Saturday, February 18, 2012

3 Economic Misconceptions. Social Security? E. coli on Shopping Carts. Israeli Bombs? Greece's Debt. Lent. Pluto. Earnhardt. Dentist.

News, Some New, Some Old:

3 Economic Misconceptions That Need to Die

Made in China "At a conference in Philadelphia last October, a Wharton professor noted that one of the country's biggest economic problems is a tsunami of misinformation. You can't have a rational debate when facts are so easily supplanted by overreaching statements, broad generalizations, and misconceptions. And if you can't have a rational debate, how does anything important get done? As author William Feather once advised, "Beware of the person who can't be bothered by details." There seems to be no shortage of those people lately.

Here are three misconceptions that need to be put to rest.

Misconception No. 1: Most of what Americans spend their money on is made in China.

Fact:   Just 2.7% of personal consumption expenditures go to Chinese-made goods and services. 88.5% of U.S. consumer spending is on American-made goods and services.
I used that statistic in a recent article, and the response from readers was overwhelming: Hogwash. People just didn't believe it.  The figure comes from a Federal Reserve report. You can read it here.
A common rebuttal I got was, "How can it only be 2.7% when almost everything in Walmart is made in China?" Because Walmart's $260 billion in U.S. revenue isn't exactly reflective of America's $14.5 trillion economy. Walmart might sell a broad range of knickknacks, many of which are made in China, but the vast majority of what Americans spend their money on is not knickknacks…….

Misconception No. 2: We owe most of our debt to China.

Fact: China owns 7.6% of U.S. government debt outstanding.
As of November, China owned $1.13 trillion of Treasuries. Government debt stood at $14.9 trillion that month. That's 7.6%.  Who owns the rest? The largest holder of U.S. debt is the federal government itself. Various government trust funds like the Social Security trust fund own about $4.4 trillion worth of Treasury securities. The Federal Reserve owns another $1.6 trillion. 

Does China own a lot of our debt? Yes, but it's a qualified yes. Of all Treasury debt held by foreigners, China is indeed the largest owner ($1.13 trillion), followed by Japan ($1 trillion) and the U.K. ($429 billion). Right there, you can see that Japan and the U.K. combined own more U.S. debt than China……

Misconception No. 3: We get most of our oil from the Middle East.

Fact: Just 9.8% of oil consumed in the U.S. comes from the Middle East.  According the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. consumes 19.2 million barrels of petroleum products per day. Of that amount, a net 49% is produced domestically. The rest is imported.
Where is it imported from? Only a small fraction comes from the Middle East, and that fraction has been declining in recent years. Last year, imports from the Persian Gulf region -- which includes Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates -- made up 9.8% of total petroleum supplied to the U.S. In 2001, that number was 14.1%.
The U.S. imports more than twice as much petroleum from Canada and Mexico than it does from the Middle East. Add in the share produced domestically, and the majority of petroleum consumed in the U.S. comes from North America……..

The whole article at:  Posted 02/13/12


Social Security Is Failing Even Faster Than We Thought.    02/14/12 Social security

"In last year's Trustees Report, the Social Security Administration warned that the program's trust fund was likely to run out of money in 2036, leading to deep cuts in benefits. If that weren't bad enough for anyone expecting to be alive then, a more recent projection from the Congressional Budget Office paints a much worse picture.
This year's CBO report forecasts that by the end of this decade, the combined Social Security Old Age and Disability Trust Funds will be about $800 billion smaller than last year's SSA projections. That's a very substantial drop -- and a sign that this year's Trustees Report will likely bring another downward revision to the year it expects those Trust Funds to dry up and benefits to be cut."       More at:


UA Study: E. coli found on 50 percent of shopping carts

TUCSON (MSNBC) - "Every day, parents blithely drop their toddlers into the baskets of shopping carts, never giving a moment's thought to who might have had their hands on the handle last. Preliminary results from a new study show that may be a mistake.

