You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV and in Speaker’s Corner.
Weekly Address: President Obama on the Budget Compromise to Avoid a Government Shutdown
[Note: I cannot vouch for this site, but it seems to have a good recap of the budget breakdown.]
The U.S. federal government’s budget for Fiscal Year 2011 is projected at $3.83 trillion (USD) in total spending. In late 2010 and continuing into April 2011, members of the U.S. Congress sought to trim this budget with the President’s approval and succeeded on April 8, 2011 at reducing overall spending by $78.5 billion. With additional budget cuts and reductions still up for debate.. let’s see where the U.S. federal government’s budget for Fiscal Year 2011 spending stands now.
First, let’s review this top ten list that breaks down the 2011 U.S. Federal Budget, aka, the top ten priorities for the U.S. in 2011 according to its citizens’ (and corporate “citizens’”) bank accounts.
- $928.5 billion in defense spending
- $898 billion in health care expenditures
- $787.6 billion in pensions
- $464.6 billion in welfare spending
- $250.7 billion on interest payments
- $151.4 billion in other spending including basic research
- $140.9 billion for education
- $104.2 billion for transportation
- $57.3 billion in protective services such as police, fire, law courts
- $29 billion in general government expenses
President Obama reports the following cuts and reductions to the 2011 Fiscal Year U.S. federal government budget on Whitehouse.gov,
- $18 billion in cuts deemed unnecessary by the Pentagon
- $13 billion from funding for programs at the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services
- $8 billion in cuts for State and Foreign Operations
- $2.5 billion in transportation funding
- Over $1 billion in a cut across non-defense agencies
- $630 million in earmarked transportation projects
- $35 million by ending the Crop Insurance Good Performance Rebate, which gives successful farmers, who have no claims, a rebate for insurance premiums already subsidized by the federal government
- $30 million for a job training program that was narrowly targeted at certain student loan processors
- Reductions to housing assistance programs
- Reductions to some health care programs
Interestingly, it seems the more partisan the pundit, right or left, the more they think their own side lost. This probably is a reflection of how the more partisan you are, the more you value what your side conceded, and therefore the more angry you are over the budget deal.
As a card carrying member of the left side of the aisle, I’m not buying the arguments from the pundits on the left that insist Obama “lost” this battle with Boehner.
In any negotiation, it’s all about leverage. If you don’t have it, you need to manufacture it to level the playing field. If you do have it, you have to be wary of overpaying. The inequality of bargaining positions, and the absence of perfect information about what the other side’s price is to reach agreement, creates opportunities for either side to significantly miscalculate.
For purposes of the budget dynamics, I’ll frame the this issue in terms of “Obama versus Boehner” as each side’s negotiators, even though that obviously wasn’t literally the case.
So who had to do a deal? I say Obama for these reasons:
Behind the scenes in negotiations that averted government shutdown, President Obama had just agreed to House Speaker John Boehner’s request to include a Republican policy rider to ban taxpayer funding of abortion in Washington, DC, but Boehner wanted more: to defund Planned Parenthood.
The response from the president was blunt.
“Nope. Zero,” the president told Boehner, according to a senior Democratic aide. “And then the Speaker tried to engage it.”
“Nope. Zero,” the president replied again. “He was like, ‘John, this is it.’”
“There were a good 10 minutes of just sitting there of everybody looking at each other,” the aide recalled. “I mean, it was like, there’s nothing to do here. The store’s closed.”
“It was awkward, like, what do you do now?”
“They realized that kind of the gig was up,” the aide said of Republicans. “They weren’t going to get it included. It wasn’t going to happen. The president and Sen. Reid were prepared to say, ‘This bill will go down if you make this about social policy.’ That was the line in the sand.”
The Senate’s number-two Democrat Dick Durbin eventually suggested a compromise: the Senate would hold votes on eliminating the Planned Parenthood funding, subject to a 60-vote threshold that Republicans would never reach in the Democrat-controlled upper chamber of Congress.
“By (Friday) morning they pretty much knew that this was all they were going to get,” the aide said.
