Friday Reads

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Good Morning!!!

Since it’s the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, I thought I’d start out with some Labor News.  There are so many jobs these days that don’t really pay a living wage in the US that it’s really astounding.  Fast Food Workers are among the lowest paid in the country.

Fast-food workers went on strike and protested outside McDonald’s, Burger King and other restaurants in 60 U.S. cities on Thursday, in the largest protest of an almost year-long campaign to raise service sector wages.

Rallies were held in cities from New York to Oakland and stretched into the South, historically difficult territory for organized labor.

The striking workers say they want to unionize without retaliation in order to collectively bargain for a “living wage.”

They are demanding $15 an hour, more than twice the federal minimum of $7.25. The median wage for front-line fast-food workers is $8.94 per hour, according to an analysis of government data by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an advocacy group for lower-wage workers.

“It’s almost impossible to get by (alone),” said McDonald’s worker Rita Jennings, 37, who was among about 100 protesters who marched in downtown Detroit Thursday. “You have to live with somebody to make it.”

Rush Limbaugh was all agog and demagogue about the striking workers

LIMBAUGH: If you want a “living wage,” if you don’t like what fast food restaurants pay, then do something else. It’s just that simple. Go to a trade school. Go to another business. Start your own business. Maybe the work that you are capable of isn’t yet worth $15 an hour at a fast-food restaurant. Maybe the consumer doesn’t want to pay $10 for a Big Mac so that people working at McDonald’s make $15 an hour. It’s not just a one-way strata.

You don’t just sit there and double what the employees at McDonald’s make and keep the prices the same. Now, you may think this is obvious, folks, and you may think, “Come on, Rush,” you’d be amazed at how many people do not understand the push-pull in economics. You’d be amazed at the number of people who have taken economics courses who think that the truth about headaches is that the boss is a cheap skinflint and wants his employees to starve and wants to screw his customers.

That’s the basis of their understanding, and they go from there, and they are applauded by left-wing Democrat politicians for holding that belief, and they’re encouraged to have it. Now, to those of you who, like Sean from San Diego, are sympathetic to this demand for the minimum wage at Mickey D’s to go from $7.15 or $7.25 an hour to $15, let me ask you this: When you buy a meal, do you make sure that you’re paying a fair price for it?

When you walk in there, do you ask the employee, “Look, am I paying enough here so that you can get a livable wage? When you go in and buy a Big Mac or a Quarter Pounder with cheese or a double Quarter Pounder with cheese, do you look at the price is and say, “Are you sure that this costs enough that you can make a livable wage?” Or do you just get a little upset when you think it’s a little too expensive?

Limbaugh was lecturing fast workers on getting a better job as he sat in his mansion with no clue what it is like to work and survive on minimum wage. Limbaugh’s lecture was centered around a couple of the Republicans favorite falsehoods. Rush was pretending that there are better jobs out there for minimum wage workers.

Some happy news for married GLBT workers!  The IRS and the US Treasury will recognize your marriage.  You get the standard marriage deduction!!

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) today ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The ruling implements federal tax aspects of the June 26th Supreme Court decision invalidating a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve,” said Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.

I joined the Sisterhood of the Pink Shoes this weekend.  Meanwhile, the real sister with the pink shoes is doing really well in the fundraising arena.

In the six weeks following her headline-grabbing filibuster, Wendy Davis raised $1.2 million — nearly 40 percent of it from outside Texas. Davis drew national attention following the filibuster against an abortion-restriction bill that helped shut down the Texas Senate and prompted Gov. Rick Perry to call lawmakers back into another special session. In the wake of Davis’ new-found fame, Davis has been urged by some Democrats to run for governor next year. She says she will announce her political plans — whether to run for reelection as a senator from Fort Worth or as a Democrat for governor — in a few weeks.

Martin Luther King was fighting for working folks when he was assassinated.  We’ve already said that no Republicans showed up to commemorate the March on Washington.  Where were they?  

So what was did they do instead? Well, Boehner was in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and had no public events scheduled, but he has been headlining GOP fundraisers all this month, so it’s a fairly safe to assume that he was raising cash at the time. Cantor, meanwhile was touring an oil field in North Dakota. The Grand Forks Herald reports:

Cantor, hosted by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., met with energy industry and community leaders at a crew camp in Williston, toured a drilling site and other oilfield locations in the Bakken and met with North Dakota Petroleum Council members in Watford City.

Cantor praised North Dakota’s approach to energy development and said the country needs to follow the state’s example and adopt a national energy policy.

“I hope to be able to tell the president that there’s a lot for him to learn here as far as energy production here in America,” Cantor said. “North Dakota seems to have gotten it right.”

The North Dakota Petroleum Council, by the way, is a lobby group that represents the state’s oil and gas industry. That’s what Cantor was doing on the day of the march.

Here’s a little bit of News on New Orleans 8 years after Katrina.

Now optimism is rising as a rebounding city approaches the 300th anniversary of its 1718 founding.

“The city is a much better place than it was eight years ago. The biggest challenge we have is blight,” Landrieu said, adding that 10,000 blighted properties have been removed from the cityscape.

A thriving downtown and newly vibrant neighborhoods contrast starkly with the city’s appearance eight years ago. When Katrina hit, thousands of people who couldn’t escape New Orleans in time were trapped in homes as levees broke and floodwaters rose. Helicopters plucked the desperate from rooftops as chaos spread. The damaged Superdome became a refuge of misery for thousands as tempatures and tempers soared.

Days afterward then-President George W. Bush promised the nation’s full attention. But federal authorities were sharply criticized for their early response and local and state authorities as well. And though billions of federal dollars have helped to rebuild a strengthened levee system, many locals remain bitter with the Army Corps of Engineers for the failure of the levees.

Landrieu said he’s intent on moving forward.

“I think that we have successfully done the most important thing, which was to think about building the city back the way she should have always been and not the way she was,” he said.

Landrieu said rebuilding has even meant re-organizing government operations, streamlining finances, curbing waste and fraud and reorganizing the city’s education system – even adding new fire and police stations, parks and libraries.

The weird thing about the blight is that it’s in areas that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to have ramshackled buildings and over grown lots.  Every time I go from my home near the Mississippi River towards the Lake I see blight on the way.  It pops up in the newer suburban areas as well as older neighborhoods.  There are still a lot of eye sores and it appears it’s going to take a long time for many of them to be torn down or restored.  Thankfully, the historic parts of the city appear to be well on the mend.  Unfortunately, the infrastructure is so gone in many areas that the blight will remain for some time.

That’s my offering today!  What’s on your reading and blogging list?

