is not a one-way street.

We used to believe that once cells in your pancreas that make insulin (beta cells) poop out there was no reviving them and your only hope was more medication or insulin. We now know that is not so.

Continuing misconceptions about what causes diabetes and our unwillingness to embrace methods know to reverse it have lead to a catastrophic increase in the illness. Today one in four Americans over 60 years old has Type 2 diabetes. By 2020, one in two Americans will have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Tragically, physicians will miss the diagnosis for 90 percent with pre-diabetes or diabetes. (Below I tell you exactly what tests to ask your doctor to perform and how to interpret them).

From 1983 to 2008, world-wide diabetes incidence has increased seven-fold from 35 to 240 million. Remarkably, in just the past three years from 2008 to 2011, we have added another 110 million to the diabetes roll call. And increasingly small children as young as eight are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes). They are having strokes at 15 years old and needing cardiac bypasses at 25 year old. The economic burden of caring for these people with pre-diabetes and diabetes will be $3.5 trillion over 10 years.

If we have a known cure, a proven way to reverse this disease, shouldn't we be focused on implementing programs to scale this cure? Unfortunately despite this extraordinary new research, the findings will likely be pushed aside in favor of the latest greatest pill or surgical technique because behavior and lifestyle change is "hard." In fact, with the right conditions and support, lifestyle diet and lifestyle change is very achievable.

What did research show?

Racism Alive and Ill in Mississippi

|

My question is: "Who raised these vicious idiots and are they not as culpable?

"let's go fuck with some niggers"

The Civil War Has Already Started

|


Yes, this country does have financial problems, but what we have seen of late, including this S&P action, is simply a crisis fabricated by the moneyed and conservative interests, orchestrating a panic to get the average American to consent to a slash-and-burn of government social programs that benefit the poor and the middle class.
- Fred Drumlevitch, Tucson, Arizona

S&P In a Position to Judge?

|

Given Standard & Poor's involvement in the great crash of 2008, who are they to be rating the credit worthiness of the US...especially given who owns them (see Garcia's comment post below this one)?

FDK New York

You are right, nobody should be listening to the rating agencies. As a lawyer who used to work on the kind of subprime deals that brought down the economy I saw first hand how little it took for the banks to convince the S&P "experts" to grant these overly opaque and complex securities their triple A seal of approval. The way these institutions were (are) compensated was (is) inherently corrupt and therefore their judgments should never have been given any value. And yet, judgments by these private companies were written into law as benchmarks of creditworthiness.

Now despite the fact that everybody knows all this and that some efforts are supposed to have been made to change the rating agencies' stature and importance, world markets are nervous about the downgrade and world leaders are trying to appease said markets. We have lots of reasons to worry about the economy (and our democracy in America). But the rating agencies should just once and for all be treated for what they are: private companies with some specialized financial knowledge whose judgments cannot, sadly, be trusted as independent, competent judgments based on their track record.


Credibility, Chutzpah And Debt

By Paul Krugman

To understand the furor over the decision by Standard & Poor's, the rating agency, to downgrade U.S. government debt, you have to hold in your mind two seemingly (but not actually) contradictory ideas. The first is that America is indeed no longer the stable, reliable country it once was. The second is that S.& P. itself has even lower credibility; it's the last place anyone should turn for judgments about our nation's prospects.

Let's start with S.& P.'s lack of credibility. If there's a single word that best describes the rating agency's decision to downgrade America, it's chutzpah -- traditionally defined by the example of the young man who kills his parents, then pleads for mercy because he's an orphan.

America's large budget deficit is, after all, primarily the result of the economic slump that followed the 2008 financial crisis. And S.& P., along with its sister rating agencies, played a major role in causing that crisis, by giving AAA ratings to mortgage-backed assets that have since turned into toxic waste.

Nor did the bad judgment stop there. Notoriously, S.& P. gave Lehman Brothers, whose collapse triggered a global panic, an A rating right up to the month of its demise. And how did the rating agency react after this A-rated firm went bankrupt? By issuing a report denying that it had done anything wrong.

So these people are now pronouncing on the creditworthiness of the United States of America?