Still, it took until 8p Friday before both parties agreed on a top line number. Then Republicans wanted the appropriators to switch a few things around. More time went by. In the end the clock was hitting 10:30p Friday night when the chief staff negotiators – Rob Nabors, the White House legislative affairs director, Boehner chief of staff Barry Jackson, and Reid’s top staffer David Krone – finally shook hands on a final deal. It was a good thing they settled matters when they did, too. Right at that time, the president called Nabors and Reid called Krone to find out “what the hell was going on,” the aide said. Fortunately, the negotiators had good news for their bosses: the $38 billion deal was done.
Ultimately, both parties received certain concessions in the final deal. In addition to the Planned Parenthood vote, Republicans will also force the Senate to vote on defunding the health care reform bill, subject to a 60-vote threshold as well. Republicans also managed to insert a rider relating to a DC school vouchers program and another rider to bar money from being spent on importing Guantanamo Bay detainees to this country. Democrats, meanwhile, were pleased to settle on $17.8 billion in cuts to mandatory spending.
With or without a government shutdown, Republicans have already won the debate on our nation’s budget. Why? Because the corporate media is on their side.
Make the wealthy pay their fair share.
A budget shouldn’t just focus on spending cuts directed at the poor and middle-class -- it should also include revenue raisers like closing corporate loopholes and asking millionaires and billionaires to cough up a few extra bucks a year. Let’s cut some wasteful spending, but let’s also raise a few taxes. But this common sense narrative has been lost inside the main stream corporate media -- where there’s only one question that’s being asked today, and that is “how much spending needs to be cut?”
Not, “why aren’t some of the most profitable corporations in the history of the world skating by paying zero taxes?”
Not, “why are the wealthiest Americans enjoying historically low tax rates during a historically high budget deficit?”
Did you know that corporate taxes used to account for roughly 30% of revenue collected by the government -- and today that number is only 7%? Probably not, because the corporate media, which would prefer not to pay its taxes and only wants us to focus on just how much Republicans and Democrats can cut out of the budget?
So why is the media ignoring these calls?
It’s simple -- corporate owned media outlets won’t call for tax hikes on corporations, and rich TV personalities won’t call for tax hikes on the rich. The topic of tax hikes just doesn’t exist in our now-consolidated media. Which is really a shame because the Republicans who seem to have already won the debate have a bad idea -- a really, really, bad idea.
The solutions to our budget problems are simple -- you wouldn’t BELIEVE how simple they are. I can tell you the solution using only 6 words…ROLL -- BACK -- THE -- REAGAN -- TAX -- CUTS. Heck -- roll back the Bush tax cuts, go back to Clinton levels where the wealthiest Americans paid an extra 3% -- just 3% -- three measly percentage points, and we’d take a huge chunk out of our deficit, just like that.
Remember how the Clinton budget passed without a single Republican vote in the House and gave us not only a balanced budget but a surplus? And if we rolled back the Reagan tax cuts, and made billionaires pay at least 74%, like they did for more than half of the 20th century, when our nation prospered and the middle class grew -- then we’d have a budget SURPLUS!
A budget surplus? Can you imagine how different life in America would be with a budget surplus?! We’d be paying down our debt year-to-year. And we’d be able to use that extra cash to do things that our nation hasn’t done in generations since Reagan started “starving the beast.”
So call your congressman and tell him to vote for the simple solution, the right solution, and roll back the Reagan tax cuts.
On one side of the misery equation, Americans have been seeing retail prices rise at an annualized rate of more than a 5.6 percent so far this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Plus, the upward pressure on prices is growing as crude oil prices keep heading higher. U.S. crude oil has been trading at more than $110 a barrel, sending the average price of a gallon of gasoline up to $3.74 a gallon — compared with $2.86 a year ago, according to AAA, the auto club.
Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said he is watching inflation data closely, but still feels this recent surge in prices is “transitory” and should ease soon.
Consumers Feel The Squeeze
No matter what happens with inflation in coming months, Americans are feeling the price pressure right now, especially at the grocery store. Food inflation was tame in 2010, but has taken off in 2011, with big run-ups in prices for beef, milk, vegetables, fruits and butter.