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Thursday Reads

tea on books

Good Morning!!

President Obama isn’t looking so “progressive” this morning (what else is new?). Yesterday, his “Justice” department announced they will ignore science as well as the health needs of women and girls by fighting a judge’s order to make Plan B emergency contraception available over-the-counter without age limits. NYT:

The appeal reaffirms an election-year decision by Mr. Obama’s administration to block the drug’s maker from selling it without a prescription or consideration of age, and puts the White House back into the politically charged issue of access to emergency contraception.

The Justice Department’s decision to appeal is in line with the views of dozens of conservative, anti-abortion groups who do not want contraceptives made available to young girls. But the decision was criticized by advocates for women’s reproductive health and abortion rights who cite years of scientific research saying the drug is safe and effective for all ages.

“Age barriers to emergency contraception are not supported by science, and they should be eliminated,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement on Wednesday.

In December 2011 the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, blocked the sale of the drug to young girls without a prescription, saying there was not enough data to prove it would be safe. In doing so, Ms. Sebelius took the unprecedented step of overruling the Food and Drug Administration, which had moved, based on scientific research, to lift all age restrictions.

I could use some profane language here, but I’ll spare you for the moment. You may be mumbling to yourself too, after you read about Obama’s latest picks for the FCC and Commerce Department.

First the FCC. The New York Times reports: Telecom Investor Named to Be F.C.C. Chairman.

Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s pick to be the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, knows all about the most advanced telecommunications systems — of the 19th century.

In his 2008 book “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War,” Mr. Wheeler, an investor in start-up technology and communications companies, documents how Lincoln was an “early adopter” of what has been called “the Victorian Internet.”

Lincoln’s championing and advancement of popular uses of the telegraph are not unlike the challenges Mr. Wheeler is likely to face as chairman of the F.C.C., which is waging an intense battle to keep Internet service free of commercial roadblocks and widely available in its most affordable, up-to-date capabilities.

Mr. Wheeler’s qualifications for “one of the toughest jobs in Washington,” Mr. Obama said, include a long history “at the forefront of some of the very dramatic changes that we’ve seen in the way we communicate and how we live our lives.”

“He was one of the leaders of a company that helped create thousands of good, high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said, referring to Core Capital Partners, the Washington investment firm where Mr. Wheeler is a managing director. “He’s in charge of the group that advises the F.C.C. on the latest technology issues,” adding that “he’s helped give American consumers more choices and better products.”

They look happy, don't they?

They look happy, don’t they?

But does all that qualify Wheeler to protect consumers at the FCC? From Ars Technica:

Uh-oh: AT&T and Comcast are ecstatic about the FCC’s new chairman: AT&T calls new chairman an “inspired pick,” seeks end to “outdated” regulations.

President Barack Obama today announced his choice to run the Federal Communications Commission. As reported yesterday, the nominee is Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist who was formerly a lobbyist at the top of the cable and wireless industries, leading the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).

The nomination continues the parade of lobbyists becoming government officials and vice versa, a trend that has favored moneyed interests over the average American citizen and consumer time and again. One can take solace in the fact that Wheeler will be tasked with implementing the communications policies of President Obama, who says he is eager to fight on behalf of consumers and to maintain thriving and open Internet and wireless marketplaces.

But the same President who said “I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over” when he was running for office has given the FCC’s top job to a former lobbyist. Wheeler donated $38,500 to Obama’s election efforts and helped raise additional money for Obama by becoming a “bundler,” arranging for large contributions from other donors after hitting legal limits on personal contributions.

Not surprisingly, the cable and telecom companies that Wheeler springs from are ecstatic about the nomination.

Gotta get rid of those nasty regulations that protect Americans from price gauging, internet censorship, and all that bad stuff.

Penny Pritzker

Penny Pritzker

Next up, behold Obama’s nomination for Commerce Secretary, old pal Penny Pritzker.

Making official what many Democrats have expected for weeks, President Obama plans to nominate Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker, a longtime political supporter and heavyweight fundraiser, as his new Commerce secretary on Thursday morning.

Pritzker’s nomination could prove controversial. She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and she could face questions about the failure of a bank partly owned by her family.

With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans. She is the founder, chair and CEO of PSP Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and its affiliated real estate investment firm, Pritzker Realty Group. She played an influential role in Obama’s rise from Illinois state senator to the nation’s 44th president, serving as Obama’s national finance chair in his first campaign for the White House and co-chair of his reelection campaign.

The president is expected to make the announcement at 10 a.m. at the White House.

If confirmed by the Senate, Pritzker would take charge of the administration’s efforts to build relations with business leaders who were often on the sharp end of the president’s first-term rhetoric.

Sigh . . .

This next story is guaranteed to make your blood boil. Bloomberg reports:

It’s been almost three years since Congress directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to require public companies to disclose the ratio of their chief executive officers’ compensation to the median of the rest of their employees’. The agency has yet to produce a rule.

So Bloomberg decided not to wait around any longer and figured out the ratios for us. See the chart at the above link. More:

Ron Johnson

CEO Pay 1,795-to-1 Multiple of Wages Skirts U.S. Law

Former fashion jewelry saleswoman Rebecca Gonzales and former Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson have one thing in common: J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) no longer employs either.

The similarity ends there. Johnson, 54, got a compensation package worth 1,795 times the average wage and benefits of a U.S. department store worker when he was hired in November 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Gonzales’s hourly wage was $8.30 that year.

Across the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of companies, theaverage multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers is 204, up 20 percent since 2009, the data show. The numbers are based on industry-specific estimates for worker compensation.

Almost three years after Congress ordered public companies to reveal actual CEO-to-worker pay ratios under the Dodd-Frank law, the numbers remain unknown. As theOccupy Wall Street movement and 2012 election made income inequality a social flashpoint, mandatory disclosure of the ratios remained bottled up at the Securities and Exchange Commission, which hasn’t yet drawn up the rules to implement it. Some of America’s biggest companies are lobbying against the requirement.

“It’s a simple piece of information shareholders ought to have,” said Phil Angelides, who led the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which investigated the economic collapse of 2008. “The fact that corporate executives wouldn’t want to display the number speaks volumes.” The lobbying is part of “a street-by-street, block-by-block fight waged by large corporations and their Wall Street colleagues” to obstruct the Dodd-Frank law, he said.

Are you angry yet? These greedheads are going to keep pushing the envelope until Americans wake up and take to the streets with pitchforks and dust off the guillotines.

My birthplace, North Dakota is changing rapidly–and maybe not in a good way. It turns out the state’s oil is even more plentiful than anyone has realized up till now.

