Debt, Spending, and Taxes, One More Time

A few thoughts and observations on two charts on debt and deficits since the mid forties to the present.

Follow mainly the red line, which is public debt. Media pundits often comment on the entire debt (the black line) which is not relevant because it is out of government policy control. Fa more important is the record of fiscal responsibility of the Federal Government.

Notice first that our national indebtedness was casually declining for decades after the stimulus spending of WWII, but rose dramatically during the glory years of "reigning in spending" with Reagan and Bush I. It tapers off and eventually declines during the evil, radical, socialist, big spending, big taxing years of Bill Clinton, but then it goes up and up and off the charts during the fiscally responsible, spending cutting, tax-freedom-loving years of Bush II. Finally, with a combination of the loss of tax revenue from joblessness and increases in stimulus spending that began in the last months of the Bush administration, it continued to rise through the horrible, evil, socialist, tax-loving years of the Obama Administraton.

My characterizations were humorous to make a point. The Tea Partiers and their Fox/Talkshow/Republican allies seem to be blaming the Democrats for our debt and in reality it has generally gone down with Democrats and up with Republicans. It went up most during the Bush administration with the income losses of three tax cuts, two wars, a drug treatment program, a huge expansion of government, and the Wall Street Bailout, with no countering plans for paying anything back.

To be fair to Mr. Bush, his debt began during the 2001 recession when people lost their jobs and their ability to pay taxes. That recession was caused by a tech bubble explosion and not government action (though he was known to blame it on Bill Clinton's policies). But all of the rest of the trillions in debt that we acquired during his time in office should be laid at his doorstep.

The Clinton Administration handled the debt with a combination of tax increases and budget cuts. Both were painful, but both were responsible and ultimately (though I did not agree with all of the cuts at the time) they brought us closer to a balanced budget and gave the Bush/Cheney administration the healthiest balance sheet we'd seen in years. 

With some qualifications, I would support the same right now, except that I would argue for postponing the spending cuts until the economy is more stable. Right now large budget cuts of the kind that Obama is proposing and even larger that the irresponsible Republicans are proposing, would damage the recovery and keep us deep in pain until the next election (hmmm, which may well be the Republican plan).

Budget baloney: Social Security isn't to blame for deficit

Social Security won't be a problem for another 26 years, and even then, the problem can be solved.

By Robert Reich, Guest blogger / February 18, 2011

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican presidential hopeful, says in order to “save” Social Security the retirement age should be raised. The media are congratulating him for his putative “courage.” Deficit hawks are proclaiming Social Security one of the big entitlements that has to be cut in order to reduce the budget deficit.

This is all baloney.

In a former life I was a trustee of the Social Security trust fund. So let me set the record straight.

Social Security isn’t responsible for the federal deficit. Just the opposite. Until last year Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits. It lent the surpluses to the rest of the government.

Now that Social Security has started to pay out more than it takes in, Social Security can simply collect what the rest of the government owes it. This will keep it fully solvent for the next 26 years.

But why should there even be a problem 26 years from now? Back in 1983, Alan Greenspan’s Social Security commission was supposed to have fixed the system for good – by gradually increasing payroll taxes and raising the retirement age. (Early boomers like me can start collecting full benefits at age 66; late boomers born after 1960 will have to wait until they’re 67.)

Greenspan’s commission must have failed to predict something. But what? It fairly accurately predicted how quickly the boomers would age. It had a pretty good idea of how fast the US economy would grow. While it underestimated how many immigrants would be coming into the United States, that’s no problem. To the contrary, most new immigrants are young and their payroll-tax contributions will far exceed what they draw from Social Security for decades.

So what did Greenspan’s commission fail to see coming?


Remember, the Social Security payroll tax applies only to earnings up to a certain ceiling. (That ceiling is now $106,800.) The ceiling rises every year according to a formula roughly matching inflation.