Researchers from the University of Arizona swabbed shopping cart handles in four states looking for bacterial contamination. Of the 85 carts examined, 72 percent turned out to have a marker for fecal bacteria.

The researchers took a closer look at the samples from 36 carts and discovered Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, on 50 percent of them - along with a host of other types of bacteria.

"That's more than you find in a supermarket's restroom," said Charles Gerba, the lead researcher on the study and a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona. "That's because they use disinfecting cleaners in the restrooms. Nobody routinely cleans and disinfects shopping carts."

shopping-cart-e-coli240an030111[1] The study's results may explain earlier research that found that kids who rode in shopping carts were more likely than others to develop infections caused by bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter, Gerba said.

While there may, indeed, be bacteria on shopping cart handles, they can also be found on doorknobs, countertops and a host of other items we touch every day, Fishman said. "My guess is that there are more bacteria on a car seat than on a shopping cart," he added.

Ultimately, your only defense against germs is to keep your hands - and your kids' hands - squeaky clean, Fishman said.

"While you can't sterilize your environment, you can limit exposure by practicing good hand hygiene," he added. "For most cases, alcohol hand rubs are the best for every day use."   From:


Is Israel Going to Bomb Iran Within Months?

Israeli flag"As Iran rapidly approaches the “zone of immunity” when its nuclear program would become unstoppable, will Israel attack? Where would this lead?

Is Israel going to war against Iran? Israel has decried recent attacks against some of its diplomats and families as terrorist acts of Iran. But that’s not what might drive Israel to bomb Iran.

In early February, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that his biggest worry was the possibility that Israel would attack Iran within months. That’s a startlingly frank statement from a top government official. A tip-off of something unusual coming was Israel’s withdrawal from a planned joint military exercise with the U.S. late this spring.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was apologetic, saying that Israel “couldn’t devote the resources” to the exercise. His words ignited speculation that the Israelis are planning a preemptive attack on Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program.

With or without American approval?

David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote that Israel would go to war with or without American approval. Ignatius’ colleague, Dr. Charles Krauthammer agreed: “I think it’s fairly certain the Israelis are going to attack or you would not have had this leak, deliberately coming this week from [the] secretary of Defense. … He said three months, April, May or June. And you don’t say that unless there [are] obviously indications from the Israelis that they are going to do this even if they get and they are getting a signal from the United States not to do it.”

Krauthammer went on to explain that the issue isn’t Iran having reached the capability of producing or of delivering a nuclear weapon. Rather, Israel sees the need to stop Iran from entering what he called the zone of immunity at which it would have enough enriched uranium in virtually untouchable storage deep within its mountains.

He made these comments on the weekend of Feb. 4-5. Several days later on the Fox News Channel, Krauthammer repeated and amplified his views: “I think the Israelis are serious unless [something] happens between now and midyear or even November that will threaten the regime, because it won’t change the policy. I think Israel will strike, because it cannot live under the threat of annihilation from Iran.”

A disturbing wild card

Western news has often conveyed the torrent of anti-Semitism from the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yet within Iranian politics, the real authority rests with the chief cleric, the Ayatollah Khamenei.

Iranian flagIn late January, the Ayatollah Khamenei himself publicly warned, “In light of the realization of the divine promise by almighty God, the Zionists and the Great Satan (America) will soon be defeated.” He claimed that the world is on the verge of a great event; that the world will soon realize “the power of Allah.” Khamenei didn’t say how.

Was this just more rhetoric? quotes sources within the Iranian Revolutionary Guards saying the ayatollah recently gave the Guards two orders: Give the West hope by saying that Iran is willing to reopen negotiations about its nuclear program (which has since been done). Secondly, the Guards were ordered to complete with all possible speed a nuclear weapons program, including bombs and the missiles to deliver them. If this is true, it is shocking."            More at:    Posted by Cecil Maranville on February 14, 2012


Greece: The Burning Question

Photo of fire representing the buildings burned in anti-austerity riots in Athens."As Greek protesters fight austerity with arson, will the Greek crisis be the breeding ground for extreme politics? What does Bible prophecy say about the future of Europe?

