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Obama, Democrats talk jobs as impasse over cuts hardens

President Obama told House Democrats on Thursday that they will have to join him in his efforts to cut the deficit, but he made it clear that Medicare will not be cut in any compromise.

After a meeting with Democrats that lasted more than an hour, the stalemate over raising the debt limit and cutting the deficit appeared to hold, with lawmakers emerging from the East Room of the White House calling for raising taxes and preserving Medicare.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Obama made it clear that he needs Democrats to join him in “reducing the deficit while preserving Medicare,” a clear stab at the deficit-reduction plan put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which proposed major reforms of the entitlement program.

Pelosi insisted there be no cuts to Medicare benefits as part of the debt-ceiling deal, a Democratic aide said afterward.

Leaders of the caucus said after the meeting that they are on board with cutting the deficit, but they pressed Obama to avoid cutting social programs.

“We want to do it in a way that preserves the principles of our caucus,” said Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Behind Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Republicans are insisting that Medicare cuts accompany any hike in the debt ceiling. But dabbling with Medicare would be a tricky business for Democrats, who have been newly energized about their electoral prospects since a surprise win in a special House election in New York last week, which many credit to voters’ dislike of Ryan’s plan.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said the Democrats’ message was clear: “We will not take one back step on guaranteed benefits of the Medicare program,” he said.

Obama’s response, Pascrell added, left Medicare’s staunchest advocates optimistic about the imminent deal. “We’re pretty well-convinced the president will not, quote-unquote, throw us under the bus,” he said.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) delivered a similar message. While Obama “didn’t rule out minor adjustments” to safety-net programs like Medicare and Social Security, Welch said, the president “was confident that we’d be successful in preserving the social safety net.”

Obama was also clear that everything – including tax hikes and defense spending – is on the table as the negotiations progress.

Republicans, as they emerged from their meeting with the president on Wednesday, said that raising taxes is a nonstarter, but Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said that Obama “made it clear going forward that that is part of what he perceives as a balanced approach.”

Fattah said Obama and Democrats believe that “we’re going to have to have revenues raised.”

“And that’s where adults need to come to the table,” Fattah said.

Newly sworn-in Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) – who was the first Democrat to address the president Thursday – noted that she was successful running on a platform that included revenue hikes.

“She reminded everyone that she ran in a very conservative district and it was an argument that revenues have to be part of the solution – and she succeeded,” Welch said. “It’s a real signal that everyday Americans – Republicans, Democrats [and] independents – appreciate that if we’re going to solve this problem, everything does have to be on the table.”

The leaders all expressed optimism, as the Republicans did on Wednesday, that a deal can be made and the debt limit will be raised. But Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the House Democrats’ representative in the Biden talks, acknowledged that the two parties have not yet engaged on what he calls the “politically nuclear issues.”

A White House official joined Democrats in calling the meeting “productive,” adding that the president and House Democrats appear to be on the same page moving forward.

Although Obama was flanked by a number of advisers – including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, White House Chief of Staff William Daly and Gene Sperling, an aide to Geithner – the president alone responded to the questions from members.

“One-on-one with any member who asked a question or made a comment, the president handled them all,” Welch said.

Despite the high-stakes game both sides are playing over the debt ceiling, Pelosi and others said the main focus of the meeting was on creating jobs and reducing the deficit without cutting investments in programs that are critical to Democrats.

“That is a big concern in our caucus,” said Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

Thursday’s meeting came amid a rash of bad news about the nation’s economic recovery, including reports indicating that manufacturing and private-sector job creation both hit a skid in May following months of solid growth. Those indicators, combined with the continued decline in home prices, spell bad news for Obama, who’s launching his reelection bid with national unemployment at 9 percent and voters wary of Washington’s ability to compromise on solutions.

At the heart of the economic debate is a fundamental disagreement over the government’s power to stimulate the economy following the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Republicans want a diminished role for Washington, arguing that federal deficits have hindered job creation in the private sector. GOP leaders are pushing to slash federal spending, cut taxes for businesses and individuals and scale back regulations they say have prevented businesses from hiring new workers.

Republicans have said that they will not approve a debt-ceiling hike, which the Treasury Department says is necessary, without a significant reduction in government spending. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has called for “trillions” of dollars in long-term federal cuts to accompany a debt-ceiling hike.

Obama and the Democrats — who championed a $787 billion economic stimulus package in early 2009 — want to increase spending this year in areas like education, research and infrastructure. The GOP cuts, they warn, will only exacerbate the jobs crisis.

One Democrat on Thursday even called for a reprise of government stimulus.

“We need a stimulus,” Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said during a subcommittee hearing. “We need to put people back to work.”

Dicks conceded the importance of deficit-reduction measures to stabilize the economy over the long term, but warned that cutting too much too soon will cripple the recovery.

“We need to have restraint in spending once the economy is recovered, once we get people back to work,” he said.

The Democrats’ call for increased spending is a risky one politically, as voters have grown wary of deficit spending that’s crept well above $1 trillion annually in recent years.

A recent Gallup poll found that 47 percent of respondents oppose a debt-ceiling hike, while only 19 percent support it.

Stirring up the debate, Moody’s Investment Services, a credit rating agency, reported Thursday that it might apply a negative outlook to the United States’ perfect triple-A rating if a “credible agreement on substantial deficit reduction” is not included as part of a deal to raise the debt limit.

Republicans were quick to pounce, with Boehner saying the report “reinforces the point Republicans have been making all year.”

“An increase in the debt limit without major spending cuts will hurt our economy and destroy jobs,” Boehner said in a statement.

The credit rating agency said in a statement that it was surprised by the level of political gamesmanship surrounding the debt-limit debate, which in turn has increased its skepticism about a deal being reached.

“Although Moody’s fully expected political wrangling prior to an increase in the statutory debt limit, the degree of entrenchment into conflicting positions has exceeded expectations,” the agency wrote.




The latest crusade up in FireDogLake land is to castigate the Roosevelt Institute, the Economic Policy Institute, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for having the temerity to participate in the Peterson Foundation’s effort to get six think tanks to write down scored plans for reducing the long-term debt load of the country. I take it that the selloutery of my colleagues at the Center for American Progress goes without saying to such an extent that we don’t even warrant a mention in Yves Smith’s righteous condemnation. But personally I’ve always liked EPI’s work, and CBPP’s, and Roosevelt’s, so I’ll be happy to welcome them into team sellout and let Jane Hamsher keep tending the lonely flame of true faith.

On another level, I believe we should judge an exercise like this based on its outcome. And it seems to me that progressives have a lot to be proud of here. Four of the six proposals (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt, and Bipartisan Policy Center) argue for defense spending cuts. Four of the six proposals (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt, and AEI) argue for a carbon tax. Three (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt) call for financial transaction taxes, and three (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt) argue for a public option. Four (CAP, EPI, Roosevelt, BPC) call for short-term fiscal stimulus. Five of the six proposals feature good ideas about farm subsidies. Four of the six proposals feature higher income revenues than called for by current law.