Back in 1983, the ceiling was set so the Social Security payroll tax would hit 90 percent of all wages covered by Social Security. That 90 percent figure was built into the Greenspan Commission’s fixes. The Commission assumed that, as the ceiling rose with inflation, the Social Security payroll tax would continue to hit 90 percent of total income.

Today, though, the Social Security payroll tax hits only about 84 percent of total income.

It went from 90 percent to 84 percent because a larger and larger portion of total income has gone to the top. In 1983, the richest 1 percent of Americans got 11.6 percent of total income. Today the top 1 percent takes in more than 20 percent.

If we want to go back to 90 percent, the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security tax would need to be raised to $180,000.

Presto. Social Security’s long-term (beyond 26 years from now) problem would be solved.

So there’s no reason even to consider reducing Social Security benefits or raising the age of eligibility. The logical response to the increasing concentration of income at the top is simply to raise the ceiling.

Not incidentally, several months ago the White House considered proposing that the ceiling be lifted to $180,000. Somehow, though, that proposal didn’t make it into the President’s budget.

Robert is chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Clinton. He has written 13 books, including 'The Work of Nations,' 'Locked in the Cabinet,' and his most recent book, 'Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future.' The original of this post can be found at

The Stimulus and Poverty --Two articles

Stimulus kept millions out of poverty, liberal group’s study says

By Zachary Roth
Yahoo News

The stimulus bill of 2009 was intended primarily to get the economy going again. But according to a recent study by the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it had another major benefit: keeping millions of Americans out of poverty. That finding comes just as Congress considers cutting many of the spending programs at issue.

Consider this: In 2008, the number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.7 million, to nearly 47.5 million, according to census data. You'd have expected that number to keep rising in 2009, as unemployment kept going up, and many Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. But in fact, it held steady.

Why? According to the study released this month, it was thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus bill. The center found that the bill kept more than 4.5 million people out of poverty in 2009.

How? In addition to funding infrastructure projects, the stimulus bill also bolstered existing government programs that support struggling Americans, and created new ones. It did so because, as we've written, putting more money in the hands of poor people has a greater stimulative effect on the economy, since they have little choice but to spend the money quickly, rather than save it.

Here's how the study breaks down those programs and their effect on poverty:
• Extensions and expansions of unemployment benefits kept 1.3 million people out poverty.
• Improvements in the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit kept 1.5 million out of poverty.
• The Making Work Pay tax credit kept nearly 1 million people out of poverty.
• Increases to the SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps) kept 700,000 people out of poverty.

"These findings indicate that the Recovery Act is one of the single most effective pieces of legislation at preventing poverty to be enacted in decades," the report's author says.
The author continues: "It is difficult to think of a single piece of legislation since the Social Security Act of 1935 that kept more people above the poverty line in 2009 through direct assistance to households than the Recovery Act."

The study comes at a key moment. Already, some portions of the stimulus bill have been reduced. The tax cut deal made last month between President Obama and House Republicans will mean jobless benefits are worth $25 a week less than under the stimulus, according to a New York Times editorial. That doesn't sound like much, but it could push an estimated 175,000 people a week into poverty, the editorial says.

And that may be just the start.  GOP leaders have said they plan additional deep cuts to government spending next month. (They originally pledged to trim a whopping $100 billion but have since backed off that figure.) They've offered few specifics on where the cuts will come from -- but it's all but certain that they'll be targeting other social programs created or bolstered in the stimulus bill for cuts.

Such moves could stunt the still-weak recovery, as many observers have pointed out. But it looks like steeper spending cuts also could drive millions more Americans into poverty, too.

The Stimulus Reduced Poverty
—Rick Cohen
 The Non-Profit Quarterly

The jury may still be out on the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on creating jobs and reviving the economy, but a new study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities makes a different point about the value of the federal stimulus program. ARRA kept "millions of Americans out of poverty," according to CBPP.

