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The cuts are broken down by area of appropriations, which can get a bit confusing. Normal people don’t group commerce, justice and science together in their heads, but for funding purposes, Congress does. And as you can see in the chart, they took a big whack — total funding is down 12 percent from the president’s 2011 funding request. The other big losers? Labor, health and human services and education, which lost about 8 percent, and transportation, housing and urban development, which took a 20 percent hit.
I’ve built the chart to offer two different looks at the cuts: The blue bar compares the CR to the levels we actually appropriated in 2010, while the green line compares to the president’s budget request for 2011. One interesting discrepancy jumps out when you do that: Defense is one of the few areas that actually got a funding boost against 2010 levels, but President Obama had asked for such a large increase in the Defense Department’s funding this year that they took the largest hit compared to his request.
H.R.1473 -- Text: Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011
Making appropriations for the Department of Defense and the other departments and agencies of the Government for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, and for other purposes.
Here’s AP reporter Andrew Taylor digging into the $38 billion in spending cuts that Republicans agreed to and finding that an awful lot of it is smoke and mirrors:
Instead, the cuts that actually will make it into law are far tamer, including [...] $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.
….The spending measure reaps $350 million by cutting a one-year program enacted in 2009 for dairy farmers then suffering from low milk prices. Another $650 million comes by not repeating a one-time infusion into highway programs passed that same year. And just last Friday, Congress approved Obama’s $1 billion request for high-speed rail grants — crediting themselves with $1.5 billion in savings relative to last year.
About $10 billion of the cuts comes from targeting appropriations accounts previously used by lawmakers for so-called earmarks….Republicans had already engineered a ban on earmarks when taking back the House this year.
Republicans also claimed $5 billion in savings by capping payments from a fund awarding compensation to crime victims. Under an arcane bookkeeping rule — used for years by appropriators — placing a cap on spending from the Justice Department crime victims fund allows lawmakers to claim the entire contents of the fund as budget savings. The savings are awarded year after year.
And this report from CBS News notes two other phantom cuts: $1.7 billion left over from the 2010 census and $2.2 billion in subsidies for health insurance co-ops that are going to be funded anyway via the healthcare reform bill. This stuff alone adds up to $27.4 billion, but it’s money that wouldn’t have been spent anyway. I suppose you can argue that some of it might have gotten reallocated if it hadn’t been removed legislatively, but I doubt that the tea party true believers are in a mood to buy that. If these reports are correct, the bill contains only about $11 billion in hard cuts. Basically, it looks as if the tea partiers may have gotten snookered by their own side.
The historic $38 billion in budget cuts resulting from at-times hostile bargaining between Congress and the Obama White House were accomplished in large part by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway.
Such moves permitted Obama to save favorite programs — Pell grants for college students, health research and “Race to the Top” aid for public schools, among others — from Republican knives, according to new details of the legislation released Tuesday morning.
And big holes in foreign aid and Environmental Protection Agency accounts were patched in large part. Republicans also gave up politically treacherous cuts to the Agriculture Department’s food inspection program.
The details of the agreement reached late Friday night just ahead of a deadline for a partial government shutdown reveal a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially “score” as cuts to pay for spending elsewhere, but often have little to no actual impact on the deficit.
As a result of that sleight of hand, Obama was able to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when the chamber approved a bill slashing this year’s budget by more than $60 billion. In doing so, the White House protected favorites like the Head Start early learning program, while maintaining the maximum Pell grant of $5,550 and funding for Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative that provides grants to better-performing schools. Food aid to the poor was preserved, as were housing subsidies.
Instead, the cuts that actually will make it into law are far tamer, including cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs that can’t be spent because of restrictions set by other legislation. Another $3.5 billion comes from unused bonus money for states that enroll more uninsured children in a program providing health care to children of lower-income families.