Wait, it gets better. Before downgrading U.S. debt, S.& P. sent a preliminary draft of its press release to the U.S. Treasury. Officials there quickly spotted a $2 trillion error in S.& P.'s calculations. And the error was the kind of thing any budget expert should have gotten right. After discussion, S.& P. conceded that it was wrong -- and downgraded America anyway, after removing some of the economic analysis from its report.

As I'll explain in a minute, such budget estimates shouldn't be given much weight in any case. But the episode hardly inspires confidence in S.& P.'s judgment.

More broadly, the rating agencies have never given us any reason to take their judgments about national solvency seriously. It's true that defaulting nations were generally downgraded before the event. But in such cases the rating agencies were just following the markets, which had already turned on these problem debtors.

And in those rare cases where rating agencies have downgraded countries that, like America now, still had the confidence of investors, they have consistently been wrong. Consider, in particular, the case of Japan, which S.& P. downgraded back in 2002. Well, nine years later Japan is still able to borrow freely and cheaply. As of Friday, in fact, the interest rate on Japanese 10-year bonds was just 1 percent.

So there is no reason to take Friday's downgrade of America seriously. These are the last people whose judgment we should trust.

And yet America does have big problems.

These problems have very little to do with short-term or even medium-term budget arithmetic. The U.S. government is having no trouble borrowing to cover its current deficit. It's true that we're building up debt, on which we'll eventually have to pay interest. But if you actually do the math, instead of intoning big numbers in your best Dr. Evil​ voice, you discover that even very large deficits over the next few years will have remarkably little impact on U.S. fiscal sustainability.

No, what makes America look unreliable isn't budget math, it's politics. And please, let's not have the usual declarations that both sides are at fault. Our problems are almost entirely one-sided -- specifically, they're caused by the rise of an extremist right that is prepared to create repeated crises rather than give an inch on its demands.

The truth is that as far as the straight economics goes, America's long-run fiscal problems shouldn't be all that hard to fix. It's true that an aging population and rising health care costs will, under current policies, push spending up faster than tax receipts. But the United States has far higher health costs than any other advanced country, and very low taxes by international standards. If we could move even part way toward international norms on both these fronts, our budget problems would be solved.

So why can't we do that? Because we have a powerful political movement in this country that screamed "death panels" in the face of modest efforts to use Medicare funds more effectively, and preferred to risk financial catastrophe rather than agree to even a penny in additional revenues.

The real question facing America, even in purely fiscal terms, isn't whether we'll trim a trillion here or a trillion there from deficits. It is whether the extremists now blocking any kind of responsible policy can be defeated and marginalized.

Karen Garcia
New Paltz, NY

As corrupt as S&P is, those it is criticizing appear to be every bit as bad. Today's Times headline flatly states: "S&P Downgrade is Seen as Adding Urgency to Debt Cutting Panel." So much for politicians not taking them seriously.

If anything, this renegade agency is acting like a branch of government: a cross between a financial court and an editorialist. Is it just a coincidence that S&P's parent company is McGraw-Hill -- whose CEO is one Harold Whittlesey McGraw, who is a major player on the all-powerful Business Roundtable?(BRT).

According to its own website, BRT pretty much owns the USA, describing itself as " an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with nearly $6 trillion in annual revenues and more than 13 million employees. BRT member companies comprise nearly a third of the total value of the U.S. stock market and invest more than $114 billion annually in research and development - nearly half of all private U.S. R&D spending. Our companies pay more than $179 billion in dividends to shareholders."

McGraw Hill is denying that it has any influence on S&P. But that's kind of like Rupert Murdoch saying he has no influence over Fox News.

The BRT's successful lobbying over the past 40 years has included anti-labor legislation, squelching of banking regulations, anti-consumer protection, pro- NAFTA -- you name it, the BRT has been there. It is currently putting pressure on Congress and the White House to delay implementation of tough new EPA clean air rules. They claim since their exalted lungs breathe the same air we do, why would they lie about their own study, showing our air hasn't been this pristine since the dawn of time? (Remember, they funded the research).

Oh, and Jeffrey Immelt, the G.E. CEO who is heading Obama's Jobs Council? He is on the Board of the BRT too. And you still thought this was a democracy? The infiltration is well nigh complete.

http://kmgarcia2000.blogspot.com/

Walking the Walk Oct 11.org

|

The Oct 11 Pledge and Organization

The Truthdig columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author pledges to join others in acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest in Washington on Oct. 6, because, among other reasons, "we don't have much time left."