Wages Vs. Inflation
Since the start of 2011, wages and prices have been moving in opposite directions.
Even as those prices were rising, wages were falling flat. BLS reports show U.S. hourly workers got no pay increase at all in four of the last five months. In March, average weekly earnings amounted to $784.44 — not one penny more than in February.
Shoppers See Harder Times Ahead
Of course, not every price is rising. Home values are still falling, and technology keeps getting cheaper. So, for example, smartphone prices generally are falling.
But most people don’t buy a house, or even a phone, very frequently. They do purchase gasoline and milk often, and those high-visibility price increases are creating a negative feeling about the economy. The Conference Board, a business group that conducts a monthly consumer survey, finds that the shoppers’ mood is darkening.
Wall Street Is Gaining, But Not Workers
With corporations enjoying big profits, strong productivity gains and higher stock prices, conditions would seem to be good for raises. But employers are still uncertain about the future and wary about hiring. Their reluctance to increase the payroll has created an enormous pool of unemployed, but willing workers. More than 13 million people are seeking jobs. So most employers don’t have to offer higher wages to retain existing workers, or attract new ones.
The real problem for workers is that while U.S. companies aren’t creating many jobs, employers in developing nations, especially China and India, are hiring. Those foreign employers are creating new consumers, who are pushing up demand for food and oil and other commodities.
So that’s the core of the issue: Americans are facing a slack job market, but must shop for the same food and oil and iron that people in other countries want. That creates a painful mismatch — low wage growth with higher commodity prices.
Ezra Klein gets this right, I think: it’s one thing for Obama to decide that it was better to give in to Republican hostage-taking than draw a line in the sand; it’s another for him to celebrate the result. Yet that’s just what he did. More than that, he has now completely accepted the Republican frame that spending cuts right now are what America needs.
It’s worth noting that this follows just a few months after another big concession, in which he gave in to Republican demands for tax cuts. The net effect of these two sets of concessions is, of course, a substantial increase in the deficit.
I also think that Ezra is right that the Obama people are counting on a growing economy to pull them through. In fact, I think that’s been their strategy since the January 2010 State of the Union, when Obama shifted his focus from any effort to boost the economy and started talking about spending freezes. The judgment was apparently that it was OK to move policy in the wrong direction, because the economy was strong enough to weather the shock, and that it was more important to look centrist than to defend good policy.
Of course, that didn’t work out too well last year, did it?
Mr. Hamilton, 18, is among the expanding ranks of students in kindergarten through Grade 12 — more than one million in the United States, by one estimate — taking online courses.
Advocates of such courses say they allow schools to offer not only makeup courses, the fastest-growing area, but also a richer menu of electives and Advanced Placement classes when there are not enough students to fill a classroom.
But critics say online education is really driven by a desire to spend less on teachers and buildings, especially as state and local budget crises force deep cuts to education. They note that there is no sound research showing that online courses at the K-12 level are comparable to face-to-face learning.
Nationwide, an estimated 1.03 million students at the K-12 level took an online course in 2007-8, up 47 percent from two years earlier, according to the Sloan Consortium, an advocacy group for online education. About 200,000 students attend online schools full time, often charter schools that appeal to home-schooling families, according to another report.
The growth has come despite a cautionary review of research by the United States Department of Education in 2009. It found benefits in online courses for college students, but it concluded that few rigorous studies had been done at the K-12 level, and policy makers “lack scientific evidence of the effectiveness” of online classes.
Like other education debates, this one divides along ideological lines. K-12 online learning is championed by conservative-leaning policy groups that favor broadening school choice, including Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which has called on states to provide all students with “Internet access devices” and remove bans on for-profit virtual schools.
Teachers’ unions and others say much of the push for online courses, like vouchers and charter schools, is intended to channel taxpayers’ money into the private sector.
“What they want is to substitute technology for teachers,” said Alex Molnar, professor of education policy at Arizona State University.
“It’s about getting a piece of the money that goes to public schools,” Ms. Wood said. “The big corporations want to make money off the backs of our children.”
Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times News Service: “The starchy cassava root has long been an important ingredient in everything from tapioca pudding and ice cream to paper and animal feed. But last year, 98 percent of cassava chips exported from Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, went to just one place and almost all for one purpose: to China to make biofuel. Driven by new demand, Thai exports of cassava chips have increased nearly fourfold since 2008, and the price of cassava has roughly doubled.”
A federal judge has blocked a proposal to lift the endangered species protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho that had been hammered out by U.S. wildlife officials and conservation groups.
The plan could have led to public hunting of some 1,300 wolves in the two states.
The temperature anomaly in the Arctic — the amount that current temperatures differ from historical norms — is now so severe that NASA’s James Hansen had to add a new color to his charts in order to accurately depict it: Hot pink.
Andrew J. Hoffman, the Holcim professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, has spent the last year or so applying his tools as a social scientist to researching the cultural and social underpinnings of the backlash against climate change science.
He wrote of the need for such work earlier this year for Strategic Organization, a journal produced by Sage, a British academic publisher.
We interviewed him by telephone from his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is on sabbatical. Following are excerpts, edited for brevity.
A.…. People will be hesitant to accept the notion of climate change if that leads directly towards ideas that are at variance with values that they hold dear.
A.Well, do you trust the scientific process? Do you trust scientists? The faith-and-reason debate has been around for centuries. I just read a book that I thought was prescient, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” about this suspicion people have about intellectuals who are working on issues that are inaccessible, opaque to them, yielding conclusions that alter the way we structure our society, the way we live our lives.
There’s a certain helpless frustration people have: Who are these cultural elites, these intellectual elites who can make these conclusions in the ivory tower of academia or other scientific institutions and tell me how to live my life?
And we can’t leave out power. There are certain powerful interests out there that will not accept the conclusions this will yield to, therefore they will not accept the definition of the problem if they are not going to accept the solutions that follow it. I’m speaking of certain industry sectors that stand to lose in a carbon-constrained world.
Also, if you can’t define solutions on climate change and you’re asking me to accept it, you’re asking me to accept basically a pretty dismal reality that I refuse to accept. And many climate proponents fall into this when they give these horrific, apocalyptic predictions of cities under water and ice ages and things like that. That tends to get people to dig their heels in even harder.
Some people look at this as just a move for more government, more government bureaucracy. And I think importantly fear or resist the idea of world government. Carbon dioxide is part of the economy of every country on earth. This is a global cooperation challenge the likes of which we have never seen before.
Doctors at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System are testing a new kind of clinical trial that’s not only less costly but guides doctors to switch to the best treatment even before the trial is completed. The new approach — called a point-of-care clinical trial — was … as an alternative to expensive, lengthy, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials to compare drugs and procedures that are already in regular use.
“The goal of point-of-care clinical trials is to deliver the best care to patients while learning from each experience and redefining that care. This ‘learning and improving’ loop will enable health-care institutions to more rapidly fold improvements into their medical practices,” he said.
From cradle to grave, minority populations tend to suffer poorer health and get poorer health care than white Americans. In a first-of-its-kind report, the government is recommending steps to reduce those disparities.
Democrats don’t just have a proposal that offers a more plausible vision of cost control than Ryan does. They have an honest-to-goodness law. The Affordable Care Act sets more achievable targets, and offers a host of more plausible ways to reach them, than anything in Ryan’s budget. “If this is a competition betweenRyan and the Affordable Care Act on realistic approaches to curbing the growth of spending,” says Robert Reischauer, who ran the Congressional Budget Office from 1989 to 1995 and now directs the Urban Institute, “the Affordable Care Act gets five points and Ryan gets zero.”
The Affordable Care Act holds Medicare’s cost growth to GDP plus one percentage point, which makes a lot more sense. It’s the target Ryan’s Medicare plan originally used, back when it was called Ryan-Rivlin. But the target is not really the important part. The important part is how you achieve the target. And the Affordable Care Act actually includes reforms and new processes for future reforms that would help Medicare — and the rest of the medical system — get to where the costs can be saved, rather than just shifted.