The sea of oil and natural gas underneath North Dakota is far larger than first thought.

There are 7.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the western part of the state and extending into Montana, according to the latest estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey.

That’s more than twice the oil the USGS estimated could be recovered five years ago. What’s more, the USGS has nearly tripled its estimate of the natural gas available in the area.

The revised totals could make the North Dakota field the greatest oil and gas find ever in the continental United States, topping the fabled East Texas field that made Texas synonymous with oil wealth. And it would put North Dakota second to Prudhoe Bay as the largest oil producer in U.S. history.

And even this estimate may have to be “revised upward”:

“We think it’s even a little bit conservative,’’ said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

The new estimate will give fresh momentum to an economic boom within the state that has made it the fastest growing in the nation in both population and incomes. Per capita income has risen to $52,000 a year, sixth-highest in the nation, and once quiet farm towns have been overwhelmed by oil field workers, creating shortages of housing and services.

The USGS said the drilling of 4,000 wells since 2008 in what is known as the Bakken formation has given geologists a better idea of the riches underground. The new analysis also highlights the rapid ascent of North American oil and gas production driven by the advent of the technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

I guess I’m happy about the new jobs and population growth, but it will be sad if North Dakota no longer has clean air and vast open spaces.

Four shallow chop marks on the top of the girl’s skull, evidence of cannibalism during the “starving time” over the winter of 1609-1610. (Smithsonian Institution / Don Hurlbert)

Four shallow chop marks on the top of the girl’s skull, evidence of cannibalism during the “starving time” over the winter of 1609-1610. (Smithsonian Institution / Don Hurlbert)

You may have heard about this fascinating story–it was up toward the top of Google News much of yesterday. Archaeologists have found strong evidence that Starving Settlers in [the] Jamestown Colony Resorted to Cannibalism. From Smithsonian Magazine:

The harsh winter of 1609 in Virginia’s Jamestown Colony forced residents to do the unthinkable. A recent excavation at the historic site discovered the carcasses of dogs, cats and horses consumed during the season commonly called the “Starving Time.” But a few other newly discovered bones in particular, though, tell a far more gruesome story: the dismemberment and cannibalization of a 14-year-old English girl.

“The chops to the forehead are very tentative, very incomplete,” says Douglas Owsley, the Smithsonian forensic anthropologist who analyzed the bones after they were found by archaeologists from Preservation Virginia. “Then, the body was turned over, and there were four strikes to the back of the head, one of which was the strongest and split the skull in half. A penetrating wound was then made to the left temple, probably by a single-sided knife, which was used to pry open the head and remove the brain.”

Much is still unknown about the circumstances of this grisly meal: Who exactly the girl researchers are calling “Jane” was, whether she was murdered or died of natural causes, whether multiple people participated in the butchering or it was a solo act. But as Owsley revealed along with lead archaeologist William Kelso today at a press conference at the National Museum of Natural History, we now have the first direct evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, the oldest permanent English colony in the Americas. “Historians have gone back and forth on whether this sort of thing really happened there,” Owsley says. “Given these bones in a trash pit, all cut and chopped up, it’s clear that this body was dismembered for consumption.”

There’s much more at the link.

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a great day!


Sunday Reads: Going Green and Non-Prada Pope Footwear

spdGood Morning and

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Hope everyone enjoys their day, I am also hopeful that today we see justice prevail. A verdict is expected in the Steubenville Rape Trial . We will let you know if and when the verdict does come down…

I will start this post off with some political news, CPAC is over, the conservative party has tried to rebrand their image…they sure haven’t changed one bit. Not that I expected anything different, but the conservative nut cases definitely made some people feel unwelcome to the party.

The CPAC Hits Keep on Comin’: Black Man Tossed Out After Wingnut Screams at Him, ‘Race Doesn’t Matter’

Another graphic example of the right wing’s “minority outreach:” CPAC: Black Man Tossed Out After Breitbart Hack Screams at Him ‘Race Doesn’t Matter’.

In this video from CPAC, a black man seems like he sincerely interested in helping find a way for conservatives to appeal to other African Americans, but then he suddenly gets screamed on by a white guy who insists that “race doesn’t matter.” Which in short, summarizes why the Republicans continually lose the vote of any group that doesn’t have white skin.

And the whole scene was caught on tape:

And if you think this was the only disgusting racist outburst at CPAC you would be mistaken…When The GOP Told Whitey I Aint Gonna Take It No More

Yesterday, a CPAC breakout session on reaching out to black voters broke down in shouting and acrimony as a handful of ‘disenfranchised whites’ attacked the premise of the session (along with black complaints about slaveholders), got into a verbal fight with a black female attendee and with all that managed to unite the crowd against the black woman as the one who somehow spoiled all the fun.

TPM’s Benjy Sarlin was there right as it was all happening and wrote this eye-popping account in more or less real time.

[…]

the bigger thing coming out of this raucous event isn’t what the one or two people said — though that was probably enough to be the takeaway for many for the entire conference — as the fact that the whole imbroglio ended with denunciations of the black woman who was the one person to go into freak out mode — pretty understandably — on hearing the merits of chattel slavery being argued in the 21st century at a panel on racial tolerance and outreach.

From the Benjy Sarlin link…Tea Party Event On Racial Tolerance Turns To Chaos As ‘Disenfranchised’ Arrive

A CPAC session sponsored by Tea Party Patriots and billed as a primer on teaching activists how to court black voters devolved into a shouting match as some attendees demanded justice for white voters and others shouted down a black woman who reacted in horror.

The session, entitled “Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?” was led by K. Carl Smith, a black conservative who mostly urged attendees to deflect racism charges by calling themselves “Frederick Douglass Republicans.”

Disruptions began when he started accusing Democrats of still being the party of the Confederacy — a common talking point on the right.

“I don’t care how much the KKK improved,” he said. “I’m not going to join the KKK. The Democratic Party founded the KKK.”

Lines like that drew shouts of praise from some attendees and murmurs of disapproval from one non-conservative black attendee, Kim Brown, a radio host and producer with Voice of Russia, a broadcasting service of the Russian government.

But then questions and answers began. And things went off the rails.

Heh…heh, sorry for the laugh, but what the hell would you expect with a discussion entitled “Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?”

Scott Terry of North Carolina, accompanied by a Confederate-flag-clad attendee, Matthew Heimbach, rose to say he took offense to the event’s take on slavery. (Heimbach founded the White Students Union at Towson University and is described as a “white nationalist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

“It seems to be that you’re reaching out to voters at the expense of young white Southern males,” Terry said, adding he “came to love my people and culture” who were “being systematically disenfranchised.”