The contrast could hardly have been more surreal. On Sunday night (Feb. 12), with lawmakers inside the Athens parliament building approving draconian austerity measures designed to prevent their nation from falling into default, protesters outside set fires, hurled petrol bombs, attacked police with rocks, and damaged properties.

The riots (By CNN) reportedly left at least 106 police officers and dozens of civilians injured and led to the arrests of some 74 people. More than 45 buildings were damaged by fire, and others were looted.

Teetering on the edge

Greece is teetering on the edge of default, with 14.5 billion euros in debt repayments due next month and the nation struggling to meet its obligations. Failure to repay would trigger a huge crisis, both for Greece and for the eurozone in general.

So the parliament approved a package of painful cuts in government spending designed to reduce Greece’s national debt from the current 160 percent of GDP to 120 percent by the end of this decade.

These cuts (by CNN) include a reduction in the minimum wage from 751 euros ($989) to 600 euros ($790) per month, cuts in state-funded pensions, layoffs of some 15,000 government employees by the end of 2012, cuts in pay to hospital doctors and for medicines, and a 300 million euro ($395 million) cut in military spending.

An overhaul of the tax system and a crackdown on tax evasion (all too common in Greece) were also among the painful measures approved by parliamentarians in the midst of the riots. The consequences of these measures are expected to be painful and long-lasting.

Blaming Germany

In the meantime, resentments intensify. Many Greeks now are beginning to blame eurozone economic kingpin Germany for their sufferings; while some in the creditor nations, such as the Netherlands, Finland, France and Germany, are questioning whether they are simply throwing good money after bad….

More at:     Posted by Ralph Levy on February 16, 2012


What are Ash Wednesday and Lent? Does the Bible tell us to celebrate these days?

After Mardi Gras comes Ash Wednesday and 40 days of Lent. Did the early New Testament Church observe these days?

What are Ash Wednesday and Lent? Does the Bible tell us to celebrate these days?


"The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or Lent, and the early New Testament Church did not observe these days. Here is how the BBC Religion page describes Ash Wednesday and Lent:

"Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent for Western Christian churches. It's a day of penitence to clean the soul before the Lent fast.

"Roman Catholic, Anglican, and some other churches hold special services at which worshippers are marked with ashes as a symbol of death and sorrow for sin…

"The Christian churches that observe Lent in the 21st century (and not all do significantly) use it as a time for prayer and penance. Only a small number of people today fast for the whole of Lent, although some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is more common these days for believers to surrender a particular vice such as favourite foods or smoking" (BBC ).

Lent is counted differently by those of the Western Catholic tradition and those of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. "The western church excludes Sundays (which is celebrated as the day of Christ's resurrection) whereas the eastern church includes them. The churches also start Lent on different days. Western churches start Lent on the 7th Wednesday before Easter Day (called Ash Wednesday). Eastern churches start Lent on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter and end it on the Friday 9 days before Easter. Eastern churches call this period the 'Great Lent'" (BBC ).

Various biblical events and customs are referred to by those who celebrate these days. The Bible mentions people mourning in sackcloth and ashes. The Bible also talks about repentance and fasting, and the number 40 is prominent in various biblical events.

"The justification for the Lenten 40-day preparation for Easter is traditionally based on Jesus' 40-day wilderness fast before His temptation by Satan ( Harper's Bible Dictionary, 'Lent'; Matthew 4:1-2 [1] Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. [2] And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.See All...;   Mark 1:13And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. See All...).

The problem with this explanation is that this incident is not connected in any way with Jesus' supposed observance of Easter. The 40-day pre-Easter practice of fasting and penance did not originate in the Bible" ("The Good Friday—Easter Sunday Question).

