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Senator Inouye’s Astonishing Numbers

Think you know how the US government dug itself into such a dept hole? Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii has come up with some astonishing numbers that shine a bright new light on our country’s national debt.

Senator Inouye

Senator Daniel Inouye

It turns out that the level of discretionary spending by the US government is unchanged compared to what it spent back in 2001. Yep, if you figure in inflation and population growth, we spend the same in that area as we did a decade ago. And, remember, back then the government had a surplus of 128 billion.

On the other hand, as you might expect, the cost of security programs is up  a boisterous 74 percent from 2001 and the cost of mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare is up 32.2 percent.

Hand points to text But here’s the truly surprising part. Revenues — which is to say, the amount brought in primarily from taxes — those revenues are down 18.2 percent. This is astounding: as a percent of GDP, revenues have dropped to their lowest level since 1950.

“Are we really spending too much on non-defense programs?” Senator Inouye asked “The answer is clearly no,” he said. “Non-defense discretionary spending levels are essentially unchanged from 2001. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to afford them today.” Inouye went on to say, “The focus of our deficit talks should not be on domestic discretionary spending, but on the real reason why we are not running a surplus: historically low revenues, soaring mandatory spending, and the cost of war.”

On July 4th, Fifty Years Later

A recent poll showed that only about 70 percent of the people in the US know that England is the country we declared our independence from on July 4th in 1776.

John Adams

John Adams

It’s a good bet that even fewer know that former presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were bitter political enemies,  later in life carried on a correspondence with each other that ended only at  their death, which was on the same day, July 4th, 1826 — precisely fifty years after the Declaration of Independence. That they should both die on that famous day is an astonishing historical fact. And why John Adams ever reconciled with Thomas Jefferson is equally astonishing.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Yes, it’s true that Adams and Jefferson had been close friends, and that Jefferson took a kind interest in young John Quincy Adams, and that Jefferson’s daughter lived for a time with the Adamses in England. But Jefferson, probably our most duplicitous president, carried out such sly and malicious attacks on Adams that a rapprochement between the two is remarkable. Furthermore, while Jefferson was a landed slave owner, Adams was a lawyer who worked his own farm. Adams was happily married to an intelligent, hard working woman; Jefferson’s wife died young, a  shattering blow to Jefferson who never remarried and apparently fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. But they were certainly matched in one regard; both were brilliant men, free thinkers in the best Enlightenment tradition, who loved to read, to talk, to argue and debate ideas. There weren’t a lot of others of their kind to write to.

 

 

It’s Happening Again

Money bagUnless you’re a banker, you probably haven’t noticed that some banks are getting another helping hand from tax payers. A couple of years ago we citizens gave loans to bankrupt banks so that they could look solvent. That was called the Troubled Asset Relief Program. (Troubled Asset sounds so much nicer than flat-broke or busted.)

Nowadays those same banks, having been to the brink of insolvency, won’t lend unless they’re very, very, very sure they’ll get it all back with interest. As a result, small business are justifiably complaining that banks aren’t lending money, even when it’s a safe bet they’ll get repaid. Small businesses create the bulk of our employment, so when they’re not getting the money they need, our economy moves at a crawl.

To fix this, Republican Sam Graves (he chairs the House Small Business Committee) came up with a plan to help banks make loans to small businesses. The Graves plan is simple: give money to banks at almost no cost to the banks.  But wait! That means  banks can take these new low-cost loans and use the money to pay off their Troubled Asset Relief Program debt!

Banker by Orozco

Banker by Orozco

The Boston Globe reported that a Boston bank “has applied for more than $4 million in funding from the new program to replace the $3.5 million it received through TARP. The bank said it expects the funds to cost just 1 percent a year under the new small business lending program, compared to the 5 percent it pays now (and 9 percent in 2014) under TARP.”  Now that’s banking! And that Boston bank is not alone in knowing a good thing when they see it. The Treasury Department said has received 847 applications, including 315 from banks still holding TARP money. Oh, mercy!