Smith responded that Douglass forgave his slavemaster.

“For giving him shelter? And food?” Terry said.

At this point the event devolved into a mess of shouting. Organizers calmed things down by asking everyone to “take the debate outside after the presentation.”

I have to quote a bit more of this TPM post because it is just too fantastic…

Brown, who took offense at the suggestion modern Democrats were descendants of the KKK, tried to ask a question later once things finally calmed down. She was booed and screamed at by audience members.

“Let someone else speak!” one attendee in Revolutionary War garb shouted.

“You’re not welcome!” a white-haired older woman yelled.

Eventually she asked a question. It was about whether Republicans should call out racist ads.

Attendees interviewed by TPM afterwards expressed outrage at the way the event turned out. Not at Terry and Heimbach — they were mad at Brown.

Chad Chapman, 21, one of the few black attendees, said overall he enjoyed the event — except “there were lots of interruptions, mainly because of the woman.”

I asked whether he was concerned about the question from Terry and Heimbach.

“No they were just telling the truth,” he said. You mean you agree blacks are systematically disenfranchising whites, I asked?

“I listen to anybody’s point of view, it doesn’t really matter,” he said.

A media scrum formed around Terry immediately after the close of the event. A woman wearing a Tea Party Patriots CPAC credential who had shouted down Brown earlier urged him not to give his name to the press.

She wouldn’t give her name either, but I asked her what she thought.

“Look, you know there’s no doubt the white males are getting really beat up right now, it’s unfair,” she said. “I agree with that. My husband’s one of them. But I don’t think there’s a clear understanding about what really is going on. He needs to read Frederick Douglass and I think that question should be asked to everyone in this room who is debating.”

Alright, just go to the link and read the rest…including a statement from K. Carl  Smith, the man who led the session…wow.

Ralph Nader is the author of this next link: Walmart Bosses and the Minimum Wage

Last weekend on a bright, sunny day a dozen of us demonstrated at shopping malls where Walmart has three of its giant stores, supplied heavily by products from China and other serf-wage countries. But outsourcing the jobs of its American suppliers to China was not the focus last Saturday. We were drawing attention to the plight of one million Walmart workers who are making far less than what Walmart workers made in 1968 when the minimum wage was the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $10.50 an hour today.

In 1968 Walmart was run by its founder, the legendary Sam Walton, who started with one store in Bentonville, Arkansas. Sam had to pay his workers wages that were worth much more than wages today because the law required him to do so.

The clenched-jawed CEO opposition to catching the minimum wage up with 1968 for their workers continues to manifest itself today. CEOs seem to have little concern for the budget-squeezed daily lives of their employees.

These days, however, Walmart is feeling some heat with the rising demand for increasing the stagnant federal minimum wage finally coming from Washington, backed by over 70 percent of the people in polls. A Walmart rival, the successful Costco, has a CEO who already endorsed a federal minimum wage over $10.00 an hour. Costco starts its entry-level workers at $11.50 per hour plus benefits that Walmart workers do not receive. As blogger Alan DiCara said, “Walmart’s benefits department is the U.S. taxpayer.”

Yup, and read the rest of Nader’s post. I’d comment more on the sad situation with Walmart employees….but you all are well aware of the difficulties that come with working for minimum wage.

One thing I find funny is this latest image of the new pope…or should I say…the poor man’s pope.

Francis Emerges

Pope Francis Holds An Audience With Journalists And The Media

Hey, look at that…no designer ruby slippers for Pope Francis. You can read Andrew Sullivan’s take on the new pope here.

Meanwhile, here in the states…North Dakota Passes Ban on Abortions After 6 Weeks of Pregnancy

The North Dakota legislature approved the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States on Friday, cutting off abortion access as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill, HB 1456, makes it illegal for doctors to perform an abortion if a heartbeat is detectable in the fetus—something that can happen as little as six weeks after conception. It passed the Senate by a vote of 26 to 17, and will now head to the desk of Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

North Dakota lawmakers have been considering a variety of anti-abortion bills. While this wasn’t their most extreme option—another bill would have outlawed all abortions, period—it does mean that North Dakota now has the most restrictive abortion law in the country. This comes just over a week after Arkansas claimed the crown for most restrictive abortion laws, passing a twelve-week ban.

This new law will more than likely be challenged in court, but damn…six weeks? That is ridiculous.

Now for some real interesting stories…in link dump fashion.

Remains of Teutonic Knights Identified

Polish archaeologists have identified the remains of three grand masters of the Teutonic Knights, a medieval religious and military order that ruled much of the Baltic coast in the late Middle Ages.

Take a look at this post and you may find something new to read…New Books on the Middle Ages: March | Medieval News

There is a beautiful gallery here about Science as art: Photography competition brings the two disciplines together

Albert Einstein’s claim that “The greatest scientists are artists as well,” is illustrated by some of the contenders for a photography competition at Cambridge University on Tuesday.

And since it is St. Patrick’s Day, we will end with something green…Globe glows green: It’s St Patrick’s Day fever

 

Sláinte is the traditional greeting today, and the normal toast is made with a pint of a certain black stout. More extreme fans of St Patrick’s Day – as found among those of Irish descent in the US – will be dressing in as much green as they can lay their hands on, painting their faces and even dyeing their hair.

This year, in celebration of the Celtic saint’s day, more than 40 international landmarks are being lit in green. From the pyramids and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to the Sydney Opera House and South Africa’s Table Mountain: some of the most recognised man-made and geographical attractions will join a host of British landmarks to “go green”.

Be sure to check out those go green images at the link.

So what are you doing today? Share your thoughts with us…


Monday Afternoon Open Thread: The Dust Bowl, The Return of Charles Pierce, and Mittenfreude

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

If you didn’t get to see the first half of Ken Burns’ documentary on the Dust Bowl last night on PBS, please be sure to watch it when you can. It was outstanding, although very painful to watch at times. I watched it with my mom. It brought back lots of memories for her, as she grew up in North Dakota in the Dust Bowl days. Toward the end of the show last night there was film of FDR visiting North Dakota to survey the damage. Most of the archival footage is from Oklahoma and Kansas, with lesser amounts from Colorado, Kansas, and Texas.

The second part of the documentary will be on tonight. I’m guessing this part will be less agonizing because it will cover Roosevelt’s efforts to deal with the greatest man-made ecological disaster in history. I hope it will cover the creation of the CCC and how the government supervised planting of lines of trees for windbreaks. You can still see them all over the Midwest. There are lots in Indiana. There must have been other scientific improvements to farming that I don’t know about.

