Monthly Archives: March 2011

American Embarrassment

There are things that people need to read.  This is one of them.

 

American Embarrassment

by: Joe Klein

It is always an education to watch our American writhings from overseas. It is particularly excrutiating watching the Republican Party presidential candidates who, on a daily basis, pronounce some ignorant racist or irreligious twaddle…which–amazingly enough–manages to be heard around the world. As Crowley notes below, today’s example primo is Newt, who really needs to get back on his meds, worrying about his grandchildren:

“I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9,” Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

There is genius in this: no other human had located the secular humanist wing of radical Islam before. And then there is Herman Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza who is pretending to run for President, proving that a black man can be as gutter-cheap bigoted as anyone. If elected, he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or the federal bench because:

There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.

Sharia law! Break out the burqas! Even Pete Wehner is appalled. I mean, what are these guys smoking? (Nothing so benign as marijuana, I would venture to say.)

This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party’s banner. They are the most compelling argument I’ve seen against American exceptionalism. Even Tim Pawlenty, a decent governor, can’t let a day go by without some bilious nonsense escaping his lizard brain. And, as Greg Sargent makes clear, Mitt Romney has wandered a long way from courage. There are those who say, cynically, if this is the dim-witted freak show the Republicans want to present in 2012, so be it. I disagree. One of them could get elected. You never know. Mick Huckabee, the front-runner if you can believe it, might have to negotiate a trade agreement, or a defense treaty, with the Indonesian President some day. Newt might have to discuss very delicate matters of national security with the President of Pakistan. And so I plead, as an unflinching American patriot–please Mitch Daniels, please Jeb Bush, please run. I may not agree with you on most things, but I respect you. And you seem to respect yourselves enough not to behave like public clowns.

Please, in the name of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, run.

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SkyBar- Thank You

I have been here once.  Now, I really want to go back.

One more thing…

I have a few friends who sell things on Etsy.com.  I was browsing and got off the beaten path and found myself in a place foreign to me.  Goth fashion.  I am not making a commentary about someone’s lifestyle choices, but I will ask you this – Is this the person you want as the face of your goth fashion line?

Maybe so.  He doesn’t look too thrilled to be sporting the new Pentacle Tee to me.  Maybe he isn’t supposed to.  I don’t know.

Fox News’ Washington News Chief Admits to “mischevious speculation”

Bill Sammon, who’s responsible for the network’s Washington coverage, linked Obama to socialism many times during the 2008 campaign, but didn’t believe the allegation, he acknowledged.

Bill Sammon, managing editor of Fox News Washington, at the Democratic National Convention in 2000, when he was a reporter for The Washington Times. (The Washington Times / Landov)

In the final stretch of the 2008 campaign, a Fox News executive repeatedly questioned on the air whether Barack Obama believed in socialism.

Now it turns out he didn’t really believe what he was saying.

Bill Sammon, now the network’s vice president and Washington managing editor, acknowledged the following year that he was just engaging in “mischievous speculation” in raising the charge. In fact, Sammon said he “privately” believed that the socialism allegation was “rather far-fetched.”

These remarks, unearthed by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters, raise the question of whether Sammon, who oversees Washington news coverage for Fox News, was deliberately trying to sabotage the Democratic presidential candidate. He has come under fire before for memos he sent to the network’s staff that have seemed less than fair and balanced.

Sammon’s admission came on a 2009 Mediterranean cruise—cabin rates ranged as high as $37,600 per couple—sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College. Here is what he said, according to an audio recording:

http://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/flash/pl55.swf

“Last year, candidate Barack Obama stood on a sidewalk in Toledo, Ohio, and first let it slip to Joe the Plumber that he wanted to ‘spread the wealth around.’ At that time, I have to admit that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched.”

That he did—on several occasions.

On Oct. 14, 2008, Sammon said on the air that Obama’s “spread the wealth” remark “is red meat when you’re talking to conservatives and you start talking about spread the wealth around. That is tantamount to socialism.”

On Oct. 21, he told Greta Van Susteren: “I have read Barack Obama’s books pretty carefully, and he in his own words talks about being drawn to Marxists… Now all this stuff’s coming out about whether he’s a socialist. I don’t know why anyone is surprised by it, because if you read his own words and his sort of, you know, orientation coming up as a liberal through college and a young man, it’s not a huge shock.”

