The Absolute Moron’s Guide to the Greek Debt Crisis – By Margaret Hartmann July 2015


It’s been three years since we brought you our last Moron’s Guide to the Euro Crisis, and it continues to be a thing you should probably know about. You may think you’ve got it covered: the Greek economy is in trouble again, people are lining up at ATMs, and something bad is about to go down at Euro Disney. But trust us, if you get cornered by your uncle who works in finance while you’re reloading on macaroni salad at your Fourth of July party, you’re going to want to have a better understanding of Greece’s debt crisis, and what it means for the future of the European Union. Here’s a brief guide for the woefully ignorant.

Hey, long time no see. This should be easier than usual. I actually know a lot about Greek history!
Oh, great! So as you know, Greece was in particularly rough shape after the 2008 financial crisis, and in 2010 it took bailout money from the troika – a fancy name for the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. That didn’t do the trick, so it took another bailout in 2012, for a grand total of €240 billion. But those bailouts were accompanied by harsh austerity measures …

Whoa, I meant, like, ancient Greek history. You know, the Persian Wars, Xerxes – oh, and McNulty!
You have 300 on Blu-ray.

Right. I thought the Greeks were total badasses. Why is their economy tanking?
Well, as I was saying, lenders told Greece that they had to implement austerity measures, or tax increases and steep budget cuts. This involved reducing wages, pensions, and spending on social services. Meanwhile, prices shot up. Time helpfully crunched the numbers to explain the Greek austerity measures to Americans. If the same cuts were imposed in the U.S. over the past few years, we would have seen the hourly minimum wage drop from $7.25 to $5.66, the average government worker’s annual salary decrease from $51,340 to $43,639, and the average senior citizen’s monthly check drop from $1,294 to $776.

So while the bailout money kept Greece afloat over the past five years, the larger scheme didn’t work. Greece was able to keep making payments to its creditors, but its overall financial situation continued to spiral downward. Its economy shrunk by a quarter in the past five years, one in four Greeks are unemployed, and as of 2013, 44 percent of Greeks were living below the poverty line.


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5 Upcoming Crises Congress Will Face This Year – By Gabrielle Levy July 2015

Highway Trust Fund Runs Out (July 31)

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The original deadline to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, the pot of money that helps maintain the nation’s roads and bridges, passed on May 31. Unable to come up with a long-term solution then, Congress kicked the can down the (crumbling, potholed) road two months, extending the deadline to July 31.

Republicans and Democrats agree transportation funding is must-pass legislation, and agree it’s important to avoid yet another short-term extension. The federal fuel tax (18.4 cents on gas, 24.4 cents on diesel) finances the fund, but the revenue’s not enough to meet its needs. Expect a partisan fight over whether to raise the fuel tax for the first time since 1993, or how to make up the shortfall through other means.

Another obstacle to agreement is the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank charter, which lapsed Tuesday in the face of strident opposition from conservatives. A bill to restart the bank’s operations is expected to ride alongside the trust fund legislation later this month, as the bank’s supporters hope linking it to the high-priority legislation will push it through.

The Plot to Free North Korea With Smuggled Episodes of ‘Friends’ – ANDY GREENBERG 03.01.15 5:00 PM

Budget brinkmanship grips DC – By Rebecca Shabad – 07/05/15 06:00 AM EDT

Greg Nash

Republicans and Democrats are locked in an increasingly bitter debate over government spending, with few legislative weeks remaining to avoid another shutdown this fall.

Bolstered by veto threats from President Obama, Senate Democrats are vowing to block all GOP spending bills, arguing the legislative work is pointless until Republicans come to the negotiating table.

“Republicans’ current appropriations strategy is only driving our nation toward another government shutdown,” House Democratic leaders said in a letter sent last month.

Republicans, meanwhile, have slammed Democrats as using obstructionist tactics, labeling their strategy the “filibuster summer.”

Democrats need to “pull their party back from a senseless path of forcing endless filibusters and a shutdown no one wants but the hard left,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech.

The debate is certain to heat up when lawmakers return from the July 4threcess, with no guarantee that lawmakers can find a way to avoid the second shutdown of the federal government in two years.

With Democrats standing in the way of the normal appropriations bills, some experts predict Congress will be forced to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded past Sept .30.