One of the hardest hit institutions is the Environmental Protection Agency, whose power Republicans have sought to curtail in recent years through a variety of legislative means. The agency will receive $1.6 billion less in funding than current levels, a 16 percent drop, including a $49 million reduction in climate change programs and $149 million cut to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In a press release, Senate Appropriation Committee Democrats noted that the EPA cuts, while tough, were nearly $1.6 billion less than Republicans’ original proposal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also saw a $142 million reduction in funding and is prohibited from creating a Climate Service.
In addition to programs protecting the environment, programs aimed at boosting energy efficiency for power plants and transportation also were major targets. Energy efficiency and renewable energy were cut by $438 million while fossil energy R&D was reduced by $226 million and nuclear energy funding was cut by $56 million. Funding for high speed rail, all $2.9 billion of it [note: see update below], was zeroed out entirely. In the wake of the Japan disaster, energy security appeared to catch a reprieve — the National Nuclear Security Administration actually saw an increase of $697 million in funding.
“It doesn’t address in any serious or courageous way the issue of the near and medium-term deficit,” David Stockman told me in a Thursday phone interview. “I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes.”
Stockman, who directed Ronald Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget, approves of Ryan’s entitlement proposals, but breaks faith over taxes and the GOP’s unwillingness to slash defense spending. And he laughs off the notion that the plan will do anything about unemployment, let alone dramatically reduce it, which Ryan and his plan claim it will. “This isn’t 1980. It’s not morning again in America. it’s late afternoon, or possibly even sunset.”
On this score, Doug Holtz-Eakin — a former McCain and George W. Bush economic adviser — said Ryan’s plan is “implausibly optimistic.”
The libertarian economist Tyler Cowen wrote up a point-by-point critique of the plan. His principle objections are that the plan doesn’t do anything to control health care costs, and cutting Medicaid is neither good policy, nor urgent. Indeed, he notes, “Medicaid should be one of the last parts of the health care budget to cut.” Emphasis in the original.
One of the more interesting subplots in the spending wars is that it’s triggered an intra-Dem battle over the real legacy of Bill Clinton’s successful mid-1990s battle with Newt over spending and Medicare. “Centrist” Dems argue that Clinton proved Obama should embrace entitlement cuts to win back the middle of the country.
But another camp of former Clintonites insists the opposite: Clinton won because he drew a bright line on Medicare and used it to defend an expansive vision of liberal Democratic governance.
I just spoke with former Clinton adviser Paul Begala, who is in the latter camp, and he offered another twist on this debate. He said the lesson of Clinton’s success is that Obama should elevate the moral dimensions of the budget debate, by telling the public as clearly as possible what he and Republicans respectively stand for.
Begala noted that the best way to accomplish this was to make sure that the Bush tax cuts for the rich remains front and center, as a way of revealing the stark difference between GOP and Dem priorities.
“The budget is a profoundly moral document,” Begala said. “It says, `This is what’s most important to me.’”
“Democrats are at their best not simply when they say, `Republicans are mean — they want to cut Medicare,’” Begala said. He noted that the correct message is: “They want to cut Medicare because they want to give tax cuts to the rich. That’s what’s indefensible.”
“It’s the priorities,” Begala continued. “If our message is just, `They want to cut Medicare’ then their answer is, `We’re broke, we have to cut something.’ Then Americans say, `Yeah, good point.’”
To be sure, Clinton did in fact push for welfare reform and a balanced budget in order to restore his fiscal credibility with middle-of-the-road voters. But as former Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman noted to me yesterday, once he had done that, he pivoted to an aggressive defense of the liberal vision of the social contract embodied in Lyndon Johnson’s Medicare promise to America. Crucially, he defended that vision in moral terms, frequently arguing that the GOP’s priorities were an affront to our “values.”
That’s the part of the story that keeps getting lost — and the one that may have the most instructive value today.