-----

Death of the Middle Class lecture:

Devil at the Cross Road

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Perry is not just a tight-suited, wig wearing corporate chimp/chump, seedy huckster working and pandering to the yokels by telling them their special and part of some exclusive club. He's also an obvious sociopath in it for nothing but his own aggrandizement and bum boy for a little known Army of God that desperately needs suitable smiting.

"Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd." - B. Russell

The Biggest Religious Movement You Never Heard of:
Nine Things You Need to Know About Rick Perry's Prayer Event

Perry's endorsers are not just a random group of radical evangelists but part of a large and little-understood international religious movement.

By Paul Rosenberg

perry.jpgWhen Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided to stage a Texas-size prayer event -- dubbed "The Response" -- on Aug. 6, it no doubt seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It received little critical scrutiny when he announced it back in early June, except on websites that track these sorts of things. But after Rachel Maddow, drawing on these sites, did a segment highlighting some of the more bizarre statements made by Perry's high-profile religious endorsers, things cooled considerably -- even though the real story is still not remotely well-understood.

"Perry's endorsers are not just a random group of radical evangelists making outrageous statements," researcher Rachel Tabachnick subsequently wrote at Alternet.org. "These are the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the biggest international religious movement you never heard of." Almost simultaneously, investigative reporter, Peter Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer, published an extensive article on Perry's prayer event and his endorsers, "Rick Perry's Army of God."

The NAR's intellectual godfather, C. Peter Wagner, one of Perry's early endorsers, brags that it's the most significant change in how Christianity is practiced since the Protestant Reformation. Like him or not, in a sense he's right: With tens, even hundreds of millions of followers worldwide, the NAR's stress on Godlike prophetic and apostolic powers, its revisions of end-time prophecies, its methodology of "spiritual warfare" and its agenda of theocratic dominion over all aspects of society are not just threatening to modern secular democracy and the religious pluralism it protects, they have been sharply criticized by other conservative Christians as unbiblical, deviant teachings, even a form of the very demonic practices they obsessively declare war against. Indeed, the Assemblies of God -- the largest Pentecostal denomination in America -- condemned some of the NAR's teachings and practices as "deviant" in 2000, though Tabachnick told me that many within the denomination have since embraced the movement.

Wilder told me they were going to "tone it down a little bit to make it less overt in terms of the particular set of beliefs and practices that most of the people behind the event hold." So, probably no talk about taking over government, sex with demons or Oprah Winfrey as a harbinger of the Antichrist -- the sort of more alarming tidbits Maddow highlighted.

But if America's mainstream media rePeters think this turns Perry's prayer meeting into a nonevent, they couldn't be more mistaken. There might not be any "gotcha!" moments to be had -- although anything is possible -- but with 15 long months of campaigning ahead and multiple other candidates courting the same, poorly understood religious constituency, there is a wealth of potential insights to be gathered that could prove invaluable down the road. What's more, the failure to explore and understand the multiple intersections of religion and politics has repeatedly exacted a terrible toll over the past 30 years of media consolidation, which has seen more and more talking heads, as frontline reporting has withered on the vine. Failure to understand the politico-religious dynamics of far-off Afghanistan in the 1980s resulted in all sorts of mayhem there -- and eventually in the 9/11 attacks.

So what are some of the stories the media ought to be looking at, coming out of The Response, regardless of whether there are any instant YouTube classics or not? Without trying to dictate what others should write, one can glean some helpful tips from those who've ventured in early. Here are nine underreported stories worth considering:

Rage Over Losing 'Leave to Beaver'

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77 people die because some addled Norwegian can't handle change.


Anders Breivik's twisted time machine

With so much speculation surrounding the issue, what were the real motives behind Breivik's attacks?

Mark LeVine

A virtue of Anders Breivik's 1,500 page opus is that, by so thoroughly and heavily citing the leaders of the anti-Islam creed, his arguments are inseparable from theirs. Indeed, the more honest anti-Islam crusaders have declared that while his actions are condemnable, his ideas deserve a fair hearing.