World Naked Bike Ride

Naked Bike Ride Poster

Naked Bike Ride Poster

Well, it happened again. Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride pedaled through Portland, Oregon, this most recent June 18th. We don’t know what the count was this year, but in 2010 an estimated 13,000 riders gathered in Portland for the event. It’s part of Pedalpalooza — 200 or so “bikey fun” events. In theory, at least, the World Naked Bike Ride draws awareness to environmental issues; specifically, emissions from gasoline driven cars. And maybe it does.

World Naked Bike Ride in London

Naked Bike Ride in London

 

But as a clothing optional event it certainly draws attention to, well, naked bike riders. Nudity is legal in Portland, so long sexual activity or attempted arousal isn’t part of it. Reportedly, police suggested that bicyclists should at least wear a bicycle helmet.

 

Who’s Reading Over Your Shoulder?

Visitors to Critical Pages typically enjoy libraries and book stores. So we should warn you that our Congress recently voted to allow the government to search bookstore and library records of people who are not suspected of criminal acts or terrorism.

Spy

Your Government Spy

To be precise, Congress merely allowed the government to continue doing what it’s been doing since 2001 when the Patriot Act was first passed. It came up for reauthorization and Congress reauthorized the whole damn thing, even those parts which invade the privacy of ordinary non-criminal citizens. So if you take out a library book, or buy a book at a bookstore, you might keep that in mind. Maybe you’d like to read about Islamic religious law, or about the safety features of US nuclear power plants, or US railways, or interesting sexual preferences, or AIDS, or impotence in older men or pregnancy problems of older women. And maybe you would have liked to think that those concerns were your own very private business, not open to your government.

Neither the House nor the Senate spent much time considering amendments to the Patriot reauthorization bill, and it passed both chambers handily. (more…)

Whatever happened to “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!”?

The US recovery from the recession has stalled and Congress seems not to have noticed. Maybe you noticed, because you’re one of the unemployed. If so, it’s doubtless cold comfort for you to know there are more than 13.9 million other men and women in the same dump.

Unemployed workers

Unemployed Workers

Almost half the unemployed have been looking for a job for more than six
months, and about a third have been looking for work for more than a year. And if you’ve been looking for more than a year, the chances are you’ll be among the last to be hired. That’s the way it goes in today’s cruel labor market. Because so many workers are idle, employers can pick an choose and they prefer workers whose skills haven’t gotten rusty.

Meanwhile, the Republican dominated House of Representatives is calling loudly for cuts in government spending and in taxes. This is the same Republican party that took over the House a few months ago, saying that “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” were their top priority. It’s strange that lawmakers who say they want to provide jobs should be crying to amputate the federal budget and slash taxes. In fact, it’s bizarre, because doing that will bring not jobs but more unemployment while at the same time reducing the ability of the government to provide for the unemployed.

Municipalities and states cannot perform the kind of deficit spending carried out by the federal government. As a consequence, the recession has compelled cities and states to lay off workers – clerks, firemen, policemen, engineers, school teachers, and so forth. To immediately slash federal spending means that the US would reduce the already reduced flow of money to the already impoverished states, and at the same time fire US government workers, adding even more to the number of unemployed. (more…)

Original Sin, Predestination and Other Cool Concepts

There’s a variety of opinions knocking about at Critical Pages, even when we’re reduced to a solitary person at the computer keyboard. The post about what fruit grew on the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden led to thoughts about the Fall (not the fall season, dummy, the Fall theologians speak of, the Fall of humankind when Adam and Eve ate that amazingly educational fruit, giving rise to Original Sin and other cool concepts.) One of our colleagues said, I’m dying to know how that Tree of Knowledge turns out.  I just can’t see anything good coming of it. And that’s a widely shared view.

