U.S. Economy Stalls In First Quarter

U.S. economy stalls in first quarterEconomic growth in the United States has encountered a significant setback, according to a new report from the Commerce Department.

In its initial estimate of the first three months of 2011, the government agency revealed that gross domestic product rose by a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.6 percent from January to March. This figure is significantly lower than the 3.1 percent pace of growth in the fourth quarter of 2010, and the slowest pace since last spring.

Rising prices on gasoline and food are believed to be the primary factors behind reduced consumer spending, according to media reports. In certain areas of the U.S., gas costs have exceeded $4 per gallon.

Furthermore, the most recent unemployment figures represent a lull in economic growth. On April 28, the Labor Department stated that the initial jobless claims increased by 25,000 in the week ended April 23. According to The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones economists predicted that the jobless claims would fall by 8,000 during that same period.

During a press conference on April 27, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke predicted that the unemployment rate would steadily improve throughout 2011, but the need to contain inflation would make rapid job growth nearly impossible.

“It’s not clear that we can get substantial improvements in payrolls without some additional inflation risk,” said Bernanke, quoted by Bloomberg.

What Training Monkeys Can Teach Us About Congress

Many thanks to the Alert Reader who sent me the following story about monkeys. I think you’ll agree, it has important lessons for us about how to make changes in Washington.

Start with a cage holding five monkeys. Hang a banana from the top of the cage and underneath it, put some stairs going up. Before long, a monkey will start climbing the stairs to get the banana.

When he does, spray cold water on all of the monkeys. The first monkey will scamper into a corner. But after a while, another monkey will start climbing the stairs. When he does, spray all the monkeys with cold water again.

Do this a few more times when a monkey tries to climb the stairs and pretty soon you won’t need any water. As soon as a monkey gets on the stairs, the other monkeys will stop him.

At this point, remove one of the monkeys and replace him with a new one. The new monkey will see the banana and start climbing the stairs. To his surprise, the other four monkeys will grab him and start beating him up. After two or three efforts to get the banana with the same thing happening, pretty soon he’ll give up, too.

When that happens, replace another of the original five monkeys with a new one. Not knowing any better, he’ll try to get the banana. But as soon as he starts climbing the stairs, all of the other monkeys – including the previous newcomer – will start beating him.

When the new monkey has been trained not to try for the banana, replace another of the original monkeys and repeat the process. After three more switches, all of the original monkeys will be gone. None of the ones that remain will have ever been sprayed with cold water.

But here’s the amazing thing: None of them will try to get the banana. Each one knows that if he does, the other four will beat the crap out of him. Why? They have no idea. They just know that’s the way it has always been.

The Straight Talk reader who sent me the story said the moral is obvious: This is how Congress operates. And it explains why, from time to time, YOU HAVE TO REPLACE ALL OF THE MONKEYS.

Right now, the banana is deficit reduction. Everybody wants to reach for it… or at least say they want to. Heck, even our President recently declared:

“We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt.”

Like many of his predecessors in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama has mastered the art of saying the right thing – while most of the time doing the exact opposite. There has not been a single second since he took office that he has demonstrated the slightest interest in living within our means, or reducing the deficit or paying down our national debt. Just the opposite, in fact.

I didn’t have the stomach to watch Obama’s speech about the deficit he delivered at George Washington University two weeks ago. It was all I could do to read it the next day. I didn’t expect much in the way of honesty, humility or contrition. But even I was shocked by the partisan bitterness of his remarks.

Rather than applaud Republican efforts to reduce the deficits, or acknowledging the amazing courage of Rep. Paul Ryan and a handful of his colleagues for putting such sacred cows as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security on the table, the president declared that his opponents were heartless monsters who would pit “children with autism or Down’s syndrome” against “every millionaire and billionaire in our society.”

As the Wall Street Journal noted, “Mr. Obama then packaged his poison in the rhetoric of bipartisanship – which ‘starts,’ he said, ‘by being honest about what’s causing our deficit.’ The speech he delivered was dishonest even by modern political standards.”

The Journal is being too kind. Obama’s speech about the deficit just may be the most dishonest assemblage of bluff, bluster and baloney that I have ever read. But we can at least thank our vice president for one of the lighter moments of what was a very dark occasion. In case you missed it, Joe Biden slept through much of his boss’s speech.

