A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Monday, January 31, 2011

Imagine No Liberals

From the website Old American Century.

A Better Way To Make Ethanol

A few years ago, the newest rage to lower the use of fossil fuels was the production of ethanol. The problem was that the ethanol was being produced from corn, and this use of corn cut into the amount that was available for both food and feed. While this may have been good for corm growers, it was not good for everyone else. In a world with huge food shortages, it just makes no sense to use food to produce fuel.

Over at the Zero Energy Construction blog, they are trumpeting a new way to make ethanol. This way produces ethanol from waste products, not food. And considering the amount of waste products thrown away in this society every day, it makes a lot of sense to turn this waste into fuel. Here is the very interesting post (and I urge everyone to make this blog a regular read since the blogger does a good job of staying on top of energy issues):

His method is much cheaper and environmentally friendly than producing ethanol from corn. Daniell's technique involves using plant-derived enzymes to break down orange peels and other waste materials into sugar, which is then fermented into ethanol.

Producing fuel from waste has not only garnered more attention from the media of late, but it is also receiving much more attention from researchers and scientists, as well as politicians and financiers. Daniell and his team have had their research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One of the greatest features of using waste for fuel is that it is an abundant resource that will never be in competition with food resources. According to Daniell discarded orange peels could produce up to 200 million gallons of ethanol annually in Florida alone.

Although Daniell's research and technology requires much more testing before it goes commercial, the professor says, "this could be a turning point where vehicles could use this fuel as the norm for protecting our air and environment for future generations."

Invest Or Invent ?

Political Cartoon is by Joel Pett in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Rainy Day Fund Should Be Used

For the last twenty years the state of Texas has had a rainy day fund -- a sort of government savings account that can only be used in an economic emergency. The fund is made up of some oil & gas taxes and any surplus from the state budget in a good biennium. Although the fund has been tapped a couple of times in the past, it has never been as large as it currently is.

The fund has traditionally been less than a billion dollars. However, the discovery of new natural gas fields and high consumer prices for oil and gas has caused the fund to balloon since 2007. There is presently around $8 billion in the fund, and by the end of the next biennium the state comptroller projects the fund will have as much as $9.4 billion.

The Republican governor and legislature campaigned on a platform of no new taxes in the last election, even though no one knew just how large the budget shortfall would be for the next biennium. It turned out that shortfall was larger than expected -- a whopping $27 billion. The Republicans are still saying they can make up that shortfall without any new taxes (although they are already talking about raising fees on nearly everything -- as though those weren't taxes). But inexplicably, they are also saying the rainy day fund should not be used to help balance the budget.

Instead, they are recommending massive cuts in state programs -- especially in the areas of education (where as many as 100,000 teachers and school employees could be laid off) and health & human services (making life much harder for the poor and working classes, especially the children). While some cuts to state programs may be unavoidable in this recession, there is no need for the massive cuts being talked about by the Republican legislature.

What is a rainy day fund for, if not for use in an economic emergency. In fact, that is what the fund was created for. Could there be a bigger economic emergency than a $27 billion budget shortfall? The fund has been used to cover much smaller budget shortfalls in times where it didn't have anywhere near the funds it now has. It simply makes no sense to not use the rainy day fund to offset some of the budget shortfall -- maybe as much as a third of the shortfall.

The problem is that the right-wingers are in charge in Austin. They have never liked programs that are funded by tax dollars, regardless of who those programs help (except of course for corporate welfare). They see this as a golden opportunity to abolish or massively defund many state programs, and they don't really care who gets hurt in the process.

Unfortunately, there may be enough of these fringe far right-wingers in the legislature to block use of the rainy day fund. When created, the legislature didn't want it to be too easy to tap the fund (so it would be saved for a real emergency), so they fixed it so that a two-thirds majority of both houses must approve using the fund. That process may well give the right-wing nuts in the legislature their way to block use of that $9.4 billion, since they easily make up more than a third of the legislature.

The truth is that the proposed massive cuts are simply not needed. A combination of the use of the rainy day fund and a broadening of the sales tax base (along with small raises to most fees) could take care of most of the budget shortfall. But that wouldn't let the right-wingers use the shortfall to impose their hard-hearted agenda on the backs of ordinary Texans, so it probably won't be done.

The massive cuts they want will not help the Texas economy. It will ripple through the economy and cause unemployment to rise, children and others to go without health care, classroom sizes to grow, dropout rates to climb, college costs to rise, decrease protection from abuse for children and the elderly, decrease help for the blind, and generally hurt ordinary Texans.

It is beyond hard-hearted that these kind of massive cuts are even being considered -- especially since the rainy day fund has $9.4 billion. That fund should be used. Not using the fund should not even be considered in the present economic emergency.

Court Teabagger

Political Cartoon is by Rex Babin in the Sacramento Bee.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It Takes One To Know One

Tracy Knauss reminds us that the Republican Inquisitor has a rather sordid past of his own.   Found at the blog of Yellowdog Granny.

U.S. Should Stay Out Of Arab Problems

The Arab world is currently in a state of turmoil. A few days ago, the people of Tunisia tossed out their tyrant -- and his cronies who stepped in to take over for him. It's still unknown how that situation will finally shake out. Now the unrest has spread to Egypt, where demonstrators are demanding President Mubarak's removal from power.

Egypt's unrest has been going for nearly a week now and there have been more than 70 deaths. So far, the demonstrations show no sign of letting up -- in fact, they seem to be growing stronger. Mubarak has withdrawn the hated security police from the streets now and replaced them with the army (which is more respected by the people) in an effort to calm things down. So far, it has not worked. The demonstrations continue and the curfew the government imposed continues to be ignored by the demonstrators.