I could go on, but instead, I’ll just link to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s excellent primer (pdf) on everything the law does. The bottom line is this: The Affordable Care Act is actually doing the hard work of reforming the health-care system that’s needed to make cost control possible. Ryan’s budget just makes seniors pay more for their Medicare and choose their own plans — worthy ideas, you can argue, but ideas that have been tried many times before, and that have never cut costs in the way Ryan’s budget suggests they will.
But the irony of everyone demanding Democrats come up with a vision for addressing the drivers of our deficit in the years to come is that, on the central driver of costs and the central element of Ryan’s budget, Democrats actually have something better than a vision. They have a law, and for all its flaws, their law actually makes some sense. Republicans don’t have a law, and their vision, at this point, doesn’t make any sense at all.
After a bruising, nearly triumphant fight through Congress at the end of last year, Sen. Dick Durbin is preparing to reintroduce the bill this session, his office confirmed last week. The legislation seeks to create a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who grew up in the United States; it surged ahead on the congressional agenda last session as key Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, courted Latino voters in a hard-fought electoral cycle.
There are however already murmurs of disquiet among immigrant youth advocates who fear that the version of the bill Durbin plans to introduce will be far more narrow than the one they backed even a year ago. The bill’s scope has shrunk significantly as its congressional backers have sought bipartisan support.
Abdollahi said Durbin’s decision to stick with a less than ideal version of the bill was “the major dilemma” in front of DREAM Act activists right now.
“If Democrats are not going to advocate for a stronger bill and just give in to Republican demands, then we have to recognize that Democrats are not going to have the backbone they need to have,” Abdollahi said.
Others, however, acknowledge the realities of a shrinking political playing field for moderate Republicans, whose votes will be required to pass any version of the bill.
The DREAM Act is crafted to benefit a select portion of the immigrant population— undocumented youth who were raised in this country—and represents a break from the longstanding conventional wisdom that immigration reform must happen through a broad, comprehensive bill. It would allow undocumented youth who clear a host of hurdles and commit at least two years to the military or higher education an opportunity to qualify for citizenship. According to the White House, which was vocal in its support of the bill last year, the most recent version would benefit 65,000 youth. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country right now.
The DREAM Act has been around for over a decade, and it’s been steadily narrowed with each successive iteration. The earliest versions did not include a military service provision—one could become eligible for citizenship with community service, which seems like a quaint impossibility in today’s highly polarized anti-immigrant climate. In the last days of the 2010 lame duck session, several key concessions were made that narrowed the bill’s scope in significant ways: the probationary period was upped to 10 years from six and the age cap was slashed from 35 to 30 years old.
The bill’s advocates knew at the time those changes would haunt them if the legislation failed. “Concessions are made in an effort to get votes,” Fisseha said, “and if you can’t get those votes, where you leave off always becomes the starting point in the following Congress.”
U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is asking for a federal investigation into the surprise discovery of 14,000 votes in Waukesha County for the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.
The Wisconsin Democrat sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Friday night asking him to assign the Justice Department Public Integrity Section. It oversees the federal prosecution of election crimes.
“Following this week’s election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, numerous constituents have contacted me expressing serious doubt that this election was a free and fair one,” Baldwin said in the letter. “They fear, as I do, that political interests are manipulating the results.”
Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said Saturday in an email that the department would review the letter. He declined further comment.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus said “human error” resulted in the miscount there. The change gave incumbent Justice David Prosser a 7,500-vote edge over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.
Last year, Koch Industries began employing New Media Strategies (NMS), an Internet PR firm that specializes in “word-of-mouth marketing” for major corporations including Coca-Cola, Burger King, AT&T, Dodge and Ford. It appears that, ever since the NMS contract was inked with Koch, an NMS employee began editing the Wikipedia page for “Charles Koch,” “David Koch,” “Political activities of the Koch family,” and “The Science of Success” (a book written by Charles). Under the moniker of “MBMAdmirer,” NMS employees edited Wikipedia articles to distance the Koch family from the Tea Party movement, to provide baseless comparisons between Koch and conspiracy theories surrounding George Soros, and to generally delete citations to liberal news outlets. After administrators flagged the MBMAdmirer account as a “sock puppet” — one of many fake accounts used to manipulate new media sites — a subsequent sock puppet investigation found that MBMAdmirer is connected to a number of dummy accounts and ones owned by NMS employees like Jeff Taylor.