Sammon, a former Washington Times reporter, also made sure his troops got out the word. On Oct. 27, he sent an email to staffers highlighting what he described as “Obama’s references to socialism, liberalism, Marxism and Marxists” in his 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father.

In an interview, Sammon says his reference to “mischevious speculation” was “my probably inartful way of saying, ‘Can you believe how far this thing has come?’” The socialism question indeed “struck me as a far-fetched idea” in 2008. “I considered it kind of a remarkable notion that we would even be having the conversation.” He doesn’t regret repeatedly raising it on the air because, Sammon says, “it was a main point of discussion on all the channels, in all the media”—and by 2009 he was “astonished by how the needle had moved.”

Sammon notes that in the same talk on the cruise, he pointed out that George W. Bush had his own stimulus package and had spent half the TARP bailout money: “I was talking about both sides being big spenders.” (True; he also told the cruise guests that “when it comes to spending money, Obama makes Bush look like a piker.”)

In that speech, Sammon said he eventually concluded that what he had thought was baseless speculation among Obama’s socialistic views turned out to be accurate:

“Now imagine my surprise when this year, I witness President Barack Obama standing in the cross hall of the White House and having taken over the American car industry, look into the camera, and announce to the nation essentially, that he would personally vouch for the warranty on your car’s muffler. All of a sudden, the debate over whether America was heading for socialism seemed anything but far-fetched…The debate over whether America is headed for socialism seems all too real, especially to those who still believe in capitalism.”

During last year’s health-care debate,Sammon urged Fox News staff in a memo to “please use the term ‘government-run health insurance,’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible.” He acknowledged that the phrase “public option” was “firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon,” so when it was necessary to use it, he wrote, add the qualifier “so-called,” as in “the so-called public option.” And “here’s another way to phrase it: ‘The public option, which is the government-run plan.’” Many Fox News journalists followed suit, using terminology that Republican pollster Frank Luntz had pushed on the network.

In an interview at the time, Sammon defended the memo and said his 25-year record as a newspaper reporter demonstrates that he hasn’t favored either side. “Have I said things where I take a conservative view? Give me specifics,” he said.

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast’s Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN’s weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.

Is your state broke?

In his new budget proposal, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich calls for extending a generous 21 percent cut in state income taxes. The measure was originally part of a sweeping 2005 tax overhaul that abolished the state corporate income tax and phased out a business property tax.

The tax cuts were supposed to stimulate Ohio’s economy and create jobs. But that never happened once the economy tanked. Instead, the changes ended up costing Ohio more than $2 billion a year in lost tax revenue; money that would go a long way toward closing the state’s $8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2012.

“At least half of our current budget problem is a direct result of the tax changes we made in 2005. A lot of people don’t want to hear that, but that’s the reality. Much of our pain is self-inflicted,” said Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal government-research group in Cleveland.

Schiller’s lament is by no means unique. Across the country, taxpayers jarred by cuts to government jobs and services are reassessing the risks and costs of a variety of tax reductions, exemptions and credits, and the ideology that drives them. States cut taxes in hopes of spurring economic growth, but in state after state, it hasn’t worked.

There’s no question that mammoth state budget problems resulted largely from falling tax revenues, rising costs and greater demand for state services during the recession. But questionable tax reductions at the state and local level made the budget gaps larger — and resulting spending cuts deeper — than they otherwise would have been in many states.

A 2008 study by Arizona State University found that that state’s structural deficits could be traced to 15 years of tax cuts, mainly income-tax reductions that “were not matched by spending cuts of a commensurate size.”

In Texas, which faces a $27 billion budget deficit over the next two years, about one-third of the shortage stems from a 2006 property tax reduction that was linked to an underperforming business tax.

In Louisiana, lawmakers essentially passed the largest tax cut in state history by rolling back an income-tax hike for high earners in 2007 and again in 2008.

Without those tax reductions, Louisiana wouldn’t have had a budget deficit in fiscal year 2010, the 2011 deficit would’ve been 50 percent less and the 2012 deficit of $1.6 billion would be reduced by about one-third, said Edward Ashworth, the director of the Louisiana Budget Project, a watchdog group.