So far, the army has shown restraint. They are trying to protect Egypt's landmarks and treasures, but have not tried to control the demonstrators or shoot at them. It looks like the army may be trying to stay neutral in the conflict (even though a few members of the army have actually sided with the demonstrators).

For his part, Mubarak is doing his best to hold on to power. It looks like he may have given up his hope of letting his son assume power when he dies. He has dismissed his cabinet and appointed his former intelligence chief to be his vice-president (who would presumably now be the heir apparent to power). He has also promised unspecified reforms.

If Mubarak thought those pitiful moves would calm the people, he was sadly mistaken. The demonstrators have not been pacified, and there is no reason they should be. Why should they trade one tyrant for another, and the feeble promise of future changes? Frankly, it looks like Mubarak's tyrannical rule has come to an end.

Anything could still happen in Tunisia and Egypt. They could be on the road to democracy, or they could be headed for another dictatorship (either a theistic or military one). It's too early to tell. But one thing is very certain. The United States should back off and let the people of those countries determine their own fates. And if the unrest spreads to other Arab countries (like Algeria, Yemen, Jordan or Saudi Arabia), we should stay out of the internal workings of those countries also.

The United States has a past policy of trying to interfere in other countries and trying to dictate to them what kind of government they should have. This has never worked out well, and Iraq and Afghanistan are perfect recent examples of that. Usually we just create a lot of bad feelings and insure we have another enemy rather than a possible friend.

Take Iran for example. Years ago they had a thriving democracy. But it was a leftist democracy that wouldn't let American corporations take advantage of them, so our CIA overthrew their democratic government and installed the Shah -- a pro-Western tyrant. This led directly to his overthrow years later, which resulted in the current theistic autocracy there and insured they would consider the U.S. to be an enemy.

Will the coming governments of Tunisia and Egypt (and maybe some other Arab countries) be our friend or our enemy? I don't know (and neither does anyone else). But there is a much greater chance of them being a friend if we stay out of their business. And it has the further advantage of being the right thing to do. Wouldn't it be nice to do the right thing for once instead of the corporate thing?

Cracks Appearing

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The Rich Keep Getting Richer

The recession/depression rages on for most Americans. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and many have given up hope of finding another. For every job that does come open, there are many applicants wanting to fill it. And even those who still have their jobs are the victims of wage stagnation (with their current wage unable to purchase the same amount of goods and services that someone with that same job could have purchased in the 1970s). Both those with jobs and those without jobs find themselves falling further behind with every month that passes.

But while that is true of most Americans, it is not true for the richest Americans. They are doing better than ever, and find themselves controlling more and more of the nation's income and wealth. Take for example the Wall Street financial giants, who kicked off this recession with their greed and incompetence.

The American people had to save these Wall Street financial giant firms by giving them billions in taxpayer dollars. The taxpayer bailout worked and these companies are once again making record profits. Are they showing any appreciation for being saved by hard-working Americans? Are they giving back by making loans easier for individuals and small businesses? Are they helping out by backing off on home foreclosures and working with the owners in trouble? No, not at all. They are laughing all the way to the bank.

Instead of using some of their record profits to help the people whose hard-earned money bailed them out, they are using those profits to give themselves huge raises and bonuses. Just a few days ago, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, had his salary TRIPLED to $2 million and then was given another $12.6 million in company shares. And what did he do to "earn" this $14.6 million? He presided over a company that saw its profits drop by 38% last year to a measley $8.5 billion (which I'm sure will be an excuse to avoid giving raises to rank-and-file workers).

And Blankfein is not the only beneficiary of Wall Street's generosity to the richest people. The CEO of Citigroup, Vikram Pandit, also got a raise last week -- a raise of $1,749,999.00. Who knows how many millions of dollars in stock went with that raise.

It should be clear to everyone by now that there are two Americas -- the America for the rich where its inhabitants are rolling in money, and the America for everyone else who are becoming little more than victims for the rich to exploit. Regardless of what the so-called economic pundits think, this country's economic problems cannot be fixed without addressing the vast inequality in wealth and income that exists (and grows wider each day).

Pests

Political Cartoon is by David Horsey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Seven Deadly Social Sins

It's too bad more Americans don't follow the advice offered by Gandhi.

Could Michele Bachmann Get Any Meaner ?

It pretty obvious that the teabaggers in Congress are a crazy group of people. They think that anything that doesn't put dollars in the pockets of the rich is unconstitutional, and have demonstrated that they would love to remove all the safeguards of the working and middle classes and the elderly. Among the things they want to abolish: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, minimum wage, child-labor laws, Education Department, health care reform, corporate regulations, birth-right citizenship, drilling regulations, environmental protections, and much more.

But when it comes to bringing the crazy, Michele Bachmann is supreme. And she has just shown that she is the most mean-spirited and hard-hearted of all the teabagger politicians. She has proven that with her desire to cut veteran benefits while the country is still engaged in two unending wars, and our soldiers are still being killed and wounded every day -- not to mention the physical and mental traumas they still face even after completing their military service.

Bachmann wants to freeze health care spending by the Veterans Affairs Department and cut disability benefits for veterans -- by $4.5 billion, including reducing disability compensation checks for over 150,000 veterans. It should come as no surprise that the veteren's groups are incensed over her ridiculous proposal. Here is some of what they are saying.

