Ten Conditions for Change II

“Rise up, O God, and save us from ourselves…”


A great nation brought low by its dysfunctional politics


Over the past 40 years, the United States has become a strange fantasy land where many politicians think deficits don’t matter, regulators are closely entwined with their charges, and the Federal Reserve manages the economy through high-stakes, high-risk experimentation. The financial turmoil of the past few years is just a glimpse of what lies at the end of the road we’re on, [David] Stockman warns….What Stockman has written is a book that makes clear we are that future generation of the past, inheritors of all the wishful thinking, simple illogic and flawed compromises that produced the near-term benefits our parents and grandparents worried about but ultimately wanted.


In 1864, Chaplain Lyman D. Ames wrote in his diary:

June 28— He [George Williams, 29th OVI] ran down fast during the day. I was with him in his last hour. Reason returned at last; he said “Chaplain do you think I’m going to die.” Being told he could not live but a short time he said, “Will you pray for me”? Prayer was offered, he appeared calm, clasped his arm around my neck like a child clinging to a father. Attempted to raise himself up, he had not strength & failed, not able to speak distinctly again, soon life ebbed out & the soldier boy’s spirit had fled forever from the Earth & all its scenes of war & strife & death.

334, 335

“I was thinking of the irony that these men who fought to preserve the Union flew over a United States last night that they couldn’t even have comprehended in 1862…”


Somebody’s Darling

“To America, my new-found land: the man that hates you hates the human race.”

Brendan Behan 1923 – 1964 Irish playwright

President should lead

Genuine negotiation on spending would avoid debt-ceiling fight

As noted in the Sunday Dispatch by reporters Jack Torry and Jessica Wehrman, by 2025, Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and interest on the national debt will consume every tax dollar collected by the federal government. Everything else the government does, including national defense, education, housing, transportation — will have to be paid for on credit, supercharging the national debt.


The budget was due, by law, the first Monday in February; now, it probably won’t be out until sometime in March [April].

The White House says that the delay is due to fiscal-cliff wrangling and the cumbersome process of updating discretionary spending numbers once the deal was struck. But the document ought to have been out by now — not because failing to have the president’s budget delays action on Capitol Hill but because the public is owed an overview of the president’s blueprint for governing.

Second, and related, how precisely does the president propose to rein in entitlement spending? The White House points to its offer from the last negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner and says that remains on the table. It cites earlier budget proposals on Medicare and puts it all together in a blog post that confirmed its willingness to change the formula for calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases. But, really, a blog post? What about a plan that the president himself explains, and sells, to the country?

“He never gives the public an honest account of what he’s willing to do on entitlements,” Ryan said of the president. “Trimming a statistic,” he sniffed of the proposed Social Security tweak, “is not entitlement reform.”


Obama’s ‘try anything’ bid to woo GOP moves from dinner to golf course


Turning on the charm, Obama tries to end gridlock

Cliff Owen/AP – From left, Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., left, Tom Coburn, R-Ok., Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., leave the Jefferson Hotel after a dinner meeting hosted by President Obama.


Obama to visit Capitol Hill four times next week

WASHINGTON | Fri Mar 8, 2013 4:36pm EST

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama rarely makes the short trip to Capitol Hill from the White House, but next week his motorcade will be tying up traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue as he tries to convince Congress to come to a deficit deal.


Based upon the available evidence from Chicago, I concluded in September 2008 that Barack Obama was not a leader. He did not get my vote. Leaders establish relationships to facilitate requisite trust and confidence in order to make deals. Like visiting at the same restaurant frequently, familiarity produces ease and good will.

Sequester spin: Obama’s false claim of Capitol janitors receiving ‘a pay cut’


The president’s claim that janitors at the Capitol would receive a pay cut and Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s report that some teachers have already gotten pink slips both were awarded four Pinocchios by The Post’s “Fact Checker” columnist, Glenn Kessler. This roughly translates as “not even remotely true.”


Many of these claims were ultimately deemed false — but Obama didn’t give up on his “sequester” scare campaign. As students prepared for spring-break trips to the nation’s capital, the president hastily canceled self-guided White House tours. He didn’t cancel his own vacation to Hawaii or avoid golfing with Tiger Woods in February. But he did deny children the chance to see the White House for one reason: to ensure that sequestration hurt average Americans.


Neighbor: The national government, the factions, have let US down. In the real world in which we live, there is common sense. In DC, the Beltway Planet, there is the next election. One day the bond markets will say that’s enough, interest rates will rise to their historic levels, and the people will object to the oppressive tax burden thrust upon them.

And yet, the debt picture hasn’t improved. Interest payments and a contracting economy (gross domestic product) mean that the debt burden is worsening, notes Jeffrey Anderson of the Institute of International Finance, an industry think tank.


We laugh at the Italians, but give us another four years of fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns and debt limits, and the famously optimistic and forward-looking American people may surprise us with their cynical response to Washington’s refusal to govern rationally.


The week ended as it began, with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Obama trading sound bites rather than actual proposals.


Obama’s Fault

Published: March 3, 2013

Our feckless leaders may be incapable of passing a budget, but, boy, can they pass the buck. The White House spent last week in full campaign hysteria, blitzing online followers with the message that heartless Republicans are prepared to transform America into “Les Misérables” in order to protect “millionaires and billionaires, oil companies, vacation homes, and private jet owners.” Republicans retort that the budget-cutting Doomsday device called sequester was actually invented by the White House.

In fact, the conceptual paternity of sequester was bipartisan. Both sides agreed that Congress should set in motion an automatic deficit-cutting scheme so draconian that it would force a divided Washington to come together around some sane compromise. The scandal is that Washington is so incapable of adult behavior that it can do the right thing only if it is staring down the barrel of a shotgun — and, it turns out, not even then.

[But see below – Bob Woodward]

Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma, Jaipur, India

Behind all the fake ideological confrontation in Washington, that has led to the current sequester centric fiscal deadlock, the common pretense of concern seems to be the highly imbalanced fiscal situation of the state, and how to restore such balance. Put in a different way, the whole American politics has come to be defined by a manufactured politics of scarcity. But, isn’t it an open secret that, it was clearly the mega fiscal crisis of 2008, allowed to be built up beyond control under the Republican administration, that was at the back of this sudden fiscal meltdown, and resource crunch? In the current blame game on sequester, why this important question, the root cause of the current fiscal deadlock, seems to be going unanswered? If, it goes like this only, the sequester and its aftermath might not only prove socially disruptive, but also be indicative of an end of the democratic dialogue, rather the cessation of democratic politics
March 4, 2013 at 1:16 a.m.

Anetliner Netliner Washington, DC area

I agree that the White House and the Congress share the blame for the sequester, but my agreement with this piece stops short there.
The immediate problem facing America is economic growth and employment, an agenda item that is still pending. The U.S. economy is still stagnant and unemployment and underemployment stand at least 14% of the workforce. The safety net expenditures and reductions in federal tax revenues caused by the ongoing slump are a critical factor in the size of the deficit.
The logical course of action would be to focus on the economy and job growth first, and then turn to long-term deficit reduction. Instead, we’ve got both parties locked in a battle over the debt, while the sequester is poised to reduce employment by at least 700,000 jobs and quite possibly 1 million or more, as well as reduce the salaries of hundreds of thousands of federal employees.
Mr. Keller, many of his fellow pundits, and the nation’s leaders are focusing on the wrong problem. The immediate threat is economic contraction and growing unemployment– not deficit spending. It’s time for the chattering class to wise up.
March 4, 2013 at 12:02 a.m.

T Straus Springfield Missouri

“Instead, he built a re-election campaign that was long on making the wealthiest pay more in taxes, short on spending discipline, and firmly hands-off on the problem of entitlements.”
Why do we consistently refer to Social Security and Medicare as “entitlements.”
Are the benefits from my Life Insurance policies “entitlements?’
Is my Medical Coverage through my employer an “entitlement?”
Social Security and Medicare are insurance policies that are funded from premiums that are paid by each and every paycheck a person receives from their first part time job to their last check before retirement.
A typical policy holder pays premiums for 40+ years before making their first “claim for benefits.”
These are not entitlements . . . they are fully negotiated contracts with few lapsed payments. In fact, these premium payments are absolutely the first in line as employee and employer deposits are made at the time each paycheck is cut.
March 3, 2013 at 11:02 p.m


Governing means getting things done. Common sense, the sense of the people, resides outside the Washington DC Beltway. Politicans, like CEOs who are programmed to look no further than quarterly profits, are conditioned to function for the next election, in their own self-interest — p-o-l-i-t-i-c-s. Their version of reality is like Picasso painting a battlefield. Politicians respond to the imperative for prudent change and action with reflexive orthodoxy in search of the short-term political advantage.

The national government must initiate a dialogue with the citizens residing in the several states. There must be a debate between the political class and the American people to determine the course of action that confronts unpalatable truth concerning taxes, spending, and the course of the economy. No more important problem exists than recovering the progress of the middle class. The opportunity to achieve the American Dream, a slice of the pie, begins with the real economy and that includes education as well as effort, exclusive of the paper economy — financialization, which re-distributes wealth. Manufacturing creates wealth.

Poll: Congress less popular than colonoscopies, cockroaches


Congress cannot seem to reach consensus on legislation to revamp the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service. But lawmakers sure have spent a lot of time on other urgent business involving the nation’s teetering mail agency: Naming post offices.

That’s the conclusion of an report Tuesday in the Courier Express and Postal Observer, which took data from 1973 to 2012 compiled by Noah Veltman and found a huge increase in the number of laws to name post offices and in their relative share of the legislation passed by recent congresses.

The postal blog says that more than 15 percent of all bills passed and signed into law in the last five congresses named a post office. The practice spiked after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and has continued during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The naming of post offices to honor American heroes is a powerful tradition. But its spike in recent years, as Congress has been unable to make postal reform a top priority because of ideological differences and other priorities (fiscal cliff, anyone?) is a delicious irony for some.


But then, on Sunday, the spell snapped when the knee snapped. Coach Mike Shanahan committed malpractice, letting a hobbled young quarterback lurch around “like a pirate with a peg leg,” as The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins wrote. The autocratic, crusty 60-year-old, who makes $7 million a year, risked the kid’s career and the team’s future trying to win a wild-card playoff game — the opposite of what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg. At that moment, the Redskins became like the rest of Washington, and the rest of our self-centered, grasshopper attention-span culture — going for short-term gain and avoiding long-term pain.

Everything they do on Capitol Hill is about getting through the next few months, or next few minutes, or next confrontation. John Boehner, after making a mess of the negotiations with the president, is now talking about raising the debt limit in monthly increments. What’s wrong with weekly, or how about hourly?

Like Congress patching gaping fiscal wounds, the Redskins didn’t seem to fathom that they were damaging the franchise long term. “Trying to win that game, they risked 120 victories over the next 10 years,” the writer David Israel told me. “That’s crazy.”


The late congressman John Murtha (D-Pa.) used campaign money to pay for near-weekly grocery runs. Former senator Rick Santorum’s political action committee supported the Pennsylvania Republican’s prodigious Starbucks habit and various forms of retail therapy. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) spent more than $80,000 over five years at a Morton’s steakhouse in Washington.

Jackson’s problem was that he did what everybody else does — but he took it to a new level of excess. And that’s why he sat, in a fine blue suit, in court Wednesday in the matter of United States of America v. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. The judge made sure Jackson was fit to enter his guilty plea, asking him about his “employment experience” (his father’s presidential campaigns, 17 years in Congress) and his psychiatric care.





Obama was reelected less because he inspired the nation than because he discredited his opponent. Most Americans still think that the country is headed in the wrong direction, and just one in five trust their government to do the right thing.





People are the number one asset of any business. the number one asset; and if you get only one takeaway from this book, I hope it is that. because if you don’t get that aspect right – the people part – you will fail.


One nation, under one God, with equality of opportunity based upon merit to achieve self-determination.


Even in its third century, America is still the most meritocratic nation in the world. Unlike the caste system of India; the class considerations of Europe; the racial homogeneity of China, Japan or Korea; the tribalism of Africa; or the religious orthodoxy of the Middle East, America is still a place where one can offer a new idea, invention or protocol that is judged on its merits, rather than on the background, accent, race, age, gender or religion of the person who offers it.


After high school, I spent an unedifying year in college. The year culminated in money problems, considerably less than a year of credits, and a joint decision with the school that I should pursue my happiness elsewhere. Next came what my parents affectionately called my “gap decade,” during which time I made my living as a musician. By my late 20s I was ready to return to school. But I was living in Spain, had a thin bank account, and no desire to start my family with a mountain of student loans.

Fortunately, there was a solution — an institution called Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, N.J. This is a virtual college with no residence requirements. It banks credits acquired through inexpensive correspondence courses from any accredited college or university in America.

I took classes by mail from the University of Washington, the University of Wyoming, and other schools with the lowest-priced correspondence courses I could find. My degree required the same number of credits and type of classes that any student at a traditional university would take. I took the same exams (proctored at local libraries and graded by graduate students) as in-person students. But I never met a teacher, never sat in a classroom, and to this day have never laid eyes on my beloved alma mater.

And the whole degree, including the third-hand books and a sticker for the car, cost me about $10,000 in today’s dollars.


LYNCHBURG, Va. — The small Baptist college that television preacher Jerry Falwell founded here in 1971 has capitalized on the online education boom to become an evangelical mega-university with global reach.


MOOCs take a step toward college credit


Elite education for the masses


In September, Jennifer Hunt of Brown County, Ind., was awarded a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey without ever taking a Thomas Edison course. She was one of about 300 of last year’s 3,200 graduates who managed to patch together their degree requirements with a mix of credits — from other institutions, standardized exams, online courses, workplace or military training programs and portfolio assessments.


Dr. Benjamin Carson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2008 (Photo Credit: AP)

Maybe financing can help you.


Smart, Poor Kids Are Applying to the Wrong Colleges

How an information mismatch is costing America’s best colleges 20,000 low-income students every year.

By Matthew Yglesias | Posted Monday, March 11, 2013, at 4:01 PM

Each year, middle-class American high-school seniors with good grades go through a familiar ritual of the college application process. They file a bunch of applications—perhaps after visiting several schools—submitting test scores, grades, essays, and letters of recommendation. They apply to a “reach” school or two and a “safety” school or two along with some in the middle. The idea is to see where you can get in and then decide where you want to go after researching both the quality of the schools on offer and the actual financial cost of attending. It’s a system that’s a bit stressful and annoying, but it basically works. Students get matched with schools that roughly suit their level of academic preparation and people have a chance to shop around a bit for the myriad forms of financial aid that make college attendance feasible.

But it doesn’t work for poor kids. It turns out that over and above all the other disadvantages one faces growing up poor in America, the majority of high-achieving kids from low-income backgrounds fail to apply to any selective colleges.

This grim discovery comes from Caroline Hoxby of Stanford’s economics department and Christopher Avery from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. It adds to our understanding of structural inequality in America and the striking barriers to social mobility. But in a sense it’s an optimistic story, suggesting that there continues to be plenty of low-hanging fruit in American education. Relatively simple reforms could unlock a great deal of currently wasted talent, with big payoffs for poor kids and society at large.

Most high-achieving students—defined as those with SAT or ACT scores in the top 10 percent—come from high-income families. Thirty-four percent are from the top quartile, and 27 percent are in the next quartile. Just 17 percent of high-achieving students are from families estimated to be in the bottom quartile of the income distribution. But while low-income students are underrepresented among high achievers, 17 percent is still a lot of people—something like 25,000 to 35,000 per year. Of those, about 70 percent are white, 15 percent Asian, and 15 percent black or Hispanic.

High-income, high-achieving students generally do what you’d expect. Most of their applications are to schools where the median admissions test score is similar to what they got. But they apply to some reach schools and most to a safety school. Generally they apply to the local flagship state university campus, which is sometimes a match and sometimes a reach depending on the state.

Low-income students are very different. Fully 53 percent of them apply to zero schools whose median SAT or ACT scores are similar to their own. Many of these smart, poor kids apply only to a single unselective school. Only a very small percentage of these kids—8 percent of them, the authors estimate—act the same as high-achievement kids from prosperous families by applying to selective schools, including some reaches and safeties.

Hoxby and Avery label the 53 percent “income-typical” and the 8 percent “achievement-typical.” They find that that small minority of students who exhibit achievement-typical application behavior do just as well as higher-income students at actually enrolling in and graduating from college. When poor kids apply to good schools, in other words, they’re just as likely to get in as more affluent ones are. The selective colleges deliver enough financial aid to make it possible for achievement-typical kids to attend, and they’re able to do the work and graduate.

But income-typical and achievement-typical students seem to come from very different places. Statistically speaking, the achievement-typical are more likely to live in core municipalities than suburbs or rural areas. They’re more likely to come from larger metro areas than smaller ones. Income-typical students’ schools are smaller and are less likely to feature any teachers who’ve attended selective colleges or have other students who attended such colleges recently.

The mismatch, in other words, is double-sided. Selective schools looking to recruit low-income students with strong test scores are looking at a few hot spots with unusually high densities of such kids and ignoring the long tail of smart kids in smaller cities, in rural areas, and outside magnet programs. Selective schools also seem disproportionately focused on their own areas, such that a small city that’s near highly selective colleges (Providence, R.I., or even Portland, Maine) sends more kids to selective schools than a much larger city such as Atlanta, Miami, or Phoenix. Meanwhile many low-income students simply don’t encounter teachers or other school personnel who’d be in a position to inform them about available financial aid and encourage them to apply to more selective institutions.

There are some logistical barriers to improving recruiting—it’s cheaper to recruit nearby and in bigger high schools—but they hardly seem insurmountable. If colleges start to realize how many high-achieving low-income students they’re missing, they might send their recruiting staff further afield. What’s more, written communications can easily target students regardless of location. The key is that written outreach needs to be specially tailored to the circumstances of low-income students whose personal networks don’t include graduates of selective schools. That means emphasizing the real cost of attendance rather than headline tuition, and the fact that there are gradations of school quality beyond Harvard vs. Other. And success could build on itself. If selective schools did a better job of reaching out to lower-income students, they’d build more diverse alumni networks.

State governments (or Washington, D.C.) could also play a role, committing to targeting top-performing students in low-income districts. Either way, compared with the other dilemmas involved in improving the education system, tackling undermatching seems relatively straightforward. The main barrier is that most people have no idea how widespread it is. Each year, 10,000 or 20,000 of America’s brightest high-school graduates don’t go to a great college not because they can’t afford one but because they don’t realize they should apply.


Shereef Bishay, co-founder of Dev Bootcamp, center, talks with student Ryan Guerrettaz during a class at Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco. Dev Bootcamp is one of a new breed of computer-programming schools that’s proliferating in San Francisco and other U.S. tech hubs. These “hacker boot camps” promise to teach students how to write code in two or three months and help them get hired as web developers, with starting salaries between $80,000 and $100,000, often within days or weeks of graduation. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

By The Associated Press
on April 12, 2013 at 12:33 PM


SAN FRANCISCO — Looking for a career change, Ken Shimizu decided he wanted to be a software developer, but he didn’t want to go back to college to study computer science.
Instead, he quit his job and spent his savings to enroll at Dev Bootcamp, a new San Francisco school that teaches students how to write software in nine weeks. The $11,000 gamble paid off: A week after he finished the program last summer, he landed an engineering job that paid more than twice his previous salary.

“It’s the best decision I’ve made in my life,” said Shimizu, 24, who worked in marketing and public relations after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010. “I was really worried about getting a job, and it just happened like that.”

Student David Wen works during a class at Dev Bootcamp.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Dev Bootcamp, which calls itself an “apprenticeship on steroids,” is one of a new breed of computer-programming school that’s proliferating in San Francisco and other U.S. tech hubs. These “hacker boot camps” promise to teach students how to write code in two or three months and help them get hired as web developers, with starting salaries between $80,000 and $100,000, often within days or weeks of graduation.

“We’re focused on extreme employability,” said Shereef Bishay, who co-founded Dev Bootcamp 15 months ago. “Every single skill you learn here you’ll apply on your first day on the job.”

These intensive training programs are not cheap — charging $10,000 to $15,000 for programs running nine to 12 weeks — and they’re highly selective, typically only admitting 10 to 20 percent of applicants. And they’re called boot camps for a reason. Students can expect to work 80 to 100 hours a week, mostly writing code in teams under the guidance of experienced software developers.

“It’s quite grueling. They push you very hard,” said Eno Compton, 31, who finished Dev Bootcamp in late March. Compton is finishing his doctorate in Japanese literature at Princeton University, but decided he wants to be a software engineer instead of a professor.

“For people who are looking to get involved in software in a big way and don’t want to set aside four years for a computer-science degree, this nine-week program is a terrific alternative,” Compton said.

One San Francisco school called App Academy doesn’t charge tuition. Instead, it asks for a 15 percent cut of the student’s first-year salary. Graduates who can’t find jobs don’t have to pay, but so far nearly all of them have.

“When I started it, people thought we were crazy. Why would you do something like that? But in practice it’s worked out well so far,” said Ned Ruggeri, who co-founded App Academy last summer.

Over the past year, more than two dozen computer-coding schools have opened or started recruiting students in cities such as New York, Chicago, Toronto, Washington and Cambridge, Mass. The programs are attracting students from a wide range of backgrounds, from college dropouts to middle-aged career changers. Most students haven’t formally studied computer science, but have tried to learn to code on their own.

“What we’ve learned in the last nine weeks would have taken at least a year, if not years, on my own,” Ravasio said. “I knew I wanted to learn how to code, and I tried to on my own before and it was really hard and really frustrating.”

But as more boot camps open, backers worry low-quality programs could hurt the reputation of the pioneer schools and drive away potential students and recruiters.