I kid you not. You can see it on YouTube by clicking here. And don’t believe anyone who tells you the VP was merely thinking deeply about what his boss was saying. I’ve slept through enough boring lectures myself to know he’s asleep, for crying out loud.

Would that you and I could take this same easy way out to ignore all of our president’s dishonest posturing and phony promises. But we can’t. Unless we force Congress to change, we are going to be willing participants in one of the greatest crimes in U.S. history: saddling our children and our children’s children with a debt they will never be able to pay off.

The promises made by the Federal government to its citizens – the so-called “unfunded liabilities” that are already written into law – now come to more than $100 trillion. And there is not a single cent set aside to pay them. Not one copper penny.

Even Social Security is bankrupt. You must understand that there is no money in the horribly misnamed Trust Fund. Every dollar a young worker pays in today is sent out immediately to an older retiree. All that the worker will have to show for 40 or 50 years of contributions will be some IOUs.

By the way, the idea that the “rich” in this country aren’t paying their fair share is absolutely preposterous. The top 1 percent of taxpayers in this country earns about 11 percent of the income. So you’d expect them to pay 11 percent of the taxes, right? Not at all: The top 1 percent of taxpayers pays more than twice that amount. They account for 22 percent of all income taxes collected. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent of the population pays nothing. In fact, the vast majority of them are net tax recipients.

Wasn’t one of the founding principles in America that we are all supposed to be equal before the law? Please tell me, what is “equal” about a tax rate that is many times higher for a successful person than someone who is not? Has anyone ever heard of the truism that if you want more of something, subsidize it? But if you want less of something, tax it? Apparently, our would-be masters in Washington want more people on the dole. And fewer paying the taxes that make it all possible.

In case you’ve forgotten, our Founding Fathers made a progressive income tax illegal for the first 137 years of this country’s existence. This vital element of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto wasn’t inflicted on us until 1913, when a devious conspirator named Edward Mandell House got his puppet Woodrow Wilson to throw his support behind the Sixteenth Amendment.

But here’s the amazing thing: The vast majority of legislators who voted for the darned thing had no idea what they were doing. Sound impossible? Not at all. Let me quote every word in that amendment; then you tell me what you think it says:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

And that’s it. Those 30 words are all it took to unleash the monstrous tyranny of our present tax system on us. Do you see anything there that says, “Hey, Congress, we really think Karl Marx had the right idea. Let’s sock it to the ‘rich’ with a progressive income tax.”

Of course not. The people who would enslave us were not any more honest 100 years ago than Barack Obama and his supporters are today.

Thank goodness, a whole bunch of Americans are catching on. As Howard Beal said, they’re mad as hell. And they’re not going to take anymore.

Neither should you.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

Chip Wood

Nation’s Future Rests On Debt Ceiling Vote

Nation's future rests on debt ceiling voteLawmakers recently averted a government shutdown by agreeing on a continuing budget for fiscal year 2011, but they are already prepping for another showdown over Federal spending.

The government is rapidly approaching its statutory borrowing limit, which means that lawmakers must raise the debt ceiling in order to prevent the United States Treasury from defaulting on its loans. Matthew Zames, managing director at JPMorgan Chase, recently wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, warning that a failure to raise the debt ceiling could trigger another "catastrophic financial crisis."

House Republicans are preparing a package of massive spending reductions to accompany a bill to raise the borrowing limit. One of the cuts involves reducing government staffing, calling for one hire for every two officials who retire, according to The Huffington Post.

A GOP aide told the media outlet that the proposed cuts in mandatory spending would be in line with Representative Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) long-term budget plan, which lays out $6.2 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that the "full faith and credit" of the U.S. would be compromised if the nation defaults on its debt, CNN reported. Due to the severity of the situation, Reid said that he is not "drawing any lines in the sand" about what should or should not be included in a package to raise the debt ceiling.

Victim of your own success?

*Are you a “taker”? If you’ve been even halfway successful, apparently our president thinks so. During a town hall address last week, President Barack Obama said, “[My opponents’] basic view is that no matter how successful I am, no matter how much I’ve taken from this country… somehow I now have no obligation to people who are less fortunate than me and I have no real obligation to future generations to make investments so that they have a better (life).”

The truth of the matter is just the opposite.  We Americans are the most generous, caring, giving people who have ever lived on this Earth. It’s Obama and his socialist schemers who hate our private good works. They want the State to seize our money so they can decide who to put on the dole.  That’s not charity; it’s theft.