What Americans should take note of is the fact that so many of the voices that inspired Breivik's murderous action come from these shores, not Europe. Not merely cable personalities like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck​ but former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork​, current and former military leaders and wealthy businessmen have all signed onto the Islamophobia bandwagon driven by the so-called experts like Daniel Pipes​ or Robert Spencer, whose primary target besides Muslims is, like Breivik, progressive intellectual, cultural and political voices.

"We think the price was worth it."

These words were uttered by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright​ during a May 1996 60 Minutes interview with Leslie Stahl​. She was not talking about the cost of renovating the the Harry S. Truman building that serves as the headquarters for the State Department, or even the price of a new fleet of custom jets to shuttle senior officials between various Middle Eastern hotspots.

Instead, Secretary Albright was talking about the half million Iraqi children that had died in the half decade of sanctions imposed on Iraq after the US-led coalition expelled Saddam Hussein​'s forces from Kuwait. "I think this is a very hard choice," she explained, but if 500,000 Iraqi children had to die in order to "keep Saddam in his box" then the secretary of state was willing to accept the collateral damage.

What does this willingness to sanction hundreds of thousands of dead children say about Albright? Or President Clinton? Or the diplomatic, military and political apparatus of the United States that crafted the Iraq sanctions regime, and then another war that killed hundreds of thousands more Iraqis?

Are they insane? Fanatics? Terrorists? Or just plain evil?

It's worth considering these questions as we try to wrap our heads around the kind of mind that would consider the killing of dozens of teenagers at a summer camp a "gruesome but necessary" beginning of a crusade to rid the European homeland of the rapidly expanding "Islamic menace".

It is easy to consider individuals like Anders Breivik or terrorist groups, whether Nordic nationalists or Middle Eastern Islamists, as beyond the pale of rationality and morality. Their logic is as specious as Ptolemy's astronomy - internally coherent to be sure, but utterly divorced from reality.

And yet, it turns out that Breivik bore a grudging admiration for the tactics and boldness of his dopplegangers in al-Qaeda. "Just like Jihadi warriors are the plum tree of the Ummah, we will be the plum tree for Europe and for Christianity," he wrote in his now infamous magnum opus, which are not as far removed from the logic and mechanisms of state power as we might hope. Nor is state power all that far removed from the logic and methods of terrorism.

Modernity's violence, and hope

The debate over terrorism is intimately tied to the larger debate over what it means to be modern.

Today the term is generally reserved for the violence of non-state actors against civilians or political leaders. But until recently, "terror" was the preserve of those wielding power - whether the inquisitors of the Catholic Church or the revolutionary tribunals of the first French republic, both of whom justified terror as crucial to the establishment of virtue and the preservation of society.

Yet modernity was supposed to mark a progressive movement away from irrational violence and tyrannical rule and towards greater freedom, dignity and self-governance. The problem was that the new and powerful technologies of rule, such as mass conscription and modern methods of taxation and policing that empowered modern states, also enabled the far more systematic and widespread use of violence against their own citizens and other peoples who fell under their control.

Modernity has always been a paradoxical project; the gap between its grand aspirations and the extreme means so often deployed to pursue them have produced innumerable and often violent contradictions: the Rights of Man and the Reign of Terror​, liberalism and Empire, national liberation and authoritarian rule, and democracy promotion via an unending war on terror.

The contradictions inherent to modernity have similarly engendered non-state movements with diametrically opposed ideologies and agendas - the global peace and justice movements and the Arab Spring, al-Qaeda and Islamophobia are all, each in their own way, quintessentially modern, even when their goals and methods seem atavistic or post-modern.

Each of these disparate movements was born out of a frustration with state power; progressive movements out of frustration with its regular abuse, conservative and revanchist movements out of frustration with the unwillingness of the states to use power even more forcefully, particularly to expel foreign "invaders" - whether US troops in the Muslim heartland or Muslim immigrants in the heart of Europe - who are felt to constitute a mortal threat to the nation.

Mutable Intelligence

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Careful with that axe, Eugene.