“I worry about the explosion of Dev Bootcamp copycats,” said Michael Staton, a venture capitalist at Learn Capital. “If they mess up, they kind of ruin it for everybody. Then students have to worry about whether these schools can actually deliver on their promise.”

The coding academies are helping meet the seemingly insatiable demand for computer programmers in the U.S. tech industry, which has been lobbying Congress to issue more visas for engineers and other skilled immigrants.

The boot camps are launching at a time when many recent college graduates are struggling to find jobs that pay enough to chip away at their hefty student loan debts.

The new schools say they are teaching students the real-world skills that employers want but colleges have failed to provide. “Our school is a lot shorter, cheaper and more applicable to the work they’d like to do than universities,” said Shawn Drost, who co-founded Hack Reactor in San Francisco six months ago.

This intensive-learning model can also be used to train workers for other professions for less time and money than what traditional colleges require, Staton said. “We think this is the beginning of a really large movement that will happen across industries,” he said.

Bishay, an Egyptian-born engineer who sold his first software company to Microsoft in 2001, started Dev Bootcamp as an experiment. He wanted to see how quickly he could teach his friend and other non-techies how to write code.

“I used about 10 percent of what I learned in college in my first job, and I figured I could teach that 10 percent in two and a half months,” Bishay said.

Dev Bootcamp has trained about 400 students, and 95 percent of them have been hired as software developers with an average salary of about $80,000, Bishay said. It’s now opening a campus in Chicago.

The school doesn’t just teach technical skills. It teaches students how to work in teams, communicate better and interview for jobs. On graduation day, it invites tech recruiters to meet students at a “speed-dating” job fair.

“Finding engineering talent is a big challenge right now, and Dev Bootcamp is addressing a really important problem,” said Felicia Curcuru, who was recruiting engineers for FundersClub, a San Francisco company that connects investors with tech startups. “There are not enough people studying computer science.”


How to Get a Job

Published: May 28, 2013

Underneath the huge drop in demand that drove unemployment up to 9 percent during the recession, there’s been an important shift in the education-to-work model in America. Anyone who’s been looking for a job knows what I mean. It is best summed up by the mantra from the Harvard education expert Tony Wagner that the world doesn’t care anymore what you know; all it cares “is what you can do with what you know.” And since jobs are evolving so quickly, with so many new tools, a bachelor’s degree is no longer considered an adequate proxy by employers for your ability to do a particular job — and, therefore, be hired. So, more employers are designing their own tests to measure applicants’ skills. And they increasingly don’t care how those skills were acquired: home schooling, an online university, a massive open online course, or Yale. They just want to know one thing: Can you add value?

One of the best ways to understand the changing labor market is to talk to the co-founders of HireArt ( https://www.hireart.com/): Eleonora Sharef, 27, a veteran of McKinsey; and Nick Sedlet, 28, a math whiz who left Goldman Sachs. Their start-up was designed to bridge the divide between job-seekers and job-creators.

“The market is broken on both sides,” explained Sharef. “Many applicants don’t have the skills that employers are seeking, and don’t know how to get them. But employers also … have unrealistic expectations.” They’re all “looking for purple unicorns: the perfect match. They don’t want to train you, and they expect you to be overqualified.” In the new economy, “you have to prove yourself, and we’re an avenue for candidates to do that,” said Sharef. “A degree document is no longer a proxy for the competency employers need.” Too many of the “skills you need in the workplace today are not being taught by colleges.”

The way HireArt works, explained Sharef (who was my daughter’s college roommate), is that clients — from big companies, like Cisco, Safeway and Airbnb, to small family firms — come with a job description and then HireArt designs online written and video tests relevant for that job. Then HireArt culls through the results and offers up the most promising applicants to the company, which chooses among them.

With 50,000 registered job-seekers on HireArt’s platform, the company receives about 500 applicants per job opening, said Sharef, adding: “While it’s great that the Internet allows people to apply to lots of jobs, it has led to some very unhealthy behavior. Job-seekers tell me that they apply to as many as 500 jobs in four to five months without doing almost any research. One candidate told me he had written a computer program that allowed him to auto-apply to every single job on Craigslist in a certain city. Given that candidates don’t self-select, recruiters think of résumés as ‘mostly spam,’ and their approach is to ‘wade through the mess’ to find the treasures. Of these, only one person gets hired — one out of 500 — so the ‘success rate’ is very low for us and for our candidates.”

How are people tested? HireArt asks candidates to do tasks that mimic the work they would do on the job. If it is for a Web analytics job, HireArt might ask: “You are hired as the marketing manager at an e-commerce company and asked to set up a Web site analytics system. What are the key performance indicators you would measure? How would you measure them?”

Or, if you want to be a social media manager, said Sharef, “you will have to demonstrate familiarity with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, HTML, On-Page SEO and Key Word Analysis.” Sample question: “Kanye West just released a new fashion collection. You can see it here. Imagine you had to write a tweet promoting this collection. What would your tweet be?” Someone applying for a sales job would have to record a sales pitch over video.

Added Sharef: “What surprises me most about people’s skills is how poor their writing and grammar are, even for college graduates. If we can’t get the basics right, there is a real problem.” Still, she adds, HireArt sees many talented people who are just “confused about what jobs they are qualified for, what jobs are out there and where they fit in.”

So what does she advise? Sharef pointed to one applicant, a Detroit woman who had worked as a cashier at Borders. She realized that that had no future, so she taught herself Excel. “We gave her a very rigorous test, and she outscored people who had gone to Stanford and Harvard. She ended up as a top applicant for a job that, on paper, she was completely unqualified for.”

People get rejected for jobs for two main reasons, said Sharef. One, “you’re not showing the employer how you will help them add value,” and, two, “you don’t know what you want, and it comes through because you have not learned the skills that are needed.” The most successful job candidates, she added, are “inventors and solution-finders,” who are relentlessly “entrepreneurial” because they understand that many employers today don’t care about your résumé, degree or how you got your knowledge, but only what you can do and what you can continuously reinvent yourself to do.




Thin Snowpack in West Signals Summer of Drought

Light snow in Colorado, where the state has declared “extreme drought” around Vail and Aspen.
Matthew Staver for The New York Times

Published: February 22, 2013

DENVER — After enduring last summer’s destructive drought, farmers, ranchers and officials across the parched Western states had hoped that plentiful winter snows would replenish the ground and refill their rivers, breaking the grip of one of the worst dry spells in American history. No such luck.

Lakes are half full and mountain snows are thin, omens of another summer of drought and wildfire. Complicating matters, many of the worst-hit states have even less water on hand than a year ago, raising the specter of shortages and rationing that could inflict another year of losses on struggling farms.

Reservoir levels have fallen sharply in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The soil is drier than normal. And while a few recent snowstorms have cheered skiers, the snowpack is so thin in parts of Colorado that the government has declared an “extreme drought” around the ski havens of Vail and Aspen.

“We’re worse off than we were a year ago,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.

This week’s blizzard brought a measure of relief to the Plains when it dumped more than a foot of snow. But it did not change the basic calculus for forecasters and officials in the drought-scarred West. Ranchers are straining to find hay — it is scarce and expensive — to feed cattle. And farmers are fretting about whether they will have enough water to irrigate their fields.

“It’s approaching a critical situation,” said Mike Hungenberg, who grows carrots and cabbage on a 3,000-acre farm in Northern Colorado. There is so little water available this year, he said, that he may scale back his planting by a third, and sow less thirsty crops, like beans.

“A year ago we went into the spring season with most of the reservoirs full,” Mr. Hungenberg said. “This year, you’re going in with basically everything empty.”

National and state forecasters — some of whom now end phone calls by saying, “Pray for snow” — do have some hope. An especially wet springtime could still spare the Western plains and mountains and prime the soil for planting. But forecasts are murky: They predict warmer weather and less precipitation across the West over the next three months but say the Midwest could see more rain than usual.

Water experts get more nervous with each passing day.

“We’re running out of time,” said Andy Pineda of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “We only have a month or two, and we are so far behind it’s going to take storms of epic amounts just to get us back to what we would think of as normal.”

Parts of Montana, the Pacific Northwest and Utah have benefited from a snowy winter. But across Colorado, the snowpack was just 72 percent of average as of Feb. 1, which means less water to dampen hillsides and mountains vulnerable to fire, less water for farms to use on early season crops, and less to fill lakes and reservoirs that ultimately trickle down into millions of toilets, taps and swimming pools across the state.

Heavy rains and snow have recently brought some hope to the parched states of Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, where the drought is easing. But 55.8 percent of the United States remains locked in drought, according to the government’s latest assessments. And states like Nebraska and Oklahoma are facing precipitation deficits of as much as 16 inches.

Without damp soil, many wheat crops will have trouble growing come March and April when they should be in full bloom, and corn and soybeans could be stunted after they are planted this spring. In a year when farmers are planning another record planting, some might be forced to sow fewer seeds because there is not enough soil moisture to go around.

In southwestern Kansas, Gary Millershaski said the wheat on his 3,000 acres was as dry as it had ever been after two years of drought. But as snow fell around him, he was smiling, a guarded optimist for this year’s planting. “If we get above average rainfall from here on, we’re going to raise a wheat crop,” he said. “But what are the odds of that?”

Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, put it this way: “Mother Nature is testing us.”

But Washington is also posing a challenge.

Mr. Udall, Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and other members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation are seeking $20 million in emergency funds to help restore watersheds in Colorado ravaged by last year’s wildfires. So far, there has been little action on the measure. Western politicians are also urging the Forest Service to move more quickly to modernize the shrinking and aging fleet of tanker planes it uses to douse wildfires.

If Congress does not head off the looming across-the-board budget cuts set to take effect March 1, financing for the Forest Service’s Wildland Fire Management program will be cut by $134 million. As many as 200,000 acres — an area about the size of Kansas City, Mo. — would not be treated to remove dry brush, dead wood and other tinder for wildfires.

In dry states like Colorado, officials are already preparing for the worst. Wildfires did $538 million in damage last year, burning hundreds of homes and driving away summer tourists. As late as December, when the high country should be blanketed by snow, a 4,000-acre fire continued to burn in Rocky Mountain National Park. To some officials, it was a harbinger of longer, fiercer fire seasons that may come with climate change. “It’s just so dry here,” said Tom Grady, the emergency manager in Aspen and the surrounding county, which is already meeting to fine-tune its fire plans for the summer.

Denver Water, which serves 1.3 million people, depleted many of its reservoirs after last year’s dry winter and an unrelenting spree of 90- and 100-degree summer days. Those basins never fully recovered, and are now an average of 63 percent full. The agency has already idled one water treatment plant to conserve its reservoir supplies, and officials say they are likely to declare a Stage 2 drought, limiting when people can water their lawns.

In Northern Colorado, a combination of drought and wildfire is shutting off the spigot for scores of farmers. Cities are worried about ash and sediment flowing from the burn areas into the rivers that supply their water, so they are holding onto every drop possible this year and not selling any water to local farmers.

In 2011, the Northern Colorado city of Greeley alone leased enough water to irrigate 13,000 acres of farmland — representing millions of dollars in wages for farmhands, seed money, fertilizer sales and profits for farmers. Every year, just after midnight on Jan. 1, farmers start calling the city to sign up to lease the surplus water. This year, Greeley had to call them all back to say there was none to be had.

Eldon Ackerman, who grows sugar beets, pinto beans and alfalfa on his farm in Wellington, said he had water supplies for only about one-third of his fields. He was praying the spring snow and rains would come to save him. If they do not, he said he might have to let 1,000 acres lie fallow this year.

“There isn’t any more water to get,” Mr. Ackerman said.


Water is our most precious natural resource. Without water, farmers and ranchers can not produce food and fiber for the domestic or export market. Factories can not operate. Families can not wash their clothes or clean their kids. Schools can not educate children, in short, potable water is essential for life.

Forested watersheds are the generally accepted benchmark of quality for water resources.


Our Coming Food Crisis

Published: July 21, 2013

TUCSON, Ariz. — THIS summer the tiny town of Furnace Creek, Calif., may once again grace the nation’s front pages. Situated in Death Valley, it last made news in 1913, when it set the record for the world’s hottest recorded temperature, at 134 degrees. With the heat wave currently blanketing the Western states, and given that the mercury there has already reached 130 degrees, the news media is awash in speculation that Furnace Creek could soon break its own mark.

Such speculation, though, misses the real concern posed by the heat wave, which covers an area larger than New England. The problem isn’t spiking temperatures, but a new reality in which long stretches of triple-digit days are common — threatening not only the lives of the millions of people who live there, but also a cornerstone of the American food supply.

People living outside the region seldom recognize its immense contribution to American agriculture: roughly 40 percent of the net farm income for the country normally comes from the 17 Western states; cattle and sheep production make up a significant part of that, as do salad greens, dry beans, onions, melons, hops, barley, wheat and citrus fruits. The current heat wave will undeniably diminish both the quality and quantity of these foods.

The most vulnerable crops are those that were already in flower and fruit when temperatures surged, from apricots and barley to wheat and zucchini. Idaho farmers have documented how their potato yields have been knocked back because their heat-stressed plants are not developing their normal number of tubers. Across much of the region, temperatures on the surface of food and forage crops hit 105 degrees, at least 10 degrees higher than the threshold for most temperate-zone crops.

What’s more, when food and forage crops, as well as livestock, have had to endure temperatures 10 to 20 degrees higher than the long-term averages, they require far more water than usual. The Western drought, which has persisted for the last few years, has already diminished both surface water and groundwater supplies and increased energy costs, because of all the water that has to be pumped in from elsewhere.

If these costs are passed on to consumers, we can again expect food prices , especially for beef and lamb, to rise, just as they did in 2012, the hottest year in American history. So extensive was last year’s drought that more than 1,500 counties — about half of all the counties in the country — were declared national drought disaster areas, and 90 percent of those were hit by heat waves as well.

The answer so far has been to help affected farmers with payouts from crop insurance plans. But while we can all sympathize with affected farmers, such assistance is merely a temporary response to a long-term problem.

Fortunately, there are dozens of time-tested strategies that our best farmers and ranchers have begun to use. The problem is that several agribusiness advocacy organizations have done their best to block any federal effort to promote them, including leaving them out of the current farm bill, or of climate change legislation at all.

One strategy would be to promote the use of locally produced compost to increase the moisture-holding capacity of fields, orchards and vineyards. In addition to locking carbon in the soil, composting buffers crop roots from heat and drought while increasing forage and food-crop yields. By simply increasing organic matter in their fields from 1 percent to 5 percent, farmers can increase water storage in the root zones from 33 pounds per cubic meter to 195 pounds.

And we have a great source of compostable waste: cities. Since much of the green waste in this country is now simply generating methane emissions from landfills, cities should be mandated to transition to green-waste sorting and composting, which could then be distributed to nearby farms.

Second, we need to reduce the bureaucratic hurdles to using small- and medium-scale rainwater harvesting and gray water (that is, waste water excluding toilet water) on private lands, rather than funneling all runoff to huge, costly and vulnerable reservoirs behind downstream dams. Both urban and rural food production can be greatly enhanced through proven techniques of harvesting rain and biologically filtering gray water for irrigation. However, many state and local laws restrict what farmers can do with such water.

Moreover, the farm bill should include funds from the Strikeforce Initiative of the Department of Agriculture to help farmers transition to forms of perennial agriculture — initially focusing on edible tree crops and perennial grass pastures — rather than providing more subsidies to biofuel production from annual crops. Perennial crops not only keep 7.5 to 9.4 times more carbon in the soil than annual crops, but their production also reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to till the soil every year.

We also need to address the looming seed crisis. Because of recent episodes of drought, fire and floods, we are facing the largest shortfall in the availability of native grass, forage legume, tree and shrub seeds in American history. Yet current budget-cutting proposals threaten to significantly reduce the number of federal plant material centers, which promote conservation best practices.

If our rangelands, forests and farms are to recover from the devastating heat, drought and wildfires of the last three years, they need to be seeded with appropriate native forage and ground-cover species to heal from the wounds of climatic catastrophes. To that end, the farm bill should direct more money to the underfinanced seed collection and distribution programs.

Finally, the National Plant Germplasm System, the Department of Agriculture’s national reserve of crop seeds, should be charged with evaluating hundreds of thousands of seed collections for drought and heat tolerance, as well as other climatic adaptations — and given the financing to do so. Thousands of heirloom vegetables and heritage grains already in federal and state collections could be rapidly screened and then used by farmers for a fraction of what it costs a biotech firm to develop, patent and market a single “climate-friendly” crop.

Investing in climate-change adaptation will be far more cost-effective than doling out $11.6 billion in crop insurance payments, as the government did last year, for farmers hit with diminished yields or all-out crop failures.

Unfortunately, some agribusiness organizations fear that if they admit that accelerating climate change is already affecting farmers, it will shackle them with more regulations. But those organizations are hardly serving their member farmers and ranchers if they keep them at risk of further suffering from heat extremes and extended drought.

And no one can reasonably argue that the current system offers farmers any long-term protection. Last year some farmers made more from insurance payments than from selling their products, meaning we are dangerously close to subsidizing farmers for not adapting to changing climate conditions.

It’s now up to our political and business leaders to get their heads out of the hot sand and do something tangible to implement climate change policy and practices before farmers, ranchers and consumers are further affected. Climate adaptation is the game every food producer and eater must now play. A little investment coming too late will not help us adapt in time to this new reality.


Spring Rain, Then Foul Algae in Ailing Lake Erie

Brenda Culler/ODNR Coastal Management

Algae blooms, like this one in 2011, are threatening Lake Erie.


Published: March 14, 2013

TOLEDO, Ohio — For those who live and play on the shores of Lake Erie, the spring rains that will begin falling here soon are less a blessing than a portent. They could threaten the very future of the lake itself.

Lake Erie is sick. A thick and growing coat of toxic algae appears each summer, so vast that in 2011 it covered a sixth of its waters, contributing to an expanding dead zone on its bottom, reducing fish populations, fouling beaches and crippling a tourism industry that generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually.

The spring rains reliably predict how serious the summer algae bloom will be: the more frequent and heavy the downpours, the worse the outbreak. And this year the National Weather Service predicts a wetter than usual March and April throughout the region.

It is perhaps the greatest peril the lake has faced since the 1960s, when relentless and unregulated dumping of sewage and industrial pollutants spawned similar algae blooms and earned it the nickname “North America’s Dead Sea.” Erie recovered then, thanks to a multibillion-dollar cleanup by the United States and Canada that became a legendary environmental success story.

But while the sewage and pollutants are vastly reduced, the blooms have returned, bigger than ever.

Once, fisheries and sports anglers pulled five million walleye from the rejuvenated lake every year. Today the catch is roughly one-fifth that, the Environmental Protection Agency says. Commercial fisheries’ smelt catch is three-fifths of past levels. The number of charter fishing companies has dropped 40 percent. Sport fish like walleye and yellow perch are deserting the lake’s center and moving shoreward in search of oxygen and food.

“We’ve seen this lake go from the poster child for pollution problems to the best example in the world of ecosystem recovery. Now it’s headed back again,” said Jeffrey M. Reutter, who directs the Sea Grant College Program at Ohio State University.

The algae problem is hardly isolated. Similar blooms are strangling other lakes in North America and elsewhere, including Lake Winnipeg, one of Canada’s largest, and some bays in Lake Huron.

The algae are fed by phosphorus, the same chemical that American and Canadian authorities spent billions to reduce — for good, they believed — in the 1970s and ‘80s. This time, new farming techniques, climate change and even a change in Lake Erie’s ecosystem make phosphorus pollution more intractable.

Like plants, algae thrive on a phosphorus diet. Decades ago, some 64 million pounds of phosphorus flowed into Lake Erie each year from industrial and sewer outfalls, leaky septic tanks and runoff from fertilized lawns and farms.

The United States and Canadian governments responded by capping household detergent phosphates, reining in factory pollutants and spending $8 billion to upgrade lakeside sewage plants. Phosphorus levels plunged by two thirds, and the algae subsided. But in the mid-1990s, it began creeping back.

“2002 was the last year that we didn’t have much of a bloom,” said Thomas Bridgeman, a professor at the Lake Erie Center at the University of Toledo. “2008, ’09 and ’10 were really bad years for algal blooms.

“And then we got 2011.”

2011 was the wettest spring on record. That summer’s algae bloom, mostly poisonous blue-green algae called Microcystis, sprawled nearly 120 miles, from Toledo to past Cleveland. It produced lake-water concentrations of microcystin, a liver toxin, that were 1,200 times World Health Organization limits, tainting the drinking water for 2.8 million consumers.

Dead algae sink to the lake bed, where bacteria that decompose the algae consume most of the oxygen. In central Lake Erie, a dead zone now covers up to a third of the entire lake bottom in bad years.

“The fact that it’s bigger and longer in duration is a bad thing,” said Peter Richards, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University in Ohio. “Fish that like to live in cold bottom waters have to move up in the thermocline, where it’s too warm for them. They get eaten, and that tends to decrease the growth rates of a lot of the fish.”

Last spring, the rains arrived amid a record drought, and the algae retreated to waters near Toledo. “We had two extremes in two years,” Mr. Bridgeman said. “The lake responded exactly the way we thought it would.”

But no one hopes for a drought. To cut phosphorus levels this time, scientists say, the habits — and the expensive equipment — of 70,000 farmers along the Erie shore must change. Most of the phosphorus that feeds algae these days comes from farmland.

Much of the phosphorus originates near Toledo, where the Maumee River completes a 137-mile journey and empties into the lake’s shallow western basin.

