Saturday, December 25, 2010

Headlines - Saturday December 25

The Humbug Express
Paul Krugman

Hey, has anyone noticed that "A Christmas Carol" is a dangerous leftist tract?

I mean, consider the scene, early in the book, where Ebenezer Scrooge rightly refuses to contribute to a poverty relief fund. "I'm opposed to giving people money for doing nothing," he declares. Oh, wait. That wasn't Scrooge. That was Newt Gingrich — last week. What Scrooge actually says is, "Are there no prisons?" But it's pretty much the same thing.

Anyway, instead of praising Scrooge for his principled stand against the welfare state, Charles Dickens makes him out to be some kind of bad guy. How leftist is that?

As you can see, the fundamental issues of public policy haven't changed since Victorian times. Still, some things are different. In particular, the production of humbug — which was still a somewhat amateurish craft when Dickens wrote — has now become a systematic, even industrial, process.

Call it The Mighty Wurlitzer, FOXProp, the RS3M*, Talking Points, or any name you choose, it's lying writ large and loud and constant until it is believed and therefore the Truth.

*Repuglican Spin, Slime, and Smear Machine.
For the grinches among us

If the whole "Peace on Earth, goodwill to most" atmosphere is starting to grate on your hard little cinder of a heart, here's an antidote from Wonkette:

Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like the exciting news that 20-year-old Bristol Palin — known for getting pregnant as a teenager and not knowing how to dance at all — has bought a house! Hooray, Bristol! Times are tough for everyone, but somehow she scraped up $172,000 from under Sarah's burrito wrappers on the couch and now Bristol is the proud (?) owner of some utterly random foreclosed tract house in some abandoned Arizona exurb. We cannot even begin to make sense of this…

Remember, this is Maricopa, Arizona. This is not a resort area. This is not Scottsdale or Sedona. This is the flat, awful, very far edge of the Phoenix sprawl. The two-lane highway that doubles as Maricopa's "Main Street" is lined with the decrepit shacks of cotton pickers and lonesome old people waiting to die…

Beyond this tragic strip of cracked blacktop, there are a handful of vulgar tract home developments — mostly abandoned now, a grim enough situation that ABC's Nightline program did a special report on Maricopa and called it the "poster child of the housing crisis."

Wonkette operative "Steve M." suggests there's something more to Bristol's WTF home purchase than her congenital need for a shoddily constructed exurban stucco travesty she can fill it up with babies and unused Bow Flex machines just like back home in Wasilla. He says this means she has political ambitions, beyond all her other obvious talents such as being able to get pregnant without a condom…

Click the link for the awful celebu-political possibilities, not to mention a Googleview map of the new Palin snowbird compound. The wealth of snark at both Wonkette and the original Arizona Republic squib should make your politicially-paleolithic inlaws and spoilt screaming larval relatives just a little bit easier to bear.



Better pray Interpol doesn't get fed up with your child-rapist-protecting lies and send you to Syria. "Pope Benedict has prayed for peace as he delivered his traditional Christmas Eve homily in Rome. At a Mass at St Peter's Basilica, the Pope prayed for God to "implant his peace in our hearts" but also to "break the rods of the oppressors". Security was tight. Last year at the same Mass a woman jumped the barriers and lunged at the Pope. Meanwhile at a Mass in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, a senior cleric called for peace in the Middle East. The BBC's David Willey in Rome says plain-clothed security men followed the Pope as he walked in procession up the central nave of the basilica watching for any sign of trouble."


Bob Cratchit's South Carolina-style Christmas


Preparing the commoners for their place in the new order.

Robert Reich

Over the long term, the only way we're going to raise wages, grow the economy, and improve American competitiveness is by investing in our people - especially their educations.

You've probably seen the reports. American students rank low on international standards of educational performance. Too many of ours schools are failing. Too few young people who are qualified for college or post-secondary education have the opportunity.

I'm not one of those who thinks the only way to fix what's wrong with American education is to throw more money at it. We also need to do it much better. Teacher performance has to be squarely on the table. We should experiment with vouchers whose worth is inversely related to family income. Universities have to tame their budgets, especially for student amenities that have nothing to do with education.

But considering the increases in our population of young people and their educational needs, and the challenges posed by the new global economy, more resources are surely needed.

Here's another reason why the $858 billion tax bill - including a continuation of the Bush tax cuts to the richest Americans and a dramatic drop in their estate taxes - is so dangerous. By further widening the federal budget deficit, it invites even more budget cuts in education, including early-childhood and post-secondary. Pell Grants that allow young people from poor families to attend college are already on the chopping block.

Less visible are cuts the states are already making in their schools budgets. Because these cuts are at the state level they've been under the national radar screen, but viewed as a whole they seriously threaten the nation's future.

Here's a summary:

       * Arizona has eliminated preschool for 4,328 children, funding for schools to provide additional support to disadvantaged children from preschool to third grade, aid to charter schools, and funding for books, computers, and other classroom supplies. The state also halved funding for kindergarten, leaving school districts and parents to shoulder the cost of keeping their children in school beyond a half-day schedule.

       * California has reduced K-12 aid to local school districts by billions of dollars and is cutting a variety of programs, including adult literacy instruction and help for high-needs students.

       * Colorado has reduced public school spending in FY 2011 by $260 million, nearly a 5 percent decline from the previous year. The cut amounts to more than $400 per student.