CBPP says that the stimulus prevent 4.5 million people from joining the ranks of the poor by putting resources into existing government programs and by capitalizing new ones to help poor people in the midst of a ghastly recession. Through programs such as the extension of unemployment benefits, improvements in the child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, increases in food stamps, and the creation of the Making Work Pay tax credit, the stimulus put money directly into the hands or pocketbooks of Americans facing economic challenges.

According to the CBPP, the funds from these programs were spent quickly because poor people had "little choice but to spend the money quickly," and therefore had a greater stimulative effect on the economy than other mechanisms such as slow-spending infrastructure investments or tax incentives for corporations. CBPP's powerful conclusion was, "The Recovery Act is one of the single most effective pieces of legislation at preventing poverty to be enacted in decades . . . It is difficult to think of a single piece of legislation since the Social Security Act of 1935 that kept more people above the poverty line in 2009 through direct assistance to households."

CBPP might have further added the various housing, weatherization, employment, and health programs that the stimulus program funded – delivered largely by nonprofits –that provided crucial safety net program supports that supplemented and bolstered the income transfers lauded in the CBPP study.

With the 112th Congress, there are a number of new legislators committed to broad and deep cutbacks in social safety net spending, ostensibly to staunch the growth of a burgeoning federal budget deficit, in some cases motivated more by animus against programs that they see as undermining individual responsibility. Whatever the impetus, the result of such cuts could be a reversal of the CBPP findings, driving families into the poverty conditions that the Recovery Act had helped them avoid.

Americans and Health Care

Here's an interesting tid bit from today's news. In this poll, released Friday, January 21, 2011, it was found that the majority of Americans did NOT want Congress to put Health Care at the top of their agenda, and only 40 percent of them wanted to see it repealed. The majority does NOT want to repeal the health care act of 2010. It turns out that the numbers for repealing the act have never been high, and they have been going down steadily.

It's helpful to point that out because it is not something one would surmise from hearing the heated debate about this in Congress or even the reports on it in the media. This is similar to this CBS poll that came out in September, and this one that came out in December, the week before the vote in Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the very wealthy. In both instances, people did NOT want an extension of the tax cuts. For all of the heated rhetoric about how the "American people" want this because they don't want taxes for anyone to go up, the surprising fact was that people said just the opposite. The"American people" did NOT want the tax cuts extended to the wealthy and they were even pretty lukewarm about whether their own cuts should be extended.

But, in both cases, members of Congress (frankly, I mean just Republicans, but I'm trying to be fair) still voted against the will of the people, claiming to be voting for what the "American people" wanted. And there are other examples. People want one thing and Congress votes for the opposite claiming a mandate from the people. It is not uncommon.

But how does that happen? How can Congress ignore public opinion and continue to get away with it?

Well, though it has probably happened to some extent since the ancients first began tinkering with voting for their representatives. But it is considerably easier today, for two reasons.

First, the districts for Congressional representatives have been drawn in such a way that the vast majority of the people in their districts are of only one party. So, a Republican, let's say, can know that for the time being in the conceivable future, a will ALWAYS be elected in District "X." Second, the reality of politics today are that in each of the primaries (which have become the only places were meaningful elections are taking place), the largest majority of voters are the true believers, the activists. And for the Republicans, that means a very large number from the radical right wing fringes, the Tea Party, the gun lobby, the religious conservatives, etc. So, when a Republican is running for office, he or she does not need to be concerned about the general national opinions of "Americans." Or even of the more moderate opinions of general Republicans. All he or she needs to appeal to are the far right voters who are going to show up in the primaries. In fact, in Today's climate if a Representative decides to vote too often with the opinions of the vast middle of America, he or she would probably lose out in the next primary because the middle does not represent the voting block that shows up to vote.

Doesn't bode well for Democracy, but then, what else is new?

Stay warm and safe. It's getting cold out there. 