Now of course there are also of plenty of bad ideas on the table in this exercise. I disagree with the vast majority of AEI’s ideas, basically all of Heritage’s, and many of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s. But the point is that when you look at the debate as a whole inside the Peterson Fiscal Summit, it’s actually a debate that’s titled way to the left of the official debate that’s playing out in congress. On Capitol Hill right now, bank taxes and carbon taxes and defense cuts and income tax hikes are all marginal ideas. Inside Pete Peterson’s Stealth Plan To Destroy The Welfare State they’re at the heart of the debate. That, to me, sounds like a job well done. It sounds to me like progressives ideas have real merit, and that the main thing we learned from this exercise is that progressive policy prescriptions will have to be a major part of any realistic long-term fiscal solution.


GOP: Public Health Is Too Expensive

Like all other Presidents faced with a recalcitrant Congress, President Obama has used the executive branch to put his policies in place.  Like all other such Congresses, the House GOP is trying to use budget riders to stop him.  In this case they are making the dubious argument that initiatives to improve public health, a mere drop in the budget, are too expensive.

On Tuesday, the GOP majority on the House Appropriations Committee approved a 2012 spending plan that directs the Agriculture Department to ditch the first new nutritional standards in 15 years proposed for school breakfasts and lunches. The lawmakers say meals containing more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy will cost an additional $7 billion over five years — money they say the country can ill afford in difficult economic times.

The committee also directed the USDA to scale back participation in an effort to develop voluntary guidelines for companies that market food to children. And it directed the FDA to exempt grocery and convenience stores and other businesses from regulations set to take effect next year requiring that calorie information be displayed.

Fortunately these attempts rarely survive the first draft.  One or two of them might sneak through but the Senate will not include most of them in their budget and President Obama will use veto threats to get rid of some of the others.  Still, the attempt by the House Republicans shows the type of things they would do if they regained control of the executive branch.

Los Angeles Teachers Vote In Favor Of Salary Reduction To Save 5,000 Jobs

House GOP Cuts To Nutrition Assistance Equal To One Week Of Bush Tax Cuts For Millionaires

House Republicans, as part of their 2012 budget, have proposed dramatic cuts to food assistance programs, including cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that would prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible women and their children from accessing the program. Late last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved more than $830 million in cuts to WIC and millions more in cuts to the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

To cut these programs with so many families still feeling the effects of the Great Recession is a travesty. But to do so after spending tens of billions of dollars to extend tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans, as Republicans forced Congress to do back in December, is even worse. CAP’s Melissa Boteach and Seth Hanlon found that the cost of the GOP cut to WIC is equivalent to the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires alone for just one week:

The deal struck last December to extend the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush gave the average millionaire a tax break of $139,199 for 2011, according to the Tax Policy Center, or nearly $2,700 per week. Given that about 321,000 households reported incomes of more than $1 million in the most recent year for which there are data from the Internal Revenue Service, that means the Bush tax cuts provide millionaires with about $860 million in tax breaks every week—more than enough to stave off the $833 million in proposed cuts to WIC.

Economists have estimated that every dollar invested in WIC “saves between $1.77 and $3.13 in health care costs in the first 60 days after an infant’s birth by reducing the instance of low-birth-weight babies and improving child immunization rates.”

The Hill reported today that Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) convinced GOP appropriators to reinstate $147 million of their $833 million in cuts to WIC, but she is not optimistic that the money will ultimately be approved on the House floor. “I don’t think [the Republicans] will let it stand. I think they will attack it on the floor,” DeLauro said.



The Body Shop Anti-Barbie Doll Ad Gets Banned

Barbie”s manufacturer Mattel sent The Body Shop a cease and desist order after posters featuring Ruby – a self proclaimed Anti-Barbie spokesperson started appearing in American shop windows. This banned advertisement was also forbidden to be hung up in the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway. The complaints included her “nude and nippless figure” being exposed to the public which offended people in the US and China.


Business Expansion and the Political Climate

So I didn’t have much time to take down the Chamber of Commerce guy on This Week today. But if you look at the National Federation of Independent Business survey (pdf), you’ll see a lot of businesses complaining about the political climate — hey, a lot of them watch Fox — but very few actually saying that this climate is deterring expansion:

It’s the weak economy that’s deterring growth, not the atheist Socialist secret Muslim Kenyan Hawaiian in the White House.




There’s More To The Weak Recovery Than Unemployment

Matthew Yglesias:

I hesitate to say this in a way that will invite misquotation, but I almost feel as if on some level the media is talking too much about the jobs crisis in America. Kevin Drum, for example, asks “Why Is Unemployment Still So High?” and I saw a CNN chyron the other evening about a “jobless recovery.” This kind of talk seems to imply that there’s something mysterious happening specifically to the labor market and that concerns about the economic situation should be limited to the minority of Americans who are unemployed. The truth, however, is that the bleak economic situation is much broader than unemployed people. Nothing “funny” is happening in the link between output and employment. What happened is that we were chugging along, then output fell by a lot, and then when output stopped falling it started growing at a slow rate.

If unemployment were at 5 percent and the economy was growing slowly nobody would be surprised to see unemployment continue to be at 5 percent. What else would happen? The unemployment rate normally only falls if the economy is growing rapidly, and right now the economy isn’t growing rapidly.

So the question we should ask is: Why such slow economic growth? This opens you up to a bonanza of possible answers. Probably no country on earth has ever had perfectly optimal economic policy. Which means that there are a lot of things the US could do to increase economic growth, and there’s also a lot of disagreement about what those things are. Consequently, at a time of high unemployment and depressed output it’s possible to go down a rabbit hole of controversies about what “the real problem” and the “real solution” and blah blah blah. And of course arguing about how to make economic policy better is often worth doing. But you also should be constantly asking yourself “could we make real output grow faster by boosting demand, or are we facing some binding supply constraints that mean efforts to boost demand will just lead to inflation?” This is an important question because if we could boost real output by boosting aggregate demand, then our failure to do so means we’re leaving money on the table. It means that unemployment is higher than it needs to be, and also that economy-wide production of goods and services is lower than it needs to be.

Unfortunately, we see more and more evidence that policymakers from the Obama administration on down have decided they don’t have a problem with this.


No Pivot


In light of ongoing tepid job growth, Jared Bernstein had some good advice for the White House the other day:

Someone just asked me, “how does the White House pivot from targeting deficits to targeting jobs?”

How’s this? “Based on new information, we are now pivoting from targeting deficits to targeting jobs!”

So much for the “pivot”:

AMANPOUR:…So, economists are asking and people are asking, is this kind of a wake-up call, do you think, to sort of shift the political debate from what’s been all about debt reduction and shift it back to job creation? I mean, is this an opportunity, for instance, to try to talk about creating jobs and adding maybe another stimulus? Let’s say there was no politics involved, in a perfect environment. What would you do to get this off the slow burner?

GOOLSBEE: Well, I would say two or three thing. The first is, the president has never stopped talking about jobs. For him, the growth strategy is the number-one issue.