I highly recommend watching the second part tonight if you can. I don’t think you need to watch them in order necessarily.

I’m so happy that Charlie Pierce is back from his interminable week-long vacation! He has some great pieces up today already.

This morning he weighed in on the Susan Rice witchhunt on yesterday’s Sunday talk shows.

Then he recommended that Ross Douthat and other who missed the ’60s

drop some brown acid, listen to the first Quicksilver album, or at least read more than two books before they start telling the rest of us how everything they would have loved about America, had they been alive then, went to hell in a handbasket the first time Ken Kesey sat down at a typewriter.

He gave us a title for the Petraeus scandal and some great nicknames for John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Well, not much happened while we were gone. The entire national-security apparatus got together and decided to produce a remake of the famous 1989 Helen Mirren vehicle, The Cook, The Thief, The Wife, Her Lover, The General, His Wife, The Other Woman, The Other Other Woman, The Other General, and The Lovesick Shirtless FBI Guy. In the other half of the double feature, we have Senator Grumpy and his sidekick, Huckleberry Closetcase, yelling about Benghazi while Harry Reid contemplates turning a garden hose on them to cool them down.

And then he beat up on Maureen Dowd for her nasty Sunday column on Susan Rice.

let’s pause for a moment and mark the return of airy dementia to the prose of one M. Dowd, of The New York Times, who decided to unlimber herself on the Bigger-Than-Watergate-Teapot Dome-Crédit Mobilier-The-Combined scandal surrounding what the gnomes in John McCain’s head think happened in Benghazi. Notably piquant is this passage in which Ms. Dowd wonders whether or not the president and his staff are as shallow and muddleheaded about politics as she is.

And MoDo will absolutely hate the photo that accompanies the post. I’m sooooo glad Pierce is back!

I have to admit, I’d like to stretch out the Mittenfreude, so I have a few Romney links for you.

TMZ caught Mitt and Ann going to see teen chick flick Breaking Dawn yesterday. I knew those two were immature, but I guess I didn’t realize how immature.

NBC News has a piece about what Romney and Ryan would have been doing this week if they hadn’t been beaten in a landslide on November 7.

If Mitt Romney had won the presidential election, insiders say, it’s not hard to imagine what he and his number two, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, would have been tackling on this very day.

An extensive preparation plan dubbed the “Romney Readiness Project,” pulled together by the GOP nominee’s team and no longer of any use, offers detailed insight into how ready he was to take the reins, the sources told NBC News.

Romney and Ryan each had office space set aside for them at a transition office in southwest Washington, D.C., where former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt led a team of hundreds of advisers tasked with crafting an ambitious agenda for the Republican’s first 200 days in office.

Insiders describe a well-prepared transition that was ready to hit the ground running on Nov. 7, and begin the work of fashioning a Romney government.

Hahahahahahahahahaha!! I’m sure glad we dodged that bullet!

Finally, Kevin Drum calls Romney “Officially the Most Hated Man in America,” and all because the articulated what most Republicans believe–that about half of the American people are worthless layabouts who don’t deserve to eat, live indoors, or have health care when they get sick.

What are you reading and/or hearing?


North Dakota Senate Candidate Rick Berg: Todd Akin on Steroids

North Dakota Senate candidate Rick Berg

Rick Berg is currently the at-large Representative for North Dakota, and is running for the Senate seat held by retiring Senator Kent Conrad. Yesterday evening, Buzzfeed reported that in 2007, when Berg was a state representative, he voted for a bill that would make abortion a “Class AA felony,” punishable by life in prison without parole. This penalty would be applied to a woman who obtained and abortion and anyone who helped her do so. Here’s the relevant text from Think Progress:

A new section to chapter 12.1-16 of the North Dakota Century Code is created and enacted as follows:

Intentional termination of human life – Preborn children. A person is guilty of a class AA felony if the person intentionally destroys or terminates the life of a preborn child. A person that knowingly administers to, prescribes for, procures for, or sells to any pregnant individual any medicine, drug, device, or other substance with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of a preborn child is guilty of a class AA felony. A person that intentionally or knowingly aids, abets, facilitates, solicits, or incites a person to intentionally destroy or terminate the life of a preborn child is guilt of a class C felony. For purposes of this section, “preborn child” includes a human being from the moment of fertilization until the moment of birth.

The bill contains a separate section that says that a doctor who “provides health care” to a pregnant woman must “make every effort” to save both mother and fetus. If there is “accidental or unintentional injury” during this care, the doctor is not guilty of homicide. But the bill doesn’t specify whether the health care could include an abortion or whether the women who sought the abortion would still be considered a murderer.

According to Think Progress,

Berg was quick to denounce the comments of a fellow Senate Candidate, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), when he claimed that a woman couldn’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” Berg called the statement “insulting and reprehensible,” and “condemn[ed] them in the strongest terms possible.”

But like vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, Berg didn’t indicate to the media that he essentially agrees with Akin that a woman who is impregnated through rape or incest should be forced to carry the perpetrator’s child against their will.  I was somewhat shocked to learn that Rick Berg’s wife is a primary care doctor.

But the most shocking part of this story is that Rick Berg was given a brief speaking role at last week’s Republican National Convention. From the Bismark Tribune:

North Dakota Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rick Berg got a few moments in the spotlight at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.

The Republican congressman spoke for two minutes about North Dakota’s low unemployment, job growth and state budget surplus. He says North Dakota provides a contrast to the sluggish national economy.

Berg says North Dakota doesn’t “burden our job creators with red tape” and that people “trust the individual, not big government.”

Here’s Ed Schultz talking about Berg, who is a millionaire, and admitted he didn’t know what the minimum wage is.

North Dakota Senate Candidate Heidi Heitkamp

Fortunately, Berg has a Democratic opponent, former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp. In a poll taken in late July, Heitkamp was leading Berg by 6 points. Unfortunately, it’s not clear what Heitkamp’s views on abortion rights. I’ve posted a video of her below. She sounds fairly conservative, but she would obviously be far better than Rick Berg!

Here’s her website.