The Maumee watershed is Ohio’s breadbasket, two-thirds farmland, mostly corn and soybeans. Farming there is changing radically, said Steve Davis, a watershed specialist with the United States Agriculture Department’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Dr. Tom Bridgeman

Tom Bridgeman, a professor at the University of Toledo, stood deep in deposits of algae, whose growth is encouraged by the runoff of agricultural fertilizers.

Plowing is declining; 55 percent of farmland is planted using anti-erosion methods promoted by the Resource Conservation Service, like no-till farming, in which seeds are inserted into small holes in unplowed ground. Fertilizing is now contracted to companies that cast pellets onto the bare ground from trucks, or to “factory farms” that spray liquefied animal waste on their cropland.

Mr. Davis has analyzed his watershed almost to the last cornstalk. Animal waste makes up 14 percent of all fertilizer. The rest is fertilizer pellets, 48 pounds per acre. In past days, most pellets sank into plowed soil and stayed there. Now, rain and snowmelt wash an average 1.1 of those 48 pounds off unplowed soil. Much winds up in the Maumee, then in Lake Erie.

The Maumee supplies only about 5 percent of Erie’s water, but half its phosphorus. And while algae struggle to digest ordinary phosphorus — only about 30 percent gets taken up — fertilizer phosphorus is designed for plants to use instantly.

Two other recent changes make matters still worse.

One is the zebra mussel, a foreign invader that has dominated Erie since its discovery in 1988. Millions of mussels feast on nontoxic green algae, removing competitors to the toxic Microcystis algae and decimating the base of the food chain that supports Erie’s fish. Then in a vicious cycle, mussels excrete the algae’s phosphorus, providing the Microcystis a ready-made meal.

The other is climate change. Only heavy rains wash fertilizer off farmland, and since 1940, Mr. Richards said, heavy spring rainstorms have increased by 13 percent.

The Maumee’s phosphorus can be limited, Mr. Davis says, but only if farmers change their approach. More soil testing and new G.P.S.-guided machinery can ensure that crops receive the minimum fertilizer they need. Other new equipment can put fertilizer in the ground during planting instead of pellets being broadcast in the winter. Leaving land fallow beside streams reduces runoff.

The catch is that fertilizing is already efficient: that wasted 1.1 pounds is but 2 percent of all pellets spread on Maumee-area farms. “When you’re only losing a pound per acre,” Mr. Davis said, “how do you cut it to a half?”


Since Earth Day was established with high hopes in 1970 and brought needed legislation to protect air, water and land, the system has reverted to the form that made Lake Erie a poster child for the abuse of nature. Here are some examples culled from the annals since Earth Day 2012:

  • Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that more than half of the nation’s rivers and streams are in poor condition for aquatic life, primarily as a result of industrial agriculture. Hydrilla, a plant native to India and sold as aquarium decor, has become widespread in the Ohio River and is crowding out native plants.
  • Toxic algae blooms on Lake Erie during the summer are likely to become common occurrences given farm runoff and weather extremes wrought by a warming climate, said a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • So-called “microplastics” — plastic trash broken down into BB-sized and smaller fragments by sun, wind and waves and referred to as “solid oil” by one scientist — were found by the millions in Lake Erie, researchers reported this month. The plastics were loaded with toxic pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
  • Colony collapse disorder, which has wiped out 40 to 50 percent of commercial bee hives annually in recent years, is on pace for increasing devastation in 2013. Though the cause is yet to be pinpointed, a relatively new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids is strongly suspected.
  • Walnut twig beetles, carrier of untreatable thousand cankers disease that ultimately kills any black walnut tree infected, were found in Butler County.
  • Hemlock woolly adelgids, a tree-killing Asian import that the Ohio Division of Forestry says “threatens the ecological balance that exists in the naturally occurring Eastern Hemlock forest in Ohio,” were seen for the first time in the Hocking Hills. Ash trees are within a few years of becoming a memory, also because of an Asian insect.
  • A team of fishery biologists has concluded that, given the ubiquity of eDNA presence, it’s likely that Asian carp already have entered Lake Michigan. Not to worry, said researcher Charlie Kerfoot of Michigan Tech University: An explosion of quagga mussels in Lake Michigan is removing the phytoplankton on which most species depend on during some part of their lives. “We have a system that’s crashing,” he said. “By the time the carp get here, there won’t be anything left for them to eat.”

  • www.dispatch.com/content/stories/sports/2013/04/21/as-earth-day-looms-a-few-warning-signs-.html

    EPA report: More than half nation’s rivers in poor shape

    Sean Gardner/Reuters – Barges sit along the banks of the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, Miss., in this photo taken May 13, 2011. The Environmental Protection Agency sampled nearly 2,000 locations in 2008 and 2009 and found more than 55 percent of them in poor condition.

    By Dina Cappiello, Published: March 26

    More than half of the country’s rivers and streams are in poor biological health, unable to support healthy populations of aquatic insects and other creatures, according to a nationwide survey released Tuesday.

    The Environmental Protection Agency sampled nearly 2,000 locations in 2008 and 2009 — from rivers as large as the Mississippi River to streams small enough for wading. The study found more than 55 percent of them in poor condition, 23 percent in fair shape, and 21 percent in good biological health.

    The most widespread problem was high levels of nutrient pollution, caused by phosphorus and nitrogen washing into rivers and streams from farms, cities and sewers. High levels of phosphorus — a common ingredient in detergents and fertilizers — were found in 40 percent of rivers and streams.

    Another problem detected was development. Land clearing and building along waterways increases erosion and flooding and allows more pollutants to enter waters.

    “This new science shows that America’s streams and rivers are under significant pressure,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator of the EPA’s water office. “We must continue to invest in protecting and restoring our nation’s streams and rivers, as they are vital sources of our drinking water, provide many recreational opportunities and play a critical role in the economy.”

    Conditions are worse in the East, the report found. More than 70 percent of streams and rivers from the Texas coast to the New Jersey coast are in poor shape. Streams and rivers are healthiest in Western mountain areas, where only 26 percent were classified as in poor condition.

    The EPA also found some potential risks for human health.

    In 9 percent of rivers and streams, bacteria exceeded thresholds protective of human health. And mercury, which is toxic, was found in fish tissue along 13,000 miles of streams at levels exceeding health-based standards. Mercury occurs naturally but also can enter the environment from coal-burning power plants and from burning hazardous wastes.

    The Obama administration finalized regulations to control mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants for the first time in late 2011.


    Based upon the recent facts, Hurricane Sandy, the New England Blizzard and persistent drought, only a fool (ditto-head) or rich asshole would deny the evidence – Global Warming is here.

    Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks

    Anonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science


    Drought Drives Down Cattle Count


    Drought Takes Its Toll on a Texas Business, a Town and Its Families

    Its cattle supply diminished by drought, the Cargill beef processing plant, the largest employer in Plainview, Tex., shut down on Feb. 1, leaving more than 2,000 people out of work.

    Every Saturday morning, a group of residents and laid-off workers gather outside the plant off Interstate 27 to walk four miles around the perimeter of Cargill. They do it not as a protest, and not strictly for the exercise. They encircle the plant with prayers.

    Plainview, 47 miles north of Lubbock, gets its name from the West Texas topography – flat, big-sky country surrounded by acres of cotton. It is a slow-paced town that cherishes its old-fashioned feel.


    USDA says drought cut corn crop by one-fourth

    Cracks in the earth from summer drought are shown near the base of soybean plants on Friday, July 27, in Jacob. Cracks that close to the plants can cause them to suffer or die completely. (Paul Newton / The Southern)

    January 12, 2013 7:00 am • Associated Press

    For farmers such as Earl Williams, last year couldn’t have started out better or ended much worse as a warm, sunny spring that let him plant early gave way to record heat and drought that devastated his corn.

    Williams ended up with about two-thirds of the crop he expected, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Friday showed most corn farmers didn’t fare much better. The final report on the 2012 growing season showed farmers harvested 10.78 billion bushels of corn, less than three-fourths of what the agency predicted last spring.

    “I’ve yet to run into anyone around me that wasn’t ready for 2013 to come,” he said.

    Yet things could have been worse. Because demand remained strong and corn prices remained high — above $7 a bushel for much of the summer and fall — the 2012 crop was the most valuable ever produced, with a value of around $85 billion, said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist with Iowa State University.

    The harvest also was the eighth largest in U.S. history, a reflection of a big increase in recent years in the number of acres planted and crop technology that has improved plants’ ability to withstand drought.

    In some areas, farmers got yields that require 40 percent more water than was available in the top few feet of their soil, Wilson said. That means plant roots were driven deeper to reach the subsoil.

    While the drought eventually spread to cover two-thirds of the nation, its impact varied widely from one region of the corn belt to another. Some Iowa farmers saw decent results, while those in parts of Illinois and Indiana could only watch as plants withered and died after months of drought.

    U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, said a farm bill could make a huge difference.

    “The problem has been that the (Speaker of the House John Boehner) has refused to bring the farm bill to a vote.”

    Enyart said there is enough uncertainty in the agriculture business as is.

    “What it (the farm bill) is going to do, it’s going to provide some stability in government policy and in government programs” such as crop insurance.

    Enyart said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has been an issue in passing a new farm bill, but it is not the only issue holding up the bill.

    “There’s been an issue over crop insurance,” Enyart said. “There’s been an issue over direct payments to farmers.”

    Friday’s reports showed that Illinois, typically the nation’s second-largest corn producer, fell to fourth place behind Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota.

    Iowa, coming off of its driest year since 1989, remains the largest corn producer with 1.87 billion bushels, down 20 percent from the year before. Minnesota was second with 1.37 billion bushels, followed by Nebraska with 1.29 billion and Illinois with 1.28 billion.

    Corn production in Illinois fell 34 percent from 2011 and Nebraska’s production was off 16 percent. Minnesota, where the drought was not as severe as in other states, produced 14 percent more corn last year than the year before.

    The USDA had predicted a record average yield of 166 bushels per acre of corn when warm weather got farmers in the fields early. But the government began scaling back estimates as the drought spread across two-thirds of the nation. The year-end average was 123.4 bushels per acre.


    Report sounds alarm on global warming

    Climate change will have drastic effects in U.S.

    By Dave Golowenski

    For The Columbus Dispatch Sunday February 3, 2013 6:01 AM

    Calling climate change “the biggest single threat to wildlife in this country,” the National Wildlife Federation last week issued a report that attempts to convey the extent of that threat.

    “This isn’t about making predictions,” said federation senior scientist Amanda Staudt, one of the report authors, during a teleconference on Wednesday. “It’s happening here and now.”

    Entitled “Wildlife in a Warming World: Confronting the Climate Crisis,” the 48-page report describes how weather extremes that include heat, drought and anomalous precipitation are affecting the plants and animals in eight regions of the United States.

    At least three sections of the report — Great Lakes, Appalachian Mountains and, to a lesser extent, the Great Plains — address impacts related to Ohio and its residents.

    Although the report contains few surprises, it assembles evidence of an unfolding calamity whose scope might not be known to a public that generally gets its information in TV sound bites and disconnected news briefs.

    “Many of these things have been around piecemeal before,” Staudt said. “Our aim was to put them together into a coherent story.”

    Change always has been a fact of life. Whenever change has occurred at a geological pace, animals and plants have adapted, sometimes by the slow transformation into different species.But a 7- to 11-degree warming of global temperatures during a period of 100 years would guarantee the demise of many species as they are forced into an evolutionary dead end.

    Many species already are under stress. For instance, 177 of 305 bird species in North America have shifted their range northward by an average of 35 miles during the past four decades as warming has become pronounced. Forests are moving north into the Arctic tundra, broadleaf trees are replacing conifers in Vermont, and pine beetles have ravaged enormous tracts of forest in the West.

    Some plants and animals have been extending their range across North America by up to 12 miles each year since 1990. For most of the 20th century, species movement averaged about 0.4 of a mile annually, the report says.

    Areas in the West, Southwest and Plains affected by a prolonged drought in 2012 could lose a third of their trees.

    “This is just beginning,” Janna Beckerman, a plant pathologist at Purdue University, told USA Today. “I suspect we’ll see trees still dying for the next two or three years” because of the 2012 drought.

    Meanwhile, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center predicts another dry, hot summer for much of the United States already hard hit.

    Last month, a report by U.S. Forest Service scientists said more troubles lie ahead for the endangered Indiana bat, which the service said is likely to be pushed out of its Midwest breeding territory, including Ohio, by rising temperatures. If Indiana bats are to survive, the service said, they will have to grab a foothold in the higher Appalachians and the northeast states.

    Also close to home, algae blooms on Lake Erie in 2011 can be tied to an unusually rainy spring that year that washed tremendous amounts of agricultural fertilizers into the water column. The blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, produce deadly toxins. When the algae masses die, their decomposition sucks oxygen from the water, contributing to so-called “dead zones” where fish and other oxygen-dependent creatures can perish if they can’t escape.

    Climate models suggest that the Great Lakes region, while hotter and drier overall, will experience a general increase in spring rains during the coming decades, Staudt said, which means the runoff/algae problem will need fixing.

    Diminished periods of winter ice will make the Great Lakes warmer and increase evaporation. Such change will favor warm-water species, such as carps, sheepshead, catfish, white bass and white perch, and be less friendly toward trout, walleye, yellow perch, whitefish and salmon.

    Thousands of northern pike, also a cool-water species, went belly up last summer when river temperatures climbed to as high as 90 degrees in southern Michigan.

    Ohio’s Black River, a Lake Erie tributary largely given over to the steel industry near its mouth during the 20th century, gets special mention in the federation report. Although the river has undergone a slow recovery as the result of costly cleanup efforts, gains remain fragile. The river could lose half its species by mid-century as a result of the changing weather patterns.

    Duck hunters could be facing tougher times if heat and drought shrink the prairie potholes on the summer breeding grounds in the Upper Midwest and Plains.

    Any solution to climate change will involve diminished use of fuels that pump carbon into the atmosphere, the federation report said.

    To download a copy of the report, Wildlife in a Warming World, visit the National Wildlife Federation website at nwf.org.


    Global warming: passing the ‘tipping point’
    Our special investigation reveals that critical rise in world temperatures is now unavoidable


    A crucial global warming “tipping point” for the Earth, highlighted only last week by the British Government, has already been passed, with devastating consequences.

    Research commissioned by The Independent reveals that the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has now crossed a threshold, set down by scientists from around the world at a conference in Britain last year, beyond which really dangerous climate change is likely to be unstoppable.

    The implication is that some of global warming’s worst predicted effects, from destruction of ecosystems to increased hunger and water shortages for billions of people, cannot now be avoided, whatever we do. It gives considerable force to the contention by the green guru Professor James Lovelock, put forward last month in The Independent, that climate change is now past the point of no return.

    The danger point we are now firmly on course for is a rise in global mean temperatures to 2 degrees above the level before the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century.

    At the moment, global mean temperatures have risen to about 0.6 degrees above the pre-industrial era – and worrying signs of climate change, such as the rapid melting of the Arctic ice in summer, are already increasingly evident. But a rise to 2 degrees would be far more serious.

    By that point it is likely that the Greenland ice sheet will already have begun irreversible melting, threatening the world with a sea-level rise of several metres. Agricultural yields will have started to fall, not only in Africa but also in Europe, the US and Russia, putting up to 200 million more people at risk from hunger, and up to 2.8 billion additional people at risk of water shortages for both drinking and irrigation. The Government’s conference on Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, held at the UK Met Office in Exeter a year ago, highlighted a clear threshold in the accumulation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which should not be surpassed if the 2 degree point was to be avoided with “relatively high certainty”.

    This was for the concentration of CO2 and other gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, taken together in their global warming effect, to stay below 400ppm (parts per million) in CO2 terms – or in the jargon, the “equivalent concentration” of CO2 should remain below that level.

    The warning was highlighted in the official report of the Exeter conference, published last week. However, an investigation by The Independent has established that the CO2 equivalent concentration, largely unnoticed by the scientific and political communities, has now risen beyond this threshold.

    This number is not a familiar one even among climate researchers, and is not readily available. For example, when we put the question to a very senior climate scientist, he said: “I would think it’s definitely over 400 – probably about 420.” So we asked one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of greenhouse gases on climate, Professor Keith Shine, head of the meteorology department at the University of Reading, to calculate it precisely. Using the latest available figures (for 2004), his calculations show the equivalent concentration of C02, taking in the effects of methane and nitrous oxide at 2004 levels, is now 425ppm. This is made up of CO2 itself, at 379ppm; the global warming effect of the methane in the atmosphere, equivalent to another 40ppm of CO2; and the effect of nitrous oxide, equivalent to another 6ppm of CO2.

    The tipping point warned about last week by the Government is already behind us.

    “The passing of this threshold is of the most enormous significance,” said Tom Burke, a former government adviser on the green issues, now visiting professor at Imperial College London. “It means we have actually entered a new era – the era of dangerous climate change. We have passed the point where we can be confident of staying below the 2 degree rise set as the threshold for danger. What this tells us is that we have already reached the point where our children can no longer count on a safe climate.”

    The scientist who chaired the Exeter conference, Dennis Tirpak, head of the climate change unit of the OECD in Paris, was even more direct. He said: “This means we will hit 2 degrees [as a global mean temperature rise].”

    Professor Burke added: “We have very little time to act now. Governments must stop talking and start spending. We already have the technology to allow us to meet our growing need for energy while keeping a stable climate. We must deploy it now. Doing so will cost less than the Iraq war so we know we can afford it.”

    The 400ppm threshold is based on a paper given at Exeter by Malte Meinhausen of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Dr Meinhausen reviewed a dozen studies of the probability of exceeding the 2 degrees threshold at different CO2 equivalent levels. Taken together they show that only by remaining above 400 is there a very high chance of not doing so.

    Some scientists have been reluctant to talk about the overall global warming effect of all the greenhouses gases taken together, because there is another consideration – the fact that the “aerosol”, or band of dust in the atmosphere from industrial pollution, actually reduces the warming.

    As Professor Shine stresses, there is enormous uncertainty about the degree to which this is happening, so making calculation of the overall warming effect problematic. However, as James Lovelock points out – and Professor Shine and other scientists accept – in the event of an industrial downturn, the aerosol could fall out of the atmosphere in a matter of weeks, and then the effect of all the greenhouse gases taken together would suddenly be fully felt.


    Plastic debris reaches Southern Ocean, previously thought to be pristine
    Researchers on 70,000-mile voyage to investigate climate change say effect of humans is now ‘truly planetary’


    Too Few Fish in the Sea

    In January, officials recommended drastic cuts to the commercial harvest of cod along the Atlantic coast


    Fiddling while Rome burns – the £3trn cost of climate delay
    Expert warns that Doha agreement to wait until 2020 to tackle global warming is a mistake


    The Doha climate summit agreement which delayed vital action to tackle global warming for another seven years will cost $5 trillion (£3.1trn) to remedy, according to research by one of the world’s leading climate change scientists.

    Delaying until 2020 measures to cut carbon dioxide emissions enough to give the world a fair chance of containing global warming would cost 25 per cent more than taking action to achieve the same reduction now, according to the first research to quantify the financial impact of deferring remedial measures. The increase would take the cost from $20trn if action started today to $25trn if it began in 2020, as agreed in Doha last month.

    “It was generally known that costs increase when you delay action. It was not clear how quickly they change,” said Dr Keywan Riahi, of the renowned International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria (IIASA), which conducted the research.

    “With a 20-year delay, you can throw as much money as you have at the problem, and the best outcome you get is a 50-50 chance of keeping the temperature rise below two degrees,” said Dr Riahi, a lead author of the last two influential “assessment reports” for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as the next one, due out in 2014.

    Most experts agree that once global warming exceeds two degrees centigrade the consequences become increasingly devastating. Last month the world’s leading nations reaffirmed a goal of two degrees at the UN climate change conference in Doha and agreed to launch a co-ordinated global campaign to ensure the target was met.

    However, they gave themselves until 2015 to finalise the details of the campaign and five more years to prepare for it, meaning action to combat global warming will not happen until 2020.

    Dr Riahi’s calculations demonstrate the costs of such a delay. The $5trn, or 25 per cent, figure represents the increase in the total cost of ensuring emissions are reduced to a level that give the world a fair – 60 per cent – chance of keeping global warming to two degrees.

    This includes the cost of switching from polluting coal-fired power stations to renewable energy sources and from petrol to biofuels – as well as areas such as introducing measures to improve energy efficiency.

    “Climate is a cumulative problem and so the ‘headroom’ with respect to the emissions that can be vented into the atmosphere in order to stay below two degrees is limited,” said Dr Riahi, who calculated the cost of delay for The Independent, which he derived from research his organisation published in the journal Nature this month.

    “Any lack of emissions reduction now needs to be compensated by more rapid and deeper emissions later on and this makes it more expensive ,” he added.The extra spending would be spread between 2020 and 2100, and much of will be needed by 2050, says the IIASA.





    Inspired: Ohio teen Samantha Manns has set out on a mission to complete exactly 89 random acts of kindness in memory of her grandmother Virginia Booth’s 89 years of life, both pictured here


    Paying it forward: Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, is the first female to join the Giving Pledge

    Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, became the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world through her successful shapewear line. Now, she is also the first female to join Warren Buffett and Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge.


    Generous helping: One of CeCe’s regular customers left the $446 tip for her $5.97 order

    Delighted: CeCe Bruce received the tip from a customer who comes in regularly for breakfast


    Thrilled by Bushkill Park, ‘American Pickers’ fork over $5,000 for their finds


    Years ago, when I attended Ohio State, a Bob Hope story reported that he was worth $200 million.

    If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.

    Bob Hope

    That’s great, I thought. Another local story reported that a school system needed books. “Wish”: I was Bob Hope, or someone with money, to help out.