Now, we must live within our means. We have a moment that we can talk about long-run deficit reduction. And the vice president’s leading an effort to do that, that the president has asked him to. But the president is getting up every day — on Friday, he’s going out to Ohio to talk about jobs in manufacturing, which manufacturing is having its best employment year in almost 15 years.

From what Goolsbee said, it appears their strategy is going to be on dual tracks, not a pivot from deficit reduction. The growth strategy appears to be this:

GOOLSBEE: OK. So the — we have shifted in the economy from a rescue phase, which is government-directed, to a phase in which government policies have got — we’ve got to rely on government policies that are trying to leverage the private sector and give incentives to the private sector to be doing the growth.

And that — so the president has started these tax cuts that will continue over the rest of this year, has put in place this regulatory review in which all of the major agencies are going to go through, find any outmoded regulations, ones that are excessively costly for their benefits, find ways to streamline.

AMANPOUR: Would there be more payroll cuts…

GOOLSBEE: The free-trade agreements…

AMANPOUR: … tax cut holiday?

GOOLSBEE: Well, we still — there will be more payroll tax cut over the entire course of this year. It’s more than $1,000 a worker for 150 million workers.

The free-trade agreements, trying to increase exports, which are rising at 15 percent annual rates. The infrastructure bank that the president has called for, which, again, is trying to leverage, using government incentives to get private capital to enter and help grow the economy. That — that — those are the things that we’ve got to be doing.

So what we are going to see is deficit reduction plus tax cuts, deregulation, “government incentives to get private capital to help grow the economy” and free trade agreements. No wonder the Republicans have gone completely over the cliff. The Democrats stole their agenda.

Now I wouldn’t mind this nearly as much if the administration would at least use the excuse that these are the only options because Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are lunatics. It’s not much but they wouldn’t be teaching the country are the optimal choices and they’re just pleased as punch to enact these awesome policies because they are the best policies — and at least liberalism might then live to fight another day.

Matt Yglesias had an interesting post discussing a comment by President Obama at his facebook Townhall in which he said that because the recession came at a time of immense debt they have to deal with it or the markets will become spooked. (Where have I heard that before?)

Anyway, he believes that Obama was influenced by a study which shows that financial crises lead to unusually long and painful recessions, which back in 2010 Tim Geithner attributed to political cowardice. He said at the time, “but sometimes a policymaker has to say, I’ll take pain now against pain later.”

Yglesias concludes:

Some time in the ensuing year, the administration abandoned this Geithner/activist interpretation of the Reinhardt/Rogoff result and instead shifted to a fatalist interpretation. Yes, the economy is in bad shape. And yes, growth is likely to continue to be disappointing. But not because of policy failures. It’s just one of these things, like how it gets cold in the winter. You deal with it. But you don’t let it dominate your life. You focus on the long term. It’s a convenient story to believe, because it aligns with short-term political imperatives. It’s also flattering, it says to the people in charge, “It’s not your fault, there’s nothing more you can do.” But it’s wrong.

I don’t know that they were ever willing to “take the pain now” but I do agree that they decided that their only hope was to believe that the confidence fairy would fix everything in time if only we all clapped louder.



Blackwater In-Law DeVos outlines “stealth” plot against Public Education

“We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities,” Dick DeVos warned in a December 2002 speech at the Heritage Foundation.

Last weekend, while revisiting a 2007 Alternet story I did covering the war on public education, The link between Private Armies & Private Schools?, I discovered an astonishing video of a speech Amway fortune heir Richard DeVos gave on December 3, 2002, at the Heritage Foundation (which DeVos money funds.) Dick DeVos is brother-in-law to private mercenary army Blackwater’s founder Eric Prince (hence my Alternet title.)

In the speech, DeVos laid out the next decade’s plan for the continuing right-wing assault on public education but warned his Heritage audience that “We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities.”

From here, I’ll let Rachel Tabachnick, who has been covering the ongoing war on Public Education in depth, provide context for Richard DeVos’ Heritage speech. If you have not yet read the two reports Tabachnick links to in her introductory paragraph, I urge you to do so:

Strategy for Privatizing Public Schools Spelled out by Dick DeVos in 2002 Heritage Foundation Speech

Right-wing think tanks have determined that school vouchers are key to eradicating public education and Dick and Betsy DeVos lead the way in execution of the well-funded plan. The money is tracked in two extensive reports on Talk2action [1 and 2].

“We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities,” Dick DeVos warned in a December 2002 speech at the Heritage Foundation. DeVos was introduced by former Secretary of Education William Bennett and then proposed a stealth strategy for promoting school vouchers in state legislatures.  DeVos and his wife Betsy had already spent millions promoting voucher initiatives that were soundly rejected by voters.  Pro-privatization think tanks had concluded that vouchers were the most politically viable way to “dismantle” public schools; the DeVoses persevered.  Dick DeVos introduced his 2002 Heritage Foundation audience to a covert strategy to provide “rewards or consequences” to state legislators, learning from the activities of the Great Lake Education Project (GLEP) initiated by Betsy DeVos. Vouchers should be promoted by local “grass roots” entities and could not be “viewed as only a conservative idea.”  DeVos added, “This has got to be the battle.  It will not be as visible.”

Ten years later, the DeVos stealth strategy has been implemented and is winning the voucher war in several states.  As recommended to the Heritage Foundation in 2002, the public face of the movement is bipartisan and grass roots, and millions of dollars are poured into media firms to reinforce that image. However, behind the scenes the movement continues to be led by the DeVoses, and the funding used to provide “rewards or consequences” for state legislators continues to be raised from a small group of mega-donors.





House Republicans Move to Weaken FDA’s Oversight of Contaminants in our Food

The measure, introduced by Rep. Rehberg (R-MT), vaguely mandates that only “hard science” be used to justify agency rule-makings and imposes arbitrary exclusions on what the agency can consider in regulating health risks in food, medicine, cosmetics and tobacco products. The measure is so poorly written that it’s hard to tell exactly what it means, but lawyers here believe it could also be interpreted to prevent regulatory action when pharmaceuticals are determined to cause public health risks, unless those drugs are also shown to be ineffective.
Here at NRDC we are wondering if it could be a coincidence that this attack on FDA’s oversight of medicines was adopted just a week after we filed suit against FDA for failing to protect consumers from overuse of antibiotics in livestock, which is linked to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As the lawsuit explains, industrial scale feedlots around the nation use massive amounts of antibiotics to promote animal growth and to compensate for unsanitary, confined living conditions. The practice breeds drug-resistant pathogens that threaten the efficacy of critical medicines for people. FDA has recognized these risks, but failed to take regulatory action.[….]




Tables Turned: Bank Of America Pays Couple’s Legal Fees After Deputies Threaten It With Foreclosure

Across the country, the biggest banks have been responsible for abuses against homeowners, often foreclosing on them in abusive ways and disregarding the human casualties of their policies.

Yet in one case in Collier County, Florida, a pair of sheriff’s deputies turned the tables on the mega-bank and struck a blow for beleaguered homeowners everywhere.