“At this particular point, I think it’s a déjà vu,” said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“I expect we are headed toward a continuing resolution, a continuing resolution that would probably run into as late as November or December,” he said.

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Five ways road-tripping families can save money – BY CHRIS TAYLOR July 2015

A camper leaves the Oak Flat Campground in the Tonto National Forest near Superior, Arizona May 30, 2015. REUTERS/Deanna Dent

A camper leaves the Oak Flat Campground in the Tonto National Forest near Superior, Arizona May 30, 2015. REUTERS/DEANNA DENT

With four kids between the ages of 1 and 12, Loralee Leavitt is a cost-savings ninja when she hits the road.

Leavitt, who hails from Kirkland, Washington, estimates that she has gone on more than 30 road trips with her growing family, logging over 60,000 miles, to places like Utah, Colorado, Arizona and California.

From packing their own food, to staying in state parks, to scouring for last-minute hotel deals, the family has made an art of saving money. Their piece de resistance: A trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park that did not cost more than $400 total.

“It is easy to spend more than you expect,” says Leavitt, author of “Road Tripping”. “But if you prepare it right, it can be a lot of fun, and very cheap.”

More Americans are planning road trips around the United States. In fact, 65 percent of those polled report they are more likely to take a road trip this summer than they were last summer, according to a recent survey by booking site Travelocity. And when you single out parents, a whopping 81 percent said they were more likely to hit the road with the kids this year.

Be careful, though. While a domestic road trip might appear like an affordable alternative to traveling abroad, costs can easily spiral out of control.

A recent study by travel site Expedia found that Americans expect to pay an average of $898 per person for a weeklong trip within their own country, hardly chump change.

To keep a lid on summer road-trip costs, we canvassed financial planners for their best tips, culled from personal experience. Here’s what they had to say.

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Politics and the Pulpit in America – By James Morone July/August 2015 Issue

Americans have been arguing about the role of religion in government since the earliest days of the republic. In 1789, soon after taking office, President George Washington declared a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.” God had bestowed a republican government on the United States, said Washington, and the nation ought to express its gratitude. Just 12 years later, President Thomas Jefferson abruptly canceled the ritual. The First Amendment, explained Jefferson, erected a “wall of separation between church and state.”Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at Jul 5, 2015 4.38

Jefferson’s wall could have used a better contractor. Today, there is hardly an aspect of American political life untouched by religion. God seems to be everywhere. The nation’s official motto is “In God We Trust.” The phrase is printed on the nation’s money, affixed behind the Speaker’s dais in the House of Representatives, and engraved over the entrance to the Senate. The Pledge of Allegiance declares a nation “under God,” and—sorry, Jefferson—the National Day of Prayer is back (the first Thursday in May); there is even a National Prayer Breakfast (the first Thursday in February). When they address the nation, U.S. presidents almost always conclude with a request that “God bless America.”

All this religiosity isn’t exactly ecumenical: a majority of Americans consider the United States a “Christian nation.” In his fine new book, Kevin Kruse declares that, whatever the public may think today, the founders had no intention of establishing a religious (much less a Christian) republic. For the most part, they agreed with Jefferson and believed in separating church and state.

What, then, explains the religiosity of American politics? Kruse traces its origins back to the 1930s. Conservative business leaders had trouble gaining traction against the New Deal and eventually discovered that moral claims generated more popular enthusiasm than calling for free markets. The business leaders funded a national movement led by religious figures such as James Fifield, Jr., a Congregational minister who preached that the New Deal, with its emphasis on collective responsibility, had introduced a “pagan statism.” Together, these men of the world and men of the cloth engineered a spiritual revival designed to shake Americans free from creeping collectivism.

Whatever the American public may think today, the founders had no intention of establishing a religious (much less a Christian) republic.

This pro-business, anticommunist, politicized Christianity seemed to find its political champion when Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952. But Eisenhower recast the movement (Kruse implies he hijacked it) as a more ecumenical, all-American consensus that would unite the nation in the Cold War struggle against the godless Soviet Union. Eisenhower set the agenda, and Congress—Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals—eagerly followed. Many of the most familiar manifestations of religion in government—the legislatively mandated allusions to God in the country’s official motto, on its money, and in its Pledge of Allegiance—emerged during the Eisenhower era.

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