Veterans of Foreign Wars national commander Richard L. Eubank:
"The only discussion the VFW wants is to tell the congresswoman that her plan is totally out of step with America's commitment to our veterans. No way, no how, will we let this proposal get any traction in Congress. There are certain things you do not do when our nation is at war, and at the top of that list is not caring for our wounded and disabled servicemen and women when they return home. I want her to look at those disabled veterans in the eye and tell them their service and sacrifice is too expensive for the nation to bear."

Rich Rudnick of the National Veterans Foundation:
"Cutting back on the VA right now would be showing contempt for American servicemembers' sacrifices."

David Gorman, Washington executive director of Disabled American Veterans:
"It is unconscionable while our nation is at war that someone would even think of forcing our wounded warriors to sacrifice even more than they already have. Their injuries and disabilities were the result of their service to the nation, and our nation must not shirk its responsibilities toward them. How do you tell a veteran who has lost a limb that he or she has not sacrificed enough? Yet Rep. Bachmann wants to do just that."

Veterans for Common Sense executive director Paul Sullivan:
"Cutting veterans' health care spending is an ill-advised move at a time when the number of veterans continues to grow as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is really astonishing to see this."

VoteVet.org chairman Ashwin Madia:
"Michele Bachmann's plan would turn veterans away from the care they've earned and deserve. Congress voted for two wars that have created many veterans that now need help, and we cannot -- and will not -- turn our backs to them. That's bad policy that I think even a majority of Republican voters will stand squarely against."

Is this really what the teabaggers voted for? Do they really support the destruction of all safeguards for ordinary Americans and turning our backs on America's veterans in the middle of two wars? Or has Bachmann just gone off the deep end? I hope it's the latter.

Priorities

Political Cartoon is by Khalil Bendib at otherwords.org.

Most Americans Are Honest About Taxes

No one enjoys paying taxes, but most of us realize that taxes are just one of the costs of living in a free and safe country. Without taxes their would be no government services (or even a government at all), and our freedoms would be at the mercy of dictators all over the world. But have you ever wondered if other people are as honest about paying their taxes as you are? I know I have.

Well, the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board also wants to know the answer to that question. For the last eight years they have funded a survey (done by Omnitel) to see what Americans think of being honest about paying their taxes. The latest of these surveys shows Americans are very honest about paying. Here are the numbers:

HOW much, if any, do you think is an acceptable amount to cheat on your income taxes?
A little here and there...............8%
As much as possible...............4%
Not at all...............87%

That's an incredibly high number and it makes me proud of my fellow citizens. Of course the possibility exists that people are lying to make themselves look good, but I don't think so. Regardless of what people think about taxes, I believe that most people are honest and pay what the law says they owe. And the numbers have been remarkably consistent over the eight year period of the survey. Here are the historical numbers:

2010...............87%
2009...............84%
2008...............89%
2007...............84%
2006...............86%
2005...............88%
2004...............86%
2003...............81%

And it seems like personal ethics is more important that the threat of legal penalties in getting people to be honest about their taxes. About 80% said personal integrity had a large influence on being honest about paying their taxes, while only about 35% said fear of an audit had a large influence.

And for those of you who don't have the personal integrity to honestly pay your taxes, it wouldn't be a good idea to brag about that. About two-thirds of the people in the survey say people have a responsibility to report those people who cheat on their taxes. Personally, I wish that number was even higher. Cheating on your taxes is just like stealing from your fellow citizens, and I have no sympathy for anyone caught doing it.

Not Interested

Political Cartoon is by Ben Sargent in the Austin American-Statesman.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Republican't

Another gem found by the inimitable Yellowdog Granny.

No Change To Senate Filibuster Rule

Yesterday the United States Senate decided on its rules for the next two years. Some Democrats, upset by the Republicans abuse of the filibuster in the last two years, had wanted to change those rules. Senator Harkin (D-Iowa) wanted change the rules and virtually eliminate the filibuster. Senator Merkley (D-Oregon) wanted to keep the filibuster, but make it a real talking filibuster like it used to be. Both efforts failed.

This should come as no real surprise to those who've been paying attention to the Senate. It would have taken all of the Democrats sticking together to get the filibuster rule changes, and that's something they haven't been able to do for years now -- there are just too many "blue dogs" willing to vote with the Republicans. In the end, Majority Leader Reid just caved in and let the filibuster rule stay as it is.

This actually may not be a bad thing. The Republicans can still abuse it to block anything they don't like, but so can the Democrats. And with the Republican House sending over insane bills (like health care repeal), the real Democrats may need the filibuster to stop Republicans and "blue dogs" from joining together to pass some of the crazier House bills. Especially since the Democratic majority in the Senate is so slim now (and has too many "blue dogs").

Instead of changing the filibuster rule, Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell came to a "gentleman's agreement". Reid promised to allow more amendments to be submitted by the minority, and McConnell promised to not use the filibuster as much as they did in the last two years. But the agreement is not binding and there are few gentlemen in the cutthroat world of the Senate, so the agreement will probably have a very short life-span.

They did make a couple of fairly minor rule changes though. In the last Congress, a single senator could put a secret hold on a bill or appointment. They can still put a hold on, but now it will be public knowledge who did it. This is a good, if minor, change. All the business of the Senate should be open to the public and not done in secret. Only four senators voted to keep doing business in secret -- DeMint (South Carolina), Ensign (Nevada), Lee (Utah) and Paul (Kentucky). That makes me wonder what nefarious thing they are planning that they didn't want the American people to know about.