The "Job-Killing" Health Care Bill

January 17, 2011
Stan Duncan

I think (or at least I pray) that by now everyone knows that the respected, centrist, non-partisan (that means middle of the road, solid, not Democrat or Republican) Congressional Budget Office has scored the Health Care bill of last year and in a preliminary report, it says the bill will create jobs and decrease the budget.

And everyone knows that John Boehner, incoming Speaker of the House, has said the numbers from the centrist, non-partisan, professional budget analysts are just “their opinion” (the kind of language one uses when talking about differences of opinion on, say, why the Patriots lost to the Jets, not conclusions from professional budget analysts).

And that he and several other Representatives on January 6 (Epiphany), have released their own unbiased, objective, analysis that they call the “Budget-Busting, Job-Killing Health Care Law” (to see it, click here) which contradicts the centrist, respected, non-partisan CBO.   

Click here to see the CBO’s January 17, 2011 letter to Mr. Boehner, saying that repealing the health care bill would actually increase the budget deficit, not decrease it as he and other Republicans frequently claim.

And finally, as you probably also know, the Republicans in Congress continue to refer to it as “Job Killing Obama Care,” and have voted to repeal it in the name of saving the jobs the CBO says will not be lost by it. In fact the resolution in the House to repeal the bill was called the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” That’s not a joke. That’s the real name of a piece of legislation passed by the House of Representatives in the world’s most respected Democracy.

For what it’s worth, click here to go to the equally non-partisan “,” and see their analysis of the health care bill, and their findings that, in spite of the many claims by Republicans, the new bill will have little or no effect on jobs. They conclude that while the new law will likely lead to somewhat fewer low-wage jobs (because of the law’s requirement that firms with more than 50 workers pay a penalty if they fail to provide health coverage for their workers) on the other hand, the relatively small losses would be partly offset by gains in the health care industry.

So, how were the Republican staff people able to look at the bill and continue their claims that it will kill jobs and increase the deficit?

First was the inclusion of the so-called “Doc Fix.” That’s an issue that arose in 1999, when the formula for reimbursement of Medicare patients was changed and doctors and hospitals began to be paid so little that some of them refused to take Medicare patients. Congress has never refigured the formula, but has made a temporary “Doc Fix” every year to increase compensation. The new health care law makes the “fix” permanent. It regularizes an increase in Medicare payments at the yearly fixed level to keep from having to go back each year and pass the same measure.

According to the Boehner staff people, this fix--that simply budgets for doing what we have been doing for 11 years--is actually an increase in spending. I don’t want to sound unfriendly about this, but that is a little bit like saying that I’ve been spending about $700 for gas every year, so next year I’ll put that amount in my family budget. Then someone else accusing me of increasing my annual spending because I’ve decided to put what I am already doing in the ledger where I can monitor it.  

Second is the number of jobs that the Boehner report says will be lost is based on a bill that did not become law. They believe that the bill will result in the loss of 1.6 million jobs and they support that by citing an early analysis by the National Federation of Independent Business.[1] However, the NFIB study was written in January, 2009, and not based on the final health care bill. It looked at early versions that contained an expensive and hypothetical employer mandate that did not make it into the final law. For good or ill, the final version is not as forceful and makes allowances for companies with under fifty employees. Mr. Boehner’s report never tells us that and includes the costs of the early version of the mandate as though it had become law. It didn’t.

And, incidentally, the NFIB study also notes that even had the larger mandate become law, there would still have been an  increase in jobs from the health care bill, because of increased labor demands in the health care industry.[2] The Republican report, while citing potential job losses in the NFIB study, does not mention its discussion of increases.

Third, it cites an April, 2010, CBO study that said that start-up costs of the bill might be as high as $115 billion. They are correct. However, the new CBO study attempts to allow for that by scoring the costs and benefits over ten years, which are past the start-up costs and which brings it to the conclusion that on balance the bill will actually cut costs, not increase them. The Republican report does not acknowledge that.