       * Georgia has cut state funding for K-12 education for FY 2011 by $403 million or 5.5 percent relative to FY 2010 levels. The cut has led the state's board of education to exempt local school districts from class size requirements to reduce costs.

       * Hawaii shortened the 2009-10 school year by 17 days and furloughed teachers for those days.

       * Illinois has cut school education funding by $241 million or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. Cuts include a significant reduction in funding for student transportation and the elimination of a grant program intended to improve the reading and study skills of at-risk students from kindergarten through the 6th grade.

       * Maryland has cut professional development for principals and educators, as well as health clinics, gifted and talented summer centers, and math and science initiatives.

       * Michigan has cut its FY 2010 school aid budget by $382 million, resulting in a $165 per-pupil spending reduction.

       * Over the course of FY10, Mississippi cut by 7.2 percent funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a program established to bring per-pupil K-12 spending up to adequate levels in every district.

       * Massachusetts has cut state education aid by $115.6 million, or 3 percent in its FY 2011 budget relative to FY 2010 levels. It also made a $4.6 million, or 16 percent cut relative to FY 2010 levels to funding for early intervention services, which help special-needs children develop appropriately and be ready for school.

       * Missouri is cutting its funding for K-12 transportation by 46 percent. The cut in funding likely will lead to longer bus rides and the elimination of routes for some of the 565,000 students who rely on the school bus system.

       * New Jersey has cut funding for after school programs aimed to enhance student achievement and keep students safe between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. The cut will likely cause more than 11,000 students to lose access to the programs and 1,100 staff workers to lose their jobs.

       * North Carolina cut by 21 percent funding for a program targeted at small schools in low-income areas and with a high need for social workers and nurses. As a result, 20 schools will be left without a social worker or nurse. The state also temporarily eliminated funding for teacher mentoring.

       * Rhode Island cut state aid for K-12 education and reduced the number of children who can be served by Head Start and similar services.

       * Virginia's $700 million in cuts for the coming biennium include the state's share of an array of school district operating and capital expenses and funding for class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade. In addition, a $500 million reduction in state funding for some 13,000 support staff such as janitors, school nurses, and school psychologists from last year's budget was made permanent.

       * Washington suspended a program to reduce class sizes and provide professional development for teachers; the state also reduced funding for maintaining 4th grade student-to-staff-ratios by $30 million.

       * State education grants to school districts and education programs have also been cut in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah.

     Meanwhile, at least 43 states have implemented cuts to public colleges and universities and/or made large increases in college tuition to make up for insufficient state funding.

More at the link.  This is the "dumb" part of the agenda for keeping Americans fat, dumb and happy docile as we transition into the New Feudalism society Wall Street envisions for the country.


Tax Cut Bill Signed By Obama Packed With Obscure Stocking Stuffers For Businesses.


[A polar bear rests with her cubs on pack ice in the Beaufort Sea in northern Alaska. In court papers filed on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the animal doesn't qualify as endangered under federal law. (AP)]

Obama Gives 'Lump of Coal' to Polar Bears: Activists

WASHINGTON - Environmental groups on Thursday accused US President Barack Obama's administration of failing to ensure the survival of polar bears after it stopped short of listing the animals as endangered.

Merry fricking Xmas, Barry. I'm glad to see you're thinking of the planet your kids will be inheriting.


The CBC has one of those awful year-end countdown shows, and this one is rather appalling. It's a countdown of the top 10 miracles of 2010. Hey, there, Canada, I thought we were supposed to be the crazy country, while you were supposed to be the polite, serious brother! What happened?

It gets worse. As Canadian Cynic points out, they're devaluing the word "miracle". Among the tripe they're promoting is a statue of the Madonna that weeps oil (fake!), and the usual business of people going in for treatment of serious medical ailments, and ta-daaaa, the doctors fix them. But the #1 top "miracle" of the year was a plane crash—a plane that carried 104 people, 103 of whom died instantly, bloodily, with shattered bodies and splintered bones. Isn't it wonderful that one person survived?

I don't know whether the people who toss around that artless, useless word "miracle" are freakin' ghouls or simply stupid. It's Christmas, and I'm feeling charitable, so I guess I'll go with stupid.


Britain has passed a significant threshold. Christians, you're officially a minority now.

Every year, researchers from the British Social Attitudes survey ask a representative sample of British people whether they regard themselves as belonging to any particular religion and, if so, to which one? When the survey first asked these questions in 1985, 63% of the respondents answered that they were Christians, compared with 34% who said they had no religion (the rest belonged to non-Christian religions).

Today, a quarter of a century on, there has been a steady and remarkable turnaround. In the latest 2010 BSA report, published earlier this month, only 42% said they were Christians while 51% now say they have no religion. Admittedly, some other surveys - including the last census - have produced different findings on these issues, usually to the advantage of the religious option. There is also a margin of error in all such exercises. All the same, and particularly since the trends in opinion over time seem well set, it is hard not to feel that this latest finding marks a cultural watershed.

This Christmas, for perhaps the first time ever, Britain is a majority non-religious nation.

The article notes that it only took a generation to shift from 34% non-religious to 51% non-religious. There's hope for the United States yet; I don't think we'll see a majority non-religious in my lifetime (but surprise me!), but we can make a relatively rapid change.


political pictures - I agree. Kissing the butt of every Republican in Washington, while at the same time criticizing, bashing, and alienating my Democratic base is a brilliant political strategy for me.

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