Progressive Caucus People’s Budget FY12 Memorandum
Eliminates National Deficit by 2021
Progressive Caucus co-chairs Raúl M. Grijalva and Keith Ellison sent a memo to House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen April 6 outlining the Caucus’ top budget priorities. The letter and attached budget information are available at this link. An op-ed by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University endorsing the People’s Budget is available at this link (off-site).
The CPC proposal:
• Eliminates the deficits and creates a surplus by 2021
• Puts America back to work with a “Make it in America” jobs program
• Protects the social safety net
• Ends the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
• Is FAIR (Fixing America’s Inequality Responsibly)
What the proposal accomplishes:
• Primary budget balance by 2014.
• Budget surplus by 2021.
• Reduces public debt as a share of GDP to 64.1% by 2021, down 16.5 percentage points from
a baseline fully adjusted for both the doc fix and the AMT patch.
• Reduces deficits by $5.6 trillion over 2012-21, relative to this adjusted baseline
• Outlays equal to 22.2% of GDP and revenue equal 22.3% of GDP by 2021.
Responding to an unconfirmed Wall Street Journal article suggesting that President Obama might be willing to negotiate with Republicans over increasing the debt ceiling limit, Jon Chait says:
There’s a massive weakness in [the GOP] position that Democrats have not tried to exploit. Republicans are winning leverage by communicating their willingness to do something really unpopular, but they are communicating this inside Washington without having to communicate it outside Washington. If Obama insists he will only sign a clean debt limit bill, and will negotiate budget changes as part of the budget, what do Republicans do? They become solely responsible for the consequences of refusing to raise the debt ceiling. Let them go explain that to their business backers.
Really unpopular? Here’s a poll in January showing that 71% of Americans oppose increasing the debt ceiling. Here’s a poll in February putting the number at 62%. Here’s another one from March putting it at 60%. And here’s one from April that put it at 62% after it was explained that raising the debt ceiling meant the United States might default on its debt.
Now, I don’t think these numbers will stay this high once the debt ceiling fight takes center stage and everyone gets a better idea of what it really means to refuse to raise it. Still, like it or not, liberals have long since lost the public opinion battle over the deficit. Poll after poll makes it clear that most people want to cut federal spending and don’t want to raise the debt ceiling. Sure, it’s a vague sentiment, and it falls apart when you ask them what they want to cut, but the fact remains that the public is largely on the Republican side of this battle right now. I happen to agree with Chait and others that Obama would be better off sticking to his guns and demanding a clean bill, but it’s also worth acknowledging that this strategy starts from the bottom of a pretty deep hole. As usual, the liberal community has done a crappy job of selling the public on our perspective. Now we’re paying the price.
[April 12], Equal Pay Day, marks the wage gap: the fact that full-time women workers earn 77 percent of what full-time male workers do. One major reason is job segregation by sex. Jobs themselves are gendered, such that women have a tendency to enter feminized occupations and men have a tendency to enter masculinized occupations. How severe is job segregation by sex? In 2010, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that about about 4 in 10 women work in jobs that are 75 percent female; the reverse is true for men.
Overall, masculinized occupations pay more. (This is a different kind of sexism, a sexism against feminine-coded things instead of against women, but sexism nonetheless… for example.) Job segregation, then, contributes to the pay gap between men and women.
And the pay gap isn’t just a women’s problem, it’s a burden on families. In 2010, when women make up nearly half the workforce, two-thirds of American families with children rely on women’s wages as a significant portion of the family income. As we emerge from one of the worst recessions in American history, when families are struggling to pay their bills and save for the future, pay inequality only deepens that struggle and hampers our nation’s ability to fully recover. The last thing our families can afford is to take home less pay because of discrimination.
President Obama understands that different pay for employees based solely on gender is simply wrong. That’s why the first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act empowering female employees by restoring basic protections against pay discrimination. As Lilly explains, she not only lost approximately $224,000 in salary due to discrimination but she lost significant amounts more because the lower paychecks were used to calculate her pension and Social Security benefits.