    Company builds future with the homeless


    Carl Carlson sands wood used to make a bunk bed at Lamon Luther, a Georgia furniture maker that has put homeless men back to work.

    By Shelia M. Poole

    ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION Sunday December 30, 2012 5:00 AM

    ATLANTA — Brian Preston knows what it’s like to teeter on the edge of a financial cliff.

    His residential construction business went belly up and he almost lost his home when the recession hit a few years ago.

    Now he’s helping pull others back from that same ledge.

    Preston is the founder and “chief storyteller” of Lamon Luther, a Douglasville, Ga., furniture designer and maker that has helped put formerly homeless and almost-homeless men back on their feet by giving them jobs and putting tools in their hands.

    “I knew how easy it was to be in that kind of situation,” said Preston, 31, who started the business almost a year ago. “When everything went down with our family, it had gotten so bad we were having yard sales to make ends meet.”

    I think that’s when my passion for poverty exploded.”

    He said the business is working under a slim profit and expects to report $150,000 in sales for the first year. He pours the money “back into the guys and hiring more guys.” Lamon Luther, named after Preston’s grandfather, employs three full-time and three part-time workers. Preston considers the close-knit group as family.

    Although he could have gone the nonprofit route, Preston said it was important to run Lamon Luther as a for-profit business and not be dependent on donations.

    “I wanted us to create a substantial, legitimate opportunity for our guys,” he said. “They were so used to getting donations and handouts, I didn’t want this to be set up that way. I wanted it to be based on the hard work they are putting into the product.”

    Clients for the tables, benches, beds, cabinets and other custom products have included a school, designers and a fast-food restaurant chain.

    Preston, who left his job as a creative director at his church to start Lamon Luther, remembers the first time in 2009 that he went into “the Village,” a wooded area near downtown Douglasville that was home to about a dozen or so down-on-their-luck souls. Many were ex-carpenters and former construction workers.

    Outside of a few church groups, most people avoided the woods and their struggling residents.

    Preston was told it was too dangerous and he would only find trouble, but he wanted to find a way to give back to the community.

    “I felt my life was too safe,” Preston said. “I got frustrated with myself because I felt I could be doing more to help.”

    So he and his best friend went.

    “We couldn’t believe that homeless people lived in our community,” he said. “You think it’s just in urban areas, but there are huge pockets of suburban homelessness.

    They took firewood, clothing and batteries to the camps to make life a little easier. Over time, though, Preston started to feel that he was an enabler.

    He asked one man, Mitch, what he could do to really help. The answer was simple: They wanted jobs and an opportunity to move out of the woods. Mitch said no one would hire them because they didn’t have identification or permanent addresses, or employers thought that the people in the woods would be unreliable or unskilled workers.

    Their stories captivated Preston. He discovered that some of the men were carpenters and former construction workers, which fit well with his own background.

    But the bottom line is really more about the men who work there — people such as Scott Miller, a 30-year-old former construction worker.

    One recent afternoon, Miller and two others worked intently on an upended table’s legs and bunk beds. The air in the workshop was heavy with the smells of varnish and freshly sawed wood.

    Miller lost his job when the economy tanked. Although his family offered to help, Miller said he didn’t want to feel like a burden, so he tried to wing it alone. Soon after, he was living in the woods.

    It was tough. “Living there ain’t nothing nobody wants to do,” said Miller, who makes $7.50 an hour and has been able to move into a rental with shared facilities. He hopes to move into his own place one day. “I never thought I would see myself in that position.”

    Another worker, Roger “T.C.” Anthony Curtis, 53, worked for years in home remodeling and decided to move from Florida back to Georgia when work dried up. He started out on foot, and it took him a month to make the journey.

    But in his field it was rough everywhere. He wound up in the same encampment as Miller.

    He started working for Lamon Luther in January. Within two months, he was out of the woods. “At least I know I can take a hot shower every day,” Curtis said.

    Preston thinks his grandfather, who was an Alabama builder, mechanic and farmer, would be proud that the company bears his name.

    “I think he would love it,” he said. “I remember as a kid he would share his crops with other people who didn’t have food. (The company) represents the generation of people that built with their hands, and it represents the generosity of his heart.”


    Teenager spotted walking 10 MILES in the snow to interview for $7-an-hour job is given work on the spot by restaurant owner – who doubled his pay

    Offer: Mr Bouvier told Jhaqueil that even if he was offered the Dairy Queen gig, he would double his salary if he came to work for him at Papa Roux instead


    The Cleric Behind ‘Les Mis’

    Author Victor Hugo was anticlerical, yet his tale’s hero is set on course by a Catholic bishop.


    Fans of “Les Misérables” on film or stage may be surprised to know that not everyone in France was of good cheer when Victor Hugo published the book in 1862. The anticlerical set was especially offended by the pivotal role of the Bishop of Digne, who helped determine the course of the novel by resuscitating the soul of Jean Valjean.

    As Hugo worked on the novel, his son Charles, then in his 20s, objected to the reverential treatment of the bishop. He argued to his father that the portrayal gave undeserved respect to a corrupt clergy, bestowing credibility on a Roman Catholic Church opposed to the democratic ideals that he and his father held. Charles instead proposed that the catalyst for Jean Valjean’s transformation be a lawyer or doctor or anyone else from a secular profession.

    The pushback didn’t work. Not only did Hugo hold his ground, but he amplified the importance of Charles-François Bienvenue Myriel, affectionately known in the novel as Monseigneur Bienvenue (Bishop Welcome). The book’s first hundred pages or so are a detailed chronicle of Myriel’s exemplary life, showing that his intervention on behalf of Jean Valjean was part of a long track record and not a singular aberration. Apparently Hugo recognized no contradiction between his anticlericalism and the possibility—or certainty—that grace could be mediated by a just priest who was transparent to the divine and never betrayed the human.

    Thirty years earlier, Hugo had solidified his anticlerical credentials by crafting the repulsive, licentious Archdeacon Claude Frollo in “Notre Dame de Paris.” It was time to try a new approach in “Les Misérables,” so he rendered an ideal priest against whom clergy could measure their fidelity to tenderness and mercy. His expectation—as we know from the contemporaneous diary of his wife, Adele—was that corrupt priests would be shamed and indicted by comparison with a good one.

    With Bienvenue, Hugo created a no-frills bishop who lived in a modest cottage, having surrendered his episcopal palace to the hospital next door. There were no locks on the doors; a simple push of the latch allowed entry.

    The bishop subsisted on less than one-tenth of his state entitlements, with the remaining funds dispensed to provide for the release of fathers in debtors’ prisons, meat for the soup of people in the hospital, and other unpopular charities. He had a sliding scale to officiate at marriages and preside at funerals. From the rich he exacted more, from the poor nothing at all.

    Fearless, Bienvenue rode into territories overrun by bandits to visit his people. Without complaint, he assumed responsibilities that lazy curates chose not to. He agonized over the guillotine, and having accompanied a prisoner to his execution he was certain—as was Hugo himself—that anyone witnessing the death penalty would declare it a barbaric act unworthy of a civilized society.

    The cleric in Hugo’s novel was without the entourage nurtured by other bishops. There were no opportunistic seminarians eager to latch onto his coattails and ride into the corridors of power. It was clear to everyone that his star wasn’t in ascendance. Bienvenue mused about seminaries that bred sycophants, where ambition was mistaken for vocation and upward mobility—from a modest biretta to a bishop’s mitre to a pope’s tiara—was the prized trajectory.

    The greatest fear of young priest recruits, Hugo explains, was that merely associating with the virtuous Bienvenue could unwittingly cause one to convert to his lifestyle. It was widely known that virtue was contagious and no inoculation against it existed.

    The trade-off for Bienvenue was that he was loved by his people. They had a bishop whose center of gravity was a compassionate God attuned to the sound of suffering, never repelled by deformities of body or soul, who occupied himself by dispensing balm and dressing wounds wherever he found them.

    He found them in a town called Digne, a name conveniently derived from the Latin dignus, the root of the word we know in English as “dignity.” Bishop Bienvenue conferred dignity with abandon on those whose dignity was robbed by others. He had an endless supply of his own to share and a lot of practice when Jean Valjean knocked on his door.

    During the night he spent at the bishop’s home, mere days after his release from serving 19 years as galley prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean stole six silver place settings, was apprehended, and returned the next morning under police guard to face the consequences of his crime. Unruffled, the bishop brushed off the police, added valuable silver candlesticks to the bundle, “bought” Jean Valjean’s soul from evil and claimed it for God. He redirected the life of a man chained to hatred, mistrust and anger, and he enabled Jean Valjean to emerge as one of the noblest characters in literature.


    published Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

    Employee benefits cut turnover for Chattanooga Steak ‘n Shake franchise

    by Joan Garrett

    Debbie Richman, right, and Matthew Richman stand in front of the Gunbarrel Road Steak N Shake restaurant. The mother and son team have recently been voted the best franchise in the country.
    Photo by Tim Barber.

    Debbie Richman offered health insurance for her full-time restaurant employees long before people talked about Obamacare.

    When the recession hit and sales declined at her chain of five Steak ‘n Shake restaurants, she took out loans to keep the benefits.

    She didn’t just provide health insurance. She offered workers 401(k) plans for retirement, dental, life and disability insurance benefits and vacation pay.

    While other Steak ‘n Shake franchise owners weren’t offering such benefits, she did. Now most everyone in the chain is preparing to provide health care by 2014 under requirements of the new health reform law.

    Many would expect the extra costs of such employee benefits might drain her business, Debo’s Diners Inc. But surprisingly, she said it strengthened the business.

    The lessons of the economic downturn most widely discussed involve trimming and belt tightening. Everyone is learning to do more with less. But Richman, who runs Debo’s Diners Inc. with the help of her two sons, Michael, 23, and Matthew, 28, said she’s learned something else.

    Employees treated right help grow a healthy business, she said.

    “It has always been about people, not profits,” said Matthew Richman, who left Christian ministry work to help his mother’s business.

    For years, her Gunbarrel Road Steak ‘n Shake location was ranked as the No. 5 store in the country for sales and service.

    Now two of her stores are in the top five in the country. This year she was named the best franchise owner in the country because of her scores on cleanliness, customer complaints and sales.

    In years past, employee turnover has been as high as 300 percent a year. Now it is closer to 75 percent.

    And they did all of this with price cuts in place. Steak ‘n Shake redesigned menus and its price points. It started offering half-price milk shakes and drinks during certain times a day. Kids can eat free on Saturday and Sunday. Still, guest counts increased by double digits over the last few years, said Debbie Richman.

    “We are in a good place now,” she said. “It is interesting because there are companies out there that try to cut costs in every way possible. We know of individuals who run restaurants that way. While we are growing, they aren’t. If profits are your first priority, they may not be there.”

    Matthew Richman said his mom’s business decisions have always made him think of business differently. His mother started working as a Steak ‘n Shake waitress in Indianapolis at age 15.

    In 1994, she moved her family to Chattanooga to start new restaurants. She employs 350 people at her five restaurants, including 150 full-time workers.

    In the next year, Matthew Richman said they expect to hire even more. Debbie Richman had thought about selling the business, but decided to keep it when her sons got involved.

    They also want to begin offering financial incentives for employees who participate in community work.

    “I saw my mom and how she was making an impact on the people’s lives that worked for her. I want to help develop this business and find ways to give back,” Matthew Richman said.


    Posted on Monday, February 11, 2013

    Shelters seeing more elderly homeless

    Deb Gruver | Wichita Eagle

    On the afternoon of Jan. 17, when the temperature dipped below freezing, a family from Kingman drove to Wichita, dumped a 78-year-old relative at the Inter-Faith Inn homeless shelter and quickly drove away.

    They left her on the sidewalk with her wheelchair and a few suitcases.

    “She wasn’t crying,” case manager Amanda Merritt recalled. “But she was upset about the situation. She said they were kicking her out.”

    They left so quickly that no one from the shelter was able to talk to them, Merritt said. They didn’t even knock on the shelter door to make sure there was room at the inn.

    “That’s unbelievable that someone would do that,” said Janis Cox, co-chairwoman of Advocates to End Chronic Homelessness, an area faith-based volunteer group.

    Shelter staff took the woman, who was in poor health, inside.

    To accommodate her frailties, the staff hustled to set her up with a room on the ground floor.

    She stayed at the shelter more than two weeks until she found an out-of-state friend who agreed to take her in. She left Wichita a week ago.

    The woman’s story may seem unbelievable, but it’s not that rare, said Sandy Swank, director of housing and homeless services for Inter-Faith Ministries.

    A 2010 study by the Homeless Research Institute, an arm of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, projected that the number of elderly people who are homeless would increase by 33 percent, from 44,172 in 2010 to 58,772 by 2020, and would double to 95,000 by 2050.

    “It seems like there are two main things going on,” said Nan Roman, president and chief executive of the alliance in Washington, D.C.

    “One is that there’s a group of people who are homeless who are becoming older. They were younger homeless people, so the population is aging that way. The other thing is that our whole population is aging. Even though older people are less likely to be homeless than other people because they have more of a safety net, because there are more and more older people in general, we are going to have more and more elderly people vulnerable to homelessness.” Numbers up locally

    Swank sees the numbers increasing locally.

    “I’ve been working at Inter-Faith since October 1990,” she said. “In the beginning, we’d have an occasional elderly person come in, but if they came in, they came in with someone else. They always had someone to look after them. In the last 10 years, we have seen more elderly people, and each year it seems like the number increases.”

    Swank remembers another woman left at the shelter. She arrived in a hospital gown with no shoes. There was snow on the ground. The front left wheel of her wheelchair was off.

    “I was just outraged,” Swank said.

    The woman eventually was able to move into an apartment of her own.

    Inter-Faith’s winter shelter has served 13 people over age 62 this year, more than double last year’s total of five.

    Swank points to a few theories about why the numbers are up – including, of course, the economy.

    “Years ago, families did look after families,” Swank said. “Today, because of the economy, a lot of people are at risk themselves. I think families can’t afford to take care of each other like they used to. And we’ve become more mobile. We move away from our families of origin. We’re spread out.”

    Inter-Faith is seeing mostly elderly people whose spouses have died, Swank said. Their spouses might have left behind a pile of medical expenses or credit card debt. She remembers one elderly woman whose husband died, leaving her with debt she didn’t even know about.

    “They end up losing everything,” she said. “They’re pretty vulnerable. They don’t have a lot of experience, especially when the partner that’s deceased was in charge of decisions. So they’re pretty clueless about what to do.” Families ‘very stressed’

    Public awareness about the increase in homelessness among the elderly is a good place to start, said Cox, chairwoman of the area task force.

    “Families are very stressed,” she said. “With social services being cut by the government and nonprofits not receiving more donations, it just puts normal families under even more stress.”

    The Homeless Research Institute recommended as part of its study that policymakers and leaders:

  • Increase the supply of subsidized, affordable housing for seniors.
  • Create sufficient permanent supportive housing to end chronic homelessness.
  • Conduct research to better understand the specific needs of elderly people who are homeless.
  • “We’re millions of units short of low-cost housing,” said Roman, with the national alliance.

    “Not attending to it is not very smart because especially with older people, they’re going to get hospitalized, they’re going to get put in nursing homes, and those are very expensive things to happen. It’s much cheaper to keep them in regular housing.”

    Roman also emphasized that people who are homeless age much faster. So a 50-year-old person without a home will have far more medical problems than a 50-year-old person who does have a place to call home.

    The oldest person at Inter-Faith’s winter shelter was 83, Swank said.

    She recalled a military veteran who didn’t have any living relatives.

    “We sort of adopted him like a grandpa,” she said. “He had terminal lung cancer. We tore my office out of here and put a hospital bed in there. We’ve done extraordinary things. It’d be real easy to just say ‘no,’ but no can do.”

    He stayed at the shelter until his pain became unbearable. He wanted to die at the shelter, Swank said, where he had some semblance of family.

    “But we couldn’t administer pain meds,” Swank said. “We put him in an ambulance to the hospital.”

    Dale Chilen recently landed in Inter-Faith’s winter shelter after a visit to the Robert J. Dole Veterans Administration Medical Center’s emergency room. A cab delivered the 78-year-old to the shelter on a Saturday night.

    Swank just happened to see him arrive.

    “He was so frail, in a wheelchair,” Swank said. “I paid the cab driver to get him to Safe Haven. He was too vulnerable anywhere else. We’re not a one-size-fits-all shelter, although sometimes I’d like to be.”

    Chilen said he was born and raised in Kansas but most recently had been living in Reno, Nev.

    He arrived in Salina at the beginning of the year, he said, “walked about 20 feet and fell and broke my hip.”

    He said he went to a hospital in Salina and then to a senior center. He eventually came to Wichita.

    Chilen stayed at Safe Haven, an Inter-Faith shelter for severely and persistently mentally ill or physically disabled people who are chronically homeless, for about a month.

    The shelter “has been real good to me,” he said.

    On Wednesday, he started moving into a low-income apartment for seniors with the help of Inter-Faith Ministries and the Veterans Administration.

    The VA Center said it could not talk about specific patients because of privacy rules.

    “We’re going to review the process to ensure we’re providing the best care for our veterans,” said Tyler Kilian, supervisor of ancillary services there.

    Chilen, a Korean War veteran, said he has been homeless “off and on” for 20 years.

    “I hate to admit it,” he said from his wheelchair, proudly looking at a brochure about his new apartment complex.


    D.C., advocates at odds over homeless families; 900 people still in shelter


    Hospital shoeshine who earns just $10,000 a year has donated astonishing $200,000 from tips to sick children over 30 years

  • Albert Lexie has been shining shoes in lobby of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh since 1982
  • Drives 90 minutes to reach hospital and earns only around $10,000 per year
  • Has been donating all tips to the Free Care Fund, which provides care to children, regardless of family’s ability to pay

  • www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2282275/Albert-Lexie-Shoeshine-donates-200-00-tips-Free-Care-Fund-Pittsburgh-Childrens-Hospital.html



    How the NRA exerts influence over Congress
    The National Rifle Association uses campaign expenditures and a rating system based on members’ voting histories to exert influence over members of Congress. Use this graphic to see who gets the most — and least – support.



    WASHINGTON — First the White House and Congress created a potential fiscal crisis, agreeing more than a year ago to once-unthinkable governmentwide spending cuts in 2013 unless the two parties agreed to alternative ways to reduce budget deficits.

    Now that those cuts are imminent — because compromise is not — they have created one of Washington’s odder blame games over just whose bad idea this was.

    …What makes this debate over blame so odd is that both sides’ fingerprints — and votes — are all over the sequestration concept. The point of sequestration, in fact, was to define cuts that were so arbitrary and widespread that they would be unpalatable to both sides and force a deal.


    For years, I wavered on the issue of term limits, couldn’t make up my mind on its utility for governance. At present, based upon watching and listening during the “fiscal cliff” nonsense, and now the “sequester” posturing, it is evident to me that re-election is the prime directive that motivates DC politicians, not prudent governance.

    And I guaran-damn-tee you this: [Sen. Lindsay] Graham [R- SC] ’s antics have as much to do with events in Columbia, S.C., as with events in Washington. His sentiments are no doubt genuine, but the ferocity with which he has been attacking the Obama administration — taking a high-profile role on Benghazi, Susan Rice, Hagel and gun control — are helping him to repel a tea party primary challenge at home.


    “His [Max Baucus] guiding principle has been to get reelected,” says one former Senate staffer, “not to lead and to educate.”


    [Mitch] McConnell, like his equal across the aisle Harry Reid, is a rare politician well aware of his strengths and weaknesses. McConnell knows that his path to victory is not by telling a positive story about himself but by savaging the other guy.


    Billion$ to get re-elected


    It is a typically muggy summer evening on Capitol Hill. Senator Barbara Boxer has spent the past 12 hours attending committee meetings, casting votes and greetingconstituents.

    But Boxer’s work is not done.

    Curled up beside a telephone in her home’s study, Boxer dials the first number on a long list of California Democratic Party donors.

    “Hello, this is Senator Boxer,” she says. “I bet you can guess why I am calling. I hate to ask you this, but. . . .”

    Boxer cannot stand asking people for money. At times, it makes her physically ill. Nevertheless, she places call after call, sometimes for as long as four hours at a stretch, because she knows that’s what it takes to remain a senator.

    “I feel terrible doing it,” Boxer said in an interview late last week. “Yet I know if I’m going to defend my record and defend my seat, I have to play by the rules.”

    Fifteen months before she faces re-election, the Boxer money- raising machine is at full throttle. Boxer hopes to raise $20 million in her effort to win a second term. In order to reach her goal, she must raise about $33,000 every day, seven days a week, between now and November 1998.


    Incumbent lawmakers enjoy a huge advantage over challengers, with the average incumbent Senator raising $11 million over a six-year term, a nearly 10-to-1 advantage over a Senate challenger’s average haul of $1.2 million.


    Senator Durbin

    Dialing For Dollars
    Oct 20, 2007 9:11 AM EDT
    Public financing for election campaigns may not be a panacea, but it’s got to be better than what we’re doing now.


    But in what is both the most compelling and the most depressing part of the book, Gore fears that the U.S. political system isn’t up to the challenge. He can’t resist drawing on his techno-enthusiasm to describe the problem: “American democracy has been hacked.” That cute phrase is a little unfortunate, because his point is serious and bold: “The United States Congress, the avatar of the democratically elected national legislatures in the modern world, is now incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their campaign finances.”


    President Obama recently suggested that he would ask Congress to close this loophole. Eliminating the carried-interest tax rate should be an easy sell. It should play to Republicans’ supposed hatred of government handouts and to Democrats’ commitment to social justice.