Update New Media Strategies at one point tried to lie about its affiliation with Koch Industries. The account “MBMAdmirer” wrote in December on Wikipedia: “I am a citizen who has read about and admires the Koch family. I was not pleased with the way that they have been presented in the media. And I thought that I could come to Wikipedia to try to make sure that there are balancing facts. Nothing I do is in coordination with Koch or authorized by Koch.”
One of two NPR stations in the Los Angeles area, KPCC-FM, suspended its regularly-scheduled Planned Parenthood spots on Friday, in response to Republican demands that Congress eliminate federal funding for the family planning group.
Program Director Craig Curtis explained in a Friday memo to staff members, “given that the budget debate in congress is focusing today on abortion in general and Planned Parenthood by extension,” running the spots “might raise questions in the mind of the “reasonable listener” regarding our editorial and sales practices.”
A “reasonable listener” might now have questions about the journalistic integrity of the station.
“There is nothing wrong with the spots per se,” Curtis said in his memo. It’s just that the station doesn’t want to make Republicans unhappy.
After weeks of promoting birther conspiracy, RNC chair calls Donald Trump to welcome him into the GOP fold
[N]ews organizations have been creating interactive graphics to illustrate information about the budget in ways that traditional narratives can’t.
The interactives help readers see the size and scope of President Obama’s proposed budget and, in some cases, compare it to the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan. Some interactives allow users to decide who gets what. The New York Times, for instance, created a “You fix the budget” graphic that lets readers make their own choices about what programs they would or wouldn’t cut, and how they would or wouldn’t adjust tax rates.
Readers can use this interactive to select a spending category and then compare the GOP proposal with Obama’s.
“It’s one of the simplest types of graphics that we do, but in this case, the story really needed exactly that,” said Information Designer Wilson Andrews, noting that the Post has received emails from readers expressing their appreciation for the graphic. “The budget story has dominated the week’s news, and much of what’s been written has compared spending numbers between the proposals. Actually visualizing that comparison can be a lot more tangible for readers.”
“What this graphic does that a story cannot is to focus the eye on the differences, per category, of the two different approaches to government’s funding and its responsibility,” said David Beard, National Journal’s digital editor and deputy editor-in-chief. “The most striking difference in this graphic is with Medicaid, a much, much slimmer slice of the budget Ryan proposed than the Obama version. What would that difference mean for our society?’’
This interactive shows not just the overall cost of each program, but how much it works out to for the average American household.
“Once you start throwing around numbers in the billions, I think people tend to not have a great sense of the relative size of things — all the numbers sound huge,” said Matthew Ericson, deputy graphics editor at the Times. “But if you show that the National Park Service’s discretionary budget of $2.89 billion works out to $25.45 per household, it’s easier to understand just how small that is compared to something like Social Security, which is $7,112 per household, or $808 billion in total.”
This interactive compares the proposed budget for 2012 with 2011 GOP budget cuts. It also features a simplified primer on the federal budget process.
“The visualizations offer the user a quick snapshot of the priorities of the budget request,” said Shazna Nessa, the AP’s director of interactive. “The sizes and colors of the shapes inform faster and more easily. Imagine having to deal with that data in a table or a spreadsheet; it would be hard to compare the numbers quickly, not to mention, dry. These visual methods make the topic more accessible.”
To corporate media outlets, nothing says “news” quite like a lightly attended Tea Party rally.
- Congress Seating Charts
- Congressional Schedule
- Congressional leadership and committees
- Leadership of the current Congress -- with photos
- For an alphabetized listing of Members of Congress, see our Congressional Directory.
