Saturday, February 7, 2009

Enough Senators have signed onto a new revised downward bill that it will pass a vote and go to a joint committee of the House and Senate. The following is a list of the cuts that have been agreed upon by Senatore negotiators, including Republican leadership:

$40 billion State Fiscal Stabilization

$16 billion School Construction

$1.25 billion project-based rental

2.25 Neighborhood Stabilization (Eliminate)

$1.2 billion in Retrofiting Project 8 Housing

$7.5 billion of State Incentive Grants

$3.5 billion Higher Ed Construction (Eliminated)

$100 million FSA modernization

$50 million CSERES Research

$65 million Watershed Rehab

$30 million SD Salaries$100 million Distance Learning$98 million School Nutrition$50 million aquaculture$2 billion broadband$1 billion Head Start/Early Start$5.8 billion Health Prevention Activity.$2 billion HIT Grants$1 billion Energy Loan Guarantees$4.5 billion GSA$3.5 billion Federal Bldgs Greening
(Smaller cuts -- $10-$600 million -- after the jump)
» Continue reading List of spending "cuts" in Senate bill
div#summary{display: none;}

$100 million NIST$100 million NOAA$100 million Law Enforcement Wireless$50 million Detention Trustee$25 million Marshalls Construction$100 million FBI Construction$300 million Federal Prisons$300 million BYRNE Formula$140 million BYRNE Competitive$10 million State and Local Law Enforcement$50 million NASA$50 million Aeronautics$50 million Exploration$50 million Cross Agency Support$200 million NSF$100 million Science$89 million GSA Operations$300 million Fed Hybrid Vehicles$50 million from DHS$200 million TSA$122 million for Coast Guard Cutters, modifies use$25 million Fish and Wildlife$55 million Historic Preservation$20 million working capital fund$200 million Superfund$165 million Forest Svc Capital Improvement$90 million State & Private Wildlife Fire Management$75 million Smithsonian$600 million Title I (NCLB)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Beware of Free Lunch

An e-mail this morning from Dan Hollister of Integrity Financial Resources makes promises for getting out of debt that at first blush sound interesting, interesting enough to perhaps be enticed to read his special report and sign up for his $49 CD that promises to show you how to get out of debt in 5-7 years? Not quite, because I've heard of Dan Hollister before and I long ago learned there is no such thing as a free lunch.

The main pitch of the e-mail says that "armed with the right information, you can be free" of the bonds of your mortgage much faster than previously thought, even with your current income. He tells about back in the 17th and 18th centuries many people who wanted to come to the new world couldn't afford the boat ride, so agreed to be indentured as servants, committing to work for someone for a few years in exchange for their passage. Often, however, they became further indebted and, in effect, became indentured servants for life.

I'm reminded of company store owned by the same people who operated the shingle mill where my Dad worked back in the 30's. The company store in a rural area stocked everything a family might need and offered credit to workers and their family. For many of the workers, by the time payday came around, all of their check might be owed. It became a vicious cycle.

It's not too different now, only we can blame easy credit through credit cards and for many it was the enticement of sub-prime mortgages that created what has become a calamity.

As Mr. Hollister says, if you dissect the word "mortgage", you get 'mort' from the Latin word "death" and 'gage', meaning 'pledge, so effectively a pledge to death. Mortgages typically are for 15 or 30 years, but lenders make it oh so easy to refinance for a new car, the new roof, remodeling, or the cruise you've always dreamed of. And now they've instituted the "reverse mortgage", so that the older person who may have paid off their mortgage or have substantial equity can borrow against their equity in the house, to be paid back with interest from the proceeds if and when the house is sold.

In an effort to understand this global financial crisis, I've been reading George Cooper's The Origin of Financial Crisis - trying to understand at any rate. The Economist says, this is "A must-read on the origins of the crisis." The trouble is you have to have a PhD in economics to really understand - if then.

I've concluded the cause is due to a complex interconnection assocated with rising debt, weakening production, outsourcing, consequent unemployment, stagnant wages, rising costs, growing class inequality with a dwindling middle class, along with global economic instability, and militarism and imperialism of the past eight years, plus exploitive corrupt practices while leaving pressing needs, such as infrastructure and health care of the country, unaddressed
unaddressed. A simpler explanation may have to do with the central banks system.