    But because of the financial lobby’s clout, the loophole most likely won’t be closed. If it isn’t, shame on both parties for giving us another reason to distrust our democracy and our capitalist system.

    While the tax legislation passed on Jan. 1 increased the top individual-income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent for couples making more than $450,000 and individuals making more than $400,000, it left carried-interest income taxed at just 20 percent.

    …This special tax treatment for carried interest protects the general partners of private equity, venture capital, real estate, hedge funds and other investment vehicles organized as limited partnerships. (The investment-holding company I run does not receive carried-interest income.)

    Millions of general partners in investment funds receive carried-interest income when they earn profits for their clients. Since these partners do not have to risk any of their own capital, carried interest is really a taxpayer-subsidized fee for managing their clients’ money — often 20 percent of the profits generated in the fund, and sometimes significantly more than that.


    US democracy has been “hacked” by big business and needs to be reclaimed using the power of the internet to hold politicians to account, according to former US vice-president Al Gore.

    Offering a blunt assessment of the extent to which private companies influence decision-making in the US, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “American politics has fallen into a state of disrepair,” in an interview to mark the publication of his new book, The Future.


    Obama’s new political group to lure unlimited donations


    In recent interviews, four former aides to Mr. Baucus said that their ties to him heightened their appeal to potential clients. The link also helped justify their salaries, in some cases $500,000 or higher, more than double or triple their Capitol Hill paychecks.

    Former Senate aides who become lobbyists must wait a year before they can contact Mr. Baucus or his staff on behalf of a client, according to Senate ethics rules.

    Staying active in their circle, one former aide said, also requires that they help Mr. Baucus’s political career, through fund-raising and other assistance.

    Several of the lobbyists regularly fly to Big Sky, Mont., for weekend fund-raising retreats that Mr. Baucus hosts, or attend more intimate events in Washington like a gathering last month near the Capitol, where Paul Wilkins, Mr. Baucus’s chief of staff, talked about the millions of dollars Mr. Baucus will need to raise for his re-election campaign next year.

    Among them, the top givers include Jeffrey A. Forbes, Mr. Baucus’s former Finance Committee staff director, who has donated a total of at least $25,000 to Mr. Baucus, his political action committee or the Montana Democratic Party. He attended the retreat in February at the Big Sky resort, which included skiing, snowmobiling and a big family dinner at Buck’s T-4 Lodge. The totals grow much bigger — to hundreds of thousands of dollars — when donations from Mr. Forbes’s clients, including Verizon and Altria, and other partners at his lobbying firm, are counted.


    The picture is clear except for one salient set of facts: According to former Representative Bob Livingston (D-La.): “They’d come into Washington Tuesaday night, work Wedenesday, and leave Thursday….So what you had was ninety subcommittees, and all of the leadership committees, all meeting Wedenesday between nine and twelve. You can’t run the Congress like that. You can’t run any institution like that. And the institution broke down.”


    Of the 56 days so far in 2013, the House has been in session for 20 — and a large chunk of those have been pro-forma sessions without votes, or with ceremonial bills. After a week’s recess, the chamber returned Monday with just a few items on the calendar. Lawmakers are scheduled to be out of town Friday, when the sequester is set to take effect. They’re planning another recess at the end of March, when the federal government is due to shut down for lack of funding.


    Recess bell rings and Congress splits

    WASHINGTON —Military readiness will be threatened. So will food inspections, teaching jobs, mental health services and more, all because of the automatic spending cuts due to take effect March 1.

    Congress, though, has left the building.

    Congress is off until Feb. 25 for its Presidents Day recess. That leaves four days to find a way to avoid automatic spending reductions, called a sequester, that the White House warns will “threaten thousands of jobs and the economic security of the middle class.”

    Each side says it’s the other guy’s fault they’re not staying. Republicans aren’t being serious about finding solutions, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and “you need two willing partners.”

    Republicans counter it’s those stubborn Democrats who won’t budge. Senate Democrats offered an alternative Thursday, and four hours later left for 10 days.

    See, said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “Liberals sit on their hands until the last minute,” he said. “They offer some gimmicky tax hike bill designed to fail – then blame everyone else when it does.”

    Congress’ approval rating has had trouble topping 15 percent, and members are hardly fatigued. The 113th Congress, which convened Jan. 3, spent 10 days in session last month.

    Some get annoyed when asked why the recess is needed.

    “It’s a perennial question and it’s a cheap shot,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “There’s no better place to be than with your constituents. A very small percentage of members go on vacation during these periods.”

    One dissenting voice has been House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

    “The House should not recess and members of Congress should not go home until we finish our work, reach an agreement, and avert this crisis,” she wrote House Speaker John Boehner on Monday. The Ohio Republican didn’t respond.

    Asked why the speaker did not respond, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “I’m sure Rep. Pelosi is aware of the schedule.”

    These one- to two-week recesses – they’re also scheduled around Easter and Passover, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and other holidays – are a modern creation. In the nation’s early days, Congress was a part-time matter, meeting from December through the spring.

    That changed during the 20th century, and by the end of World War II, Congress came to Washington and stayed, forging friendships and trust that veterans maintain has been lost today. Members usually went home by summer – before the days of air conditioning.

    But other than that, “No one expected them to go home during the session,” said Betty Koed, associate Senate historian.

    The current stop-and-go system began to evolve in the 1960s. Airplane travel made it easier for everyone to go home. A new emphasis on family life meant members wanted more time back home with their families. And the need to raise lots of money meant more time away from Washington.

    Recesses are rarely canceled. The most recent was in July 2011. For the first time in 37 years, the Senate gave up its post-Fourth of July break so it could deal with federal debt limit negotiations and U.S. involvement in Libya.

    But even with the clock ticking toward sequestration, there’s little clamor to stay. When Congress returns, the Senate plans to take up other business Feb. 26 and 27, then probably turn to the Democratic package. The House will be waiting.




    The Court took the opportunity to settle this issue, which was a pressing public policy concern, the right to ban certain types of weapons associated with criminal behavior. The Court prudently developed a two-prong test to evaluate a Second Amendment claim: weapons had to be of a type related to militia activity and had to be used in conjunction with participation in a well-regulated [legally sanctioned] militia. This test avoided the potentially absurd result of giving criminals the opportunity to claim that if their guns were used by the [de facto] National Guard [militia] and part of the ordinary equipment of the soldier they were entitled to Second Amendment protection.


    States with weakest firearm laws lead in gun deaths: study

    WASHINGTON | Wed Apr 3, 2013 3:03pm EDT

    (Reuters) – Many states with the weakest firearms laws have the highest rates of gun-related homicides and suicides, according to a study released on Wednesday by a liberal think tank.

    Alaska had the most gun deaths, with 20.28 deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, twice the national average, the analysis by the Center for American Progress showed.

    Louisiana and Montana, which followed with 19.06 and 16.58 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively, were among the 10 states with the weakest gun laws, according to the study, the latest to link gun laws to firearm deaths.

    Eight of the states with the highest levels of gun violence were among the 25 with the weakest gun laws, said the report, citing a study last year by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

    “This report – as others before it – demonstrates a strong link between state gun laws and gun violence,” it said, adding that this link didn’t imply cause and effect.

    “Factors such as gun trafficking across state lines, overall crime patterns, and other socioeconomic issues in a state all play a role in gun-violence rates,” it said.

    Louisiana, Alaska and Alabama have the highest levels of gun violence, based on measures that include firearm deaths, suicides, homicides, and police officials feloniously killed by guns.

    Hawaii, Massachusetts and Connecticut had the lowest rates of gun violence, and were among the 10 states with the strongest gun laws, the study found.

    Hawaii had the fewest firearm deaths in 2010, at 3.31 per 100,000 people.

    Last month, researchers reported in the online journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, that more gun laws in a state were associated with lower firearm death rates.

    Several states have moved to tighten gun laws following the massacre of 20 students and six adults at a Connecticut school in December.

    President Barack Obama is seeking to pass the broadest gun control regulations in a generation, but faces stiff opposition from pro-gun groups.

    The United States had about 31,300 firearms deaths in 2010, with two-thirds of them suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Vital Statistics Report.

    (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bernadette Baum)



    Commented 17 hours ago in Politics

    Gun Fundamentalists think like this: background checks lead to registration, registration leads to confiscation, confiscation leads to extermination – whacked.”

    Gr8Scout February 12, 2013 at 5:49am

    As a long time gun owner who [h]as seen the NRA move from being the only gun-safety organization to a well funded lobbying arm of the gun industry, I think Mr. Frey is mostly correct. Yes, long held position of the NRA is that background checks lead to registration, which is not true, as the background checks records are kept about 24 hours and then destroyed. Yes, long held stance of the NRA is that any registration will lead to confiscation.

    Mr. Frey might be making a bit of an exaggeration on his last point, but not by much. HuffPost readers can see by the posts made by hard core proponents of the 2nd amend. that they do see themselves leading an insurrection against a tyrannical US government. This idea is held by NRA talking head Ted Nugent, who has made statements alluding to dying while fighting our present administration.


    Hitler joins gun debate, but history is in dispute
    By ADAM GELLER, AP National Writer | Published: Mar 23, 2013 at 9:04 AM PDT

    When the president of Ohio’s state school board posted her opposition to gun control, she used a powerful symbol to make her point: a picture of Adolf Hitler. When a well-known conservative commentator decried efforts to restrict guns, he argued that if only Jews in Poland had been better armed, many more would have survived the Holocaust.

    In the months since the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, some gun rights supporters have repeatedly compared U.S. gun control efforts to Nazi restrictions on firearms, arguing that limiting weapons ownership could leave Americans defenseless against homegrown tyrants.

    But some experts say that argument distorts a complex and contrary history. In reality, scholars say, Hitler loosened the tight gun laws that governed Germany after World War I, even as he barred Jews from owning weapons and moved to confiscate them.

    Advocates who cite Hitler in the current U.S. debate overlook that Jews in 1930s Germany were a very small population, owned few guns before the Nazis took control, and lived under a dictatorship commanding overwhelming public support and military might, historians say. While it doesn’t fit neatly into the modern-day gun debate, they say, the truth is that for all Hitler’s unquestionably evil acts, his firearms laws likely made no difference in Jews’ very tenuous odds of survival.

    “Objectively, it might have made things worse” if the Jews who fought the Nazis in the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising in Poland had more and better guns, said historian Steve Paulsson, an expert on the period whose Jewish family survived the city’s destruction.

    But comparisons between a push by gun control advocates in the U.S. and Hitler have become so common – in online comments and letters to newspaper editors, at gun rights protests and in public forums – they’re often asserted as fact, rather than argument.

    “Absolute certainties are a rare thing in this life, but one I think can be collectively agreed upon is the undeniable fact that the Holocaust would have never taken place had the Jewish citizenry of Hitler’s Germany had the right to bear arms and defended themselves with those arms,” former Major League Baseball pitcher John Rocker wrote in an online column in January.

    After some gun advocates rallied at New York’s capitol in February carrying signs depicting Gov. Andrew Cuomo as Hitler, National Rifle Association President David Keene said the analogy was appropriate.

    “Folks that are cognizant of the history, not just in Germany but elsewhere, look back to that history and say we can’t let that sort of thing happen here,” Keene, who was the lead speaker at the rally, told a radio interviewer March 1.

    Those comparisons between gun control now and under Hitler joined numerous other statements, including the one by the Ohio school board president, Debe Terhar, on her personal Facebook page in January and by conservative commentator Andrew Napolitano, writing in The Washington Times.

    The comparisons recently prompted the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, to call on critics of gun control to keep Hitler and the Nazis out of the debate.

    The rhetoric “is such an absurdity and so offensive and just undermines any real understanding of what the Holocaust was about,” said Ken Jacobson, the ADL’s deputy national director. “If they do believe it, they’re making no serious examination of what the Nazi regime was about.”

    But some gun rights advocates firmly disagree.

    “People who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” said Charles Heller, executive director of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, which has long compared U.S. gun control to Nazi tactics. “I guess if you’re pro-Nazi, they are right. But if you’re pro-freedom, we call those people liars.”

    Comparing gun control activism to Hitler is not new. In a 1994 book, “Guns, Crime and Freedom,” NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre wrote that “In Germany, firearm registration helped lead to the Holocaust.”

    But the history of civilian gun ownership under the Nazis, scholars say, is far more complicated than the rhetoric indicates.

    After World War I, Germany signed a peace treaty requiring dismantling of much of its army and limiting weapons import and export. But many of the 1 million soldiers returning home joined armed militias, including a Nazi Party force that saw Communists as the leading threat.

    “Technically, they (the militias) were illegal and the guns were illegal, but a lot of government officials didn’t care about right-wingers with guns taking on Communists,” said David Redles, co-author of “Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History,” a popular college text. By 1928, however, officials decided they had to get a handle on the militias and their weapons and passed a law requiring registration of all guns, said Redles, who teaches at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland.

    Soon after Hitler was named chancellor in 1933, he used the arson of the Reichstag as an excuse to push through a decree allowing for the arrest of many Communists and the suspension of civil rights including protections from search and seizure. But as the Nazis increasingly targeted Jews and others they considered enemies, they moved in 1938 to loosen gun statutes for the loyal majority, said Bernard Harcourt, a University of Chicago professor of law and political science who has studied gun regulations under Hitler.

    The 1938 law is best known for barring Jews from owning weapons, after which the Nazis confiscated guns from Jewish homes. But Harcourt points out that Hitler’s gun law otherwise completely deregulated acquisition of rifles, long guns and ammunition. It exempted many groups from requiring permits. The law lowered the age for legal gun ownership from 20 to 18. And it extended the validity of gun permits from one year to three years.

    “To suggest that the targeting of Jews in any of the gun regulations or any of the other regulations is somehow tied to Nazis’ view of guns is entirely misleading,” Harcourt said, “because the Nazis believed in a greater deregulation of firearms. Firearms were viewed, for the good German, were something to which they had rights.”

    With the 1938 law, Nazis seized guns from Jewish homes. But few Jews owned guns and they composed just 2 percent of the population in a country that strongly backed Hitler. By the time the law passed, Jews were so marginalized and spread among so many cities, there was no possibility of them putting up meaningful resistance, even with guns, said Robert Gellately, a professor of history at Florida State University and author of “Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany.”

    U.S. gun rights advocates disagree, pointing to the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising by about 700 armed Jews who were able to fend off a much larger force of German troops for days until retreating to tunnels or fleeing. The Nazis won out by systematically burning the ghetto to the ground, house by house.

    “Once the Germans began adopting that strategy there really wasn’t very much that people armed with pistols, or even rifles and machine guns, could do,” said Paulsson, the historian and author of “Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw.”

    Paulsson said it is possible that if Polish Jews had limited their resistance, Nazi troops might not have destroyed the ghetto, allowing more to survive in hiding or escape. When armed Jews shot at mobs or troops at other times in 1930s and 1940s Poland, it incited more vicious counter-attacks, he said.

    But to Heller, the gun rights activist, the Warsaw uprising is proof of power in firearms. Giving Jews more guns might not have averted the Holocaust, but it would have given them a fighting chance, enough that perhaps a third of them could have shot their way out of being marched to the concentration camps, he said.

    “Could they have fought back? They did (in Warsaw). You know why they (the Nazis) destroyed the ghetto? Because they were afraid of getting shot,” he said. “Now, will it get to that in the U.S.? God, I hope not. Not if (U.S. Attorney General Eric) Holder doesn’t start sending people to kick doors down.”

    But Paulsson, whose mother was freed from the Auschwitz concentration camp at the end of the war, dismisses that argument as twisting the facts.

    “Ideologues always try to shoehorn history into their own categories and read into the past things that serve their own particular purposes,” he said.


    During a public hearing on gun violence in Hartford, Conn. on Monday, a legal immigrant by the name of Henson Ong issued a passionate defense of the Second Amendment and argued that gun control simply “does not work.” The video of Ong’s testimony has already surpassed 130,000 views on YouTube.

    “Forgive me, English is not my first language. I am a legal immigrant and I am an American by choice,” he began, prompting applause from the audience.

    “Thank you for giving me this opportunity to express my opinion and give my testimony in opposition to the majority of the proposed bills, which do nothing to deter future crimes,” he added. “Gun control doesn’t work.”

    Ong then launched into a impassioned diatribe about what he considers to be the real problem fueling gun gun violence — “societal decay.”

    “Your own history is replete with high school rifle teams, boy scout marksmanship merit badges,” he explained. “You could buy rifles at hardware stores, you could order them… your country was awash in readily available firearms and ammunition, and yet in your past you did not have mass school shootings*.”

    “What changed?” he asked. “It was not that the availability of guns suddenly exploded or increased, it actually was decreased. What changed was societal decay,” he added, resulting in more applause.

    Ong pointed to the Washington, D.C. and Chicago as two cities with some of the strictest gun laws but also “the highest crime and murder rates.”

    “If gun control actually did work, Washington, D.C. and Chicago would be the safest cities in your nation. But [they are] not, they have the toughest gun laws and the highest crime and murder rates,” he said.

    Ong also defended Americans’ right to own so-called “assault rifles,” which are really just semi-automatic rifles. Citing a recent purchase of 7,000 5.56x45mm NATO “personal defense weapons” by the Department of Homeland Security, he noted how the agency described the weapons as “suitable for personal defense use in close quarters.”

    He went on: “Had the Koreans in the LA riots not had AR-15s and AK-47s with 30-round magazines — and Ruger 30s — their businesses would have burnt to the ground like all the other businesses in their neighborhoods. Theirs stood because they stood their ground.”

    Driving a point home that many U.S. lawmakers don’t even seem to fully understand, the legal immigrant stated definitively that the Second Amendment’s purpose was not for hunting.

    In closing, Ong quoted a famous statement by Judge Alex Kozinski in his dissent on the case of Silveira v. Lockye in 2002.

    “My excellent colleagues have forgotten these bitter lessons of history. The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime usually do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed only for those exceptionally rare circumstances when all other rights have failed. A free people can only afford to make this mistake once.”

    Ong ended his testimony to applause from the audience.


    Strict Gun Laws in Chicago Can’t Stem Fatal Shots

    Scott Olson/Getty Images

    The funeral for a 14-year-old boy who was killed Jan. 11 in Chicago, where there were more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013.

    Published: January 29, 2013

    CHICAGO — Not a single gun shop can be found in this city because they are outlawed. Handguns were banned in Chicago for decades, too, until 2010, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that was going too far, leading city leaders to settle for restrictions some describe as the closest they could get legally to a ban without a ban. Despite a continuing legal fight, Illinois remains the only state in the nation with no provision to let private citizens carry guns in public.

    And yet Chicago, a city with no civilian gun ranges and bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013, including a fatal shooting of a 15-year-old girl on Tuesday.

    To gun rights advocates, the city provides stark evidence that even some of the toughest restrictions fail to make places safer. “The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they’ve essentially made the citizens prey,” said Richard A. Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. To gun control proponents, the struggles here underscore the opposite — a need for strict, uniform national gun laws to eliminate the current patchwork of state and local rules that allow guns to flow into this city from outside.

    “Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it’s like you’ve got this single house sitting on a whole block where there’s anarchy,” said the Rev. Ira J. Acree, one among a group of pastors here who have marched and gathered signatures for an end to so much shooting. “Chicago is an argument for laws that are statewide or, better yet, national.”

    Chicago’s experience reveals the complications inherent in carrying out local gun laws around the nation. Less restrictive laws in neighboring communities and states not only make guns easy to obtain nearby, but layers of differing laws — local and state — make it difficult to police violations. And though many describe the local and state gun laws here as relatively stringent, penalties for violating them — from jail time to fines — have not proven as severe as they are in some other places, reducing the incentive to comply.

    Lately, the police say they are discovering far more guns on the streets of Chicago than in the nation’s two more populous cities, Los Angeles and New York. They seized 7,400 guns here in crimes or unpermitted uses last year (compared with 3,285 in New York City), and have confiscated 574 guns just since Jan. 1 — 124 of them last week alone.

    More than a quarter of the firearms seized on the streets here by the Chicago Police Department over the past five years were bought just outside city limits in Cook County suburbs, according to an analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Others came from stores around Illinois and from other states, like Indiana, less than an hour’s drive away. Since 2008, more than 1,300 of the confiscated guns, the analysis showed, were bought from just one store, Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale, Ill., within a few miles of Chicago’s city limits.

    Efforts to compare the strictness of gun laws and the level of violence across major American cities are fraught with contradiction and complication, not least because of varying degrees of coordination between local and state laws and differing levels of enforcement. In New York City, where homicides and shootings have decreased, the gun laws are generally seen as at least as strict as Chicago’s, and the state laws in New York and many of its neighboring states are viewed as still tougher than those in and around Illinois. Philadelphia, like cities in many states, is limited in writing gun measures that go beyond those set by Pennsylvania law. Some city officials there have chafed under what they see as relatively lax state controls.

    In Chicago, the rules for owning a handgun — rewritten after the outright ban was deemed too restrictive in 2010 — sound arduous. Owners must seek a Chicago firearms permit, which requires firearms training, a background check and a state-mandated firearm owner’s identification card, which requires a different background review for felonies and mental illness. To prevent straw buyers from selling or giving their weapons to people who would not meet the restrictions — girlfriends buying guns for gang members is a common problem, the police here say — the city requires permitted gun owners to report their weapons lost, sold or stolen.

    Still, for all the regulations, the reality here looks different. Some 7,640 people currently hold a firearms permit, but nearly that many illicit weapons were confiscated from the city’s streets during last year alone. Chicago officials say Illinois has no requirement, comparable to Chicago’s, that gun owners immediately report their lost or stolen weapons to deter straw buyers. Consequently those outside the city can, in the words of one city official, carry guns to gang members in the city with “zero accountability.”