- Terms of Congress
- Congressional Documents Online
- Congressional Pay and Perks
- How to Contact Congress
By looking at phenomena as diverse as H.I.V. infection and English irregular verbs, [Martin A. Nowak, the director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard] has formally defined five distinct mechanisms that have helped give rise to cooperative behavior, from the first molecules that joined to self-replicate, to the first cells that formed multicellular organisms, all the way to human societies, which exhibit a degree of cooperation unmatched in all creation. In Nowak’s view, figuring out how cooperation comes about and breaks down, as well as actively pursuing the “snuggle for existence,” is the key to our survival as a species.
At the heart of Nowak’s ideas is the haunting game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. The game involves two accomplices who are caught for a crime, interrogated separately and offered a deal. If one player incriminates the other, or “defects,” while the second remains silent, or “cooperates,” he will be given a sentence of one year, while the other player gets four. If both remain silent, they will be sentenced to only two years, but if both defect, they will receive three years. The rational choice for either prisoner is to defect, getting three years — though had both cooperated, they’d have been out in two. In the absence of trust, reason can be self-destructive.
In “SuperCooperators,” Nowak argues that two of his mechanisms, indirect reciprocity and group selection, played an important role in human evolution.
In the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling about a school-choice program in Arizona, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion leaves intact a program that has disbursed almost $350 million of state funds, most of it to schools choosing students on the basis of religion.
The holding all but overrules a landmark decision of the Warren court, Flast v. Cohen. As Justice Elena Kagan says powerfully in her first dissent, “by ravaging Flast in this way,” the majority “damages one of this nation’s defining constitutional commitments.”
The First Amendment’s establishment clause — “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” — is meant to protect citizens even when they are not harmed. Before, under Flast, a taxpayer could ask a court to enforce this central right. Now, under this ruling, a taxpayer all but can’t, and any government can use the tax system to avoid challenges to financing of religion.
Justice Kennedy, in an opinion clearly intended to overturn legal precedent, says that the program’s financing comes from taxpayers taking advantage of this credit, not from the state, so the taxpayers bringing the lawsuit can claim no harm from the state and lacked standing to sue. To Justice Kagan, “this novel distinction,” has “as little basis in principle as it has in our precedent.” Whether a state finances a program with cash grants or targeted tax breaks, the effect is the same. Taxpayers bear the cost.
Since the Flast case, she writes, “no court — not one — has differentiated between these sources of financing in deciding about standing.” In five cases where taxpayers challenged tax expenditures, the court has dealt with the merits “without questioning the plaintiffs’ standing.” The court has relied on some of these decisions as “exemplars of jurisdiction” in other cases. (“Pause on that for a moment,” the justice entreats.)
When this case was argued last fall, the convolutions of the Arizona program seemed intended to mask its violation of the Constitution. The court’s ruling is another cynical sleight of hand, which will reduce access to federal courts while advancing endorsement of religion.
The boisterous chant “We are union! We are one!” echoed throughout the state Capitol on Friday as thousands of union members protested budget cuts in what was the largest labor rally this legislative session.
The event attracted thousands of demonstrators, some who traveled hours from cities such as Bellingham and Spokane, to demand that lawmakers end corporate tax breaks to solve the multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.
It was a familiar message to state lawmakers a day before the House is expected to vote on a 2011-2013 operating budget that includes $4.4 billion in spending cuts. The Senate plans to release its budget proposal next week.
“If 20 people say something, the legislators might think, ‘Well people don’t really care,’ ” said Sola Raynor, a Spokane social worker and a member of the Washington Federation of State Employees.
“But if thousands come, lawmakers will see that they’re a lot of people in the state of Washington who care about public services.”
Rev. Peter Laarman, Progressive Christians Uniting:
Competent journalist friends of mine have been doing good reporting lately on the unholy intersections between conservative religion and conservative political ideology within Tea Party and Republican circles. Whereas lazy corporate media types tried to convince us that the Tea Party marks a break with Religious Right dominance inside the GOP, it was always obvious to serious observers that an anti-tax gospel has been a major feature of Religious Right teaching for decades. And thus it was equally obvious that the smarmy Ralph Reeds of this world would surely find their place in any new Grand Coalition of anti-government activists.