Over the years I've watched the stock market be greatly influenced every time the Fed would raise or lower interest rates. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan just had to raise an eyebrow and say a word and the Dow could turn handstands. So when some talking head recently said, "The economy is sound. The downturn is psychological," I didn't doubt there was some truth to his statement. Although if you've just lost your job or your house is in foreclosure, it is far more than psychological, of course. In the past, the Fed would just have dropped the interest rate 1/4 or 1/2% with the promise of more if that didn't work. And the Dow would respond accordingly. The trouble is that the interest rate can't be dropped any more. And therein lies the rub!

Today reports came that another 598,000 jobs were lost last month. Are Republican senators serious when they suggest that instead of the Democratic financial stimulus package each single person be given a tax credit of $5000+ and a couple $10,000+? Hasn't this been tried before? Granted, it was a smaller amount, but did it work? What's that saying about the definition of stupidity, e.g. doing the same failed thing and expecting different results?

We voted for change. We voted for rebuilding infrastructure, improving education, evaluating our trade policies in an effort to level the playing field, health insurance for all, global climate change, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and changing the way Washington works. I'd like to see President Obama succeed in accomplishing even a fraction of these things. Unfortunately, we're witnessing first hand this week how the sausage is made in Washington. The public may have to have an "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more" moment.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

An American Moment

An Open Letter to Congress:

We're dyin' here, folks! ...while you play politics with the life of our country. You were willing to write a blank check to the banking industry with no plan for how the money was going to be spent, no oversight at all, and we've all seen how that's turned out. While Secretary Paulson promised that ours would be a 'par' investment in the banks, e.g. $1 stock for $1, as it turns out it is about only 2/3 of that, with no assurance we will ever see any return ever. Besides that the money appears not to have been used for the intended purpose. So I can understand why y'all might want to be extra careful about another trillion dollars. And, yes, by the time we pay the interest on the $900,00 billion, it will top out at at least a trillion, I expect. However, let's get real here and think about some of your ideas for this "stimulus" package, which besides stimulating the economy is to create jobs.

From where I stand it looks like Republicans want tax cuts and tax credits for spending. Tax incentives, such as a tax credit to anyone purchasing a new car, sounds good to me, except for the fact that most of us are so nervous about how we've been losing half of our retirement savings that I don't think any sensible person is gonna go out and buy that new car right now.

Let's talk about the long list in the Democratic economic recovery package to which the Republicans and even some Democrats object, and I'll grant you I've taken a look at the benefits that will come to California, and I'm somewhat dubious about the number of jobs that will be created compared to the job losses that have been suffered. Nineteen governors and several mayors support the recovery package, and it is little wonder. A look at what California stands to gain shows that it would serve to wipe out a good part of California's predicted budget shortfall, much of which is due to Med-Cal. They predict 421,000 new jobs in California and an additional $100 a month in unemployment benefits to those out of work. Four billion dollars would go toward education, which would limit cuts currently in progress. In addition, there would be $2.8 billion for highway projects, $950 million for transit, $435 million for clean water, such as prevention of beach pollution, and $45 million for energy assistance for low-income families struggling with heating and/or air conditioning. And that's just California!

Republicans and, to be honest, many in middle America object to a list of what they decry as "pork". Included in the list of objectionables, of course, is the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, which always seems to head the list; $1 billion for National Science Foundation, $14 million for cyber-security research by Homeland Security Department, $850 million for Amtrak, $400 million for climate change research, and $400 million for sexually transmitted disease research. Talking heads say that the Democrats have now that they have the chance just added all their pet projects that have been denied over the past ten years. All totalled, these items add up to less than 1% of the total.

Even so, I can do a fair amount of justifying in my own mind most of these things. As for the National Science Foundation, scientists are closing in on understanding the nature of viruses and nearing a break-through on stem cell research; surely this is a time to provide additional funding to continue this important research that may ultimately provide huge savings on health care, plus preserve research jobs.

Why not additional funding for Amtrak? I suspect the auto industry and Exxon are eager for this one to be dumped. It looks to me as though it could provide some jobs and make improvements so that more people might use train for travel.

Climate change research - well, now we have an administration who actually believes the science, so what could possibly be their reasoning for not wanting to give some financial support to something that has been short-changed for so long?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why they want the money for research and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases eliminated. While several of their colleagues have been found in compromising positions involving sex, with this one they're thinking of voters back home rather than the jobs that could be created and the potential health-care savings. They're probably the same ones who believe in the failed abstinence only approach to sex education in the schools and were the ones that insisted on eliminating the condom program.