    And a relatively common sentence in state court for gun possession for offenders without other felonies is one year in prison, which really may mean a penalty of six months, said Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, who said such punishments failed to serve as a significant enough deterrent for seasoned criminals who may see a modest prison stint as the price of doing business.

    “The way the laws are structured facilitates the flow of those guns to hit our streets,” Garry F. McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent, said in an interview, later adding, “Chicago may have comprehensive gun laws, but they are not strict because the sanctions don’t exist.”

    In the weeks since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president, has introduced a countywide provision requiring gun owners beyond the city limits to report lost or stolen guns, though a first offense would result simply in a $1,000 fine. In the city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pressed for increased penalties for those who violate the city’s gun ordinance by failing to report their guns missing or possessing an assault weapon.

    “Our gun strategy is only as strong as it is comprehensive, and it is constantly being undermined by events and occurrences happening outside the city — gun shows in surrounding counties, weak gun laws in neighboring states like Indiana and the inability to track purchasing,” Mr. Emanuel said. “This must change.”

    State lawmakers, too, are soon expected to weigh new state provisions like an assault weapons ban, as Chicago already has. But the fate of the proposals is uncertain in a state with wide-open farming and hunting territory downstate.

    “It’s going to be a fight,” said State Representative Jack D. Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, 60 miles outside Chicago. Complicating matters, an appellate court in December struck down the state’s ban on carrying guns in public, saying that a complete ban on concealed carry is unconstitutional. Illinois is seeking a review of the ruling, even as state lawmakers have been given a matter of months to contemplate conditions under which guns could be allowed in public.

    Many here say that even the strictest, most punitive gun laws would not alone be an answer to this city’s violence. “Poverty, race, guns and drugs — you’ve got to deal with all these issues, but you’ve got to start somewhere” said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who was arrested in 2007 while protesting outside Chuck’s Gun Shop, the suburban store long known as a supplier of weapons that make their way to Chicago.

    At the store, a clerk said the business followed all pertinent federal, state and local laws, then declined to be interviewed further. Among seized guns that had moved from purchase to the streets of Chicago in a year’s time or less, nearly 20 percent came from Chuck’s, the analysis found. Other guns arrived here that rapidly from gun shops in other parts of this state, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa and more.

    “Chicago is not an island,” said David Spielfogel, senior adviser to Mr. Emanuel. “We’re only as strong as the weakest gun law in surrounding states.”


    The weapons straight out of Skyfall: The Bond-like ‘personalized smart guns’ that only fire when held by their rightful owners

  • Recent gun massacres have prompted fierce debates over gun control
  • Obama administration’s task force has promised to ‘encourage development of innovative gun safety technology
  • However, advocates still wary of technology that only allows guns to fire in certain instances

  • www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2269268/A-weapon-straight-Skyfall-The-James-Bond-like-personalized-smart-guns-held-rightful-owners.html

    You can’t ban crazy.

    Moi • 7 hrs ago Report Abuse
    In 35+ years as an ER nurse I’ve seen more than enough people who were FC (as we called them). Trying to get someone committed, even on a 72 hour watch, nearly takes an act of Congress. Most people (mental health workers) don’t want to wake a judge up in the middle of the night to sign the papers. I can’t tell you how many people we had to release from the ER because of that.

    Guns are part of the problem, but not the entire problem. I’ve been saying for years it’s the PITIFUL, PATHETIC POOR excuse for a mental health care system we have here. You can take away all the guns, but the mentally ill WILL find another way.


    In District of Columbia v. Heller,
    554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court affirmed the right of citizens to defend themselves.

    The Second Amendment, Heller, and Originalist Jurisprudence


    Law-abidng citzens tend to DEFEND themselves with pistols legally and lawfully.

    911 tape: ‘Shoot him again!’ husband tells wife hiding from home intruder

    The family had fled through three locked doors, into a bathroom and then to an upstairs crawl space, but the intruder busted the doors open to stalk the family, police said.


    A 72-year-old homeowner immediately retrieved his handgun when he heard several home intruders attempting to gain entry to his Las Vegas residence early Monday morning. And when the criminals entered his bedroom, he opened fire, killing one of the suspects and sending the rest fleeing, KLAS-TV reports.


    See also: The 1934 Federal Firearms Act

    Miller v. United States, 307 U.S. 174, 59 S.Ct. 816, 83 L.Ed. 1206 (U.S.Ark. 1939),


    China school knife attack leaves 23 injured


    Tide shifting on pro-gun beliefs
    Newtown tragedy prompts lawmakers to reconsider stances


    Gun Owners Surveyed By Frank Luntz Express Broad Support For Gun Control Policies


    More gun laws = fewer deaths, 50-state study says

    AP Medical Writer / March 6, 2013

    CHICAGO (AP) — States with the most gun control laws have the fewest gun-related deaths, according to a study that suggests sheer quantity of measures might make a difference.

    But the research leaves many questions unanswered and won’t settle the debate over how policymakers should respond to recent high-profile acts of gun violence.

    In the dozen or so states with the most gun control-related laws, far fewer people were shot to death or killed themselves with guns than in the states with the fewest laws, the study found. Overall, states with the most laws had a 42 percent lower gun death rate than states with the least number of laws.

    The results are based on an analysis of 2007-2010 gun-related homicides and suicides from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers also used data on gun control measures in all 50 states compiled by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a well-known gun control advocacy group. They compared states by dividing them into four equal-sized groups according to the number of gun laws.

    The results were published online Wednesday in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

    More than 30,000 people nationwide die from guns every year nationwide, and there’s evidence that gun-related violent crime rates have increased since 2008, a journal editorial noted.

    During the four-years studied, there were nearly 122,000 gun deaths, 60 percent of them suicides.

    ‘‘Our motivation was really to understand what are the interventions that can be done to reduce firearm mortality,’’ said Dr. Eric Fleegler, the study’s lead author and an emergency department pediatrician and researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital.

    He said his study suggests but doesn’t prove that gun laws — or something else — led to fewer gun deaths.

    Fleegler is also among hundreds of doctors who have signed a petition urging President Barack Obama and Congress to pass gun safety legislation, a campaign organized by the advocacy group Doctors for America.

    Gun rights advocates have argued that strict gun laws have failed to curb high murder rates in some cities, including Chicago and Washington, D.C. Fleegler said his study didn’t examine city-level laws, while gun control advocates have said local laws aren’t as effective when neighboring states have lax laws.

    Previous research on the effectiveness of gun laws has had mixed results, and it’s a ‘‘very challenging’’ area to study, said Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center For Gun Policy. He was not involved in the current study.

    The strongest kind of research would require comparisons between states that have dissimilar gun laws but otherwise are nearly identical, ‘‘but there isn’t a super nice twin for New Jersey,’’ for example, a state with strict gun laws, Webster noted.

    Fleegler said his study’s conclusions took into account factors also linked with gun violence, including poverty, education levels and race, which vary among the states.

    The average annual gun death rate ranged from almost 3 per 100,000 in Hawaii to 18 per 100,000 in Louisiana. Hawaii had 16 gun laws, and along with New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts was among states with the most laws and fewest deaths. States with the fewest laws and most deaths included Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

    But there were outliers: South Dakota, for example, had just two guns laws but few deaths.

    Editorial author Dr. Garen Wintemute, director the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, said the study doesn’t answer which laws, if any, work.

    Wintemute said it’s likely that gun control measures are more readily enacted in states with few gun owners — a factor that might have more influence on gun deaths than the number of laws.


    Background Checks Overwhelmingly Supported By Gun Owners In 4 States (UPDATE)

    Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington on Jan. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    WASHINGTON — More than nine in 10 voters in Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania support some form of background check on gun buyers, according to three separate Quinnipiac polls taken during the month of January, with roughly equal support among gun owners and all voters.

    Overwhelming majorities of voters — 92 percent in Virginia and 95 percent in New Jersey — favor requiring background checks on people buying firearms at gun shows, Quinnipiac found, with support for the proposal also topping 90 percent among gun owners.

    Pennsylvania voters, who were instead asked about a broader universal background check on gun buyers, gave that measure 95 percent support, as did the state’s gun owners.


    Poll: 89% of Hoosiers support checks on gun buyers

    While searching a man after his arrest in Broad Ripple in August 2012, Indianapolis police found this unlicensed .380 semiautomatic handgun. A poll from a coalition of mayors has found 89 percent of Hoosiers favor background checks on all gun buyers. / Danese Kenon / The Star

    Mar 6, 2013
    Written by Chris Sikich

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s coalition of mayors has released a poll showing 89 percent of Hoosiers favor background checks on all gun buyers.
    Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 850 mayors, released the data from a survey conducted in more than 60 states and congressional districts.

    Bloomberg co-chairs the coalition with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Bloomberg has been calling for gun control, including spending his own money to influence a primary race in Illinois over the issue.

    “Newtown broke our hearts,” said John Feinblatt, chief policy adviser to Bloomberg, in a prepared statement. “Two months later, it’s time for Washington to hear the call coming from Indiana, and from every corner of the country, to close the loopholes in the background check system. Even with major loopholes, the system blocks more than 70,000 felons and other dangerous people from buying guns every year. We can reform the system and save many lives – and Americans are virtually unanimous in demanding that Congress do it now.”

    Licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks on potential buyers, but about 40 percent of gun transfers are conducted by unlicensed private sellers who are not required to conduct a federal check, according to the news release.

    “That 89 percent of Indiana residents want every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check speaks volumes about the changing public mood on guns,” Schoen said in a prepared statement. “This margin is unlike any I’ve seen on this issue, and it marks a real sea change. Voters want their elected officials to fight gun violence, and after Newtown, they’re demanding it.”

    Pollster Doug Schoen conducted the poll of 785 voters Jan. 26-28. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The cost was not released.


    Pro-Gun Lawmakers Are Open to Limits on Size of Magazines

    Alex Wong/Getty Images

    Senator Chris Murphy spoke in front of a display of assault weapons during a news conference in January


    Dana Milbank

    Opinion Writer
    At Hill hearing, Wayne LaPierre tries to manhandle facts and logic

    By Dana Milbank, Published: January 30

    Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s chief executive, arrived for his hearing on Capitol Hill in the organization’s trademark fashion: violently.

    When he and his colleagues stepped off the elevator in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday morning and found TV cameras waiting in the hallway, LaPierre’s bodyguards swung into action. One of them, in blatant violation of congressional rules, bumped and body-checked journalists out of the way so they couldn’t film LaPierre or question him as he walked.

    “You don’t have jurisdiction here!” a cameraman protested as an NRA goon pushed him against a wall. After the melee, congressional officials informed the NRA officials that, in the halls of Congress, they had to follow congressional procedures — which prohibit manhandling.

    This must have come as a surprise to the gun lobbyists, whose swagger seems to suggest that they are, in fact, in control of Congress. In their world, nothing trumps the Second Amendment — not even the First Amendment.

    From beginning to end, LaPierre’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a study in vainglory. The written testimony he submitted to Congress came with a biography describing him as a “Renaissance man,” a “skilled hunter,” and an “acclaimed speaker and political force of nature” as he preserved freedom. “There has been no better leader of this great cause than Wayne LaPierre!” the bio boasted.

    After his decades with the group, LaPierre is the public face of the NRA, and the man gun-control advocates most love to hate. His unsmiling manner, his snarling statements and even his memorable name are from villainy central casting. “Mr. LaPierre, it’s good to see you again,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said from the dais, recalling bygone fights with her nemesis. “We tangled — what was it? — 18 years ago. You look pretty good, actually.”

    Usually, LaPierre comes out the victor in these tangles, and on Wednesday he was so confident of another win that he boldly declared that the NRA would oppose the most innocuous of proposals to reduce gun violence: criminal background checks.

    Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) reminded LaPierre that the NRA once supported checks with “no loopholes anywhere, for anyone.” So does the NRA favor closing the “gun-show loophole” that allows people to avoid background checks?

    “We do not,” LaPierre replied.

    His reasoning, as always, is that existing gun laws aren’t being enforced — but he seems to have pulled the evidence out of his gun barrel. “Out of more than 76,000 firearms purchases supposedly denied by the federal instant check system, only 62 were referred for prosecution,” LaPierre declared in his opening statement.

    Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) looked up the actual statistic. “In 2012 more than 11,700 defendants were charged with federal gun crimes,” Whitehouse said, “a lot more than 62.”

    LaPierre had been caught. “So those — the 62, senator, statistic, was for Chicago alone,” he clarified, a salient fact omitted from his original testimony.

    His logic failed him as badly as his facts. “My problem with background checks is you’re never going to get criminals to go through universal background checks,” he argued, unwilling to admit that deterring criminals from buying guns is a good thing, even if some eventually get theirs on the black market.

    Surely LaPierre understands that, but much of his performance was about concealing inconvenient realities. When former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords made a brief and emotional plea for gun control at the hearing, LaPierre was hidden away a few rows back, in the last seat of the row. This minimized the chance that he’d be in the camera shot with the popular Giffords, who lost much of her ability to speak and walk when a gunman with a history of psychiatric disorders shot her in the head.

    The NRA chief made all the well-known arguments against gun laws; he reminded senators that the founders didn’t want Americans to “live under tyranny,” and he agreed with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) that the proposed ban on assault weapons merely targets “cosmetic features” of guns. LaPierre also added the novel idea that people may need guns if they are “abandoned by their government if a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits.”

    Most people don’t have such apocalyptic paranoia. But LaPierre’s job is to stir up the active minority who are frightened and resentful. “If you’re in the elite, you get bodyguards,” he told the senators. “You get high-cap mags with semiautomatics protecting this whole Capitol. The titans of industry get the bodyguards.” He said it’s only “the hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying American that we’re going to make the least capable of defending themselves.”

    Minutes after that denunciation of the well-protected elites, LaPierre rejoined his bodyguards, who were waiting in a back room.


    NRA-backed federal limits on gun lawsuits frustrate victims, their attorneys


    TParrish on Feb 8, 2013 at 07:18:18

    “Assault weapons” is a misnomer. A more accurate description of what you are talking about would be “tactical-style” weapons, or “indoor-adaptable human target design-centric” (a term I just came up with) weapons. EVERYBODY in this discussion knows what weapons are being discussed, but the gun rights activists will attempt to muddy the water by pointing out the inaccuracy in terminology.
    The fact of the matter is that the statistics support the gun rights advocates point of view concerning these weapons. If an American is murdered by a gun in the US, the statistical probability is that they were killed by an ILLEGALLY PURCHASED semi-automatic handgun equipped with a standard capacity magazine. Mass killings happen, but are statistically rare. Revolvers do get used, but less than semi-automatics. Extended capacity magazines do get used, but are also statistically less common than standard magazines.
    The measures being proposed to reduce the number of illegal gun sales are they way to go. Supported by the vast majority of legal gun owners, they are designed not to infringe upon the 2nd Amendment rights so carefully guarded by gun rights advocates.
    There will be resistance to these laws by people who are suspicious of the government, and of laws, and, well, of everything. They may not get their way, and in that eventuality we need to make sure that they find that their fears are unfounded.

    Future Generations

    This is the America that Obama will govern in his second term: A place divided not only by ideology, race and class but also by the very perception of reality. Four years since Obama first took office, is the country better or worse off? Safer or more at risk? Principled or desperately lost?


    louweegie272 at 8:42 AM February 1, 2013
    You never read about fixing NAFTA, which was supposd to end illegal immigration. Instead it displaced 2 million Oxacan farmers. Obama said he would revisit it in his first term and never mentioned it again. You never read about the role the Chamber of Commerce plays in hiring illegal workers. They fight the hardest against mandatory E Verify, which would shut off the jobs magnet for illegal workers, no fences required. The reporting and the debate has been framed by politicians, big business and the media as a civil rights issue and we are supposed to believe the Republican party is against cheap, compliant labor.http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/edu_ave_yea_of_sch_of_adu-education-average-years-schooling-adults

    Ali Alexander at 6:46 AM February 4, 2013
    louweegie, you never read about the AMERICAN factory workers in places like Detroit who were displaced when the auto industry and others set up shop in Mexico under NAFTA.
    You also should realize that the US Chamber of Commerce was assisted by the SEIU, ACLU, LaRaza, and the AFL CIO in opposing the mandatory use of SS no match letters to remove illegal aliens from jobs. The US Chamber now supports eVerify, but only because it’s afraid that the states would come up with a patchwork of laws requiring its use that would be more difficult and expensive to comply with.
    BOTH parties have elements in it that are willing and eager to put thei interests of illegal aliens, especially Hispanics, ahead of those of AMERICANS.


    Frances Dial, Lenoir City

    I have been living since Warren Harding was president. I don’t remember him or Calvin Coolidge, but I remember all the others from Herbert Hoover to the present time. President Barack Obama is the absolute worst we have ever had. He is well on his way to destroying the United States as a land of opportunity. It will take years to undo the damage he has done. He is on his way to destroying the best medical system in the world. He is making it easy for millions of illegal immigrants to work toward citizenship and have voting privileges. He is developing a generation of able-bodied people who find it easier to take a government handout than to earn a living, and they are voters, too. If anyone is able to earn a few dollars, he has all sorts of ways to take it away from them. If those people who have money are sensible, they will take their money and move somewhere else more friendly to industrious people. The present people who control the use of our tax money have proved they do not care that we have a $16 trillion debt that is increasing daily.Obama does not care about taxpayers, as long as he can spend, spend, spend.

    Now is the time — today — that this bloated government starts downsizing.

    We have a president who is a very accomplished organizer. A commander in chief he is not. He is working his way to being a dictator. When are the judicial and legislative branches going to rein him in? Our country was not intended to be run by executive privilege.


    “Last month, MSNBC’s Al Sharpton conducted a a spirited debate about whether Obama belongs on Mount Rushmore or instead deserves a separate monument to his greatness (just weeks before replacing frequent Obama critic Cenk Uygur as MSNBC host, Sharpton publicly vowed never to criticize Barack Obama under any circumstances: a vow he has faithfully maintained). Earlier that day on the same network, a solemn discussion was held, in response to complaints from MSNBC viewers, about whether it is permissible to ever allow Barack Obama’s name to pass through one’s lips without prefacing it with an honorific such as “President” or “the Honorable” or perhaps “His Excellency” (that really did happen).”




    “What are we trying to do in this administration? Why does he want a second term? Would he tell us? What’s he going to do in the second term? More of this? Is this it? Is this as good as it gets? Where are we going? Are we going to do something the second term? He has yet to tell us. He has not said one thing about what he would do in the second term. He never tells us what he is going to do with reforming our healthcare systems, Medicare, Medicaid, how is going to reform Social Security. Is he going to deal with long-term debt? How? Is he going to reform the tax system? How? Just tell us. Why are we in this fight with him? Just tell us, Commander, give us our orders and tell us where we’re going, give us the mission. And he hasn’t done it.

    And I think it’s the people around him, too many people around, they’re little kids with propellers on their heads. They’re all virtual. Politics, this social networking, I get these e-mails, you probably get them. I’m tired of getting them. Stop giving them to me. I want to meet people. Their idea of running a campaign is a virtual universe of sending e-mails around to people. No it’s not. It’s meetings with people, it’s forging alliances. It’s White House meetings and dinner parties that go on till midnight, and he should be sitting late at night now with senators and members of Congress and governors working together on how they‘re going to win this political fight that’s coming.




    Obama’s new political group to lure unlimited donations


    The New York Times reported last week that donors who contribute at least $500,000 to the advocacy group are guaranteed a seat at quarterly meetings with the president. It was formerly known as Organizing for America, the president’s campaign operation.

    Carney declined to comment directly on the quarterly meetings or say whether donating that much money would guarantee access to the president.


    Chuck Todd on OFA Fundraising: ‘This Just Looks Bad’
    OFA donors who give $500,000 get quarterly meetings with Obama


    Why it’s become clear that Obama’s White House is open to the rich and closed to the poor
    President Obama’s pledges to open up the White House are going in reverse, says Mark McKinnon

    In 2010 the Supreme Court made a controversial ruling known as Citizens United that allowed unlimited corporate and individual donations to so-called “super political action committees”, which at least have to disclose their donors, and to social welfare organisations, which do not.

    At the time, Obama loudly criticised the decision, saying: “That’s one of the reasons I ran for president: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamour of a privileged few in Washington.”

    But then he reversed course, giving his blessing to a super PAC supporting his 2012 re-election, and now to OFA. What has changed?

    Obama is looking to his legacy. And his eye is on the 2014 Congressional elections. If he can maintain his appeal among the masses and help Democrats win back a majority in the House of Representatives, while maintaining control of the Senate, there will be no stopping his agenda.


    Unlimited outside money


    The temptation of dark money

    By Editorial Board, Published: March 3

    BLITHELY IGNORING his own past warnings, President Obama is wading ever deeper into a campaign and politics quagmire filled with potential hazard for his second term. He ought to come to his senses. If he doesn’t, it won’t be easy to clean this muck off his shoes later on.

    The president’s team has formed Organizing for Action, a group intended to advance his priorities using the potent grass-roots technology and troops from his winning reelection campaign. According to a summary prepared for donors and reported by The Post’s Tom Hamburger, this includes 2.2 million volunteers, 33 million Facebook friends, 22 million Twitter followers and 17 million e-mail subscribers. We see nothing wrong with that.

    But how the Obama people are going about it stinks. They have registered the group as a 501(c)4 organization, under a section of the Internal Revenue Code that provides tax-exempt status for “social welfare” organizations, a broad category that was originally envisioned for civic leagues and the like but which has become a favored dark alley for political operators. Such groups are not required to publicly disclose donors or amounts of contributions, as they would be if they operated under the rules of the Federal Elections Commission. As “social welfare” groups, they must pledge that their work is not “primarily” electoral politics, but that has been left ill-defined by tax authorities. Some electoral and political activity is allowed.