A Bank of America branch there had improperly been involved in a foreclosure lawsuit against a local couple, yet the bank was refusing to pay the couple’s legal fees when it was found to be in the wrong.

So two sherrif’s deputies and an attorney showed up at a Bank of America branch with some help — a local William C. Hoff moving crew. The deputies and attorney offered Bank of America a choice: Either the mega-bank pay the couple’s $2,534 legal fees, or they would foreclose on the branch and and seize all of its assets. Bank of America decided to pay. […]

It should be noted that not only has Bank of America been involved in abusive practices against homeowners, but that it also is a major tax dodger that actually got away with paying nothing in corporate income taxes in 2009.


Miami Beach Police Ordered Videographer At Gunpoint To Hand Over Phone

But video survived even after police tried to destroy phone. Big story coming.


Army judges weigh military trials for civilians

(AP) — Three Army judges are weighing a question that hasn’t cropped up in decades: whether a civilian contractor working for the U.S. military can be tried in a military court. The issue eventually could end up at the Supreme Court.

The case of Alaa “Alex” Mohammad Ali, a former Army translator in Iraq, challenges the notion that courts-martial only have authority over members of the armed forces. But it also runs up against complaints that using U.S. civilian courts to prosecute contractors working with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq has been largely ineffective, and trying them in local courts often has not been possible.

Ali, an Iraqi-Canadian, was prosecuted by the military after an altercation in Iraq during which he allegedly stole a U.S. soldier’s knife and used it to stab another translator. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Ali’s appeal is before the Army Court of Criminal Appeals. He was convicted under rules issued after Congress amended the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 2006 to allow courts-martial of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At a hearing Wednesday, the three Army colonels serving as judges wondered how far the military’s authority could extend when civilians are involved. “Does citizenship matter?” Col. Theresa Gallagher asked.

Maj. Adam Kazin, representing the Army, said the rules would apply equally to Americans and foreigners.

Capt. Tiffany Dewell, Ali’s lawyer, said that almost anyone accompanying troops in the field, including embedded reporters and Red Cross workers, potentially could be affected. The new rules have not been applied to U.S. citizens.

Could a contractor be hauled before a court-martial “if he didn’t show up for work?” Col. Kenneth Tozzi, the presiding judge, asked.

In some circumstances, Kazin said.

Until recently, such an exchange was inconceivable, said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. Corn said that when he was an instructor for Army lawyers in the late 1990s, he told his students he could not “imagine the day when a civilian would be court martialed again.”

At one time, the military asserted broad power to prosecute people accused of wrongdoing who were not part of the armed forces themselves, but were accompanying soldiers or working with them.

Soldiers’ wives, and even ex-servicemen who had returned to civilian life, were held accountable in military courts until Supreme Court decisions in the 1950s said otherwise.

By 1970, even the top military appeals court agreed that civilians could not be brought to justice in a military court. The only exception would be when Congress has formally declared war on another country, something that hasn’t happened since World War II.

U.S. civilian courts give defendants more rights, including trial by a jury of one’s peers. The life-tenured judges who preside over federal trials have more independence than the military officers who serve as judges in courts-martial.

But U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq brought with it a huge increase in the number of private contractors accompanying U.S. forces.



Blagojevich Admits He’s a Liar

Prosecutors finally got the chance to question former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) in his corruption trial, the New York Times reports.

The first question: “You are a convicted liar, correct?”

“Yes,” responded Blagojevich, who was convicted of one charge of lying to federal agents last summer.




Jon Stewart’s Ratings Are Now Higher Than All Of Fox News

According to the May Nielson ratings, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart beat the entire Fox News network in terms of total viewers. Stewart averaged 2.3 million viewers, while the Fox News prime time and day time line up averaged 1.85 million viewers.

According to Comedy Central, The Daily Show is dominant in its time slot,

For the month of May 2011, “The Daily Show” averaged 2.3 million total viewers and a 1.2 P18-49 rating. Versus May 2010, “The Daily Show” grew an astounding +19% in total viewers, with incredible double-digit ratings growth across all key demos including P18-49 (up +21%), P18-34 (+22%), P18-24 (+21%), M18-34 (+18%) and M18-24 (+21%).

“The Daily Show’s” 1.344 million P18-49 viewers led all late night talk shows in the demo for the month and, with a 2011 YTD average of 1.25 million P18-49 viewers, “The Daily Show” trails only “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” (1.27 million P18-49 viewers) in the benchmark demographic for the calendar year crown.

While Stewart is on the rise, Fox News had a really, really bad May. Total viewership was down 10%, and Fox News lost viewers in the 25-54 demo in every prime time show. Bill O’Reilly was down 9%, Sean Hannity was down 6%, and Greta Van Susteren dropped 12%.

Just how big is the disparity between Jon Stewart and Fox News?

Only The O’Reilly Factor (2.8 million) drew more total viewers than The Daily Show (2.3 million). Jon Stewart beat everything else on Fox News. Stewart beat Sean Hannity by 246,000 viewers. He topped Bret Baier by 399,000 viewers. Jon Stewart beat Glenn Beck by almost 500,000 viewers, 1.812 million to 2.3 million. He beat Shep Smith (1.712 million) and Greta Van Susteren (1.702 million) by almost 600,000 viewers each. When Stewart and O’Reilly go head to head at 11 PM, Jon Stewart tops Bill O’Reilly’s replay by almost a million viewers (2.3 million to 1.321 million).

This is why Fox News both hates and fears Jon Stewart. Not only is he more popular than they are, but he devotes much of his program to exposing the biased reporting of FNC. Even worse, Stewart is teaching his younger audience what Fox News is all about. Stewart doesn’t exclusively take on Fox News. His problem is with television news in general, but since Fox is the biggest offender, they get most of his attention.

Jon Stewart is the biggest threat to Fox News’ future out there. He is literally teaching his audience, which is bigger than FNC’s, how to see through the partisan propaganda that Rupert Murdoch has based his network on. Stewart is educating an entire generation of viewers on how to watch cable news, or more specifically how not to watch Fox News.

Unless Fox News can figure out a way to attract younger viewers, they are facing a future where their audience will eventually, literally die off. A 2010 survey found that the average age of the Fox News viewer is 65 years old. Fox has the oldest audience on all of cable. (FNC’s audience is older than The History Channel, The Hallmark Channel, and The Golf Channel).

Jon Stewart is on the non-prime time hour of 11 PM, yet he outdraws 2/3 of the Fox News prime time line up, and he has more viewers the entire FNC prime time and daytime lineups combined. Only Bill O’Reilly is preventing Stewart from being more popular than every single program on Fox News.

The proof is in the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie. Jon Stewart is more popular than Fox News.


