Saturday, February 14, 2009

Obama Stimulus Package Passes:
$787 Billion In Spending & Benefit Increases and Tax Cuts

Federal Debt Limit to Hit $12 Trillion
(Update: Slate wrap-up, linked below)
Both Houses of the Congress, first the House on a vote of 246 to 183, and then later the Senate, on a vote of 60 to 38 yesterday voted to pass the so-called "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,"a $787 billion "stimulus package" of tax cuts and more than a half-trillion dollars in new federal spending, that is supported by President Obama, giving him his first major legislative victory.
The stimulus plan provides a half-trillion dollars for jobless benefits, renewable energy projects, highway construction, food stamps, broadband, Pell college tuition grants, high-speed rail projects and scores of other programs. It raises the nation’s debt limit to about $12 trillion.

The package restricts executive compensation at all companies receiving assistance from the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, not just those receiving “exceptional” aid as the Obama administration announced last week. The legislation limits bonuses and other incentive pay at those companies on a sliding scale according to how much federal aid they take.
The non partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the legislation will raise our national debt ceiling up to $12 trillion dollars, the highest in our nation's history (one trillion is equal to 1,000 billion).

From the CBO letter:
Combining both spending and revenue effects, CBO estimates that enacting the conference agreement for H.R. 1 would increase federal budget deficits by $185 billion over the remaining months of fiscal year 2009, by $399 billion in 2010, by $134 billion in 2011, and by $787 billion over the 2009-2019 period.
The United States Senate was able to muster an emergency vote on the measure last night before going on vacation for ten days, following agreement being reached among Democrats in the Conference Committee over differing versions of the legislation that had earlier passed the two houses.

The Senate vote yesterday came with the assistance of three Republican senators: Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and both United States Senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. They were the only three Republicans who voted in favor of the final measure, or of either of the earlier measures that had passed the two houses.

In spite of the claimed emergency passage, the President will not sign the measure until Monday.

Holding the emergency vote yesterday in both houses also violated an earlier commitment made by a vote on Wednesday, instructing on the part of Democrat leadership to publicly post the final version of the 1,073 page bill on the internet for 48 hours prior to voting for final passage. A final cut-and-paste version of the bill was circulated among the lawmakers only at 11 pm Thursday, just a few hours before the debate and the House vote, thus violating the committment.

According to David M. Herzenhorn reporting in the New York Times, the final Senate tally, which started earlier in the evening, came several hours later, at 10:47 at night when Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, flew on a government plane into the capitol last night, having been attending the funeral of his mother who passed away earlier in the week. His was the 60th vote, allowing the "emergency" to move forward, on what was reported by the Times as the longest-ever vote congressional vote.
The Senate finally adopted the bill at 10:47 p.m. after what appeared to be the longest Congressional vote in history. The peculiar 5-hour 17-minute process was required because Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, had to return to Washington from his home state after attending a funeral home visitation for his mother, who died Feb. 2.

Under a procedural deal between the parties, the bill needed 60 votes to pass. The vote began at 5:30 p.m., but from 7:07 p.m., when Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, cast his “aye,” the tally hung at 59 to 38, until Mr. Brown arrived.
From the Bloomberg News story by Brian Faler:
The Senate late yesterday voted 60 to 38 to approve the package of tax cuts and more than a half-trillion dollars in new federal spending. Three Republicans joined Democrats in favor of the measure. Earlier in the day the House passed the bill, 246 to 183, with no Republicans in favor. The votes give Obama the first major legislative victory of his presidency.
No Republicans in the House voted for this package, while two Republicans apparently did not vote on the bill, given their current membership of 178. The Washington Post story by Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane explains how a rumor apparently got started that two Republicans would vote "yes" on the bill:
But during yesterday's vote, Reps. Michael N. Castle (Del.) and Fred Upton (Mich.), the two moderate Republicans considered most likely to support the stimulus, moved to chairs on the center aisle of the House floor and stared at the electronic board tallying their colleagues' votes. Upton, who traveled with Obama to Indiana on Monday, and Castle, a close friend of Vice President Biden, cast "no" votes moments before the clock ran out.
Seven Democrat House members joined the Republicans in voting against the bill: newly-elected Congressman Bobby Bright of Alabama (former Mayor of Montgomery); long-time (1987) liberal Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, who (as reported by The Swamp) said he could not justify borrowing money for tax cuts; newly-elected Representative Parker Griffith of Alabama's 5th District, a competitive Huntsville-area district; newly-elected Walt Minnick of Idaho's 1st District, which includes a portion of Boise; Collin Peterson of Minnesota's mosty rural and northwestern 7th district; Heath Shuler of North Carolina, who said the bill had too much spending and directly criticized the Democrats for not posting it for debate; and Gene Taylor of Mississippi's 4th District, a member of the Democratic Congressional Blue Dog Coalition.