Some have suggested that Lent may be connected to earlier, pagan holidays. In Ezekiel 8:14Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the LORD's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz.
See All..., the prophet in vision saw women weeping for the pagan god Tammuz. "It has been suggested by some scholars that the practice of 'weeping for Tammuz' was the actual origin of Lent, the Roman Catholic 40-day period of abstinence prior to Easter (starting after Mardi Gras, 'Fat Tuesday,' on Ash Wednesday). Consider that the name Easter itself is derived from Ishtar, the ancient Babylonian fertility goddess and Tammuz's mother".

The Bible does teach the importance of fasting and self-examination, but it does not teach a 40-day period called Lent or an Ash Wednesday of putting ashes on the forehead. These customs appear to have pagan origins, and are not practiced by the United Church of God. We seek to follow the customs and practices of the early New Testament Church as described in the Bible. For more on the biblical religious festivals, such as the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the spring, see God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind .


On This Day:

Pluto discovered, Feb 18, 1930:

"Pluto, once believed to be the ninth planet, is discovered at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh.

The existence of an unknown ninth planet was first proposed by Percival Lowell, who theorized that wobbles in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune were caused by the gravitational pull of an unknown planetary body. Lowell calculated the approximate location of the hypothesized ninth planet and searched for more than a decade without success. However, in 1929, using the calculations of Powell and W.H. Pickering as a guide, the search for Pluto was resumed at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. On February 18, 1930, Tombaugh discovered the tiny, distant planet by use of a new astronomic technique of photographic plates combined with a blink microscope. His finding was confirmed by several other astronomers, and on March 13, 1930--the anniversary of Lowell's birth and of William Hershel's discovery of Uranus--the discovery of Pluto was publicly announced.

With a surface temperature estimated at approximately -360 Fahrenheit, Pluto was appropriately given the Roman name for the god of the underworld in Greek mythology. Pluto's average distance from the sun is nearly four billion miles, and it takes approximately 248 years to complete one orbit. It also has the most elliptical and tilted orbit of any planet, and at its closest point to the sun it passes inside the orbit of Neptune, the eighth planet.

After its discovery, some astronomers questioned whether Pluto had sufficient mass to affect the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. In 1978, James Christy and Robert Harrington discovered Pluto's only known moon, Charon, which was determined to have a diameter of 737 miles to Pluto's 1,428 miles. Together, it was thought that Pluto and Charon formed a double-planet system, which was of ample enough mass to cause wobbles in Uranus' and Neptune's orbits. In August 2006, however, the International Astronomical Union announced that Pluto would no longer be considered a planet, due to new rules that said planets must "clear the neighborhood around its orbit." Since Pluto's oblong orbit overlaps that of Neptune, it was disqualified."


Dale Earnhardt killed in crash, Feb 18, 2001:

"On this day in 2001, Dale Earnhardt Sr., considered one of the greatest drivers in National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) history, dies at the age of 49 in a last-lap crash at the 43rd Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Florida. Earnhardt was driving his famous black No. 3 Chevrolet and vying for third place when he collided with another car, then crashed into a wall. After being cut from his car, Earnhardt, whose tough, aggressive driving style earned him the nickname "The Intimidator," was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead of head injuries."



The weather was mild but overcast for Misty and Maddie's walk.   The dentist had asked me to be there, and Jay wanted to go with me, as he is having work done there too.  I called to confirm, but the dentist sounded kind of vague. 

Just as we were leaving, Jim the mechanic arrived here with a chain saw to cut that fallen dead oak off my neighbor's fence.  We stayed to make sure that he didn't get hurt, and helped him pull some branches out of the way.  I just couldn't see leaving Jim alone there with a chain saw.  He is very careful, but accidents happen.

When Jay and I arrived, the hard-of-hearing dentist apologized for not recognizing who I was on the phone, and didn't have my fitting ready.  His helper started to work on that right then, so hopefully it will be ready next time.    Then the dentist worked on a tooth that he is doing for Jay.  Jay is so excited as he left there with one less gap in his front teeth. 

Our drought is officially over, as we finally caught up with our lack of rainfall when it turned into another rainy day.

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