“Serious” Republicans vs. “Starry-Eyed” Progressives In the Eyes of the Beltway Media

Meanwhile, the 76-member Congres-sional Progressive Caucus unveiled its own “People’s Budget” proposal on April 13, which would eliminate the deficit in 10 years without eroding social services or raising taxes on the working class. Serious economists like Paul Krugman (New York Times, 4/25/11) and Jeffrey Sachs (Huffington Post, 4/8/11) have spoken out in favor of the People’s Budget as, in Krugman’s words, a “genuinely courageous” plan and “the only major budget proposal out there offering a plausible path to balancing the budget.”

Guess which one the Beltway media have embraced?

Much of the avalanche of corporate media coverage about the Ryan plan has presented it as a serious solution to long-term budget problems, or at least the starting point of a serious conversation about the topic.

In Time magazine (4/18/11), readers learned that Paul Ryan—described as having “jet black hair and a touch of Eagle Scout to him”—

has unveiled an ambitious package of huge budget cuts designed to dig the country out of its crippling debt crisis. For Ryan, reining in spending is nothing less than an act of patriotic valor.

The magazine also declared that he is “a PowerPoint fanatic with an almost unsettling fluency in the fine print of massive budget documents.”

Deep into the article, readers get this parenthetical warning:

(He’s also been criticized for peddling fuzzy math and rosy projections. A Washington Postfactcheck deemed his budget full of “dubious assertions, questionable assumptions and fishy figures.”)


CBS “News” political correspondent: “Sarah Palin is either running for President or she should be” UPDATE//Chris Wallace chimes in


Mara Liasson Whitewashes Romney’s Job Creation Record


NPR: ‘s Morning Edition’s audience is 13 million a day. Fox News shows average 1.85 million each [H/T GottaLaff]



Top Pakistani militant Ilyas Kashmiri reported killed in US drone attack

Ilyas Kashmiri was a senior Al Qaeda operative believed to be behind some of the deadliest attacks, including a suicide attack on Pakistan’s spy agency and attacks on US forces in Afghanistan.


Howard Dean warns Dems Sarah Palin could beat Obama in 2012

Dean says his fellow Democrats should beware of inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom that Obama would crush Palin in a general-election contest next year.

“I think she could win,” Dean told The Hill in an interview Friday. “She wouldn’t be my first choice if I were a Republican but I think she could win.”

Dean warns the sluggish economy could have more of a political impact than many Washington strategists and pundits assume.

“Any time you have a contest — particularly when unemployment is as high as it is — nobody gets a walkover,” Dean said. “Whoever the Republicans nominate, including people like Sarah Palin, whom the inside-the-Beltway crowd dismisses — my view is if you get the nomination of a major party, you can win the presidency, I don’t care what people write about you inside the Beltway,” Dean said.

Dean spoke to The Hill the same day the Labor Department revealed the national economy added only 54,000 jobs in May and the national unemployment rate had risen to 9.1 percent.

Last month the private sector created 83,000 jobs, about a third the average for the previous three months.

Dean said he doesn’t think Palin will win the GOP nomination or would have the advantage over Obama in 2012. But he warned it is dangerous for Democrats to dismiss her.

Palin said Friday that she was “still weeks away” from making a decision about a presidential campaign.

“Anybody who gets the nomination could win the presidency,” he said. “Do I think she’s going to get the nomination? No. But that process is so difficult and really tests candidates in ways that no other process can.”

Dean knows the rigors of presidential primaries first hand. In 2004, his unconventional campaign briefly put him in contention for the Democratic nod before the eventual winner, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), pulled away.

“Anybody who survives the process can win the presidency,” he added.

Dean said Republicans made the mistake of underestimating Bill Clinton in the rest of the Democratic field in 1991 when former President George H.W. Bush seemed to have a strong advantage but the economy was still mired in recession.

“I can remember Bill Clinton, I think, was one of the seven dwarfs,” Cain said. “This goes on every four years and I think it’s best not to pay attention to that kind of talk.”

Bruce Cain, a political science and public policy professor and director of the University of California Washington Center, subscribes to the prevailing view that Palin would be a weak opponent against Obama.

“I stand with conventional wisdom that she’s way too flawed,” Cain. “Polls show that many women and independent voters aren’t happy with her.”

Cain believes the national economy must sink back into recession and unemployment swell to double digits before Palin becomes dangerous to Obama.

“If unemployment soars back up to double digits, voters will tune out any personal differences and be desperate for an alternative,” Cain said.

Dean thinks former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R), who recently finished serving as the Obama administration’s ambassador to China, would be the president’s most dangerous general-election opponent in 2012, a view shared by many Democrats.

“He is an independent. He is a moderate on some social issues and has a strong record as a governor and also has international experience that I think is lacking in every other candidate,” Dean said, comparing Huntsman to the rest of the GOP field.

Dean, however, doubts Huntsman, who has little national name recognition, could win the GOP primary.

Cain, of the University of California, said Dean’s view of Huntsman matches up with the conventional wisdom of many Democrats.

He says Huntsman would be especially strong in the general election if unemployment and growth numbers fail to improve.

“With Huntsman or a more credible candidate, Obama could be in trouble with unemployment in the 9 percent range and [economic] growth at one percent,” he said.

Our Fantasy Nation?

Nick Kristof:

With Tea Party conservatives and many Republicans balking at raising the debt ceiling, let me offer them an example of a nation that lives up to their ideals.

It has among the lowest tax burdens of any major country: fewer than 2 percent of the people pay any taxes. Government is limited, so that burdensome regulations never kill jobs.

This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled.

The budget priority is a strong military, the nation’s most respected institution. When generals decide on a policy for, say, Afghanistan, politicians defer to them. Citizens are deeply patriotic, and nobody burns flags.

So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan.


ACLU Sues Rick Scott to Stop “Voter Suppression”

The ACLU of Florida and Project Vote filed the suit in the hopes that it would stop Miami-Dade County from shortening the number of early-voting days before its June 28 mayoral elections.

The new law shortens the early voting days – but not necessarily the number of total hours – from 14 to eight days. It also requires an out-of-county voter who tries to change his voting precinct on Election Day to cast a provisional ballot, which can be more easily challenged. Also, the law cracks down on third-party registration groups.

One of the plaintiffs, Tampa Sen. Arthenia Joyner, said the bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature is an example of a “rank partisan agenda” that disproportionately hurts minorities.

“It is un-American to make it a burden to vote. Too many people fought and died for this right,” Joyner, a Democrat said. “This is an abomination. And it’s unconscionable.”


Nancy Pelosi on Face The Nation: Ask Speaker Boehner Why Congress Hasn’t Gotten Anything Done (video)

This morning’s Face the Nation was an interesting contrast in style. Bob Schieffer led off with Haley Barbour in what can only be a softball interview about Republicans, their chances in 2012, and the current field of candidates. In the second half, he suddenly got a bit more strident in his questioning of Nancy Pelosi, but she managed to place responsibility where it truly belongs. Here’s the money moment:

Schieffer: The fact is, the Congress has been in session since January and it’s done basically nothing.

Pelosi: Well you can talk to Mr. Boehner about that.

Schieffer: So it’s all their fault. It’s not your fault.