The other change was about amendments. In the past, a senator could delay proceedings by demanding that every word of every amendment be read aloud by Senate clerks. The new rule would prevent this as long as the amendment was submitted at least 72 hours before debate or vote.

The Crack

David Fitzsimmons in the Arizona Daily Star.

Obama's Afghan Statement Was Disingenuous

During his State of the Union speech President Obama talked a little about Afghanistan, and he made it sound like our presence in that country is accomplishing a lot. He told the American people:

"Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home."

I wish that was true. I would love to think our troops would be returning home quickly. Unfortunately, it looks like we'll be there several more years (and maybe many years). Secretary Gates has already admitted, after meeting with our NATO allies, that a more likely date for the withdrawal of our troops is 2014 (and some military officials believe we'll have troops there even longer than that). If any troops are withdrawn this year, it certainly won't be many.

That's because the war is just not going as well as the Obama administration would have us believe. Look at the map above, prepared in December 2010 by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), and you'll see that there are only 4 provinces in the entire country that enjoy a respectable degree of security. Of the rest:

9 have a deteriorating security situation
8 are moderately insecure
5 are highly insecure
8 are extremely insecure

That's because the successes enjoyed by the U.S. and its allies are not permanent. After the troops move to a new area, the insurgents move back into the area just cleared. There are simply not enough troops to keep all areas pacified while moving on to pacify new areas (and it would take hundreds of thousands of additional troops to do that -- if it could be done).

In addition, the insurgent violence is not being quelled in Afghanistan. Just the opposite. The violence continues to increase, making the country more insecure for both troops and civilians. In just the last five years, the number of violent incidents has grown each year. Consider the month of the most violent attacks for each of those years according to ANSO:

August 2006...............335 attacks
July 2007...............405 attacks
August 2008...............634 attacks
August 2009...............1093 attacks
September 2010...............1541 attacks

The rising number of attacks and lack of secure provinces shows that this is not a war that is getting better. It is getting worse. And to top it off, the puppet government we have established and are trying to protect in Afghanistan is not only unpopular and weak -- it is also corrupt and misogynistic (and cannot survive without our financial and military support).

Evidently our leaders (from both parties) quickly forget the hard-learned lessons of Vietnam, for they have gotten us into the same kind of mess in Afghanistan. We cannot use our military to force a corrupt government on a people who do not want it. We have the best military in the world, but they were built to fight a war -- not to engage in "nation-building". No nation's military can accomplish the task we gave our soldiers in Afghanistan (as even the Russians learned).

The American people are tired of this military action and don't believe we can win it. I agree. Regardless of President Obama's rosy words in his SOTU speech, it is time to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan and bring them ALL home.

The Beast Is Loose Again

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

The Republican Clown Show

The number of hopefuls for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 was already a large and pretty crazy field. It included such people as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitch Daniels, Rick Santorum, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty, John Thune, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, Judd Gregg, and Gary Johnson.

Then it turned into a real clown show in the last few days. Jim DeMint is now saying he would consider running, Michele Bachmann is making noises like she could be a candidate (and putting out feelers), and Donald Trump is tossing his hat in the ring. There is some serious crazy in the race now -- but evidently not crazy enough.

Yesterday we found out that Nevada's teabagger extraordinaire Sharron Angle may be considering a run. She showed up in Iowa for the preview of a fundamentalist christian movie, and would not say no when reporters asked her if she was running for the presidential nomination. She just said, "I'll just say I have lots of options for the future, and I'm investigating all my options." Then she told the Iowans present, "Please, just invite me back."

This is starting to get weird now (and very interesting). Who needs a circus with the show all these clowns will be putting on?

I'm With Stupid

Political Cartoon is by R.J. Matson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

GOP's "Texas Miracle" Is Hurting Children

The Republican Party has long touted its economic policy of "trickle down" economics -- the idea that if we remove taxes and regulations from the rich and corporations and let them amass enormous amounts of money, they will let much of that money trickle back down to the rest of America. All one has to do is look at the massive and growing gap in income and wealth between the richest Americans and the rest of America to know this is ridiculous, but the Republicans persist in pushing the failed theory.

And here in Texas, the Republicans have had the opportunity to fully put those policies into practice. Texas has been ruled by Republicans for quite a while now, and they have been able to institute a pro-corporation, pro-rich people agenda. State laws have kept unions very weak and few exist with any power. There is no income or corporate tax, and the state is almost completely funded by the regressive sales tax -- which eats up a far larger portion of working and middle class earners than it does the rich. In addition, corporations get tax breaks and monetary rewards for promising new jobs and no punishment when those jobs don't materialize.

There is no state minimum wage and no requirement for businesses to provide health care to their employees. This has resulted in over 26% of Texas citizens being without health insurance (the highest percentage of any state) and an ever-widening gap between the workers and the rich. State workers are paid poorly, and the state's schools are funded less on a per student basis than any other state. And it's not just the schools -- health and human services funding lags far behind most other states (even states much poorer than Texas).

In other words, the Republicans have been able to do whatever they wanted in Texas. And it is not working. The state has a rising unemployment figure (over 8%) and a $27 billion dollar shortfall for the next biennial budget. The economy is just not working like the Republicans promised it would. And while all working Texans are hurting, the state's children are definitely being adversely affected.

The nonpartisan group, Texans Care for Children, has issued a report showing the trouble that Texas children are in. Compared to the average American child, Texas children are:
* 35% more likely to grow up poor.
* 28% more likely to be obese.
* 16% more likely to drop out of school.
* 51% more likely to be born to a teen mother.
* 93% more likely not to have health care access.
* 33% more likely not to receive mental health care services.
* 83% more likely to be born to a mother that received late or no prenatal care.