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The Real Crisis

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The Wrong Worries

By Paul Krugman

In case you had any doubts, Thursday's more than 500-point plunge in the Dow Jones industrial average and the drop in interest rates to near-record lows confirmed it: The economy isn't recovering, and Washington has been worrying about the wrong things.

It's not just that the threat of a double-dip recession has become very real. It's now impossible to deny the obvious, which is that we are not now and have never been on the road to recovery.

For two years, officials at the Federal Reserve, international organizations and, sad to say, within the Obama administration have insisted that the economy was on the mend. Every setback was attributed to temporary factors -- It's the Greeks! It's the tsunami! -- that would soon fade away. And the focus of policy turned from jobs and growth to the supposedly urgent issue of deficit reduction.

But the economy wasn't on the mend.

Yes, officially the recession ended two years ago, and the economy did indeed pull out of a terrifying tailspin. But at no point has growth looked remotely adequate given the depth of the initial plunge. In particular, when employment falls as much as it did from 2007 to 2009, you need a lot of job growth to make up the lost ground. And that just hasn't happened.

Consider one crucial measure, the ratio of employment to population. In June 2007, around 63 percent of adults were employed. In June 2009, the official end of the recession, that number was down to 59.4. As of June 2011, two years into the alleged recovery, the number was: 58.2.

These may sound like dry statistics, but they reflect a truly terrible reality. Not only are vast numbers of Americans unemployed or underemployed, for the first time since the Great Depression​ many American workers are facing the prospect of very-long-term -- maybe permanent -- unemployment. Among other things, the rise in long-term unemployment will reduce future government revenues, so we're not even acting sensibly in purely fiscal terms. But, more important, it's a human catastrophe.

And why should we be surprised at this catastrophe? Where was growth supposed to come from? Consumers, still burdened by the debt that they ran up during the housing bubble, aren't ready to spend. Businesses see no reason to expand given the lack of consumer demand. And thanks to that deficit obsession, government, which could and should be supporting the economy in its time of need, has been pulling back.

Now it looks as if it's all about to get even worse. So what's the response?

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Here's Where Anti-Union Gets You

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Without unions workers are loaded down with more and more work...productivity and profits go up while the labor pool is slashed and wages stagnate.

Why companies aren't hiring more workers

They don't have to.

Think back to 2007. Maybe one person in your office answered the customer phone calls and dealt with the e-mail inquiries, while someone else handled the walk-in customers. But then the recession hit and one of those people was laid off, while the other one started doing both jobs. That one person is still handling the dual load.

That's happening all over the country. Worker productivity has soared in recent years as employees have been asked to take on more work -- and have been willing to do so because the alternative was likely the unemployment line.

The Real Voter Fraud

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from the Turley Law Blog:

What's Up, Wisconsin?: Is the Koch-Funded Americans for Prosperity Playing Dirty Tricks with Voters in the Badger State?

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger


It appears that Americans for Prosperity, a group co-founded by the Koch Brothers, may be involved in voter shenanigans in Wisconsin. According to David Catanese at Politico, AFB "is sending absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin state Senate recall districts with instructions to return the paperwork after the election date." Think Progress has reported that the AFP mailer isn't actually a ballot but a "form letter that looks like a normal absentee ballot application." The Absentee Ballot Processing Center that is printed on the last page of the AFP mailer is actually registered to a right-wing advocacy group called Wisconsin Family Action PAC--and not to an actual processing center or election board.

Eric Kleefeld of Talking Points Memo reported that an organization called Wisconsin Right to Life had previously used that same address (Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center, P.O. Box 1327, Madison WI 53701-1327) "for absentee ballot application letters and phone calls that were sent out shortly before the July 12 Democratic primaries, but after the official deadlines for the applications."

Catanese also noted in his Politico article that the "absentee trickery comes just as AFP has purchased $150,000 in ad time in Green Bay, Milwaukee and Madison to boost GOP candidates."

Yesterday, David Bice wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  that Matt Seaholm, who is the state director of Americans for Prosperity, blamed the mistake on a typo and claimed that his group was not trying to mislead anyone.

Bice also reported that other sources said the fliers were received by "card-carrying Democrats active in the recalls" of state Sens. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and Rob Cowles (R-Allouez). In addition, Bice wrote: "Two of the activists who received the AFP mailers are expected to file complaints with the state Government Accountability Board later today. Copies of the complaints were obtained by No Quarter."