*Can’t the post office afford an artist? Have you seen the new Ronald Reagan postage stamp?  It came out just in time to celebrate the Gipper’s 100th birthday. And to say that it looks like the work of some fourth-grade artist would be to insult 10-year-olds everywhere. It’s not that the stamp  is ugly, it’s just that it bears almost no resemblance to our former president. Please, USPS, don’t reprint more of these; hire someone else to try again.

*One thing to applaud in the budget compromise. Granted, there isn’t much to cheer about. So far, our politicos have slashed a $1.4 trillion deficit all the way down to a $1.24 trillion. Big whoop, as my grandson would say. But congratulations to House Speaker John Boehner for saving the school voucher program for our capitol. Obama and his Democrat buddies were perfectly willing to condemn inner-city kids to stay in some of the nation’s worst schools, just to score political points with the teachers’ unions.

*The “Happy Days” gang ain’t happy. I’m sorry to see that some of the “Happy Days” cast is turning to the courts to get what they think they’re due. Potsie (Anson Williams) and three other cast members, plus the estate of Tom Bosley, are suing for merchandising revenues they say they are owed. Guess those “Happy Days” slot machines didn’t pay off for them.

—Chip Wood

NRA Event Expected To Draw More Than 70,000 Members

NRA event expected to draw more than 70,000 membersThe National Rifle Association (NRA) has kicked off its annual convention in Pittsburgh, as approximately 70,000 members were expected to attend the four-day event.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam estimated that approximately 1 million of the group's 3.5 million members live within a four-hour radius of Pittsburgh, according to The Associated Press. Officials from the gun-rights group said that this year's event is a "celebration of freedom."

However, members of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence planned to protest the convention. The group was slated to take out local newspaper advertisements and hire a billboard truck to drive around the event, as part of an effort to invite NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre to a sit-down meeting to discuss the system of background checks for gun purchases.

One of the demonstrators who was scheduled to appear included Patricia Maisch, a 62-year-old Arizona woman who witnessed the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, Ariz. that left six people dead and 13 wounded. Maisch told the media outlet that she supports the 2nd Amendment, but she is discouraged that unstable individuals have access to firearms.

Arulanandam said it is unfair to link the NRA event to the Tucson shooting because the gun-rights group has advocated for a new national background check system.

The NRA convention was expected to address several major gun-rights issues, including border security. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on April 26, LaPierre stressed that Americans living near the Mexico border should be equipped with firearms. He claimed that the Federal government has failed to protect citizens against heavily armed drug cartels, leaving Americans to fend for themselves.

Lawmakers In Tennessee May Ban Gay Talk In Public Schools

Lawmakers in Tennessee may ban gay talk in public schoolsTennessee educators may soon be prohibited from discussing homosexuality in school.

According to FOX News, the State Senate’s Education Committee approved legislation entitled Don’t Say Gay last week, which would ban public school teachers in grades K-8 from addressing homosexuality in school. If the bill is approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, instructors could lose their jobs or their tenure if they violate the mandate.

State Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) has been trying to advance the bill for years, but Don’t Say Gay recently gained traction when Republicans won control of the governor’s mansion, House and Senate for the first time since the Civil War era, according to the media outlet.

Campfield has cited cases in Massachusetts and California, where children as young as 5 have been taught about gay issues. He claims that teachers in some States have made a concerted effort to fight anti-gay discrimination by discussing homosexuality in class.

Jonathan Cole, chairman of the the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), a gay-rights organization, told the media outlet that Don’t Say Gay is a ploy to advance a social agenda in schools. He also predicted that this bill, if approved, would increase the risk of suicide among gay students.

“If a child is experiencing issues relating to their sexual orientation or identity, they would be unable to discuss those issues with the adults who are supervising and teaching them,” TEP wrote in a Change.org petition.

Government Food Assistance To Focus On Nutrition For Pregnant Women, Children

Government food assistance to focus on nutrition for pregnant women, childrenThe U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) commissioned research to identify inadequacies in food assistance throughout the world. The two-year review, carried out by Tufts University and USAID's Office of Food for Peace, revealed a need for better nutrition for pregnant women and children.

The recommendations include reformulating fortified, processed foods to include more nutrients, promoting the use of fortified vegetable oils, improving the quality of widely distributed cereals and making prepared foods readily available for young families.