That is the current situation in Texas -- the situation that would continue to exist if all the funding remained at current levels for the next biennium. But that's not going to happen. As I said, the state has at least a $27 billion shortfall for the next biennium if they keep funding at current levels. And the state Republican leadership has decided to make up the entire budget deficit with cuts to state services -- most in the areas of education and health & human services. Cuts in these two areas would put Texas children in even more trouble.

This doesn't have to happen. A saner and more humane state government would use the $9 billion in the state's rainy day fund (and it is raining -- hard) combined with a broadening of the sales tax base (and maybe even instituting an income tax for those making over a quarter-million dollars). These measures would allow the state to maintain current funding levels or limit the cuts to very small ones.

But that is not how Republican economic policy works. They would much rather punish children than tax their rich buddies. The Senate is recommending a 15.4% budget cut of services, and the House is recommending an even more draconian cut of 16.6%. So they'll be tossing Texas children under the bus (and damaging the future of the state). That's how they roll -- mean-spirited and hard-hearted.

Deficit Wolves

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Which Is The Real Villain ?

An interesting comparison -- found at the blog Unreasonable Faith.

CBO Paints Black Picture If Republican Policies Are Continued

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is the nonpartisan organization that both parties use to see the effect of what their bills and economic policies would do to the American economy. While politicians might throw out unsubstantiated numbers glorifying their own bills, the CBO is tasked to look beneath and behind the rhetoric to determine the actual effects of those bills.

Lately, the Republicans have been ignoring many of the CBO projections, and after hearing the latest CBO projections, it is easy to see why. The Republican "trickle down" giveaways to the rich is responsible for much of our ballooning national debt and the continuing national deficit -- a deficit and debt that might be understandable if it was creating jobs, but it is not.

For 2011, CBO Director Doug Elmendorf (pictured) says that the deficit will be about $1.5 trillion (nearly one-third of which will be due to the massive Republican tax breaks for the richest 2% of Americans -- projected to be over $400 billion a year). So while complaining about the deficit, the Republicans actually increased it by nearly 50%. They promised in the last campaign to cut $100 billion, but now are only talking about cutting a little over $50 billion for 2011 (a drop in the bucket compared to the huge increase they created).

In spite of this, the CBO says that if current laws and policies are followed the deficit will fall in the next few years. While the deficit for 2011 will be about 9.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), they expect the deficit to fall to $1.1 trillion in 2012 (7.0% of GDP), about $704 billion in 2013 (about 4.3% of GDP) and $533 billion in 2014 (about 3.1% of GDP). They then expect the deficit for 2015 through 2021 to range between 2.9% and 3.4% of GDP.

However, these figures will be true only if current law is allowed to continue. If, for example, the cuts in Medicare Advantage mandated in the health care law were not to take place (like the Republicans want), and the tax cuts currently in place were not allowed to expire at the end of 2012 as scheduled (and the Republicans are sure to want to extend them), then the baseline projection for 2015 through 2021 would at least double, and the total debt held by the public would reach 97% of GDP (the most since 1945).

From these numbers it's easy to see that a continuation of Republican policies of repealing health care and continuing to cut taxes for the rich would be a disaster for the national deficit, and even worse for the national debt. Republicans like to claim they are the party of fiscal responsibility, but a review of their recent actions and a look back at Republican administrations shows something different. The truth is that the Republican "trickle down" policies have consistently added to both the deficit and the debt -- not decrease them.

The CBO does warn that if current law was continued, although deficits would come down in the next few years, the national debt would continue to grow. Either further cuts in government spending would be needed (including no more Republican giveaways to the rich) or an increase in taxes would be needed, or both. There is no way to bring down the national debt without doing this. The obvious solution would be to cut the military some (the most bloated area of the American budget) and raise taxes on the richest Americans (beyond letting the current cuts expire). But Republican policy would not allow either of these things to happen.

The CBO also paints a rather dark picture for employment. They say that if the economy produces 2.5 million jobs each year between now and 2016, the unemployment rate will finally fall below 6% in 2016. Even this dismal projection seems to me to be overly optimistic. Remember, only 1.1 million jobs were created in 2010 -- a figure that barely kept up with the number of new people entering the work force.

Unless the increasing amount of job outsourcing is stopped (something the Republicans oppose and recently blocked in Congress), it is unlikely that the 2.5 million jobs a year figure can be reached. While they may be created (since the corporations and the rich are doing very well), the sad fact is that far too many of them will be shipped abroad (where good-paying jobs can be turned into poverty-wage jobs).

After viewing this latest CBO projection, it becomes even clearer that the Republican policies of giveaways to the rich and outsourcing of jobs are the biggest impediments to bringing this country out of the recession. Ordinary Americans are still hurting and still feeling the full effects of the recession, but the Republicans are only interested in helping the rich -- the only people doing well right now.

A Start ?

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

No More Environmentalism For New Mexico

The state of New Mexico is commonly called the "Land of Enchantment". There's a good reason for that. It's a very beautiful state with delicate ecologies ranging from desert to mountains. It also has a history that stretches over many centuries, and an interesting mix of cultures. When all of this ccomes together, it truly becomes an enchanting place -- both for residents and visitors.

But if you haven't enjoyed the beauty of that special state, you might want to do so quickly. It looks like the new Republican governor, Susana Martinez, is going to turn over the state to the giant oil and gas companies. And she's going to turn those companies loose without supervision or regard to what they will do to the environment. If you've ever seen what the oil and gas companies can do to the environment when they aren't strictly regulated, then you'll know how bad that can get.