Fourth, it misrepresented the CBO study's finding that the bill would reduce the number of employed. 
What the report exactly said was that, "The legislation, on net, will reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount _roughly half a percent_ primarily by reducing the amount of labor that workers choose to supply."[3a] Their point was that because of better benefits, and better health care, there could be a slight uptick of people who have been hanging onto jobs, who could now decide to retire and leave the work force. The Republicans did the math on that one half of one percent and came up with the claim that the bill would kill 650,000 jobs. No it won't. And they supported that claim by saying that they got it from the CBO report. No they didn't. A voluntary reduction in workers because they no longer have to work to keep their health care, is not the same as "killing jobs."

My suggestion is that even if you don't like the health care bill, you shouldn't lie about why.

Finally there are a couple of smaller things that are interesting. This is complicated, but the CBO accounted for the fact that if because of the bill jobs go up and income goes up (something they say will happen) then income will go up (if only slightly), and that will cause revenue to Social Security to go up. Also, if more people have health care, then eventually charges to Medicare will go down because we will have a slightly healthier society. These factors are not huge, but should be factored into the totals.

The Republican report discounted this for two reasons. First, they say that since Social Security and Medicare have already budgeted for those people, allowing for savings from not treating them would be “double-counting.”[3] If I understand that argument (and their report noted it three times) they are saying that if you budget for a certain amount, yet don’t spend the whole of that amount, it shouldn’t be counted as savings because you budgeted for it. You claimed you were going to spend it, so you can’t say it was savings when you didn’t spend it. That sounds odd, but it does seem to be what they are saying. For what it’s worth, in my defense, Paul Krugman also wrote on this, and he doesn’t understand it either.[4]   

Second, they say that if both of these things are true--that people will live longer and dip into Social Security and Medicare longer--it will therefore be an ultimate financial drag on those two programs, and that is a bad thing. We will ultimately have an older, healthier nation, but we’ll have to pay for it.

That may be true, but as a kind of soft-hearted religious liberal, I’m unsure of the point. Should we therefore not do things that will make people live longer? Being healthy in old age is a bad thing? I don’t want to evoke Jesus into a conversation with Christian Republicans, but I’m not clear on why helping people grow old healthy is wrong. Is that really a reason to repeal the health care law?

My bottom line on this topic, as it is for so many similar topics, is that we as a nation need to have a clear-eyed adult conversation about what we can do about the health care crisis that has been slowly strangling people in this nation for decades. Every year more and more people are unable to afford health care and the tab is picked up by you and me when they fall into Medicaid or emergency rooms in hospitals. But we’re not. The kind of smoke and mirrors that is being produced in the debate is insulting and demeaning and it does not represent the voice of a healthy democracy or our better angels.   

[1] Obamacare: A Budget-Busting, Job-Killing Health Care Law, January 6, 2011, p. 5.  
[2] “Small Business Effects of a National Employer Healthcare Mandate,” Michael J. Chow and Bruce D. Phillips NFIB Research Foundation, Washington, D.C. January 26, 2009, p. 20, cited at
[3] Obamacare: A Budget-Busting, Job-Killing Health Care Law, January 6, 2011, p. 13.
[3a] Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, "FACT CHECK: Shaky health care job loss estimate," Associated Press, Jan 18, 2011,
[4] Krugman, “The War on Logic,” New York Times (January 16, 2011),

Violence-oriented Hate Speech in the Media

* Utah GOP Senatorial candidate, Sharron Angle: "People are looking towards the second amendment remedies and saying my goodness, what can we do to turn our country around."

*Sharon Angle: "The first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."

* Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN): “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people – we the people – are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country.”

* Michele Bachmann: "I’m a foreign correspondent on enemy lines and I try to let everyone back here in Minnesota know exactly the nefarious activities that are taking place in Washington."

* Glenn Beck: "I want to kill Charlie Rangel with a shovel."