These and similar budget problems nationwide are symptoms of a larger condition, said Timothy J. Bartik, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“If state and local taxes were at the same percentage of state personal income as they were 40 years ago, you wouldn’t have all these budgetary problems,” Bartik said.

Before California’s Proposition 13 triggered a nationwide tax-cut revolt in the late 1970s, state and local taxes accounted for nearly 13 percent of personal income in 1972, Bartik said. By 2007, it was 11 percent.

State corporate income taxes have fallen as well. Once nearly 10 percent of all state tax revenue in the late ’70s, they accounted for only 5.4 percent in 2010.

“It’s a dying tax, killed off by thousands of credits, deductions, abatements and incentive packages,” according to 2010 congressional testimony by Joseph Henchman, the director of state projects at the Tax Foundation, a conservative tax-research center.

Even now, as states struggle to provide basic services and ponder job cuts that threaten their economic recovery, at least seven governors in states with budget deficits have called for or enacted large tax reductions, mainly for businesses.

Five are newly elected Republicans in Florida, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin. The others are Republican Jan Brewer of Arizona and Democrat Beverly Perdue of North Carolina.

Their willingness to forgo needed tax revenue is hard to fathom, as states face a collective $125 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, said Jon Shure, the deputy director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a respected liberal research institute in Washington.

“To be cutting taxes when you’re short of revenue is like saying you could run faster if you cut off your foot,” Shure said.

“States have suffered an unprecedented collapse in revenue, and they are at the bottom of a deep hole looking up, and these governors are saying, ‘You need a ladder to climb out, but I’m going to give you a shovel instead, so you can dig the hole deeper.’ ”

Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge said the governors were simply trying to improve their states’ business climates by lowering the tax burden.

“They’re trying to increase their market share and their attractiveness to business,” Hodge said. “And also, more importantly, they’re trying to prevent the attrition of business and investment to other states” that have lower tax rates.

Republican lawmakers and pro-business groups have long maintained that tax cuts help stimulate economic activity, while keeping businesses and wealthy individuals from leaving the state for lower taxes elsewhere. They also argue that business and personal spending increases after tax reductions, broadening the base to be taxed at the lower rate, which partly offsets the lost tax revenue.

So calls to balance lean state budgets through spending cuts as well as modest, revenue-boosting tax hikes haven’t resonated with Republican governors, who see tax relief as the key to reversing job losses in the Great Recession.

“Raising Ohio’s taxes even higher won’t bring those jobs back. Reducing costs so we can start reducing taxes is the key to our revival,” said Rob Nichols, Kasich’s press secretary. Extending the state’s personal income-tax cut will cost $800 million over two years.

Business tax reductions may be overrated as an economic stimulus because they’re so low on the totem pole of expenses. For most businesses, the cost of labor is probably 15 times the cost of all state and local taxes, said Bartik of the Upjohn Institute.

In his own research, Bartik found that a 10 percent across-the-board cut in state and local business taxes might boost employment by 2 percent, but it could take up to 20 years.

“Most studies indicate you might get 30 percent of the effect after five years and maybe 60 percent after 10 years,” Bartik said. “It takes a while because investment decisions are quite lagged and take place gradually.”

Compounding Ohio’s budget woes are 128 state tax exemptions, credits and deductions that drain more than $7 billion a year in would-be revenue. These loopholes make Ohio miss out on one of every four dollars it would otherwise collect in taxes, said Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio.

In Missouri, business and individual tax credits cost the state $521.5 million in fiscal year 2010, compared with $103 million in 1998, according to a state report.

Louisiana’s 441 individual and corporate tax breaks cost the state $7.1 billion last year. That nearly matches the $7.7 billion that all state and local taxes brought in.

Some of the breaks provide sales-tax exemptions on groceries, prescription drugs and residential utilities that saved Louisiana taxpayers $717 million last year. But another allows Louisiana companies to keep 1 percent of the state sales taxes they collect — about $34 million statewide — just for filing their tax returns on time.

Hodge, a conservative, said that closing loopholes and exemptions was less harmful to the economy than tax increases were. The Tax Foundation supports scaling back or closing tax loopholes, while lowering tax rates across the board.

“My argument to state lawmakers is that lower rates for everybody are better than tax incentives for some,” Hodge said.