Governor Martinez has appointed Harrison Schmitt to head the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. This is the state agency that is supposed to protect the environment in New Mexico. She wants Schmitt to immediately begin reviewing regulations on the oil and gas industry put in place by her predecessor, Governor Richardson.

And Schmitt doesn't need any encouraging. He is an avid opponent of the idea that global climate change is happening, and he believes all environmentalists are communists. Governor Martinez could not have picked a worse person to head up that state agency. Just listen to this piece of an interview Schmitt gave to right-wing radio:


"Number one we’ve been concerned with the misuse of science, but I think more fundamentally, this misuse of science has lead to politicians and ideologues to try to gain control of the American economy, and indeed the global economy, by scaring people….I think that there are individuals, [Obama science czar John] Holdren apparently among them, a very large number who have taken — shall we say captured the environmental movement and turned it into what was previously considered the communist movement. And that’s just something that people of common sense are going to continue to have to counter and wake up enough so that they can take control of their government again. [...]
I think the whole trend really began with the fall of the Soviet Union. Becausethe great champion of the opponents of liberty, namely communism, had to find some other place to go and they basically went into the environmental movement. That’s not to say there aren’t some major and significant environmental issues, particularly at the local level, but they converted environmental activism to a political movement and some would say a religious movement."


I fear for the environment of our beautiful sister state of New Mexico -- which is just a few miles west of where I live.

Faux Civility

Political Cartoon is by Bruce Plante in Tulsa World.

House GOP Votes For Electoral Advantage

House Republicans in Washington moved yesterday to give their own party an advantage in the financing of political campaigns. They voted to do away with the federal financing of presidential campaigns. The federal financing law, which allowed a taxpayer to designate $3 of his taxes to go to the fund to finance presidential elections, was intended to level the playing field in presidential elections -- so that neither party had an advantage in campaign financing.

That was OK with the Republicans when a candidate's funding depended primarily on the party's support, but with the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs FEC, the political finance landscape was changed. That decision meant that corporations and organizations could pour unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns. It didn't take the Republicans long to realize that gave them a sizable advantage in electoral politics -- one which was demonstrated in the 2010 elections.

After seeing the monetary advantage they had in the 2010 campaign, the Republicans began to think they could make this advantage even larger by doing away with federal financing of presidential campaigns -- giving their own candidate a huge leg up over the Democratic candidate. And on Wednesday they acted by voting to eliminate the federal financing.

Of course they didn't admit they were acting in their own political interest. They couched the elimination in terms of saving the federal government some money and cutting the federal deficit. They bragged that this action would save $617 million over a ten year period (or about $61.7 million a year). While that may sound like a lot of money to the uninitiated, it is really a tiny amount when compared to the federal budget and will make very little impact on the deficit. In fact, it is only 0.000155% of the tax cut they gave the super rich (which increased the deficit by $400 billion a year).

Sadly, there will be some teabaggers and other right-wingers who will believe this is a real deficit-reduction measure. It isn't. It's nothing more than a naked attempt to give Republicans an advantage in the 2012 presidential election.

Will this bill survive when it reaches the Senate? Probably not. The Democrats would be foolish to even vote on this silly bill. It should die an ugly death and be buried beside the stupid Republican bill to repeal health care reform. I imagine we'll be seeing a lot more of these kind of bills coming out of the Republican House -- bills that are meant to give Republicans an advantage in 2012, but which would do nothing to help people out of this recession.

Rebuttals

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

A Frightening Thought

A fellow blogger came up with a rather frightening idea. What if the christians who say the only thing that makes them moral is their belief in the christian religion are really serious about that? Here's what vjack of Atheist Revolution has to say about it:

"You know how some Christians insist that their god-belief is the only thing keeping them from running wild and committing all sorts of atrocious crimes? We tend to dismiss this claim, almost as if we have more confidence in the basic goodness of these Christians than they themselves do. What if at least some of them are being honest in their negative self-assessment?


When those Christians who claim that their god-belief is the only thing keeping them from harming others make such a statement, perhaps we should listen. Maybe they know themselves better than we do, and maybe they should be regarded as potentially dangerous individuals who should be closely monitored in case they should begin to question their bizarre faith. I mean, if they are truly that incapable of moral behavior, might they not pose a threat to us all?" 

Where's The Beef ?

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Federal Government Income

From the website of CNN.

Obama Offers Platitudes - Not Programs

President Obama delivered his "State of the Union" speech last night, and once again showed he is imminently capable of delivering a great speech. Unfortunately, the speech was more of a general pep talk than an outline of the proposals needed to pull the country out of the recession and put it on the road to a return to better times. In fact, at one point in his speech he even made the remark that the worst of the recession is past.

I don't know what planet he has been living on, but the worst is not past for most Main Street Americans. Many millions of Americans are still out of work, and it looks like it will be years before the huge unemployment in this country can be brought back under control. Over 14% of our total population is on food stamps and that figure is increasing each month. And the housing market continues to slump with home prices falling and foreclosures occurring at record levels.

He said we need to improve our education, but offered no specifics on how to do that. He had an applause-getting line about honoring teachers, but the truth is that teachers are still being laid off all over this country (and just here in Texas we are looking at losing up to 100,000 teachers). He talked about making higher education more available to all Americans, but the truth is that colleges are being priced out of the reach of many Americans -- even middle class Americans. And his only solution was to continue the current tuition tax break. Frankly, much more is needed.