What do they want instead? Senator Lindsay Graham wants to give a $15,000 tax credit to first time home buyers. They're talking about an interest rate of 4 to 4.5% for those same first time home buyers if they can qualify and somehow inspire the banks, who unfortunately aren't very interested in giving loans. Kind of a Catch 22!

Aside from the above tax credit and more and more emphasis on reduced taxes, I've not seen a lot of constructive input from the Republicans, although they complain they've not been included in the process.

A bipartisan group of 19 governors, including California Governor Schwarzenegger and Charlie Crist of Florida have expressed support of the bill as it stands. Everyone hopes that something will be done to prop up the housing market, which is, of course, a major cause of the financial crises.

I'm one of the big 'D' Democrats, who believes that The National Endowment of the Arts needs more help than ever during an economic downturn. I definitely support its being given some funds in the stimulation package. The current economic situation facing everyday Americans is likewise contributing to the challenges that nonprofit organizations, especially those involved with the arts, are beginning to experience. The arts preserve our culture, provide forward thinking and are responsible for enhancing our spirits, an essential part of our country. I'm reminded of an old Afghan proverb: "If you have two coins, use the first for jasmine, the next for bread. One will give you life, the other a reason for living." (This is a saying with variations, such as "Flower" in place of jasmine, common to many cultures.) In our household, we believe "use the first for the arts, the next for bread."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It Might Have Been Otherwise

For several people I know, 2009 has brought challenges and crises. For most, they might have chosen it to be otherwise, but it could have been worse. By now I'm sure that everyone has heard about the birth of octuplets last week. That's right - OCTuplet - eight babies, and thus far all seem to be thriving. I immediately recalled the Dionne quintuplets and their mixed up, messed up lives, dominated by press and overprotective doctors. I immediately assumed in-vitro fertilization and the ambivalent feelings the new parents must be having at this moment - ambivalent - happy and yet concerned about how to care for so many infants. I had initially missed the fact that these eight babies were delivered to a single mother of six children under the age of seven. Oy vez!

She did this on purpose! She says she just loves being a mother. She has always dreamed of being a mother. She hoped to add another girl to what for most people in our culture would have been a large family. And somehow she found a fertility clinic to go along with her plan. When they discovered there were seven fetuses (they had not been able to see the eighth), doctors were unable to convince her to abort any of them, so that the survivors would be stronger, etc. Is she crazy? How does she, a single woman, plan to support and raise thirteen children?

There are now thousands of blogs devoted to the outrage people are feeling toward this mother-obsessed woman, who has already hired a public relations firm looking for a two million dollar book or television deal. She wants to host a TV show as a mothering expert. Well, maybe she's crazy like a fox?

Before her in-vitro fertilization conception, she worked in a mental health facility. I dare say she should have been a client, but that's beside the point. My question is to the medical profession who, at least in theory, swears to "first do no harm." How could you, I ask, in good conscience, believe that enabling this single, obviously obsessed, woman to have yet another child would not do harm? I find it hard to believe that a reputable fertility clinic might not have had reservations at the second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth child, let alone the seventh. Instead they have enabled what appears to be an obviously mentally ill woman to create a family that will take a small army and several million dollars to raise and educate to age 17.

Even the corporations who would usually be lined up ready to give houses, diapers, baby food, clothing, etc., are being cautious as they feel the outrage of the bloggers. My outrage is more at the fertility clinic that cooperated and enabled her obsession. It might have been otherwise, but then maybe the 47 people it took to deliver and care for the preemie newborns will each seek a book deal, too. Maybe they'll turn the economy around...or maybe the taxpayers will find themselves having to bail out this family, too. It might have been otherwise. Someone somewhere along the line might have said, "Enough, already!"

I grew up during the Great Depression, one of only three children. When my children were school age, I resurrected a family recipe from the mid-1930's, which may come in handy for this mother of fourteen during this economic downturn. It takes no time at all to mix up, which I'm sure this sure to be busy mother will appreciate. In fact, with a little help the eldest, the 7 year old, will even be able to make them. He'll probably be doing a lot of helping out, I'm guessing. Child labor laws don't apply to family members, you know.

Poor Man Cookies

Boil 1 cup raisins in 2 cups water until about 1 cup liquid remains.

Add: 1/2 c. margarine or Crisco
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. soda
1 egg
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 c. flour

Mix and pour into greased jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
Frost with a thin powdered sugar/lemon or orange juice glaze.