"These recommendations will help U.S. agriculture make an even bigger difference in the lives of the almost 1 billion hungry people around the world," said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Together, USDA and USAID hope to further increase the effectiveness of our successful food aid programs."

In June, stakeholders will discuss the recommended changes at the International Food Aid and Development Conference. They hope to weigh potential impacts of the recommendations, possible setbacks and ways in which the changes may be implemented.  

And They’re Off!

In my recent column 15 More Minutes, I noted that I possess moderate-to-grave concerns about Donald Trump’s potential Presidential candidacy. I offered my take on “The Donald” for “The White House.” And I got “flamed” like a 5-cent steak on a napalm-fueled grill. But I have to live by the old sage: “If you can’t stand the heat, don’t get sideways with the readers of the Personal Liberty Digest™.” While I’m not a dedicated fan of Trump 2012, I am one of the world’s biggest fans of Almost Anyone Who Lacks An Actual Felony Record 2012. In addition to my remarks about The Donald’s political aspirations, I also suggested:

“Closer to November 2012, I’ll share my thoughts on my choice for President.”

Although I meant sometime IN 2012, I suppose it’s fair for me to offer a few thoughts on the field. President Barack Obama has already announced his intention to run for another four years.

With the upcoming Presidential race attracting candidates like the proverbial moths to the flame, there’s no shortage of material to examine. This early in the season, the field is as crowded as the first round of the NHL playoffs.

So, once more unto the breach goeth I, in a manner of speaking.

Donald Trump: I’m nothing if not persistent. I still don’t take him or his candidacy seriously.  Even if his purported search for Obama’s birth certificate weren’t just the latest in the long line of publicity stunts which have defined most of The Donald’s public life over the past three decades or so, I still don’t take his candidacy seriously. I’m still unclear as to whether his candidacy is any more real than that thing on top of his head. Trump is also a bit of a political chameleon, and we should all be concerned about his actual policies. On the plus side, the French wouldn’t have the hottest first lady anymore. Maybe the GOP could placate Trump with a new cabinet-level position: Secretary of Hot Blondes. Although Trump should be advised: I’m submitting my resume, as well. I do have a lingering question: If Trump wins, will he trade in the U.S. for a younger country before his term expires?

Mitt Romney: Between HillaryCare and Obamacare, there was RomneyCare. Back in the days when Romney served as an unlikely Governor of Massachusetts, he introduced a healthcare plan which bore a striking resemblance to both the erstwhile First Lady’s misdirected package and Obama’s Quixotic gallop down the same path. Romney is experienced in both public and private sector success; he is comfortable in the glare of public scrutiny; and he’s a fundraising machine. However, RomneyCare is going to stick to him like a trial lawyer to a speeding ambulance. In addition, he’s telegenic to the point of being almost plastic. From time to time, I feel an odd compulsion to peek at his back to see if there’s a pull string.

Newt Gingrich: Oh, the Democrats want him to lead out of the gate. Gingrich, who is likely the most well-versed candidate in issues domestic and foreign, is the man who proved that Democrats can’t really hold a lead on actual policy. In 1994, Gingrich forced the Democratic Party to run its midterm elections on being Democrats. That worked as well for them then as it did in 2010. However, Gingrich is toting more baggage than a Park Avenue heiress packing for a month in the Hamptons.

Mitch Daniels: Before you dismiss him as a governor of a marginally important State with limited public recognition, consider this: In 1991, Bill Clinton was that fat guy from Arkansas with the angry-looking wife and a taste for… er… cigars.  Daniels wasn’t even in the running until he dismembered “Cap and Trade” in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. On the down side, he’s hinted at a willingness to raise taxes; in the age of Tea Party ascendency, that’s tantamount to suggesting a tax cheat for Secretary of the Treasury. Not that anyone would ever do that.

Allen West: Watch Representative West carefully. For his resume to be more impressive, it would have to include multiple commendations for excellence and bravery while serving in uniform. Oh right… it does. The lone criticism liberals have managed to concoct so far? He got sideways with the Uniform Code of Military Justice during an interrogation of a possible terrorist in Iraq. West’s statement about the incident:

“If it’s about the lives of my soldiers at stake, I’d go through hell with a gasoline can.”