Forget Texas, check out North Dakota

The problem with a market-based system is the variety of ‘frictions’ that exist when a specific good or service doesn’t line up with the conditions that need to exist in a perfect market.  The assumptions for perfect market capitalism are rather daunting. They are nearly as daunting as the conditions for a centrally planned government like that tried by the Soviets.  There have to be thousands–if not millions–of buyers and sellers who have no control over the market’s price or quantity produced.  This pretty much rules out all our nation’s markets with the exception of a few commodities.  These buyers and sellers produce and sell products and services that are all the same so no one cares who they buy from or sell to because it’s all the same.  This means no product or service differentiation.  Advertising does no good because there’s nothing that separates one good or service from any other.  Labels don’t matter.  Sizes, shapes, and colors are all uniform.  There is no difference between the information available to buyers and sellers.  That means there’s no insider information on any one’s part.  There is also no way to cheat or beat a market.  The only thing you can compete on if you’re a business is productivity and cost curves.  That’s the kind of markets that may have existed some 200 years ago when commodities ruled the planet but it in no way reflects any market today.

Because frictions exist, a role for government in markets exists.  It can be one of regulator or one of service/good provider.  There is a branch of economics that specifically studies which kinds of goods and services must be provided by government because otherwise they would be provided to only the very rich–like education or health services–or they wouldn’t be provided at all because there is no profit in providing the good.  There are also goods that once they are provided for one person are used by many others.  This is the so-called free rider problem and the provision of military defense is usually the prime example of this type of government good.  Another problem deals with the idea of “the commons” which basically led to an old problem in North Dakota like over hunting and near extinction of the American Bison.

The provision of a public payment system–much like a mail system–is one such good that many economists feel has a public good component.  This is why many countries supplement private banking systems with government banks.  Blended banking systems are pretty common in the Asian countries.  Interestingly enough, there is one state with a state bank.  It’s the one state in the union that made it through the global recession relatively unscathed.  That would be North Dakota.

North Dakota has been called an economic miracle. It has outpaced every other state during the worst of the recession. North Dakotaas the lowest unemployment rate and the fastest job growth rate in the country. This data is provided in a NYT article by Catherine Rampell.

According to new data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today, North Dakota had an unemployment rate of just 3.3 percent in July — that’s just over a third of the national rate (9.1 percent), and about a quarter of the rate of the state with the highest joblessness (Nevada, at 12.9 percent).

North Dakota has had the lowest unemployment in the country (or was tied for the lowest unemployment rate in the country) every single month since July 2008.

Its healthy job market is also reflected in its payroll growth numbers. North Dakota had 19,700 more jobs in July than it did during the same month last year.

That probably sounds like small potatoes when you look at Texas, which had 269,500 more jobs last month than it did a year earlier. But Texas is a much bigger, more populous state, and had many more jobs to begin with. In terms of percentage growth, North Dakota has a better record: year over year, its payrolls grew by 5.2 percent. Texas came in second, with an increase of 2.6 percent.

There are some more interesting facts here.  Yes, there is oil in North Dakota but that’s not the only thing driving its economy.

Alaska has roughly the same population as North Dakota and produces nearly twice as much oil, yet unemployment in Alaska is running at 7.7 percent. Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming have all benefited from a boom in energy prices, with Montana and Wyoming extracting much more gas than North Dakota has. The Bakken oil field stretches across Montana as well as North Dakota, with the greatest Bakken oil productioncoming from Elm Coulee Oil Field in Montana. Yet Montana’s unemployment rate, like Alaska’s, is 7.7 percent.

A number of other mineral-rich states were initially not affected by the economic downturn, but they lost revenues with the later decline in oil prices. North Dakota is the only state to be in continuous budget surplus since the banking crisis of 2008. Its balance sheet is so strong that it recently reduced individual income taxes and property taxes by a combined $400 million, and is debating further cuts. It also has the lowest foreclosure rate and lowest credit card default rate in the country, and it has had NO bank failures in at least the last decade.

If its secret isn’t oil, what is so unique about the state? North Dakota has one thing that no other state has: its own state-owned bank.

Access to credit is the enabling factor that has fostered both a boom in oil and record profits from agriculture in North Dakota. The Bank of North Dakota (BND) does not compete with local banks but partners with them, helping with capital and liquidity requirements. It participates in loans, provides guarantees, and acts as a sort of mini-Fed for the state.

Yes, you read that right.  North Dakota is the only state in the union that has a mini-Fed.  It’s one of the reasons that the credit crunch didn’t impact the state the way it didn’t the rest of the country.  North Dakota’s Banker stepped in when other banks didn’t or couldn’t to help the state’s businesses.

Over the last two years officials and advocacy groups in more than 30 states have called the Bank of North Dakota, where he is chief executive officer, to ask: How does the country’s only state-owned bank work? “As the financial crisis deepened and there were liquidity issues around the country,” says Hardmeyer, “our model was looked at a little bit deeper than it ever had been before.”

The Bismarck-based bank was founded in 1919 to lend money to farmers, then the state’s biggest economic contributors, and retains its socially minded ethic by subsidizing loans for those it believes will stimulate growth: startup businesses and beginning farmers and ranchers. The borrowers apply for the loans through one of the state’s 100-plus local banks and credit unions. If they qualify, the community lender issues the loans at the market rate; the borrowers pay a fraction of the interest, with the Bank of North Dakota covering most of the difference. How can the state bank afford the subsidies? Profit isn’t its first priority. “We have a specific mission that we’re trying to achieve,” says Hardmeyer, “that’s not necessarily bottom-line driven.”

Which is not to say the bank, which has assets of $5 billion, isn’t a moneymaker. Much of its income comes from helping local banks extend credit to borrowers. If a bank wants to share the risk of a loan, the Bank of North Dakota will cover part of it. The state bank then collects interest from the commercial bank at the going rate. In 2010 its profit hit $61.85 million, up 44.3 percent from 2006.

That’s nice, but here’s the real reason politicians across the country are contacting Hardmeyer: North Dakota’s legislature has the authority to tap the bank’s profits to fund government programs during tough times. Since 1945 the state has collected $555 million from the bank.

Of course, the bank has many Republicans crying “Socialism” and the usual hubris you get from bank that really don’t like competition and prefer bonuses and bail outs.  The problem is that it’s difficult to argue with results.  That is why 13 states–including California–are seriously studying setting up their own state banks.  What many critics refuse to discuss is that this institution is not meant to supplant the private banking system.  Modified market systems work well with varying degrees of government participation.  Some markets function extremely well with a limited government role.  The financial system is unique.  The finance literature argues that if markets were perfect, banks wouldn’t actually exist.  There would be no reason for them.  Most of the research tries to actually find meaning in the existence of banks because they are essentially a parasite that attaches to a dysfunctional market that’s riddled with poor information and risk.  They can improve both situations or they can exacerbate them.  That is why there is some government role and arguably, some government functions within financial markets.  The challenge is to find which things the market can do well and the circumstances where the markets function and keep the government role active where failures and frictions create the need for a government role.