But another friend had this to say. In my opinion, the story of Adam and Eve does turn out well. I think it’s about the coming of human consciousness, coming of the ability to parse good and evil, the coming of shame and guilt and mortality, all that, philosophy. The Garden, paradise, is the animal kingdom where birth is painless, and life is not all that stressful, and you don’t have to wear any clothes. To be thrown out of Paradise is to start to have to deal with all the human problems, deal with human questions like why are we here, and why don’t my kids call… And once you are thrown out of paradise, you can’t go back. The ratchet has clicked. Anyway, there’s an angel with a big sword blocking the way to the tree of life.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas

Interestingly, this is also a widely shared view — well, I mean, shared by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and others of similar character.  The Fall was an immediate disaster, but ultimately it brought about the redemption embodied in Christ. O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem. Or, as we say in English: O happy fault (or sin) that merited such and so great a redeemer.  And theologians today, even those writing in English, still refer to this idea as felix culpa, the fortunate fall, the happy sin.

Jonathan Edwards

Johnathan Edwards

In Adam’s Fall / We sinned all says the Puritan rhyme. Indeed, the Puritan concept of predestination asserts that, due to Adam’s sin of disobedience, each and every one of us should be destined to hell. But God, foreseeing this, created his son Jesus to be crucified, his punishment on the cross being a sacrifice to redeem a portion of those destined to hell. And, says the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, if God chooses you to go to heaven, you get there, no matter what you do on earth. Unfortunately, the same doctrine means that if you’re slated for hell, you’ll go there no matter how well you behave.

OK, we’ve gone far enough with this! Let’s get on to something simple,  like national unemployment or how to balance the budget.

Do You Know This Flower?

Of course you do. It’s a dandelion. Or, as kids say it, a dandylion. In fact, it’s often the first flower that kids can name and it’s probably the most widely recognized blossom we have.  The English name is imported from the Middle French, dent de lion,  or lion’s tooth.  Nowadays, in this country of gorgeous green lawns,  it’s also the most despised weed. So it’s hard for people living now to realize that when this nation was in its infancy the early settlers carefully plucked the grass from around dandelions to give the little plants more sun.

Dandelions are not native to this continent, but were among the precious plants that early colonists brought over from England. They were brought not because the greens are edible, though they are, but because of their medicinal value. As soon as dandelions arrived here they settled in and spread. As anybody who has tried to take care of a lawn knows, when a dandelion goes to seed it turns into a little white puff ball, and if you pluck at that puffball — or simply blow at it — you discover that it’s composed of a lot of hair-thin stalks, each with a feathery top and a seed at the bottom. Of course, the slightest breeze will carry those seeds some distance. Furthermore, the seed, which is about an eighth of an inch long, has tiny barbs along its sides, so that when it lands it lodges into the soil. The hardy dandelion, sometimes carried on prairie schooners and sometimes carried on the wind, spread wildly across the continent. This is the despair of lawn fanatics today, but it was a joy to herbalists of the 18th century. There’s more to say about this remarkable plant, but just now you might want to take a look at the time lapse movie of a dandelion going to seed photographed by Neil Bromhall.

That’s a lot of seeds blowing in the breeze. And that’s because the dandelion flower isn’t a single flower but a mass of flowers gathered neatly into flower-like head. Each of those dandelion “teeth,” or “petals,” is a single flower. In old-fashioned botany, such a flower was called a composite. There are about 20,000 different composites around; it’s a great way to reproduce. But sexual reproduction isn’t the only way a dandelion can reproduce. If you pull up a dandelion and leave a bit of root behind, the root will send a clone dandelion up into the fresh air and sunlight. This is one hardy plant. If you get desperate and hack a dandelion into a dozen pieces, each piece can produce an exact clone of the original dandelion. (more…)

Spring, More or Less…

Spring has arrived this year with a parching drought in the South West, a staggering number of tornados – one a mile wide – and massive flood waters rolling down the Mississippi. These are known as “acts of God.” Of course, that’s a legal definition and may reveal less about God than about lawyers. Others might say those things were just examples of what Mother Nature can do when she gets pissed. The Politically Correct Speech Police would probably get after you for that line. In any case, spring has other manifestations and that’s our excuse for posting this photo.

Apple Orchard - Spring 2011

More Notes


Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.