One other Democrat, Representative Dan Lipinski of Illinois, voted "present," he claimed on principle.

Strangely, James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Whip, did not vote on the bill either. He reportedly left to attend his daughter's wedding. As of this writing (02-14 11:26 am), the Congressional Record does not have the official vote on the bill posted.

Horse trading over the bill resulted in several controversial measures being retained, while others were not.
Lawmakers dropped provisions barring funds from going to museums, arts centers and theaters. A ban on money to casinos, golf courses, zoos and swimming pools was retained. Lawmakers deleted provisions requiring businesses receiving stimulus funding to use E-Verify, a government program used to ensure workers are in the country legally.
House Republican leader, John Boehner of Ohio said that Republicans recognized the need for a stimulus bill to create jobs, but that this one was focused instead on spending.
"I think everyone in this chamber on both sides of the aisle understands we need to act," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. "But a bill that's supposed to be about jobs, jobs, jobs has turned into a bill that's all about spending, spending and spending."

He also noted that it was impossible for any member of congress in either house to have read the final version before passage, holding up a weighty version of the bill during the final debate, and dropping it to the House floor.

Republicans were also cut out of all key conference negotiations over provisions of the final bill.

The full Conference Report in the Congressional Record on the bill -- H.R. 1 -- can be found here in five parts.

Update: Arthur Delaney at Slate has an interesting wrap-up on the media coverage of the passage of the bill.

All the papers lead with the big news that Congress passed president Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill Friday night. The Washington Post says the bill's passage marks the beginning of a new ideological era with the federal government at the center of the nation's economic recovery. The New York Times highlights the bill's limits on executive compensation, which are stricter than those proposed recently by the Obama administration. The Wall Street Journal notes that Wall Street reacted to the "last minute" restrictions with consternation. The Los Angeles Times leads with a sunny report that the stimulus will stimulate "almost every corner of American society."

A front-page WP article says Congress went much further than Obama wanted to go in limiting executive pay, and the NYT's lead story says Senate Democrats actually did so over the administration's objections. Executives at all firms that have benefited or will benefit from government funds will be allowed bonuses of only one-third the size of their salaries and only available in company stock, and only redeemable after the government's investment has been repaid. The WSJ reports that the rules are somewhat open to interpretation.

. . . . (more)

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Editorial Comment:

Coming Soon --

To a theater near you!

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Monday, February 02, 2009

A New Jersey Liar's Contest

Want to even the score? Sick and tired of used car salesmen, advertisers, politicians, car mechanics, lawyers, and money managers getting all the attention? Hey, how about those spammers and phishers, huh? And televangelists? Fed up with them too? Those are just some of the folks who, from time to time, polls tend to rate as big liars!

Well, here's your chance to get even. You can openly prevaricate in a genuine Liars Contest at the Stockton Inn, on Main Street, in Stockton NJ, on February 18, 2009! According to undisclosed, but solid sources, it is the one and only verifiable New Jersey liar's contest. Also being billed as a dead-of-winter "fibber's feux d'artifice" contestants need not be from New Jersey to participate. But live contestants only. Video submissions may be appreciated, but they will not be admitted in the contest. Currently elected public officials above the rank of dog catcher may receive a percentage discount to participate, but are certainly welcome to attend.

Show your glossy stuff. Be a momentary four-flusher!

And, you don't have to hurt or mislead anyone, or cheat them. Everyone there'll all know you're tellin' a big story! All in good fun.

You can just come to watch and have a few laughs, or spin a good whopper yourself at the Stockton Inn on Rt. 29 in Stockton, NJ this coming Wednesday evening, February 18th, and you could walk away with a title like "Best Damn Liar!" or a similar accolade. According to owner Fred Strackhouse, the fabricating fete will get started around 7:30 pm, and will go on as long as it takes. If it gets too good, or too close, there may have to be a fib-off! Who knows?

There will be a few fun categories, and even an inexpensive grand prize. Costumes and props are not permitted, but if you think it will help with your embellishment, or somehow add context to your pretext, feel free to wear some funny item. No extra points for fluff, though. Bring your own cheering section if you think it will help. It won't. You've just gotta tell a damn good whopper.