He spoke of investing in the country's transportation infrastructure. I can't argue with that -- it's something that is long overdue, and would put some Americans back to work. But he said this would only be done if it is paid for first. Who's going to pay for it. Will it be done on the backs of the poor, the disadvantaged and the elderly? Considering the current corporate ownership of Congress (and the Republican control of the House), it is unlikely that the rich will be paying.

Then he spoke of investing in innovation. Once again, where's the money for this going to come from. He talked even longer of cutting the deficit. How's the deficit going to be cut while investment in "innovation" is also happening?

One of the scariest parts of his speech was when he talked about simplifying the tax system and lowering corporate taxes, while not cutting tax income. He said it could be done by eliminating "loopholes", but with the current corporate ownership of Congress I just don't see that happening. More likely is a scenario of lower corporate taxes and more of the tax burden being shifted to the middle and working classes. And that would be a disaster considering the widening gap of wealth and income between the richest Americans and the rest of America.

Finally, we come to what he didn't talk about last night -- the giant hole in the American economy. The hole dug by the giant corporations where good American jobs are tossed in and come out as low-paying jobs in other countries. The president completely ignored the problem of job outsourcing. What good is innovation going to do if it just creates jobs for people in other countries?

The state of the union is very bad at the present time, and sadly I didn't hear much that would help it from the president last night. We'd better batten down the hatches, because it's going to be rough in this country for the next few years.

Cozying Up To Business

Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Washington Examiner.

American Students Falling Behind In Science

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures trends in academic achievment among American students. Sadly, there latest measurement of American students in the area of science leaves a lot to be desired, and should worry most Americans. It shows that our students are falling behind in science.

NAEP gives three rating to students in science -- basic, proficient and advanced. Suffice it to say that if our science programs were accomplishing their goals, most students should fall into the proficient range (show competency over challenging subject matter at their grade level) and a significant number should fall in the advanced category. That is simply not happening. Here are the percentages at three grade levels that meet the proficiency and advanced levels:

PROFICIENT
4th grade...............34%
8th grade...............30%
12th grade...............21%

ADVANCED
4th grade...............1%
8th grade...............2%
12th grade...............1%

Those are some pretty pathetic numbers. If something is not done about this very quickly, this country will fall far behind many other countries in the area of science and research (and that will certainly not do our economy any good).

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, "When only one or two percent of children score at the advanced levels on NAEP, the next generation will not be ready to be world-class inventors, doctors and engineers. Our nation's students aren't learning at a rate that will maintain America's role as an international leader in the sciences."

Here in Texas it doesn't look like the teaching of science is going to get better any time soon. The state is in the process of cutting funds for education, laying off teachers, and injecting religion into the science classes. I suspect this is also happening in many other states.

If we really cared about the future of our nation (and its people), we would fully fund our schools and get religion out of science classrooms. Failure to do so is a prescription for failure.

Hitting The Jack Pot

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Panhandle County Violates The Constitution

Conservative fundamentalist christians love to talk about how much they revere and respect the United States Constitution. But there is a big difference between talk and action, and their actions show they couldn't care less what the Constitution says. They are determined to use government to push their religion on everyone else, regardless of the religious freedom provisions of the Constitution.

A perfect example of this has just happened in Oldham County, Texas (a Panhandle county resting between Amarillo and New Mexico). The county government there has just allowed the installation of a 4-ton monument depicting the 10 Commandments to be placed on county government property near the County Courthouse (pictured above). They did this knowing that the same kind of religious monuments have been declared to violate the First Amendment of the Constitution in other places (such as Alabama and Kentucky).

The county government did not pay for the stone memorial. It was paid for with $11,000 in donations from area churches and individuals. All the county did was give its permission for the religious memorial to be permanently placed on government property. But that is enough to violate the Constitution, because it shows that the county government favors the christian and jewish religions above all others. It is also a slap in the face to those who have chosen to not be religious.

These government officials don't seem to understand the concept of religious freedom. The First Amendment guarantees that people ALL religions and people with no religious beliefs will be treated equally by government on all levels, including county government. But the memorial shows that the county government has publicly declared their support for the christian religion over all others, and that infers that anyone but christians can expect to not be treated equally by that government.

Other Panhandle counties had also been offered a similar memorial, but at least two have turned it down (Potter and Randall counties, where the city of Amarillo is). They had no desire to waste precious county dollars in a court fight that they had no chance of winning. I think the Oldham County government is hoping that no one in the sparsely-populated county will object (or that those who do object will be too cowed by the fundamentalists in the county to file a court suit).

This is not just despicable, it is un-American.

Limits Needed

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gun Deaths - The Reality

Found at the great blog What Would Jack Do?.

More Suicides Than Combat Deaths In Military

As we approach 10 years of continuous war without accomplishing any of our goals or even getting to a point where the end of those wars are in sight, American soldiers are still dying (although that is seldom reported by the mainstream media any more). Last year, 462 American military personnel were killed in combat. But while that is a tragedy, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

The website Congress.org is reporting that the deaths of soldiers in combat is actually exceeded by the number of people in the United States Military who commit suicide. This has been true for two years in a row now (2009 and 2010). In 2010, there were 468 military suicides reported. The figure is probably even higher than that, since the Air Force and the Marines do not report the suicides of those in the reserves not on actual combat duty. The figure also does not report the suicides of those who have left the military and re-entered civilian life.