It’s possible that North Dakota has found the golden mean.

 


Thursday Reads: the Winter Solstice, the Mayan Calendar, “the Kamikazes,” and More

Newsstand in Copley Square, Boston

Good Morning!!

I have a mix of news links for you this morning, but nothing too terribly depressing. As I told you Tuesday, I’ve got a bit of Christmas overload, plus I’ve had a flu bug for a few days. So lets’ start out on a positive note.

Today at 12:30AM ET was the Winter Solstice, and therefore today is the shortest day of the year. That means in a few weeks, it will get dark in the Boston area around 4:30PM instead of 4:00. Right now, twilight begins about 3:30PM. I am so looking forward to longer days. From the WaPo:

If you pay attention to these things, you’ll notice a lag of a few weeks between the time the sun begins to set later in the day and the time it rises earlier. But the 22nd is, nonetheless, in the northern hemisphere, our shortest day, and the one in which the sun hoists itself the most miserly distance above the horizon. To top it off, the daily rate at which the sun sinks lower in the sky has been slowing, until it stops. Hence the word solstice, which means that the sun “stands still.”

It’s only for a theoretical instant, of course, but it can often seem, during these days of dark and cold, as if life itself has ground to a halt. Gardening can take place in the jewel boxes of our cold frames and greenhouses, but with growth so slow that there is little for you to do. The hibernation practiced by some creatures starts to seem like a great idea, and the southern migration of others a possible plan.

Not surprisingly, the human celebrations held in this season are full of light, whether it’s from Hanukkah candles, bonfires or sparkly tinsel draped over trees. You can almost understand why people light up their lawns with electrified reindeer. The longer the nights and the greater the inactivity they foster, the more we need our spirits lifted.

The LA Times has a story about Wiccan celebrations of the Soltice.

“People are celebrating the solstice more than ever in recent memory,” said Selena Fox, who isn’t just any Wiccan priestess. She’s a psychotherapist and the founder of Wisconsin’s Circle Sanctuary, a nonprofit Wiccan church and, according to its website, a 200-acre nature preserve….

Solstice is “widely celebrated today by Wiccans, druids, heathens and other pagans; by indigenous peoples practicing traditional ways in Africa, Asia, Polynesia, Australia, Europe and the Americas; by environmentalists and astronomers; by secular humanists and Freethinkers; by eco-Christians and those of other religions and philosophies,” Fox told The Times in an interview Wednesday….

Humankind has been “observing solstices for thousands of years,” Fox said, but the celestial events have become even more of the moment. Why? Because this is an “age of climate change and a need to have sustainability on the planet,” she said, so it makes sense that a holiday that has “connecting with the cycles of nature” at its core would become popular.

And of course that is why the mythic birth of Jesus was set on December 25, to symbolize rebirth and light coming back to the world. In pagan terms, the birth of the new sun. Here’s a video of the Solstice celebration at Stonehenge in 2009.

One year from now, the 2012 Winter Solstice will mark the end of the Mayan calendar, and we’ll probably have to deal with all kinds of apocalyptic prediction about what is going to happen next. NASA has a page debunking the idea that the end of the world is coming on December 22, 2012. Of course the maniacs in Washington DC might do something that would cause the end of the world as we know it. Let’s hope not.

Yesterday, Dakinikat had a post on John Boehner’s payroll tax fiasco. First Boehner said the House would agree to a 2-month extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits, as passed by the Senate. Then suddenly Boehner announced that Republicans wouldn’t vote for the compromise bill–now they wanted a year’s extension or nothing. WTF?!

At the Daily Beast, Patricia Murphy claims to provide the inside story on what happened.

What happened between Boehner’s agreement to follow the Senate’s lead and his tacit admission that his own caucus had overruled him? Aides and House members describe a now-infamous caucus conference call Saturday morning, when rank-and-file members blasted the Boehner-blessed deal, which they felt gave in on too many of their demands and delivered too little in return.

A closed door meeting Monday night revealed more doubts from conservatives over whether Boehner had pushed for the best deal they could have gotten and fueled Democratic frustration that Boehner, who they believe negotiated in good faith, simply cannot speak for his caucus anymore. The debacle capped a tumultuous year for the speaker, reigniting questions about how much longer he can lead the unwieldy GOP coalition, many of whose members clearly have no interest in following him where he wants to go.

Publicly, Boehner and House Republicans presented a united front this week, blaming President Obama for shortening a tax cut they say they have wanted to pass all along. But Democrats blamed a group of Republicans they’ve dubbed “the kamikazes,” the GOP freshmen who arrived in January on a wave of Tea Party anger and have shown time and again that they are willing to blow up their careers and everything around them in service to their cause.

The kamikazes’ casualty list this year is long. They blew up the debt-ceiling vote this summer, sparking a downgrade in the nation’s credit rating. They blew up the appropriations process so thoroughly that routine spending votes morphed into philosophical standoffs that nearly locked down the federal government three times and required seven temporary funding patches just to keep the lights on. And this week, they managed to blow up not just a tax cut that nearly everyone in Washington agrees is a good idea, but also their party’s hard-earned reputation for cutting taxes and, quite possibly, their chances at a long-term majority in the House and future control of the Senate.

Talk about self-immolation! In the meantime, questions are being asked about Boehner’s leadership.

At ABC’s The Note, Jonathan Karl is predicting the Republicans will fold. We’ll see. President Obama is really good at finding ways to give in to the Congressional terrorists. Maybe someone can distract him long enough to let this play out without his intervention.

Also at the the Daily Beast, there’s a creepy, yet semi-humorous story about local cops being militarized by the Department of Homeland Security, this time in my birthplace, the quiet little city of Fargo, North Dakota.

Nestled amid plains so flat the locals joke you can watch your dog run away for miles, Fargo treasures its placid lifestyle, seldom pierced by the mayhem and violence common in other urban communities. North Dakota’s largest city has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there’s not been a single international terrorism prosecution in the last decade.

But that hasn’t stopped authorities in Fargo and its surrounding county from going on an $8 million buying spree to arm police officers with the sort of gear once reserved only for soldiers fighting foreign wars.

Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. For now, though, the menacing truck is used mostly for training and appearances at the annual city picnic, where it’s been parked near the children’s bounce house.

“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” says Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.”

Read it and weep. If Fargo has that much military hardware, imagine what they’ve got in NYC, Chicago, and LA! Police State Amerika is here.

At the NYT, Charlie Savage reports on the Justice Department settlement with Bank of America over discrimination in mortgage lending by Countrywide.