Each contestant will have about a 3 - 5 minute window, microphone in hand, to fishify away. And audience participation -- at least laughter and whistling-- will be permitted. Throwing objects, however, will be very firmly discouraged.

Now, you might think that no one ever held a liars' contest before. Not so! But apparently no official liar's contest takes place here in the the Garden State, so this one is it. Yes, the New Jersey Legislature does meet repeatedly during their two year sessions . . . whether they need to or not. But they just don't always call all of what they do by it's proper name.

A Short Survey of Liar's Contests:

It turns out that genuine liars contests are held all over the world but here in New Jersey . . . for example, how about the one billed as the Worlds Biggest Liars Contest across the pond in England? It was last held on Thursday night, November 21st (2008) in the bar of the Bridge Inn in Santon Bridge, off in the northwest corner of the island of England, located in the beautiful lake district and mountain region of Cumbria. And according to BBC reporter, Cory Allen, John "Johnny Liar" Graham again emerged as the World's Biggest Liar at this year's contest. They've been holding this contest for over 100 years!
The contest dates back to the 19th century, when Will Ritson (1808-1890), a Wasdale landlord, became well-known for his fibs.
The first woman to win the contest was only two years ago, when comedienne Sue Perkins won the title by telling a story about sheep who had punched a hole in the ozone layer with their flatulence.

Now, I hasten to add that these were BBC stories, and some may try try to say they might fib a bit themselves. But this year, they actually attached little video wigets from the contest itself, including the one of "Johnny Liar's" prize winning tale!

Right close to us here in the States, there's good information available (pdf) about a well-established Kutztown, PA liars contest.

Then there's a link dating a few years back about the annual Baca Grande (Big Cow), Colorado* liars contest, which apparently received an assist from large quantities of what was identified as "stumblejuice." The claim was that, at the contest:
[e]veryone was feeling no pain except a hound which went into a bramble so thick he had to back up to bark.
Or, how about the Statewide contest for storytellers held every Memorial Day in West Virginia? Looks like some fella named Bil Lepp has won that liars' contest five times, and he can't even spell right -- at least not his first name! Just check out that NPR story . . . there are at least four audio pod-casts of stories attached. Then there's perennial contestant Adam J. Booth, who has apparently decided to make an entire career of lying and story-telling.

Here's a link to the website of the annual Black Storytellers Convention, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota: "Signifyin' & Testifyin'" with, as a good example of the fun they have, the event page from their 2006 Convention.

And, let's not ignore the fact that way out in the California desert, in San Diego County, each year on the first Saturday in April, the local chamber notes that even the breathtaking Anza-Borrego Desert State Park hosts the annual Peg-Leg Smith Liar's Contest. There is also the famous Huck Finn Jubilee held over father's day weekend out in Victorville, California, which featured a Friday night "Liar's Contest" as well.

Then there's the George West Storyfest down in Texas; several photos from a "fish tales" event at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo; tales of Illinois storytelling, including Dr. Frog; and even a specialty liars contest for morel mushroom hunters, which is also held in Illinois!

So, there's plenty of background and history to the art. But nothing designated as such from New Jersey -- other than perhaps the genre misadventures of the musical group called Liars, who apparently "relocated to a cabin in the woods of New Jersey for the recording sessions" where they emersed themselves in witch fokelore. It didn't make it in the music world.

Be sure to show up at the Stockton Inn on the 18th of February. It promises to be fun.

Here is some more contact information:

The Stockton Inn address is, 1 Main St. Stockton, NJ 08559. Phone: 1-609-397-1250 (fax/8948). It is located at the intersection of Route 29 and Main Street, a few miles north of the Lambertville Exit onto Rt. 29 from Rt. 202, the last exit before the Rt. 202 toll bridge over the Delaware into Pennsylvania; or about 14 miles north of the I-95 (Scudders Falls) Bridge over the Delaware. Take the Lambertville/Rt. 29 Exit, north about 10.5 miles to Bridge Street at the light in Lambertville, turn left, and a quick right onto N. Main Street/Rt. 29 north for another 3.5 miles into downtown Stockton. It is 1/4 mile past the "Mile 22" marker on Rt. 29 going north.


*And speaking of Colorado, a few years ago I attended and participated in a liar's contest, held annually near the end of September, that year in a saloon called "Kochevars" which is located in downtown Crested Butte, Colorado. Unfortunately, a modest search did not locate any specific reference to the contest itself, but it may have been associated with their annual Vinotok Festival, which does feature a liars contest.

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