Pelosi: Well no, they set the agenda. We have said every day that they’re there another day goes by and there’s no jobs agenda or jobs bill that has come to the floor. But again, it’s about how we can work together to go forward. These issues are bigger than politics, they’re bigger than elections. They’re about the country that we will live in. And what we will see as we go forward is one vision of America that’s encompassed in the Republican budget plan that abolishes Medicare, that makes college unaffordable for nearly ten million young people in our country, that takes us deeper into debt and does not create jobs, or you can talk about an agenda that talks about making it in America, investing in American education, innovation and that’s what campaigns are about.

The opener on this conversation drives me a little crazy. Blaming a President for the economy without holding Congress’ feet to the fire is disingenuous, given Congress’ responsibilities with regard to appropriations and setting the national agenda that the President must then act upon. Yet in this current session of Congress, we’ve seen numerous votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, legislate a woman’s right to choose into oblivion, the defunding of agencies like NOAA and the EPA, and an overall agenda that kills jobs in the public sector at the very least. So what exactly does the President have to do with any of that?

And Pelosi delivers that message quite effectively. Bothered about the jobs report? Talk to Mr. Boehner, because he’s the guy who has set the agenda for this session of Congress. Democrats should be running with this message and asking Americans whether or not they understand Congress’ role in the economy and what this crazy Republican House of Representatives is doing to tank it.

Schieffer pushes back on her


Huntsman Will Not Compete in Iowa

Jon Huntsman said that he won’t try to compete in the Iowa caucuses early next year, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Huntsman “said he is opposed to federal agricultural and ethanol subsidies. Such financial support is a make-or-break issue in Iowa, which grows nearly one-fifth of the nation’s corn and 15% of its soybeans.”

“Iowa would have been a challenge for Huntsman, who is viewed with suspicion by some conservatives because of past support for policies relating to climate change, immigration and civil unions. Also, Huntsman, like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is a Mormon, and some of the evangelical voters who dominate the Iowa GOP caucuses were skeptical of Romney’s 2008 bid in part because of his religious beliefs.


Paul Revere And Palin’s Mind

Andrew Sullivan:

She may be remarkably uninformed, poorly educated and and the purveyor of so many obvious untruths – but one thing Sarah Palin cannot be, in what passes for her own mind, is wrong. And so if she bollixed up the account of Paul Revere in such an obvious and excruciating fashion … she has to insist she didn’t. Here’s her latest piece of nuttery:

Even Chris Wallace cannot help laughing at this preposterous grifter. But creepier still is the fact that her cult followers responded to this perfectly predictable gaffe by trying to edit the Wikipedia entry on Revere to align it with Palin’s ramblings about his “warning the British” that … oh, let’s not even bother.

Check out this surreal Wiki page in which the cultists are trying to insist that Revere did indeed warn the British, and use Palin’s own quote as a source! I love this succinct response from a Wiki editor:

In the article on Paul Revere, someone has added false information in an effort to support Sarah Palin’s FALSE claims about Paul Revere. “Accounts differ regarding the method of alerting the colonists; the generally accepted position is that the warnings were verbal in nature, although one disputed account suggested that Revere rang bells during his ride.[8][9]” This must be removed as it is a LIE designed to mislead. dj

One of the most pernicious and dangerous features of Palin is her clinical refusal to understand reality, to accept error, to acknowledge when the facts she has cited are not actually facts, but delusions. And her vanity and pathologies are so deep she will insist that black is white until her minions actually find a source to prove it.

She’s dangerous; she’s shrewd; she’s an exhibitionist. But she is also, we must keep reminding ourselves, a farce. What worries me about this political leader incapable of telling fantasy apart from fact is that, in a long and deep recession, someone who can lie that readily and manipulate religious and cultural resentment as well as she does is a danger. Not just to America, but to the world.




Vast Majority of Americans Believe in God

A new Gallup poll finds 92% of Americans still say “yes” when asked the basic question “Do you believe in God?”; this is down only slightly from the 1940s, when Gallup first asked this question.




Clarence Thomas Fails to Disclose Citizens United In-Kind Contributions

Clarence Thomas is falling into a deep, deep ethical hole, deeper even than the one he dropped into when he failed to disclose his wife’s income for 20 years. As more facts come to light, it’s obvious he failed to disclose quite a bit, including the $100,000 Citizens United spent on his behalf in 1991 to support his nomination. That would be an in-kind contribution which should have been disclosed as such.

A Time Magazine article from 1991 has the details:

Washington-area television viewers were startled last week to see three familiar senatorial faces pop up on their screens above the words WHO WILL JUDGE THE JUDGE? The follow-up question — “How many of these liberal Democrats could themselves pass ethical scrutiny?” — was hardly necessary, since the faces were those of Edward Kennedy, Joseph Biden and Alan Cranston, all scarred veterans of highly publicized scandals, from Chappaquiddick to plagiarized speeches to the Keating Five.

The ad, produced by two independent right-wing groups, was intended to bolster Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’ confirmation chances by pointing the finger at three liberal Democrats who seemed likely to oppose him. Not coincidentally, the ad was produced by the same people who launched the 1988 Willie Horton spot that branded Michael Dukakis soft on crime but left George Bush open to charges of racism. Anxious not to be associated with such negative campaigning this time around, Bush quickly labeled the attacks on the Senators “counterproductive.” Thomas pronounced them “vicious.” His chief Senate supporter, Missouri Republican John Danforth, called them “sleazy” and “scurrilous.”

Although Bush and chief of staff John Sununu demanded that the ads be pulled, their right-wing sponsors — L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the Conservative Victory Committee, and Floyd Brown, chairman of Citizens United — refused. Calling the campaign a “pre-emptive strike” to counter anticipated anti-Thomas commercials, as well as retaliation for the 1987 spots that helped defeat Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, they vowed to keep running the messages for at least two weeks “until the left agrees to discontinue all its efforts against Judge Thomas.Thus far, that has been a mostly fitful effort at best, but Brown and Bozell appeared to see the flag of revolution rising above it. “Unfortunately,” the two men declared in a written statement, “the Administration has no desire to confront the radical left.”

So Citizens United pays to produce and air an ad with the stated intention of bullying “the left” into silence over his nomination, and Clarence Thomas fails to disclose that before hearing last year’s Citizens United case that corrupted our election process?

Ironically, the case ProtectOurElections is relying on is Caperton v Massey, ruled on by the Supreme Court in 2009. Predictably, Thomas, Scalia, Roberts and Alito dissented.

Applying Caperton to Citizens United, it is clear that Justice Thomas, after having been supported by an effective advertising campaign that reaped millions in free media time, labored under an actual conflict of interest that denied the FEC due process. Justice Thomas owed his spot on the Court to Citizens United Foundation. That fact undermined his ability to put aside his bias in favor of Citizens United.

Justice Thomas was required to disclose his relationship with Citizens United and sua
sponte recuse himself from the case. Instead, he hid that relationship and cast the
deciding vote in favor of Citizens United. This corrupted the administration of justice
and violated D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.4—Misconduct, which states in
pertinent part:

“It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
(a) Violate or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assist or
induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another;
(c) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation;
(d) Engage in conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice; ….”