As Jeff Sharlet has chronicled in two brilliant books, the single most powerful religious group in U.S. political life--the secretive conservative Christian group known as The Family--got its start by mobilizing powerful captains of industry to oppose the growth of unions and to resist pro-union legislation during the 1930s. It’s not really hard to show how bad religion and a virulent anti-government ideology have functioned as soul mates, if you can pardon the expression, for a very long time.
I have been calling this “bad religion,” but I should be more precise and call it what it really is: domesticated religion--religion that has become captive to peculiarly American ideas about the sanctity of private property and the unquestioned moral virtue of entrepreneurial culture. It is religion that forgets the essential point that we belong to each other--and that we truly are each other’s keepers. Noted environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben sometimes refers to American Christianity as “Franklinity” on account of the huge numbers of U.S. Christians who believe that Franklin’s “God helps those who help themselves” can be found in the Bible.
The good news is that the more toxic expressions of the anti-government gospel will be slowly losing their power. Younger white evangelical Christians are almost as likely as other young adults, for example, to see a positive role for government in lifting people out of dire poverty and in providing opportunities for all to thrive. Younger Catholics are rediscovering the noble social justice teachings of their faith. Conservative Christians in communities of color are consistently less hostile to government than their white counterparts--and their numbers are growing.
And there is more good news from the organizing front. Together with a number of interfaith partners, I have been working for the past year to create a “network of networks” called California Faith Action that will do two things. It will rally people of good will from all faith traditions to advocate much more powerfully for the needs of young Californians and of the most vulnerable Golden State residents. But California Faith Action will also bring communities of faith more directly into the arena of systemic or constitutional reform to ensure that an ideologically-committed political minority cannot continue to blight our state’s future.
We have already discovered that one of the most powerful tools in our Faith Action toolkit will be simple basic information on issues like wealth distribution, comparative tax rates and tax trends over time, and how various voter-approved initiatives and ballot measures that were perfectly well-intentioned at the outset have turned out to have perverse results. As I tell faith audiences throughout the state, our issue in California is not really a Left-Right issue, but a Top-Bottom issue in which enormous corporate and private wealth has effectively “seceded” from the state--causing the rest of us to fight for crumbs.
This is language that people of faith can understand. Among the Abrahamic faith traditions, Judaism and Islam have always put support for the common good at the very center of ethical concern. … But moderate-to-conservative American Christians cannot escape the reality that Jesus preached and practiced solidarity with the poor and warned against the perils of private accumulation at the expense of the commons; Jesus did not show contempt for the poor while deferring to the rich and powerful. Somewhere deep down all Christians, even the more conservative ones, also recognize that private charity is ultimately no substitute for public justice.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Eastern Congo is the rape capital of the world and the worst place on earth to be a woman. Katharine Viner reports on a radical new centre that promises its citizens a better future
“When you look at me, what do you see?” she asks, with the bold delivery of the born orator, the preacher, the leader. “Do you see me as an animal? Because you are letting animals treat me like one. You, the government, if it was your children, would you stop it? You, you white people: if this violence was happening in your country, would you end it?” She speaks with the kind of fury and focus rarely seen in western politics. Hundreds of other survivors of sexual violence in the audience cheer wildly.
Jeanne (who has requested her last name be withheld for her protection) is not the only speaker here at the opening of City of Joy, a centre for survivors of rape in Bukavu. There is the founder, the New York playwright, author of The Vagina Monologues and activist Eve Ensler. There is Obama’s ambassador for women and girls, a prominent congresswoman, someone from the UN. But it is Jeanne who steals the show. And this is the premise on which the centre is founded: that even the most traumatised and brutalised people need not be mere passive recipients of foreign aid, but can in fact become political leaders.
Parents and educators across the country now understand that asking for permission is just not getting us where we need to go. With that new understanding has come new types of action, including a tremendous effort this summer for the Save Our Schools March&National Call to Action in Washington D.C. July 28-July 31, 2011.
This may be the moment we’ve been working towards, when enough of us, from enough communities throughout the country have reached the same level of frustration, fueled by the knowledge of what is both possible and necessary for the education of our kids. We’re the only ones we can count on to make it happen.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“You have no friends. You have no enemies. You only have teachers.” ~ Zen Proverb