This is an indictment of the state of continuing war our country is engaging in. It also shows the inadequacy of the mental health services offered to both our active duty soldiers, reserves and veterans. These men and women are heroes and our government is failing them. There is simply no excuse for military suicides to outnumber combat deaths. There is also no excuse for continuing wars that accomplish nothing but to continue the sacrifice of American lives.

Isn't it time to bring ALL of our soldiers home from Afghanistan and Iraq?

Winner ?

Political Cartoon is by David Horsey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The "Gilded Age On Steroids"

I have always had an immense amount of respect for ex-Senator Russ Feingold. He was one of the few politicians who understood that most of the members of Congress (in both parties) have been bought and paid for by corporate interests, and no longer worked for the good of citizens but for the interests of giant corporations. Fortunately, he is still speaking out for the common man. Here is what he told John Nichols of The Nation recently:


"I don’t know how it could be more stark or clear: this entire society is being dominated by corporate power in a way that may exceed what happened in the late nineteenth century, early twentieth century. The incredible power these institutions now have over the average person is just overwhelming: the way they can make these trade deals to ship people’s jobs overseas, the way consumers are just brutalized and consumer protection laws are marginalized, the way this town here—Washington—has become a corporate playground. Since I’ve been here, this place has gone from a government town to a giant corporate headquarters. To me, the whole face of the country—whether it be the government, the media, agriculture, what happens on Main Street—has become so corporatized that the progressive movement is as relevant as it was one hundred years ago, maybe more so. It’s the same issues. It’s just that [corporate] power, because of money, international arrangements and communications, is so overwhelming that the average person is nearly helpless unless we develop a movement that can counter that power. I know we’ve all tried over the years, but this is a critical moment. We need to regenerate progressivism and make it relevant to what’s happening right now. But there’s no lack of historical comparison to a hundred years ago. It’s so similar; the only real difference is that corporate power is even more extended. It’s the Gilded Age on steroids."

Pot & Kettle

Political Cartoon is by M. Wuerker at Politico.

The King Of Hypocrisy Lives In Texas

The Texas legislature has a lot on its plate for this biennial session. The state must redistrict its state and federal congressional districts, and somehow must cover a $27 billion shortfall in the state budget for the next biennium. That's going to take up most of the legislators time in the session that by law lasts only a little over four months. But the governor, Rick Perry (pictured), has decided he must also play to the right-wing fundamentalists by also attacking a woman's right to control her own body.

Perry wants the legislature to pass a sonogram law, and he's declared it an "emergency" item to make sure the legislature addresses it. This law would force all women seeking an abortion to take and view a sonogram. The idea is that if a woman was forced to view a sonogram, she would refuse to go through with an abortion. It's a mean-spirited law, and totally ignores the fact that this is already a decision that women have given much thought to. It also seems to make no difference to Perry that this same law was passed in Oklahoma, and declared by a federal court to be unconstitutional. Perry says:

"When you consider the magnitude of the decision to have an abortion, ensuring that the patient understands what's truly at stake seems a small step to take. When someone has all the information, the right choice - the choice of life - becomes clear. Now our legislature can take fast action on this important bill because we all know when it comes to saving lives, every second counts."

For Perry to say that he cares about "saving lives" is the height of hypocrisy. Under his leadership, the state of Texas has shown little interest in the lives of ordinary Texas citizens. The federal government had to force Texas to cover poor children with medical insurance and it looks like the legislature, with the governor's blessing, is going to cut that insurance coverage (and the state has the highest percentage of adult without health insurance of any state).

Then when a child gets to school, Texas provides one of the lowest per student funding of education in the nation. And they are already discussing cutting that already anemic funding by another $9 billion. Education is not a priority with Perry and his cronies.

And neither are poor people, the mentally ill and disadvantaged, those without jobs, abused children and elderly people, nursing home residents, or the state's environment. All of those will be hurt by the budget slashing by Perry and his Republican friends in the legislature.

Then we come to the death penalty. Perry has presided over the most legalized state killings of any governor in the country, and he fully supports the continuation of this killing. It is little more than a cruel joke for Perry to be talking about "saving lives". While he preaches about saving a bit of protoplasm, he has no interest in helping actual people to live better lives (or go on living at all).

If he is not the King of Hypocrisy, he is certainly a leading contender for the title.

The Threat

Political Cartoon is by Bruce Plante in Tulsa World.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Overcompensating

A little humor from the inimitable Dr. Zaius at Zaius Nation.

Hate Preacher Denied Entry Into U.K.

You may remember hate-filled preacher Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. He's the preacher that made headlines by arranging to burn the Koran last September 11th (a threat he didn't follow through on). This nut has made it his mission to preach hatred toward another religion -- islam.

Well, now Jones wants to take his message of hate to the United Kingdom. He has been invited to go there and preach his anti-islam message by the England Is Ours group (a British-based hate group). But he has a problem. The government of the U.K. doesn't want him in their country spreading his hate. And last week they denied him entry into their country.

British Home Secretary Theresa May banned Jones entry into the country saying the government "has the right to exclude people who are not conducive to public good or on national security grounds." A British Home Office spokesman said Jones had been barred because his "numerous comments. . .are evidence of his unacceptable behavior."

Of course, Jones is incensed by this. He said being banned from entry into the U.K. sabotaged his "rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression." I have to wonder just what rights he is talking about. Someone needs to tell him that his constitutional rights are only applicable in the United States. The British don't have to extend him any rights or courtesies that they don't want to extend.

Frankly, I don't blame the U.K. for banning him. Jones is just a hatemonger and a trouble-maker, and would just cause problems for them.

Appeasement

Political Cartoon is by Steve Breen in The San Diego Union-Tribune.