That incentive-free philosophy was behind Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for a flat 6 percent corporate income tax to replace the current business tax system. But Snyder’s flat tax amounts to a $1.5 billion tax cut for businesses, paid for in part by education cuts, personal income tax increases and taxing public and private pensions.

“We think that’s the way to rebuild our state, and to get it on a path toward economic prosperity,” Snyder’s top economic development official, Michael Finney, said during a recent trip to Washington.

History suggests otherwise, however. After the nation recovered from the 1990-91 recession, 43 states made sizable tax cuts from 1994 to 2001 as the economy surged. Twenty-eight states, in fact, reduced their unemployment insurance payroll taxes after 1995.

But states that cut taxes the most ended up with the largest budget shortfalls and higher job losses when the economy slowed again in 2001, according to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

To be sure, states have made bad budget decisions on the spending side as well, said Robert Ward, deputy director of The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, a state-government research center at the State University of New York at Albany.

Part of the problem is that the public wants everything but doesn’t want to pay for anything, Ward said.

“People want something for nothing. They want big increases in education and health care spending. They want good roads. They want lots of parks, and they don’t want to pay more taxes,” Ward said. “But at the federal, state and local levels, we are hit with the reality that there is no free lunch.”

The Death of Religion and one Dumb-Ass Commet

Organized religion will go the way of the dinosaurs in nine Western democracies, reports CNN. “Religion will be driven toward extinction” in Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, researchers conclude in a new paper. It will also fade in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Switzerland, they predict. “If you look at the data, ‘unaffiliated’ is the fastest-growing group,” said the paper’s lead author. The U.S. could not be included in the study, because unlike the other countries, census data on religion was not available. The study began with two sociological assumptions. First, people want to be part of the majority rather than the minority, making it increasingly desirable to avoid church rather than to attend. “Just a few connections to people who are [religiously] unaffiliated is enough to drive the effect,” said the lead author. Also, there are social, economic, and political benefits to not being religious in these countries. “The utility of being unaffiliated seems to be higher than affiliated in Western democracies,” he said. Despite the lack of U.S. data, other studies suggest people who identify as “unaffiliated” are the fastest-growing belief group in the United States.

Abrams and his co-authors are not passing any judgment on religion, he’s quick to say – they’re just modeling a prediction based on trends.  “We’re not trying to make any commentary about religion or whether people should be religious or not,” he said.  “I became interested in this because I saw survey data results for the U.S. and was surprised by how large the unaffiliated group was,” he said, referring to a number of studies done by universities and think tanks on trends in religion.

Studies suggest that “unaffiliated” is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, with about 15% of the population falling into a category experts call the “nones.”  They’re not necessarily atheists or non-believers, experts say, just people who do not associate themselves with a particular religion or house of worship at the time of the survey.  Abrams had done an earlier study looking into the extinction of languages spoken by small numbers of people.

When he saw the religion data, his co-author “Richard Wiener suggested we try to apply a similar technique to religious affiliation,” Abrams said.  The paper, by Abrams, Wiener and Haley A. Yaple, is called “A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation.” They presented it this week at the Dallas meeting of the American Physical Society.  Only the Czech Republic already has a majority of people who are unaffiliated with religion, but the Netherlands, for example, will go from about 40% unaffiliated today to more than 70% by 2050, they expect.  Even deeply Catholic Ireland will see religion die out, the model predicts.

“They’ve gone from 0.04% unaffiliated in 1961 to 4.2% in 2006, our most recent data point,” Abrams says. He admits that the increase in Muslim immigration to Europe may throw off the model, but he thinks the trend is robust enough to withstand some challenges. “Netherlands data goes back to 1860,” he pointed out. “Every single data that we were able to find shows that people are moving from the affiliated to unaffiliated. I can’t imagine that will change, but that’s personal opinion, not what the data shows.” But Barry Kosmin, a demographer of religion at Trinity College in Connecticut, is doubtful.

“Religion relies on human beings. They aren’t rational or predictable according to the laws of physics. Religious fervor waxes and wanes in unpredictable ways,” he said. “The Jewish tradition that says prophecy is for fools and children is probably wise,” he added. And Abrams, Wiener and Yaple are not the first to predict the end of religion. Peter Berger, a former president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, once said that, “People will become so bored with what religious groups have to offer that they will look elsewhere.” He said Protestantism “has reached the strange state of self-liquidation,” that Catholicism was in severe crisis, and anticipated that “religions are likely to survive in small enclaves and pockets” in the United States.