    These “social welfare” groups seemed to blossom in the last election cycle, with Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS at the forefront. Big money given in secret is a corrupting influence on our politics. But it is even more worrisome for a sitting president to be fielding such a group. It seems to be an open invitation to donors who want access and influence on policy decisions.

    Judging by recent reports, Organizing for Action should be renamed Paying for Access. The Obama team has been talking about raising half the group’s money through $500,000 donations from the president’s top supporters. They will apparently be offered a spot on an advisory board with the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president. The White House has confirmed that while the president and his aides won’t directly raise money for the group, they will appear at its events. That will give big donors the chance to ask Mr. Obama about a pet project or appointment, behavior that has become all too common in this town and carries more than a whiff of influence-peddling.

    Moreover, Mr. Obama’s team says that donations will not be listed precisely; rather, they will be listed but rather “in ranges.” This affords the donors a useful veil.

    The president ought to resist the sweet perfume of this money and grab the smelling salts. He was the one who a few years ago warned us of “a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics.” Now Mr. Obama seems to be leading the stampede.


    Pay-to-play politics reach the Oval Office


    Carney defends Obama’s record on limiting role of money in politics

    During briefings for potential donors this month, OFA chairman Jim Messina and executive director Jon Carson laid out plans to invite fundraisers who bring in $500,000 a year for the new group to quarterly meetings with the president, as the Los Angeles Times first reported.

    The arrangement triggered questions from reporters Monday at the White House after the New York Times reported Saturday that the group hopes to raise $50 million, with half coming from major bundlers.

    “Look, this is an independent organization,” Carney said. “I would point you to that organization for how it raises its money.”


    In Oklahoma, tiny airport attracts federal money, but few planes

    This is Lake Murray State Park Airport, one of the least busy of the nation’s 3,300-plus public airfields. In an entire week here, there might be one landing and one takeoff — often so pilots can use the bathroom. Or none at all. Visiting pilots are warned to watch out for deer on the runway.

    So why is it still open? Mostly, because the U.S. government insists on sending it money.

    Every year, Oklahoma is allotted $150,000 in federal funding because of this place, the result of a grant program established 13 years ago, in Congress’s golden age of pork. The same amount goes to hundreds of other tiny airfields across the country — including more than 80 like this one, with no paying customers and no planes based at the field.

    Lake Murray, as it turns out, is an ATM shaped like an airport.

    It’s also an example of the kind of spending — wide-ranging, constituent-pleasing giveaways — that Washington has struggled to swear off in this time of austerity. Once again, for example, Congress voted to continue giving money to local airports last year.


    Will Rogers said, “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” Today we are not paying for all the government we are getting, and the political class benefiting from this practice should be thankful for the Fed’s low interest rate policy, which makes running deficits inexpensive. In addition to making big government cheap, this causes a flight of investors from interest-paying assets into equities — the rising stock market primarily benefits the wealthy — and commodities, rather than job-creating investments.


    Updated February 14, 2013, 7:43 p.m.

    Generational Theft Needs to Be Arrested

    A Democrat, an independent and a Republican agree: Government spending levels are unsustainable.


    The social and economic reasons for Generation Squeezed

    By Robert J. Samuelson, Published: August 5, 2012

    I worry about the future — not mine but that of my three children, all in their 20s. It is an axiom of American folklore that every generation should live better than its predecessors. But this is not a constitutional right or even an entitlement, and I am skeptical that today’s young will do so. Nor am I alone. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds that nearly 60 percent of Americans are also doubters. I meet many parents who fear the future that awaits their children.

    The young (and I draw the line at 40 and under) face two threats to their living standards. The first is the adverse effect of the Great Recession on jobs and wages. Even if this fades with time, there’s the second threat: the costs of an aging America. It’s not just Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — huge transfers from the young to the old — but also deferred maintenance on roads, bridges, water systems and power grids. Newsweek calls the young ”generation screwed”; I prefer the milder “generation squeezed.”

    Already, batteries of indicators depict the Great Recession’s damage. In a Pew survey last year, a quarter of 18-to-34-year-olds said they’d moved back with parents to save money. Getting a job has been time-consuming and often futile. In July, the unemployment rate among 18-to-29-year-olds was 12.7 percent. Counting people who dropped out of the labor market raises that to 16.7 percent, says Generation Opportunity, an advocacy group for the young. Among recent high-school graduates, unemployment rates are near half for African Americans, a third for Hispanics and a quarter for whites, notes the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.

    The weak labor market hurts even job holders. From 2007 to 2011, “real” (inflation-adjusted) wages fell nearly 5 percent for recent college graduates and 10 percent for recent high-school graduates, says EPI. Among college grads, only four in 10 said their jobs required a four-year degree, reports a survey by the John J. Heldrich Center at Rutgers University. If the economy doesn’t fully recover, slack labor demand will continue to depress employment and wages for years.

    Of course, generalizations can be overdone. Countless millions of young people are doing — and will do — fine. History can’t be predicted. The mass retirement of baby-boom workers may create job scarcities and raise wages. Still, some setbacks will endure. Some skills that would have been learned on the job won’t ever be. Life decisions are deferred. Among 18-to-29-year olds, the weak economy is causing 18 percent to postpone marriage and 23 percent to delay starting a family, reports a survey by Generation Opportunity.

    And then there are the costs of aging. Gains in productivity — from new technologies or better skills — that would normally flow into paychecks will be siphoned off to pay for retiree benefits, underfunded state and local government pensions and infrastructure repair. Taxes will rise; if not, public services will fall. Or both. Population change can’t be repealed. The ratio of workers to retirees, 5-to-1 in 1960 and 3-to-1 in 2010, is projected at nearly 2-to-1 by 2025.

    It’s often said that today’s young will ultimately benefit from this lopsided tax-and-transfer system. Old themselves, they will be similarly subsidized by their young. Doubtful. Sooner or later, the system’s oppressive costs will become so obvious that future benefits will be curbed. Chances are the young will still pay for today’s elderly without themselves receiving comparable support.

    As a parent, all this rattles me. We judge our success by how well our children do. We love them and want them to succeed, even if most of us recognize — at some point — that our ability to influence and protect them has expired. Peering into the unfathomable future, we don’t like what we think we see. We’re dispatching them into a less secure and less prosperous world. These parental anxieties, I think, are the presidential campaign’s great, unacknowledged issue. Many voters will decide based on a calculus of which candidate would minimize the economic perils for their grown children.

    But the calculus will be selective. To aid the young, we could tighten Social Security and Medicare, raising eligibility ages and reducing payouts for wealthier retirees. Unlikely. Younger voters seem clueless about advancing their economic interests. In 2008, 18-to-29-year-olds supported Barack Obama by 34 percentage points. They love his pseudo-youthfulness. Or his positions on other issues (immigration, gay rights) trump economics. As president, Obama has done nothing to improve generational fairness.

    If the young won’t help themselves, their parents and grandparents might. They might champion revising retirement programs. Dream on. Parents and grandparents may be worried about their offspring’s prospects, but they’re not so worried as to sacrifice their own. There are real conflicts between the young and old; so far, the young are losing.


    ‘Sandwich generation’ vents about struggle to care for aging parents, still-needy kids


    Associated Press

    President Barack Obama argues that “the sequester” will harm citizens — and the economy. He’s right.

    Congress and the Obama administration never thought it would come to this. Now, they must get beyond mindless cuts.


    I’m no fan of the way President Obama has handled the fiscal crisis. As I’ve written often, he needs to provide the presidential leadership that guides Congress and the country toward fiscal stability. In my analogy, he should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading: namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue.

    Instead, Obama has chosen to be co-dependent, as psychologists describe those who foster the destructive behavior of others. He double-dared the reckless Republicans by proposing the sequester back in 2011. And rather than stepping up to leadership since being reelected, he has triple-dared the GOP hotheads with a partisan inaugural address and weeks of what the Republicans rightly have called a “road show” of blame-game politics. Doesn’t the president see that the GOP is addicted to this showdown at Thunder Road? This is all the power the GOP has these days, really — the ability to scare the heck out of everybody and run the car into the ditch….Obama tries everything to gain control — except a clear, firm presidential statement that speaks to everyone onboard, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — that could get the country where it needs to go.

    The weird thing is that, politics aside, there is every reason to be optimistic about America’s future. The country’s financial markets are resilient; the housing slump finally seems to be ending; a new era of low-cost shale oil and gas is beginning and, as a result, the United States is becoming a competitive manufacturing economy again.

    There’s one ruinously dysfunctional part of the American story, and that’s the breakdown of our political system. It’s time for an intervention, to take the keys away.


    President Obama’s sequester blame game ignores the real issues
    If the US economy goes back into recession, don’t blame the sequester, blame the tax increases

    John Makin
    guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 February 2013 14.00 EST

    President Obama has been so busy proactively blaming Republicans for the allegedly dire consequences of the 1 March sequester that he has failed to notice something far more damaging to the American economy. The tax increases already enacted on 1 January by Congress and the president, coupled with the “tax” of higher fuel prices, altogether mean that about $275bn worth of economic drag is already in the pipeline for 2013.

    These tax increases are far more economically and politically burdensome than the spending cuts mandated by the sequester. They get little attention now, but politicians won’t be able to ignore them by the summer.

    As a quick refresher, the direct tax increases, amounting to $175bn per year, were enacted by the Congress on 1 January as a means to avert the “fiscal cliff” that would have mandated even larger tax increases. The legislation rescinded the $110bn payroll tax reduction that was part of the 2010 stimulus package. Virtually all households pay the payroll tax to finance the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs. Then the president’s tax increases on “the rich” boosted income tax rates for households earning over $450,000 per year, thereby garnering another $65bn per year in revenue. On top of this, if fuel prices prices stay at this sharply higher level, there will be another $100bn in lost disposable income for households. The total, $275 billion, or nearly 2% of GDP, dwarfs the $44bn in actual spending cuts mandated by the sequester.

    Sequester math, like most budget math, works in mysterious ways. The sequester mandates $85bn in reduced budget appropriations for the balance of the 2013 fiscal year. Given the lag between changes in appropriations and actual outlays, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that actual spending cuts in the current fiscal year will be only $44bn. Thereafter, the sequester mandates annual $116bn in across-the-board cuts every year for 10 years. Total outlays will fall by $1.16tn over the next decade, resulting in a slower rise in US government debt by that amount. It a desirable outcome given the unsustainable deficits and debt increases.

    Instead of talking about the numbers, the president has engaged in a sequester blame game. Few have realized how badly this blame game will end. The US is likely looking at a recession, probably to start in the summer. Consider that the past four years (2009-2012) have each seen stimulus packages equal to a 2.5 to 3 percentage point boost to the economy. That comes on top of whatever modest boost has come from repeated rounds of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. For all the talk of how great the stimulus programs have been, remember that all that fiscal thrust produced only a moderate growth rate of 1.9% since 2008. Now that stimulus is going away, and Americans have a bigger hit on their pocketbooks from the tax increases.

    A post-sequester recession will present both Republicans and Democrats, especially the president, with some knotty problems. Obama chose to emphasize the inconvenience tied to alleged sequester-induced, reduced government services – airport delays, no federal meat inspection, defense cuts, no tax refunds. Soon he will be forced to “pivot” to decrying economic costs – slower growth, higher unemployment – of deficit reduction. But it’s a flawed argument. Obama will likely blame the sequester when the real issues come from higher tax burdens.

    It will be difficult indeed for the president to press for more tax increases given the obvious link that a recession would underline between higher taxes and slower growth.

    Republicans will also be in a challenging position if a summer recession emerges. The president will, probably, with some success, try to blame the Republicans for the recession, citing their support for the spending cuts in the sequester while omitting mention of his own support for more targeted spending cuts along with his always-insistent call for higher taxes “on the rich”. But neither spending cuts nor higher taxes makes economic or political sense in a recession.

    If past behavior is any guide, the one thing a summer recession will produce is bipartisan support for a sharp reversal from austerity to stimulus, lower taxes and higher spending, in a repeat of the stimulus packages of 2009, 2010, and 2011. Democrats will intone that the reversal from austerity to stimulus is necessitated by the Republican’s irresponsible spending cuts, while Republicans will cite the Democrat’s reckless tax increases. Both will bellow about the urgent need to get serious about deficit reduction – next year. And the nation will be worse off in both the short and long term.

    A better approach, as I have argued before, is to proceed with the budget cuts while doing revenue-neutral tax and entitlement reforms. There is a path to growth and a more sustainable fiscal picture, but it means moving beyond blame to wise action.


    Why job creation is so hard

    By Robert J. Samuelson, Published: February17

    President Obama and the Democrats want more jobs. So do Republicans. Heck, everyone does. Yet, job creation is weak. It’s true that the economy has generated 5.5 million jobs from its low point. Still, there are 3.2 million fewer jobs now than at the previous high. The official unemployment rate is 7.9 percent, but it would be 14.4 percent if it included part-timers who would like full-time work and discouraged workers who have stopped looking, notes Janet Yellen, vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board. Scarce jobs are the nation’s first, second and third most important economic and social problem.

    What’s especially disheartening and mystifying is that, until now, job creation was considered an inherent strength of the U.S. economy. Despite some years of recession-induced joblessness, unemployment averaged 5.6 percent from 1950 to 2007. The Congressional Budget Office doesn’t expect it to fall below 7.5 percent until 2015. That would make six years above 7.5 percent — the longest stretch of high joblessness in 70 years. It has defied massive budget deficits and ultra-low interest rates.

    Something’s changed in how the economy works. One theory is “deleveraging”: Americans paying down their high debt. The economy won’t accelerate until this process is complete, the argument goes; the fact that debt-service ratios have dropped to early 1990s levels is considered a good omen. Another approach is to examine the economy by sectors and see which ones are lagging compared with past recoveries. Yellen did this and indicted housing (its deep slump) and state and local governments (spending cuts). Again, there are said to be encouraging signs. Home construction, prices and sales are up; state and local spending is stabilizing.

    This analysis helps but misses the main story. To overgeneralize slightly: We have gone from being an expansive, risk-taking society to a skittish, risk-averse one. Before the 2008-09 financial crisis, the bias was toward more spending. The inclination was to surrender to immediate gratification. Want a new car? Sure, why not? More meals out? Great idea! Businesses behaved similarly. Banks made the next loan; companies hired the next worker and approved the next investment project. An ever-expanding economy justified optimism, and optimism supported an ever-expanding economy. Hello, bubble.

    The psychology has now reversed. The bias is against extra spending. Eat out? Try leftovers. Remodel the basement? Oh, leave it alone. In the boom years, the personal saving rate (savings as a share of after-tax income) fell from 10.9 percent in 1982 to 1.5 percent in 2005. Now it’s edging up; from 2010 to 2012, it averaged 4.4 percent. It could go higher, imposing a further drag on the economy.

    Businesses have also retreated. They resist approving the next loan, job hire or investment. Since 1959, business investment in factories, offices and equipment has averaged 11 percent of the economy (gross domestic product) and peaked at nearly 13 percent. It’s now a shade over 10 percent, reports economist Nigel Gault of IHS Global Insight.

    Note that these attitudes govern sectors accounting for roughly four-fifths of the economy: Consumer spending is about 70 percent of GDP; business investment is the rest. They dwarf housing construction, which is about 2.5 percent of GDP. The caution and risk-aversion aren’t so great as to cause a recession, but on the margin they have limited the economy’s expansion to rates — lately, 1 percent to 2 percent — too weak to absorb most jobless. Pessimism produces a sluggish economy; a sluggish economy produces pessimism. That’s the main explanation of poor job creation.

    As I’ve written before, this psychological shift stemmed from the fact that the financial crisis and Great Recession were largely unpredicted. Americans aren’t just deleveraging. They’re also building wealth to protect themselves against unknown dangers. Perhaps the stock market’s recent assault on record highs signals restored confidence, but remember: The market is simply regaining levels of late 2007. A report from Credit Suisse argues that returns to stocks will average about 3.5 percent annually (after inflation) in the next 20 years, down sharply from 6 percent since 1950. To compensate for lower returns, companies would need to contribute more to pensions. Wages would suffer. Consumption spending would weaken.

    We are hostage to a stubborn, restraining psychology. There’s no obvious fix for slow job growth, precisely because it requires a change in public mood or some autonomous source of added demand — a burst of exports, investment in new technologies — not easily predicted or controlled. It could happen but is hardly guaranteed. Politics does matter, to a point. Constant budget and tax feuds between the White House and Congress spawn uncertainty and subvert confidence. Obamacare’s disincentives to hiring hurt, though how much is unclear. But grandiose solutions, say infrastructure spending, founder on practicality. A meaningful level of projects would take time to start and add excessively to budget deficits. We are waiting and hoping.


    Never mind the rich and poor, what about the middle classes?


    Why Barack Obama must make the middle class the centre of his campaign
    Since 1980, the middle class has not shared in US prosperity. They will vote for raising taxes on those earning above $250,000


    Incomes Flat in Recovery, but Not for the 1%


    Wal-Mart outlook gives glimpse of economy

    Wal-Mart offered a weak outlook for the coming months as the poor and middle class struggle with higher gas prices, delayed tax refunds and higher payroll taxes.

    By Anne D’innocenzio, The Associated Press

    NEW YORK (AP) As the fortunes of many Americans go, so goes Wal-Mart, so goes the economy.

    Even as the world’s largest retailer on Thursday reported an 8.6 percent rise in fourth quarter profit during the busy holiday shopping season, it offered a weaker forecast for the coming months. The problem? The poor and middle-class Americans Wal-Mart caters to and who are big drivers of spending in the U.S. are struggling with rising gas prices, delayed income tax refunds and higher payroll taxes.

    Melanie M. Burkhardt, a mother of two teenagers who shops at Wal-Mart, is one of those people. Burkhardt, a Waycross, Ga., resident, said she’s been hit with a double whammy: the payroll tax hike, which has cut her household monthly income by $260, and higher gas prices.

    “We had to do a flip on our budget,” said Burkhardt, a legal assistant who plans to cut back on her trips to Wal-Mart. “This is money we used for things like going to a movie or splurging at Olive Garden. Not anymore.”

    It’s widely known that Americans in the lower income brackets continue to struggle even as higher earners benefit from improved housing and stock markets, but Wal-Mart’s results signal that matters may be getting worse for the nation’s poor and middle-class. Wal-Mart is the latest in a string of big-name companies from Burger King to Zale to say those Americans are being squeezed by new challenges. But since Wal-Mart accounts for nearly 10 percent of nonautomotive retail spending in the U.S., it is a bellwether for the economy.

    “Wal-Mart moms are the barometer of the U.S. household,” said Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst at NBG Productions who follows Wal-Mart. “Right now, they’re afraid of higher taxes and inflation.”

    Indeed, while wealthier households have seen their stock portfolios grow, poor and middle-class Americans have struggled to regain their financial footing since the recession ended more than 3 ½ years ago.

    Stocks have roughly doubled since June 2009. Dividends and capital gains from stocks, which disproportionately benefit higher-income Americans, are taxed at lower rates compared with ordinary income.

    And while incomes for most Americans have failed to keep pace with inflation since the recession, that’s been particularly true for middle and lower-income earners.

    Median household income, adjusted for inflation, fell 1.5 percent to $50,054 in 2011 compared with 2010, the latest periods for which figures are available, according to the Census Bureau. That was down 8.1 percent from 2007, just before the recession began. (The median is the point halfway between the highest and lowest levels.)

    But lower and middle-income households fared worse: The share of overall income earned by the bottom 80 percent of households shrank in 2011, while the income for the top 20 percent grew. And in 2012, inflation-adjusted hourly pay barely rose, inching up 0.3 percent.

    Another hurdle for lower- and middle-income Americans has been the jump in gas prices since mid-January. The average price for a gallon of gas rose 47 cents in the past month to $3.78 on Thursday, according to AAA.

    Tax changes also have hit the nation’s lowest earners especially hard. On Jan. 1, Social Security payroll taxes rose 2 percentage points after a temporary tax cut expired. That sliced about $1,000 from the take-home pay of a household earning $50,000. Since the Social Security tax is levied against income only up to $114,000, it disproportionately affects middle- and lower-income households.

    An even larger challenge for many lower-income Americans has been the government’s delay in processing income taxes and paying refunds. That’s because income tax rates weren’t set until a last-minute deal between the White House and Congress on Jan. 1. So the IRS pushed back the start of tax-filing season to Jan. 30, two weeks later than usual.

    As a result, by Feb. 14 the government had paid only $55 billion in refunds, down from $77 billion at the same time last year, according to an estimate by UBS. That drop of $22 billion is more than twice the impact of the higher payroll tax. Refunds have accelerated recently and will eventually be paid out, but the impact still can be felt by many taxpayers: About 78 percent of taxpayers receive refunds, and the figure rises to 82 percent for those reporting income below $50,000.

    Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., said while its business has been volatile since December, the month of February, in particular, has been “slower than planned” largely due to the tax refund delay. The company said that resulted in Wal-Mart customers cashing about $1.7 billion in income tax refunds year to date, compared with $3 billion for the same period a year ago.

    Bill Simon, president of Wal-Mart’s U.S. namesake division, said shoppers used their refund money last year to buy TVs ahead of the Super Bowl. This year, the retailer said it isn’t sure how customers will use the additional money when they get it, but some analysts say the most likely scenario is that they’ll save it.