* Glenn Beck: "Every night I get down on my knees and pray Dennis Kucinich will burst into flames."

* Texas GOP candidate Stephen Broden: ''Our nation was founded on violence. The option is on the table. I don't think that we should ever remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms.”

* Ex-Alaskan GOP Governor, Sarah Palin: "Don't retreat, reload." Also called several opposition candidates “targets,” and posted online a US map with rifle cross hairs over their districts (the map has been withdrawn and her staff are now referring to the cross hairs as "surveyors' marks").

* Joyce Kaufman, Chief of Staff for Florida GOP Congressman, Alan West: "If ballots don't work, bullets will."

Not actually violent, but close: 

*Newt Gingrich, on the Obama administration: “The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did” (from his new book, To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine). 

* Newt Gingrich: Obama is “the most radical president in American history" (Southern Republican Leadership Conference in April, 2010).
* Rep.Darrell Issa (R-CA) President Obama is "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times."
As new incoming chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he promises to hold investigations for such crimes as alleged promises by the Administration to Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak to drop out of his Senate race in 2010, and allegations that following its investigation, the Justice Department downgraded the number of members of the “New Black Panther Party,” who intimidated voters on election day, from five to two.

* Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), is preparing legislation that would exempt members of Congress from the Washington, DC, ban on carrying concealed weapons. The legislation would also allow members to carry weapons onto the floor of the House and Senate for protection from snipers.

* Rep. Gohmert also said in a speech on the House floor following the shootings in Arizona, that he believed the FBI had "stonewalled" Congress in it's briefing about the incident because of its fear that the liberal politics of Jared Loughner would be embarrassing to the President. He said, "It may be that if the things that we're reading -- that he's a liberal, hates the flag, supports Marx, that type of thing, turn out to be true, then it may be embarrassing to some of the current administration's constituents, and, heaven help us, we wouldn't want to embarrass any of the president's constituents."

Nominations for 2010’s 
“Most Embarrassing Christian Award” 
are in, 
and the ballot is below. 
Cast your vote today.

This award is for the person or persons who have done the most awful, embarrassing thing in 2010, while believing he or she is honoring Jesus. The recipient must sincerely believe that he or she is being faithful, while at the same time humiliating the rest of Christendom in the process. This is your opportunity to vote.

The award will be given out at a special ceremony in my daughter’s garage sometime next year when we get around to it. The ceremony will include a press conference, a media presentation, and potluck supper with Jell-O salads. The winner and all of the nominees will be invited to attend to pick up his or her award in person. Special recognition will go to the honoree who actually comes.

There is a second award for people who have been about the task of embarrassing Christians for a long, long time. This is the first year for this award and will be called the "Fred Phelps Life-Time Achievement Award," named for the pastor of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church who attends funerals for slain soldiers of the war in Iraq with signs claiming that the young man or woman was killed by God to punish America for tolerating homosexuals. We are proud to announce that Fred himself will be the first winner of the award in his name.

To cast your vote, send an email  message to the following address with the numbers 1-5 in the body of your note.

This year’s nominees for the prestigious MEC Award of 2010 are… 

1. Christians who hate Christopher Hitchens
This is a group nomination. Hitchens is a militant atheist who wrote the book, God is not Great, and regularly insults and demeans anyone who holds any religious view on any topic. He also, however, is very ill, and probably dying, with cancer of the throat. 

In responding to his illness, a number of well-intentioned (one hopes) Christians sent him messages on his web page with comments like, "How apropos, losing the throat with which he used to blaspheme"; "this foul reprobate in the end, knowing he shall die, will beg for forgiveness"; and "I can't wait until the last little breath in his miserable body starts to fade, and then he will know if there is a God or not." I’m sure that that last comment really touched Chris and encouraged him to convert.

Some people even sent similarly worded sweet comments about him to their local newspapers and posted them on "Christian" web pages. 