He made those predictions in February 1968
Read original story in CNN | Thursday, March 24, 2011

Here is the enlightened comment on the story on CNN’s website:

Francis Bacon “Free at last! free at last! thank scientific method, we are free at last!”!

March 24, 2011 at 7:33 am | Report abuse | Reply

Ummm…Francis Bacon’s three goals were to uncover truth, to serve his country, and to serve his church.  FACT CHECK I can not stand people who use someone’s name to bolster their cause without knowing if that person would have really backed the cause in the 1st place.  Idiots.

 

A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.                     – Francis Bacon

 

People need to

 

Just a Thought

I thought I should share this…

A List of 20 Things I Have Learned

1) No matter how much you plan, someone named Murphy will screw it up

2) If your haircut, doctor’s appointment, or dentist appointment is at 2:00 p.m. feel free to arrive at 4:00 p.m. – You will not be seen on time.

3) I like Space Invaders, however I do not like personal space invaders (See Awesome Illustration)

4) All people want 3 things:  Respect, Understanding, and whatever you have in your left back pocket

5) A good pen is worth its weight in gold and will be stolen,lost, or destroyed within 5 minutes of you discovering its true worth

6) People are thinking about you right now- the IRS, Donald Trump, and Dionne Warwick to name a few

7) You do not have enough money.

8 ) Neither do I

9) I love food and food loves me – that is why it hangs around so long.

10) I do not like “customized stickers” on crappy cars…maybe buy a hubcap instead of a sticker that reads “Juicy” for your back windshield

11) If you make fun of a poor, homeless, or disadvantaged person around me expect to be humiliated- I have no patience for that

12) My wife saved my life and she doesn’t know it

13) I have great parents

14) My daughter is perfect

See?

 

 

 

 

 

 

15) I am too fat

16) I need to be more active, eat less, and pay more attention to “adult things” in order to prolong my life- or so I am told

17) I wish there was a rule that you must have a working driver side window to use a fast food drive through

18) I should not ever go through a fast food drive through

19) There are things in my house that have not moved since we moved in

20) I have owned every model of iPhone through no fault of my own*

* they all still work, how sad is that?

An open letter to Abbott Labs

Dear Abbott Labs,

I would like to start by saying “Thank You” for making Similac Sensitive.  It is a cornerstone of my child’s meals.  She loves it and is a healthy baby girl.  Sadly, this is not the point of this letter.  The reason I am moved to write to you is there is a horrible flaw in what would be a wonderful product.  The foil liner inside the sealed lid is absolutely a pain in the tail to remove.  It appears to be glued secured welded attached under a lip that protects it’s edges.

the tab in question

I don’t know if you put that pull tab on there as a joke or if it is just poorly designed, but it is absolutely useless!  Of the many, many containers just like the one above I have opened- I have yet to pull that tab and remove the foil liner.  I understand that the foil is to protect the product and I appreciate that.  However, I have to remove it in order to use the product my child so loves and that is no easy task.  When you pull on that tab it simply rips off.  I have tried every manner of removal- from slow and steady to quick and furious.  All with the same outcome- a hole in upper left corner of the container.

After the tab is removed, I can then attempt to remove the rest of the foil that is in a semi-permanently attached state.  I am a pretty handy man.  I can use tools, navigate my way through crib assemble instructions, and unwrap the smallest of nic naks.  However, This ordeal involves razor sharp  foil that has to be manually removed piece by pains taking piece.  The removal of said razor foil is akin to -I don’t know- removing razor wire from a top of a fence while on stilts.  Needles to say this practice is not that easy when you are holding a 5 month old child that wants his bottle something fierce.

Not only is it annoying and difficult- it is dangerous.  I mentioned the razor sharp foil that you have to manually remove…well, I will just show you.

This looks like a well made pull tab...

...crap!

 

ouch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yep, it cut me as I was trying to remove the foil, after the handy dandy pull tab had ripped free.  I never thought that could happen but, it did.

In conclusion, I would like to request that the design of that foil pull tab be re-looked at, redesigned, or done away with.  Maybe my friends at Babycenter.com can use some baby muscle about this.  It is truly a pain in the…finger.

Sincerely,

-Matt

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