    Wal-Mart said it’s also unclear how the payroll tax will affect customers’ spending habits, although Simon said shoppers are “talking about it.” JP Morgan estimates that the payroll tax increase will equate to $70 a month less in take home pay for Wal-Mart shoppers, assuming an average annual income of $42,500. As a result, Wal-Mart is offering smaller packaging and less expensive products.

    Wal-Mart earned $5.6 billion, or $1.67 per share, during the fourth quarter that ended Jan. 31, up from $5.16 billion, or $1.50 per share, a year earlier. Results were helped by a lower tax rate, which was 27.7 percent, compared with the rate of 30.9 percent a year ago. Net sales rose 3.9 percent to $127.1 billion.

    Earnings topped Wall Street estimates of $1.57 per share, but sales fell short of the $127.8 billion analysts were expecting.

    During the current quarter, Wal-Mart says it expects earnings to range from $1.11 to $1.16 per share, below the $1.18 per share analysts polled by FactSet are expecting. For its namesake U.S. business, Wal-Mart expects first-quarter revenue at stores open at least a year, a measure of a retailer’s health, to be unchanged from a year ago. The pace of revenue growth has slowed in recent quarters, and some analysts believe Wal-Mart’s forecast could be too optimistic.

    For the year, Wal-Mart expects earnings of between $5.20 and $5.40 per share, while analysts expect $5.38 per share.

    Despite the subdued forecast, investors were bracing for a weaker report after Bloomberg published a story Friday that leaked an email from an executive characterizing the first two weeks of February as “a total disaster.” Shares fell that day, but investors appeared to be relieved on Thursday that Wal-Mart’s outlook wasn’t worse. Shares rose about 1 percent, or $1.05 per share, on Thursday to close at $70.26.


    The true national debt


    Deficits do matter

    By Joe Scarborough and Jeffrey D. Sachs, Published: March 7

    Joe Scarborough, a former congressman (R-Fla.), hosts the MSNBC show “Morning Joe.” Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Earth Institute and author of “The Price of Civilization.”

    Dick Cheney and Paul Krugman have declared from opposite sides of the ideological divide that deficits don’t matter, but they simply have it wrong. Reasonable liberals and conservatives can disagree on what role the federal government should play yet still believe that government should resume paying its way.

    It has become part of Keynesian lore in recent years that public debt is essentially free, that we needn’t worry about its buildup and that we should devote all of our attention to short-term concerns since, as John Maynard Keynes wrote, “in the long run, we are all dead.” But that crude interpretation of Keynesian economics is deeply misguided; Keynes himself disagreed with it.

    When President Obama came into office in January 2009, he inherited an economic mess, including a deficit of more than $1 trillion. Yet he soon piled up even more debt by tripling the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and pushing through Congress a shortsighted stimulus bill and a health-care package that did not fundamentally address the excessive costs of the health-care system. After his party took a midterm drubbing from Republicans, the Obama White House then supported the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and other “stimulus” items, adding another trillion dollars or so of red ink to Washington’s ledger.

    Not so long ago, Keynesians guaranteed that Obama’s stimulus plan would move the U.S. economy more quickly toward growth by providing full employment and lowering deficits. We both were skeptical from the start, for good reason. In May 2009, the White House forecast 4.6 percent growth in 2012, an unemployment rate of 6 percent and a budget deficit of $557 billion. The actual outcomes were much worse: growth of 2.3 percent, unemployment at 8.1 percent and a budget deficit of nearly $1.1 trillion.

    Both of us opposed the stimulus package, the increased spending in Afghanistan and Washington’s fixation on short-term thinking. We said that the only result of this short-termism would be exploding deficits. And well before Obama acknowledged the point, we said that there was no such thing as “shovel-ready” projects worthy of public investment in the 21st century.

    Sadly, our concerns have been borne out. Public debt was around 41 percent of the gross domestic product in 2008. Today it is around 76 percent and still rising. Yet the economy continues to languish.

    Nevertheless, a few hardy Keynesians urge the president to raise deficits still further. We respectfully disagree. Doubling down on this dubious policy will move the United States only more quickly towardexcessive indebtedness and a possible economic crisis.

    Keynes worried about the long-term buildup of public debt and called for balancing the budget over the course of a business cycle — allowing deficits during downturns to be offset by surpluses during good times. Unfortunately, Republicans and Democrats spent the past decade supporting reckless tax cuts, irresponsible wars and budget commitments without supporting revenue. That shortsightedness has created a crisis, soon to be exacerbated by an aging population and rising health-care costs.

    Krugman, an economist and New York Times columnist, agreed not so long ago with our position that demographic challenges demanded fiscal restraint. In 2001, he wrote that deficits mattered as he inveighed against President George W. Bush’s tax cuts. With the gross federal debt then at a mere $5.6 trillion, Krugman nervously Congressional Budget Office’s February budget outlook showed just how much rising public debt service will crowd out needed public investments and other programs later this decade. When that happens, conservatives will complain about the squeeze on defense spending; liberals will bemoan funding limits placed on education, job training and renewable-energy programs. And both sides will see how the high cost of servicing the debt will harm students in the classrooms, soldiers on the battlefield and drivers on America’s highways.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. Republicans and Democrats can still find common ground to address our long-term debt. Military spending can be reduced, and our decade-long wars can be brought to an end. The Pentagon should move beyond a defense strategy based on a Cold War threat that no longer exists. Americans also know that costs for Medicare, Medicaid and private health services must be brought under control. A recent study by the prestigious Institute of Medicine puts the waste in total health-care spending — both public and private — at $750 billion per year. And a bipartisan tax reform plan could close egregious loopholes, promote fairness and economic efficiency and align revenues with spending.

    There are, of course, real differences in how liberals and conservatives would approach spending cuts and tax increases. One would prefer lower tax rates and less spending in Washington. The other would prefer higher taxes to pay for higher spending. Yet we both agree that, regardless of the direction policymakers choose, Washington must start paying for its priorities. Failing to do so will burden our children and limit our ability to thrive in the future.


    This blog strives to be fair by including various viewpoints. In that spirit, you may read what Mr. Krugman believes for yourself.

    Dwindling Deficit Disorder

    Published: March 10, 2013


    After the Flimflam

    Jim Miller Irvington, NY

    The reason the Democrat’s have failed to be a forceful counterbalance to Republican ideology is that they are only slightly less “regressive” than the Republicans. Their views supporting social justice are only enough to propagandize their “differences” from the Republicans. I am not saying they are necessarily hypocritical, but their power base is basically the same as the Republicans. They get most of their money from affluent donors and, therefore, they cannot come to grips with the real issue facing the United States (and the World) which is the ever increasing accumulation of wealth by the very rich.
    March 15, 2013 at 8:55 a.m

    seth borg rochester

    Mr. Ryan, a giant in his own mind, and for a short time, a beacon for the Republicans, has once again shown that saying the same thing over and over and louder and louder, doesn’t make the message true.
    I was astonished that he got traction the first time around, am minimally reassured that the voices we hear in support of Ayn Rand-light concepts seem muted.
    We are in an interesting point at the beginning of Mr. Obama’s second term. There is sufficient time between now and the next Congressional elections, that all concerned, must realize that some actions are required to move this country forward. The Democrats can no longer use Bush 43, and his debacles, as sufficient excuse to ram policy through. At the same time, there remains almost two years during which Republicans must demonstrate some willingness to govern constructively and leave the silly and hostile factors aside.
    There is a sense emerging that some form of collaborative effort is underway. Our government my be dysfunctional but I hold some hope that none involved truly wish us to be the victim of our own utter stupidity and intransigence.
    I’ve been wrong before.
    March 15, 2013 at 8:40 a.m.


    Sunday March 3, 2013 6:46 AM

    The more I learn about what is happening in Washington D.C., the more I am concerned about the future of our country. My head is spinning from the effect of the constant political spin.
    The United States is caught in the web of a changing society. Some describe it as a culture of procrastination and entitlement. The present administration promotes an agenda of higher taxes, deficit spending and “social justice.”
    With all due respect to the office of president of the United States, I suggest that President Barack Obama is as naked as the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fable. The emperor thought he was wearing a suit of fine new clothes, when in fact he was wearing nothing.
    Obama continues to promote his policies for returning our country to prosperity, when in fact these policies are not working. The sooner Obama is exposed for what he really is, the sooner America can reverse the current trend of kicking the can down the road.
    Many citizens of our country are choosing to cast a blind eye on what is happening. Those who believe the present course of government will generate jobs and economic recovery are going to be sadly disappointed.
    We are subjected to a constant barrage of fear-mongering political rhetoric from the liberal left. This is a tactic for deceiving the American people and it is hastening the day when we declare that we have had enough.
    Thankfully, there is an elephant in the room (Oval Office) at the White House. He represents a conservative philosophy, constitutional government, free enterprise and traditional values of God, country and family.
    As President Abraham Lincoln is supposed to have said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”


    I read this whole letter waiting for a single bit of substance. Alas, I was disappointed. Apparently it’s just a “feeling” David has that Obama has to be at fault somehow. Of course, the Dispatch feels compelled to publish their daily Obama bashing article/letter. It’s funny how these letter writers feel everyone else is uninformed yet they can’t mount the least argument. Thanks, but I’ll line the bird cage with this one.
    2013-03-03 10:30:17.0


    The sequester was never supposed to happen because it was a stupid idea —what does that tell ‘ya? The political calculation was Republican defense hawks would never allow un-targeted cut to happen. Grand Bargain. Supercommitte. Fiscal Cliff. Failure. A scalpel instead of a cleaver is more prudent to cut the budget. Absent the butcher, who is the Surgeon?

    Both sides agree: Looming budget cuts are stupid


    Sequester threat prompted little planning

    The conventional wisdom at the time was that Republicans would cry uncle, agreeing to higher taxes to spare the Pentagon. Instead, Democrats and supporters of domestic programs such as higher education and scientific research are ringing the alarm bells.


    At the time, the cuts were so unimaginable, so arbitrary, that most agreed they’d never happen. Even after the committee collapsed, President Barack Obama vowed during the 2012 presidential campaign that they wouldn’t happen.

    They did anyway.



    SUNDAY, MARCH 3, 2013 10:29 AM

    Obama’s sequester deal-changer

    By Bob Woodward, Published: February 22

    Bob Woodward (woodwardb@washpost.com) is an associate editor of The Post. His latest book is “The Price of Politics.” Evelyn M. Duffy contributed to this column.

    Misunderstanding, misstatements and all the classic contortions of partisan message management surround the sequester, the term for the $85 billion in ugly and largely irrational federal spending cuts set by law to begin Friday.

    What is the non-budget wonk to make of this? Who is responsible? What really happened?

    …In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

    So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.


    Recall the Democrats’ original theory of the case: Sequestration was supposed to be so threatening that Republicans would agree to a budget deal that included tax increases rather than permit it to happen. That theory was wrong. The follow-up theory was that the actual pain caused by sequestration would be so great that it would, in a matter of months, push the two sides to agree to a deal. Democrats just proved that theory wrong, too.


    The D.C. Dubstep
    Published: February 21, 2013

    Postscript Appended

    On July 26, 2011, Jack Lew, then the White House budget director, went to Harry Reid’s office for a budget strategy session. According to Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics,” Lew told the Senate majority leader that they had come up with a trigger idea to force a budget deal.

    “What’s the idea?” Reid asked.

    “Sequestration,” Lew responded.

    Reid folded himself over with his head between his knees, as if he were going to throw up. Then he came upright and gaped at the ceiling. “A couple of weeks ago,” he exclaimed, “my staff said to me there is one more possible” enforcement method: sequestration. Reid said he had told his staff at the time, “Get the hell out of here. That’s insane. The White House surely will come up with a plan that will save the day. And you come to me with sequestration?”

    Sequestration may have seemed insane back then. But politicians in both parties are secretly discovering that they love sequestration now. It allows them to do the dance moves they enjoy the most.

    Democrats get to do the P.C. Shimmy. Traditional presidents go through a normal set of motions: They identify a problem. They come up with a proposal to address the problem. They try to convince the country that their proposal is the best approach.

    Under the Permanent Campaign Shimmy, the president identifies a problem. Then he declines to come up with a proposal to address the problem. Then he comes up with a vague-but-politically-convenient concept that doesn’t address the problem (let’s raise taxes on the rich). Then he goes around the country blasting the opposition for not having as politically popular a concept. Then he returns to Washington and congratulates himself for being the only serious and substantive person in town.

    Sequestration allows the White House to do this all over again. The president hasn’t actually come up with a proposal to avert sequestration, let alone one that is politically plausible.

    He does have a vague and politically convenient concept. (Tax increases on the rich!) He does have a chance to lead the country into a budget showdown with furloughed workers and general mayhem, for which people will primarily blame Republicans. And he does have the chance to achieve the same thing he has achieved so frequently over the past two years, political success and legislative mediocrity.

    Republicans also secretly love the sequester. It allows them to do their favorite dance move, the Suicide Stage Dive. It was pioneered by Newt Gingrich in 1995 and has been repeated constantly since.

    In this dance, the Republicans mount the stage and roar that they are about to courageously cut spending. In this anthem they carefully emphasize cuts to programs the country sympathizes with, such as special education, while sparing programs that actually created the debt problem, like Medicare.

    Then, when they have worked themselves up into a frenzy of self-admiration, they sprint across the stage and leap into what they imagine is the loving arms of their adoring fans. When they are 4 feet off the ground, they realize the voters have left the building in disgust and they land with a thud on the floor.

    Sequestration allows the Republicans to do the Suicide Stage Dive to perfection. Voters disdain the G.O.P. because they think Republicans are mindless antigovernment fanatics who can’t distinguish good government programs from bad ones. Sequestration is a fanatically mindless piece of legislation that can’t distinguish good government programs from bad ones. Sequestration carefully spares programs like Medicare and Social Security that actually contribute to the debt problem. Sequestration will cause maximum political disgust for a trivial amount of budget savings.

    So, of course, the conservative press is filling up with essays with titles like “Learning to Love Sequestration.” Of course, Republican legislators are screwing up their courage to embrace it. Of course, after the cuts hit and the furor rises, they are going to come crawling back with concessions as they do after every Suicide Stage Dive.

    These two dance moves, the P.C. Shimmy and the Suicide Stage Dive, when combined, are beautifully guaranteed to cause maximum damage to the country. What’s America’s biggest problem right now? It is that business people think that government is so dysfunctional that they are afraid to invest and spur growth. So what are the parties going to do? They are going to prove that government is so dysfunctional that you’d be crazy to invest and spur growth.

    In a normal country, the politicians would try some new moves. For example, if they agreed to further means test Medicare they could save a lot of money. Democrats would be hitting the rich. Republicans would be reforming entitlements.

    But no. Both parties love their current moves. It’s enough to make Harry Reid put his head between his legs and throw up.

    Postscript: February 22, 2013

    The above column was written in a mood of justified frustration over the fiscal idiocy that is about to envelop the nation. But in at least one respect I let my frustration get the better of me. It is true, as the director of the Congressional Budget Office has testified, that the administration has not proposed a specific anti-sequester proposal that can be scored or passed into law. It is not fair to suggest, as I did, that tax hikes for the rich is the sole content of the president’s approach. The White House has proposed various constructive changes to spending levels and entitlement programs. These changes are not nearly adequate in my view, but they do exist, and I should have acknowledged the balanced and tough-minded elements in the president’s approach.

    jimneotech Michigan
    One problem is that no matter how bad the situation in Congress gets the members are still beholden to the special interets from whence they derived the campaign contributions that sent them there. Hence, they must serve their masters at the peril of popular displeasure.
    The other problem is an electorate so willing to let others think for them that they have no ability to discern the disingenuity thrust upon them and willingly join with those who have nothing but distain for them.
    How to deal with these is not intuitively obvious.

    Feb. 22, 2013 at 8:52 a.m


    The reason for pessimism is simple: The parties are deeply divided over the right path forward when it comes to healing the economy and lowering the debt. Obama continues to advocate for a mixed package of tax increases and spending cuts. Republicans believe that Obama has already received his requested tax increases — in the “fiscal cliff” deal — and that the only thing that needs to be done now is to cut.

    “It’s time for the president and Senate Democrats to get serious about the long-term spending problem that we have,” Boehner told “Meet the Press” host David Gregory.

    And, it’s not just the leaders of the two parties who don’t see eye to eye. In a Gallup survey that asked an open-ended question of what one word people would use to describe the sequester, “bad” was the most mentioned term but “good” was the second-most mentioned. (Worth noting — 44 percent of the overall responses were negative while just 11 percent were positive; in the very depressing category, roughly one in five people had “no opinion.” Good times.)

    Those genuine disagreements over policy are exacerbated by political realities that — surprise, surprise — the two sides view very differently.

    “Boehner doesn’t have a governing majority and isn’t willing to take a bold stand that could cost him the speakership,” said Jen Crider, a longtime Democratic House operative. “[Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell sees this as a way to win the majority.”

    Neil Newhouse, who handled polling for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, insisted that when “the stated goal of the president is to overturn GOP control of Congress” and “the White House [is] scapegoating Republicans for the sequester,” the blame shouldn’t lie with his side.

    Here’s what Crider and Newhouse do agree on: Partisan gridlock is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.

    “It’s in-tractable,” Crider said.

    “You have a recipe for stalemate between Obama and Republicans that’s unlikely to be bridged anytime soon,” Newhouse added.

    In short, if you think this is as bad as things can get, just wait awhile.


    Michael Barone: For Obama, politics always trumps governing

    March 2, 2013 | 8:00 pm

    Do we have a president or a perpetual candidate? It’s not an entirely unfair question.

    Even as Barack Obama was warning of the dreadful consequences of the budget sequester looming on March 1, he spent days away from Washington, apparently out of touch with Democratic as well as Republican congressional leaders.

    In the meantime, Obama fans were lobbing verbal grenades at none other than the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

    His offense: He’s continuing to make it clear, as he did in his book “The Price of Politics,” that it was Obama’s then-chief of staff and now Treasury Secretary Jack Lew who first proposed the dreaded sequester.

    This inconvenient fact threatens to interfere with the ready-for-teleprompter narrative that the Republicans want to cut aid to preschoolers in order to save tax breaks for corporate jets.

    It appears that Obama prefers delivering such messages to crowds of adoring supporters over actually governing.

    His theory seemed to be that if he kicked his job approval rating up a few points, Republicans would agree to the revenue increases he is promoting, just as they agreed to a tax rate increase in the “fiscal cliff” showdown.

    But his job rating continues to hover just above 50 percent. That’s not nearly high enough to compel cooperation.

    In addition, his campaign rhetoric undercuts his credibility with politicians of the opposite party and perhaps of his own.

    It’s not that these people resent being criticized. They understand that that is part of the game.
    But the substance of the criticism suggests the president is not serious about public policy.

    Take that old chestnut about corporate jets. The actual issue here is about depreciation — over how many years can a purchaser deduct the cost of a corporate jet?

    Do you have to spread out the deduction over seven years? Or can you take it all in five?

    No doubt, serious arguments can be made for one view or the other. As they can for the depreciation schedules of hundreds or thousands of products. Lawyers and lobbyists can make a living doing this.

    But the bottom line is that the amount of revenue at stake is small, pathetically small next to trillion-dollar federal budget deficits.

    Obama keeps talking about corporate jets because it tests well in polls.
    And that’s the reason, I think, he keeps talking about universal preschool, not just for disadvantaged children.

    Polls show that large majorities of Americans would be willing to have more government money spent for preschool for disadvantaged children. The impulse to help adorable but needy little kids is very strong.

    Unfortunately, the evidence that preschool programs do any permanent good for such children is exceedingly weak.

    Preschool advocates point to a 1960s program in Ypsilanti, Mich., and a 1970s North Carolina program called Abecedarian. Research showed those programs produced lasting gains in learning.

    But no one has been able to replicate the success of these very small programs staffed by unusually dedicated people. Mass programs like Head Start staffed by more ordinary people don’t work as well.

    Kids in such programs seem to make no perceptible lasting gains. That’s too bad, because disadvantaged kids need help.

    So why is Obama emphasizing universal preschool, which would cost a lot more than preschool for the disadvantaged? The reason, I suspect, is that you would have to hire lots more credentialed teachers, which means you would get lots more teacher union members.

    Teacher union leaders would love to see more dues money coming in, and to channel more to the Democratic Party.

    To my suspicious eye, the preschool proposal doesn’t make much sense as policy, but it makes a lot of sense as politics.

    Demagoguery about preschool and corporate jets is not going to convince Republicans that Obama can be a reliable negotiating partner.

    Instead, it reinforces the evidence that he never will be. This is the president who, in his grand bargain negotiations with Speaker John Boehner, agreed on $800 billion in more revenue — and then, in a phone call, told Boehner he wanted $1.2 trillion instead.

    And it’s the president who first proposed the sequester, then promised it would never happen and then denounced it when it seemed clear it would.

    We need serious changes in public policy, as Obama’s Simpson-Bowles Commission recommended. But this president doesn’t seem much interested in that kind of governing.


    Senator Barack Obama – Take Back America 2006

    Athens, under the leadership of Pericles, engaged in a fruitless, devastating war of choice. Defeated by Spartan naval power, the Athenians were conquered, vanqiushed, and crushed. Folly had over-taken and enveloped the Athenians.

    At the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles uttered immortal, golden words, that shine truth across the centuries.

    “Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. “If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.


    Learning to come home from war: no one said ‘thank you’ to Vietnam vets
    The experiences of Vietnam veterans remind us that civilians and soldiers have roles to play to aid each other



    Ten Conditions for Change II

    About Jerry Frey

    Born 1953. Vietnam Veteran. Graduated Ohio State 1980. Have 5 published books. In the Woods Before Dawn; Grandpa's Gone; Longstreet's Assault; Pioneer of Salvation; Three Quarter Cadillac
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