2. The guy who regularly shows up at Obama rallies 
and rails against his lack of religion, and campaigns to establish a more enlightened Christian nation. He carries a sign saying "I'm Voting for the Ten Commandments For Presnident." That’s about all that needs to be said about him. 

3. Sherri Shepherd, co-host of the View
I’m not a viewer, but I’m told that Shepherd regularly says odd and embarrassing things in the name of her Christian faith. She has refused to acknowledge that the world is round, she takes the creationism side of the evolution debate, and in the statement that garnered her this year’s nomination she says that Christians existed before the Greeks and Romans. Whoopi Goldberg tried to jump in and save her by suggesting that maybe she meant Jesus as “the Word” (i.e. John 1:1), but she didn’t bite. She seems to literally believe that Jesus pre-dated the rest of history. And (worst?) she clearly thinks that this belief makes her a good Christian.

4. Pastor Terry Jones and his “Burn a Koran” Day
A protestant Pastor in Gainsboro, Florida gained international fame and shame for his attempt to show those awful, meanie “Moslems” that some of our fundamentalist Christians can be just as crazy as some of their fundamentalist Muslims. He stated that he believed that burning thousands of Muslim holy books would spark inter-religious dialog and would somehow discourage Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf from building a community center in Manhattan. For one brief moment in time he succeeded in unifying the entire planet in opposition to the plan. According to very scientifically produced surveys, for the week of his scandal, every man, woman, and child on earth thought he was stupid, with the possible exception of my cousin Ralph, who thought that “burning the Koran” had something to do with Cajun cooking. See below for a CNN interview with him. 

5. Evangelist Pat Robertson

Also a nominee for the Fred Phelps award has had long career of statements about God and national tragedies that make “normal” (more or less) Christians cringe. His statements this year were in January 2010, following Haiti’s earthquake that killed possibly more than 100,000 people, when he said that "It may be a blessing in disguise." On his "700 Club" program Robertson elaborated, saying, "They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'we will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' the devil said, 'ok it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another." 

My Sunday School teacher taught me that there was some good in everybody if you just try to look for it in prayer. It's good advice, because Pat has managed to keep me in prayer for a good many years.

And now for a serious thought
The serious message in this award (and there is one) is that when people with odd and strange "takes" on Christianity (or religion in general) get into the media for their odd and strange behavior, the rest of mainstream, middle of the road, decent Christians get painted by the same brush.

The message is that, while you as a loyal churchgoer and follower of Jesus may spend your time building Habitat Houses, or writing Congress on behalf of poor people, or hosting bake sales for the youth group, or teaching church school, or visiting the nursing home, as soon as someone is interviewed on TV because she saw the face of Jesus in her Big Mac bun, a lot of society looks at us and thinks we’re just as crazy. It's a tough world, and one of the few things we have to fight back with is sanity and humor. It’s easy to get defensive about that. It takes more patience and wisdom to look at some of these oddities and say, “Yeah, well, we think they’re pretty funny too, but they are NOT us.” Vote for the MEC of the year and remember Mark Twain’s words: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

A little greeting borrowed from our friends at the Equal Exchange Interfaith Program

A Taste of Justice
TOJ_nav_01.jpg Our Website Our Blog Interfaith Webstore Recipes Forward to a Friend
Equal Exchange Interfaith Program Team wishes you a Happy New Year
The Interfaith Program wishes you a lively and lovely 2011. Partnering with small farmer co-ops around the world means creating a more just and green food system. At our worker co-operative, Equal Exchange, it is our joy to partner with you and your communities in this endeavor. Thank you for your support and great work!

Best Wishes,

The Equal Exchange Interfaith Program Team

Back Row: Aaron Dawson, Esther West, Jamie Gallagher, Suzanne Keleher, Peter Buck.
Front Row: Cody Squire, Susan Sklar, Darya Mattes, Anna Utech, Charlie Brandes, Hope Kolly, Phil Berry, Molly Zeff.