Seems like Justice Thomas has a really distorted idea of what justice is. Can we impeach him yet?




Delta Air’s anti-union practices earns federal probe

Delta isn’t just a crappy airline for passengers, it’s a crappy employer, too. At least it is if you can judge by the lengths it has gone to to prevent fairness in the workplace. Around the World Blog has some of the gory details of Delta’s extreme anti-union activities:

•  Open advocacy against fair American elections: Delta issued a press releasecommending the news that Darrell Issa’s deranged Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will investigate the NMB’s 2010 decision to conduct union elections for air/rail workers the same as all other types of American elections. Mike Campbell, Delta’s executive vice president of H.R. and Labor Relations said, “This investigation is an important victory for Delta people because it will finally allow the facts to speak for themselves.” Unfortunately for Delta, the facts aren’t on their side– there’s no reason to conduct NMB elections differently from every other form of election, union or non-union, in the nation. If congressional and Senate elections were conducted under such rules, in which non-participating eligible voters were counted as having voted, then zero Members of Congress would have won their last election.

•   Bumping paying customers…so Delta employees can lobby: Delta is so committed to its anti-union ideology that it offered its employees the chance to travel to Washington to lobby against fair union elections under a provision that may bump paying customers. Talking Points Memo reported that the group No Way AFA, “a coalition of Delta employees who want to deliberalize union rights,” came to Washington the week of the House vote on the FAA Reauthorization bill to lobby against fair election standards… and potentially bumping paying Delta customers in the process. According to the article, “A Delta spokesperson said No Way AFA operates separately from the company itself, but that the company “allow[s] employees to travel positive space to D.C. when supporting legislative efforts that the company supports.”  According to TPM, this means that “the “positive space” fly-in could squeeze out seating space for regular travelers.”

•   Free upgrades and lining the pockets of policymaker friends: An investigative journalism piece in Georgia recently found that leading Republican lawmakers in Georgia’s state legislature received free upgrades from Delta to platinum status, valued at approximately $10,000 to $15,000 per year. Valued as campaign contributions, the piece noted that Delta low-balled the reported value of the platinum upgrades in state ethics records. Unsurprisingly, Delta has a long history of being generous to lawmakers like Rep. John Mica, who have voted the right way in Delta’s eyes by seeking to return NMB union elections to the old, undemocratic rules.

It goes beyond, however, a general fight against the rights of airline and railroad employees to organize, to a very specific fiht among Delta employees to organize. The airline’s fight against that union drive has made the airline a target for federal investigators.

The National Mediation Board said Wednesday it will conduct a full-blown investigation into allegations by a flight attendants union that Delta Air Lines Inc. interfered in last year’s fractious organizing drive at the world’s second-largest airline by traffic.

The investigation is expected to shine a spotlight on labor relations at the Atlanta-based carrier, which has denied interfering with the hotly contested union votes in which its workers rejected union representation.

Delta is the only major U.S. carrier to remain largely nonunion….

Last fall, unions lost their bid to represent 50,000 Delta flight attendants, ramp workers and reservation and gate agents.

It was the largest such referendum at a U.S. company since more than 70,000 workers organized at a Ford Motor Co. plant in 1941.

Late last year, the unions contested the election results with the NMB, which oversees labor relations at airlines and railways. Both the Association of Flight Attendants and International Association of Machinists accused Delta of interfering in the elections by pressuring employees to vote against the unions.

Joe Sudbay sums it up best: “Delta is like the Scott Walker of airlines. It wants to be known as anti-worker. And, of course, the GOPers in Congress are great allies in that quest. They’ll join together to fight this investigation and undermine NMB.”

He also brings up the fact that Delta is the main airline serving Minneapolis, where we’ll all be converging in just a few weeks. If you have a choice other than Delta for getting there, use it.




Christian Left Criticizes Religious Right; Holds Counter Event

While the media spotlight Friday was on the religious right’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, nearby the Christian left staged its own modest event meant to challenge “the misguided priorities and immoral economic agenda” of the right.

Just a half block away from the Renaissance hotel in Washington, D.C., where the Faith and Freedom Coalition event was being held, progressive Christians organized a lunch and press briefing for members of the media at the Acadiana restaurant. Several mainline Protestant, evangelical and Catholic leaders attended to denounce the religious right’s support of free-market ideology and, as they describe it, a “culture of selfishness over the common good.”

“The religious right’s agenda of punishing hard-hit families with drastic, irresponsible budget cuts while giving trillions in tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires is immoral, and people recognize that,” said the Rev. Jennifer Butler, executive director of Faith in Public Life and Faithful America.

Faithful America is responsible for sending thousands of petition signatures to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, about budget cut proposals that they say will hurt the poor.

“The radical economic agenda religious right political operatives are pushing has a lot more in common with the teachings of Ayn Rand than the teachings of Jesus Christ,” Butler asserted.

The new Faith and Freedom Coalition, founded by Ralph Reed, the former head of the once-influential Christian Coalition, is trying to revive the religious right voting bloc ahead of the 2012 presidential election. It held its first major event on Friday, drawing nearly every GOP presidential hopeful – declared or still considering – to speak on the same stage.

Anti-Abortion Groups Push To Outlaw Contraceptives By Redefining Personhood

A fringe anti-abortion group, Personhood USA, has been startlingly successful at pushing forward legislation across the country that would redefine life as beginning at the moment of fertilization, effectively outlawing contraceptives like birth control pills. Although the medical community has long been in agreement that fertilization does not mark the beginning of a pregnancy … a growing number of lawmakers are supporting Personhood USA’s efforts to buck medical expertise and legally define life as the moment a sperm meets an egg.

If they succeed in passing such a law — and if such a law survives judicial scrutiny — it could turn common forms of birth control into the legal equivalent of a homicide.



Actually, that’s not in the Bible

NFL legend Mike Ditka was giving a news conference one day after being fired as the coach of the Chicago Bears when he decided to quote the Bible.

“Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” a choked-up Ditka said after leading his team to only five wins during the previous season.  “This, too, shall pass.”

Ditka fumbled his biblical citation, though. The phrase “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Ditka was quoting a phantom scripture that sounds like it belongs in the Bible, but look closer and it’s not there.

Ditka’s biblical blunder is as common as preachers delivering long-winded public prayers. The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted. Politicians, motivational speakers, coaches – all types of people  – quote passages that actually have no place in the Bible, religious scholars say.

These phantom passages include:

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

And there is this often-cited paraphrase: Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.

None of those passages appear in the Bible, and one is actually anti-biblical, scholars say.

But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better, says Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. […]

Few catch on because they don’t want to – people prefer knowing biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, a Bible professor says.

“Most people who profess a deep love of the Bible have never actually read the book,” says Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who once had to persuade a student in his Bible class at Middle Tennessee State University that the saying “this dog won’t hunt” doesn’t appear in the Book of Proverbs.