Click here to see the Americans for Prosperity "absentee ballot" fliers.

Click here to see copies of the complaints obtained by No Quarter.


Get Mad

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Keith's Special Comment on the four great hypocrisies of the debt deal and the necessity of taking the governance of this nation back from politicians.

It's the Revenue, Stupid

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The debt ceiling bill contained no revenue increases.

revenue.stupid.jpg

Laying It On The Line

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"Instead of enjoying what the Progressive Era anticipated - an evolution into socialism, with government providing basic infrastructure and other needs on a subsidized basis - we are seeing a lapse back into neo-feudalism." - Michael Hudson


The President Surrenders

By Paul Krugmnan

A deal to raise the federal debt ceiling is in the works. If it goes through, many commentators will declare that disaster was avoided. But they will be wrong.

For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama​ and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America's long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

Start with the economics. We currently have a deeply depressed economy. We will almost certainly continue to have a depressed economy all through next year. And we will probably have a depressed economy through 2013 as well, if not beyond.

The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further. Pay no attention to those who invoke the confidence fairy, claiming that tough action on the budget will reassure businesses and consumers, leading them to spend more. It doesn't work that way, a fact confirmed by many studies of the historical record.

Indeed, slashing spending while the economy is depressed won't even help the budget situation much, and might well make it worse. On one side, interest rates on federal borrowing are currently very low, so spending cuts now will do little to reduce future interest costs. On the other side, making the economy weaker now will also hurt its long-run prospects, which will in turn reduce future revenue. So those demanding spending cuts now are like medieval doctors who treated the sick by bleeding them, and thereby made them even sicker.

And then there are the reported terms of the deal, which amount to an abject surrender on the part of the president. First, there will be big spending cuts, with no increase in revenue. Then a panel will make recommendations for further deficit reduction -- and if these recommendations aren't accepted, there will be more spending cuts.

Republicans will supposedly have an incentive to make concessions the next time around, because defense spending will be among the areas cut. But the G.O.P. has just demonstrated its willingness to risk financial collapse unless it gets everything its most extreme members want. Why expect it to be more reasonable in the next round?

In fact, Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it's just me, but I see a pattern here.

Did the president have any alternative this time around?

Ramadan Greetings to My Muslim Friends

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I take this opportunity to wish you all happy Ramadhan al Mubarak

Blessed-Ramadan-al-Mubarak.jpg

The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is Ramadan, a time for Muslims to focus on purifying their soul through prayer and self-sacrifice. During Ramadan, more than a billion Muslims around the world observe one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam: Fasting.

Each day of Ramadan, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims aged twelve and older traditionally practice fasting. The Arabic word for fasting literally means to "refrain," which is what is religiously proscribed - not just abstaining from eating and drinking, but also restraining every part of one's physical body.

The mouth, for example, is restrained from idle talk and gossip, while the ears are restrained from listening to obscenities. In this way, a Muslim engages his or her entire body in the physical observance of the Ramadan fast.

In addition to the fast, Ramadan is also a time to re-evaluate one's convictions and deeds. It is a time to mend troubled relationships, give charity, find forgiveness for others, and refocus on worshipping Allah (God).

According to Islamic tradition, the month of Ramadan is when Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur'an, the holy book, to the prophet Muhammad. In honor of this revelation, one thirtieth of the Qur'an is read each night of Ramadan during the evening prayer. By the end of the month, the whole Qur'an has been recited.

During Ramadan, Muslims rise before sunrise to partake in a pre-fast meal, called suhoor. Each night after sunset, they break their fast with the iftar meal. The end of the month of Ramadan is marked with the joyous festival of Eid al-Fitr, which literally means the "Festival of Breaking the Fast." During Eid al-Fitr, families celebrate with elaborate feasts and dress in their finest clothes. At the same time, they increase their efforts to give charity to the poor and make contributions to their mosques.


According to Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) Ramadan 1432 in North America, begins on the evening of Sunday, July 31, 2011, so that the first day of fasting would be Monday, August 1, 2011. Also According to Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) Eid-al-Fitr in North America is on Tuesday, August 30, 2011.

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