I don’t doubt that he would. He’s a military hero, a fiscal and social conservative and an unrepentant patriot. To be honest, I’m surprised Democratic Party-endorsed Common Cause hasn’t called for him to be lynched yet. If his candidacy gains steam, grab some popcorn and turn on MSNBC. I can’t wait for putty-faced Democrats to call West an “Uncle Tom.” Furthermore, I can’t wait for West to make them take it back.

Michele Bachmann: Her biggest advantages? She’s smart and unafraid of conflict with the liberal hordes, and she can raise money with the best of them. Her biggest drawbacks? As a conservative woman, she jumps right to the top of the list of Democratic — hence, Democratic media — targets. Liberals are not fond of conservatives in general. Liberals become positively apoplectic at the idea of conservative women. If you ever want to see the definition of sexism in motion, watch Chris Matthews devote an hour to Representative Bachmann. Additionally, Bachmann suffers from the inevitable comparisons to…

Sarah Palin: She’s bright, conservative, determined and easy to look at. Unfortunately, to the hypocrites who run the show at the Democratic Party, a woman with those credentials might as well be the Queen of the Damned. No one outside prison has attracted pure vitriol from the Democrats in the volume to which Palin has been subjected. In fact, given the Democrats’ fondness for certain people currently confined to correctional facilities around the country (Mumia Abu-Jamal for President, anyone?), she might suffer by comparison in the eyes of George Soros’s little friends. On the downside, Palin is ubiquitous to the point of being trendy. Trends fade. Imagine if a V.P. candidate from a losing ticket tried for the big chair four years later. Now imagine having to spend the rest of your career as the “female Walter Mondale.”

Mike Huckabee: Is it possible to be too nice and too earnest to be President? Huckabee is everything Obama isn’t: honest, forthright and competent. I’m also quite sure that he’d be perfectly comfortable thumping our enemies on the head with the proverbial brick. However, Huckabee lacks across-the-board support from conservatives, and the religious undertones of his message will push moderates away. Here’s a moment for the ages: Should Huckabee win, look for Representative Keith Ellison’s expression when Huckabee takes the oath of office on the Bible. Even money says Huckabee will smile at Ellison the whole time. However, the smart money says that Huckabee will sit out 2012, electing to make a whole lot more money — with a whole lot fewer headaches — in a television studio.

Herman Cain: I never liked Godfather’s Pizza. But I love a successful business model. As a resident of Georgia, I’ve seen and heard a lot of and from Herman Cain, and none of it gives me pause. He’s intelligent, erudite and competent. He’s also proudly outspoken about his conservative attitudes. He will face an uphill battle for recognition in a crowded field, but Jimmy Carter emerged from Georgia to win the White House… maybe Carter isn’t the best example. At the very least, Cain would have won the Battle of the Chattahoochee Bunny.

Tim Pawlenty: The former two-term Governor of Minnesota. Pawlenty has a chance, although that chance is likely smaller than the odds of running through Tehran with an Israeli flag and surviving. He would lose his home state. That’s never good. Even Mondale won Minnesota in ’84.

Barack Obama: It’s noteworthy that the incumbent has managed to do such a bang-up job in what looks increasingly like his only term that he’s not even the front-runner. I’m not going to belabor the point. But I will say this: I couldn’t help but notice that every time soon-to-be-ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declares she’s not a candidate, her husband smiles like a chubby chaser finding the latest issue of Big Beautiful Babies in the mail.

Hillary Clinton: Obama isn’t whispering sweet nothings to Michelle. He’s just repeating his personal mantra: “She’s not running. She’s not running. She’s not running.” Go to your happy place, Barack. Just think of the speaking fees you’ll collect from the New Black Panther Party.

There are surely other candidates, some of whom aren’t so bizarre that they’ve earned The Huffington Post Seal of Approval. Governor Haley Barbour’s years as RNC chairman and a lobbyist have earned him connections in every wing of the GOP. Rep. Paul Ryan has experience and a solid conservative resume, and he makes liberals foam at the mouth with hatred. However, Ryan seems content in his current position.

And don’t discount another Democrat running for the 2012 roses. Obama is staggering like a punch-drunk fighter who’s years past his prime. And the Democratic Party is well known for pulling out the proverbial rifles when their horses pull up lame.

No matter what the outcome, the stage is set for one hell of a sprint to the line. Thanks to Personal Liberty Digest™, you get a front-row seat.