“They have memorized parts of texts that they can string together to prove the biblical basis for whatever it is they believe in,” he says, “but they ignore the vast majority of the text.”

Phantom biblical passages work in mysterious ways

Ignorance isn’t the only cause for phantom Bible verses. Confusion is another.

Some of the most popular faux verses are pithy paraphrases of biblical concepts or bits of folk wisdom.

Consider these two:

“God works in mysterious ways.”

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Both sound as if they are taken from the Bible, but they’re not. The first is a paraphrase of a 19th century hymn by the English poet William Cowper (“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform).

The “cleanliness” passage was coined by John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist who founded Methodism,  says Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University in Texas.

“No matter if John Wesley or someone else came up with a wise saying – if it sounds proverbish, people figure it must come from the Bible,” Kidd says.

Our fondness for the short and tweet-worthy may also explain our fondness for phantom biblical phrases. The pseudo-verses function like theological tweets: They’re pithy summarizations of biblical concepts.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” falls into that category. It’s a popular verse – and painful for many kids. Could some enterprising kid avoid the rod by pointing out to his mother that it’s not in the Bible?

It’s doubtful. Her possible retort: The popular saying is a distillation of Proverbs 13:24: “The one who withholds [or spares] the rod is one who hates his son.”

Another saying that sounds Bible-worthy: “Pride goes before a fall.” But its approximation, Proverbs 16:18, is actually written: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

There are some phantom biblical verses for which no excuse can be offered. The speaker goofed.

That’s what Bruce Wells, a theology professor, thinks happened to Ditka, the former NFL coach, when he strayed from the gridiron to biblical commentary during his 1993 press conference in Chicago.

Wells watched Ditka’s biblical blunder on local television when he lived in Chicago. After Ditka cited the mysterious passage, reporters scrambled unsuccessfully the next day to find the biblical source.

They should have consulted Wells, who is now director of the ancient studies program at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania. Wells says Ditka’s error probably came from a peculiar feature of the King James Bible. […]

Those details may seem minor, but scholars say one popular phantom Bible story stands above the rest: The Genesis story about the fall of humanity.

Most people know the popular version – Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. It’s been downhill ever since.

But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.

“Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” says Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years,” Dunn says.

Getting biblical scriptures and stories wrong may not seem significant, but it can become dangerous, one scholar says.

Most people have heard this one: “God helps those that help themselves.” It’s another phantom scripture that appears nowhere in the Bible, but many people think it does. It’s actually attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of the nation’s founding fathers.

The passage is popular in part because it is a reflection of cherished American values: individual liberty and self-reliance, says Sidnie White Crawford, a religious studies scholar at the University of Nebraska.

Yet that passage contradicts the biblical definition of goodness: defining one’s worth by what one does for others, like the poor and the outcast, Crawford says.

Crawford cites a scripture from Leviticus that tells people that when they harvest the land, they should leave some “for the poor and the alien” (Leviticus 19:9-10), and another passage from Deuteronomy that declares that people should not be “tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”

“We often infect the Bible with our own values and morals, not asking what the Bible’s values and morals really are,” Crawford says.

Where do these phantom passages come from?

It’s easy to blame the spread of phantom biblical passages on pervasive biblical illiteracy. But the causes are varied and go back centuries.

Some of the guilty parties are anonymous, lost to history. They are artists and storytellers who over the years embellished biblical stories and passages with their own twists.

If, say, you were an anonymous artist painting the Garden of Eden during the Renaissance, why not portray the serpent as the devil to give some punch to your creation? And if you’re a preacher telling a story about Jonah, doesn’t it just sound better to say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, not a “great fish”?[…]

“You can see this manifest today in living room Bible studies across North America where lovely Christian people, with no training whatsoever, drink decaf, eat brownies and ask each other, ‘What does this text mean to you?’’’ Hazen says.

“Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.”


Never Honk at the Elderly

This is awesome. Apparently old, but I never saw it before.



Protestors Set Up Camp at Capitol for Walkerville Weekend

Stop The arial shootings Of Wolves:


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An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.

Sydney J. Harris

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There are dozens of wonderful things here, as always, Cher. But the only thing I have to say is the old lady in the crosswalk is my role model for when I get to be that age. I laughed my butt off! Thanks for the light note in a heavy day of news.

KQµårk 死神

The debt ceiling rise question may be the silliest poll ever. You simply cannot be against a necessity like a debt ceiling rise. The fact is the government already spent most of that money so it’s not a question of options.

It’s like AdLib said defaulting on your home loan and then expecting to live in that home. It cannot be done.

The ratings agencies are not bluffing either on this one. Because if congress defaults once and breaks the precedent of a good faith commitment to back our currency it will be easier to do it again.


KQ, what happened to the R’s meme of “we have to treat the budget just like you sitting around your kitchen table.”?

OK, ma, what say we not pay any bills this month, will show that car dealership, credit card company, mortgage company! We’ll just file bankruptcy and not have any credit for 7 years! gee, hope nothing expensive happens.”


Cher, thanks so much for putting the vid of Barack Obama’s visit to Rudy’s Hot Dog in Toledo on the DP. God love the man, he really identified with the blue collar folk here because — truth be told — Rudy’s hot dogs aren’t so hot. (He shoulda gone to Tony Packo’s…but then, that’s fairly middle class.) I hope his staff had some Pepcid on hand later in the afternoon.

Seriously, though, the town was thrilled to host him and gratitude was in the air last Friday when the Man Who Saved the Auto Industry touched down in Air Force One. The unions sent a message to Gov. John Kasich asking him to please stay the fuck away from Toledo that day, since he had fought the auto bailout every inch of the way when it was under consideration. He obliged.

(Btw, that was the amazing Marcy Kaptur sitting next to the Prez at Rudy’s in the vid. So much brain power and heart at one table — diminished only slightly by the presence of our T-Bag mayor.)

I did also love the “Don’t Honk” video. My son said that the thing that really screamed “Jerk!” loud and clear was the fact that the guy was revving the engine as the woman was trying to cross in front of him. I hope the guy’s mom and grandmothers get to watch the vid and share their “feelings” with him. Preferably feelings that are reinforced by loading several pounds of lead into their purses and using them forcefully to help make the message stick in his head.


k’es, did you see this “info-graph?”
O-H-I-O (before Kasich)


That is fantastic, b’ito. I hadn’t seen that one. A great visual presentation. Those are all such familiar names.

GM just announced a couple weeks ago that they’re going to be hiring hundreds more people at their Powertrain plant here, too. This is such encouraging news for this community, which has been so hard hit. Things were tough here even before Dubya pushed everything over the cliff’s edge and then skipped town in early 2009.

Now if we can just get this mayor of ours to stop selling the town to China in bits and pieces, we might have a real chance at recovery…


HAHA! I just love the Don’t Honk at the Elderly vid! I really like how this woman just kept going, slowly and surely. One bang on the front of the car releasing the airbag! The driver deserved every bit of it! Too funny.
Thanks cher, that just made my day!