The Justice Department on Wednesday announced the largest residential fair-lending settlement in history, saying that Bank of America had agreed to pay $335 million to settle allegations that its Countrywide Financial unit discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers during the housing boom.

A department investigation concluded that Countrywide loan officers and brokers charged higher fees and rates to more than 200,000 minority borrowers across the country than to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Countrywide also steered more than 10,000 minority borrowers into costly subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit profiles received regular loans, it found.

Now how about putting some banksters in jail for bringing down the economy? Not holding my breath, but at least BOA has to cough up some bucks.

Newt Gingrich has been accused of illegally profiting from his presidential campaign.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich became the target on Monday of a Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint filed by the non-profit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which accused the Georgia Republican of illegally profiting off his campaign.

The complaint is based on a revelation by The Washington Post‘s Dan Eggen, who discovered that Gingrich had personally sold a mailing list to his campaign and profited to the tune of $47,005, then failed to report the transaction on a key FEC document. That’s count one, according to CREW.

That mailing list did not belong to Gingrich personally, CREW said. It instead belonged to Gingrich Productions, Inc., a private business that sells Gingrich’s books. Since he paid himself instead of Gingrich Productions, CREW alleged that a second count of using campaign money for personal expenses is called for as well. The treasurer who signed off on the deal is also accused of violating campaign finance laws.

CREW explained in their complaint (PDF) that Gingrich Productions often stages events at the same time as Newt 2012, Inc., his non-profit group and principal campaign committee, which could constitute improper corporate contributions to a political campaign in that the campaign directly benefits from Gingrich Productions’ events.

It goes on to note that the mailing list Gingrich moved from his book company to his campaign was actually a list of people who were waiting at Gingrich events to have their books signed, showing even further how Gingrich Productions and Newt 2012 work in tandem to help each other.

Whoopsie! Everybody’s out to get Newt these days. I’d love to see him end up in jail along with some banksters, but again–not holding my breath.

As you’ve all heard, Ron Paul stalked off the set of an interview at CNN yesterday after he was asked about some racist passages in newsletters he published years ago. But USA today has caught Paul in a serious contradiction about those writings.

Rep. Ron Paul has tried since 2001 to disavow racist and incendiary language published in Texas newsletters that bore his name, denying he wrote them and even walking out of an interview on CNN Wednesday. But he vouched for the accuracy of the writings and admitted writing at least some of the passages when first asked about them in an interview in 1996.

Some issues of the newsletters included racist, anti-Israel or anti-gay comments, including a 1992 newsletter in which he said 95% of black men in Washington “are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”

Paul told TheDallas Morning News in 1996 that the contents of his newsletters were accurate but needed to be taken in context. Wednesday, he told CNN he didn’t write the newsletters and didn’t know what was in them.

Hmmmm…. I guess Mitt Romney isn’t the only flip-flopper in the Republican presidential race.

Speaking of Romney, that guy has really gone off the deep end in his efforts to court Iowa Tea Party voters. Steve Benen suggests that Romney has “lost his mind.”

Mitt Romney unveiled a brand-new stump speech in New Hampshire last night, reading a carefully-crafted, poll-tested text from two teleprompters. Confident that his Republican primarily rivals simply won’t (or can’t) catch him, the former one-term governor ignored the other GOP candidates in his speech, and focused exclusively on attacking President Obama.

Wow! Two telepromters? Now why does that sound familiar? Anyway, the point is that Romney has been reduced to following the Tea Party meme that Obama is a commie socialist. From the speech:

“Just a couple of weeks ago in Kansas, President Obama lectured us about Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy of government. But he failed to mention the important difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Roosevelt believed that government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities. President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes.

“In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing — the government.

“The truth is that everyone may get the same rewards, but virtually everyone will be worse off.”

ROFLOL! Benen writes:

It stands to reason that Romney, who’s completed the transition from “progressive” views to far-right hysterics, would present a worldview different from the center-left president’s. But this speech was written in a twisted fantasy land, and it ascribes views to Obama that are simply made up. It’s just madness.

And get this: Romney wants Obama’s uncle deported!

ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a Boston talk radio host on Wednesday that he supports the deportation of President Obama’s Kenyan-born uncle who was arrested this fall on drunken driving charges in Massachusetts.

When asked by Boston radio personality Howie Carr whether the president’s relative, Onyango Obama, should be deported, Romney said, “the answer is ‘yes.’”

“Well, if the laws of the United States say he should be deported, and I presume they do, then of course we should follow those laws,” Romney said. “And the answer is ‘yes.’”

And last week, Romney told Sean Hannity that Obama is deliberately and knowingly hurting America for political reasons.

Hannity: The president has been using class warfare as we know. He says Republicans want dirty air, dirty water. Says Republicans want old people, kids with autism and Down’s syndrome to fend for themselves. Pretty outrageous charges.

Romney: Shameful. It’s really shameful.

Hannity: Explain, and how do you counter that if you get this nomination?

Romney: You know, I think the president has gone from being a failed presidency, a guy over his head, to someone who is now so desperate to get re-election that he’s doing things that are very much counter to the interest of the country and he knows it. In the past I think he was just misguided. Now I think he really knows that his decision in Afghanistan to pull the troops out a couple of months earlier than commanders suggested. That was not a wise, not a wise thing for the country. The Keystone pipeline, he knows we need that oil, he knows the consequences.

If Romney is this nuts now, imagine what he’ll be like in the thick of the primaries. Folks, Romney is not the “reasonable” candidate. There is no reasonable candidate on the Republican side. It’s going to be a completely insane candidate vs. a fascist pretending to be a Democrat. Followed by the end of the Mayan calendar. If we’re lucky, the world will end before the next president is inaugurated. Just kidding, I think.

I’ll end with this embarrassing for him, amusing for us, bit of gossip about Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), known for his cantankerous ways and for not speaking to media unless it’s his idea, was overheard at the Delta Crown lounge at Reagan National Airport today talking on his cellphone about an incident he said occurred three weeks ago while at an Episcopal church auction. Please note, a church auction.

Our source, a Democratic operative who heard the whole thing, said he was “very loud”. Sensenbrenner was overheard saying that after buying all their “crap” (his word) a woman approached him and praised first lady Michelle Obama. He told the woman that Michelle should practice what she preaches — “she lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.”

The operative said it sounded like he was on the phone with a staffer who was telling him that someone in the media would likely write about his comments (concerning something) to which he said it was heresy and just liberal media bias to print gossip. But “he stands by his remarks.”

Sensenbrenner is on the pudgy side. Someone should tell him that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. What are you reading and blogging about?