Until Congress sends President Obama a bill he can sign into law, we’re doing all we can to support and empower women and smart employers. The White House convened an Equal Pay Task Force to educate employers and employees about their rights, ensure compliance with equal pay laws and encourage agencies to improve coordination and enforcement efforts at the federal level. The President also created the White House Council on Women and Girls, comprised of Cabinet members and heads of sub-Cabinet agencies; the Council is charged with advancing the rights and needs of women, including equal pay.
What did you find out about your schools?
BRYAN BURNS: That most of the buildings are uncertified. Most construction has been illegally done.
ANNA WERNER: Illegal under a state law known as the Field Act, which says all school construction projects must be certified as earthquake-resistant. The law was put into place after the devastating 1933 Long Beach earthquake. Seventy schools collapsed, and 120 people died.
And when Burns and fellow resident Jeff Gananian looked further, they found structural work was done on their school without the state’s approval.
MAN: That’s when the lightbulb went on. And we begin to realize that there are potentially thousands and thousands of other projects.
BRYAN BURNS: People won’t find out until a disaster happens or an earthquake happens. And at that point, it’s too late. I don’t want to see kids get killed.
ANNA WERNER: And the risks are statewide.
A California Watch investigation finds thousands of school projects don’t comply with the Field Act. And those schools aren’t just in small districts like Pescadero. The Los Angeles Unified School District finished this new middle school just six years ago, yet state records indicate that huge window walls, three stories high, may not be properly anchored.
Even the original architect on that project, Jim Smith, says those windows, as constructed, could pose a risk to students in an earthquake.
Gov. Jerry Brown plans to sign legislation that would require California utilities to get one-third of their power from renewable sources, giving the state the most aggressive alternative energy mandate in the U.S.
Under the bill, California utilities and other power providers would have until the end of 2020 to draw 33 percent of their power from solar panels, windmills, landfill gases, small hydroelectric plants and other renewable sources.
Supporters said the increase from the current 20 percent target will reassure investors that demand for renewable energy will grow, fueling a field that has been one of the few growth spots for California’s economy during the recession.
Research conducted at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine in Dallas suggests that it’s never too late for women to reap the benefits of moderate aerobic exercise. In a 3-month study of 16 women age 60 and older, brisk walking for 30-50 minutes three or four times per week improved blood flow through to the brain as much as 15%.
Federal health officials are beginning a new push to improve hospital safety _ aiming to save 60,000 lives over the next three years and save money at the same time.
Hospitals are dangerous places, rife with infections and opportunities for medical mistakes. Yet some hospitals have dramatically reduced those harms, and lowered their bills as patients go home faster.
Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the new national Partnership for Patients will help other hospitals adopt those proven safety strategies. The goal is to cut hospital-caused harms by 40 percent and hospital readmissions by 20 percent within three years. The work is funded by $1 billion from the new health care law, but has the potential to save Medicare up to $10 billion in that same time.
A top donor to Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) gubernatorial campaign has been charged with multiple violations of campaign finance law, reports the Associated Press. Prosecutors today have charged William Gardner, the CEO of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Company, with one count of excessive political donations and another related to unlawful political contributions. Prosecutors claim Gardner used his employees and family members to funnel $44,000 to Walker during the GOP primary. He is accused of then illegally reimbursing the donors with company money. Walker has returned the contributions. Notably, prosecutors charged Gardner because the law prohibits direct donations from corporations to candidate committees. However, the Citizens United decision allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts in support of a candidate for office. If Gardner had funneled the company donations through a group like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or another front group, or if his company had taken out ads in support of Walker, his actions would not have attracted legal scrutiny.
A whopping 72% of California voters support reducing the penalty for possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use from a felony to a misdemeanor.
A freelance writer who successfully sued newspapers and magazines for copyright infringement filed a class-action lawsuit against the Huffington Post and AOL on Tuesday that seeks compensation for hundreds of unpaid contributors to the online publication.
Jonathan Tasini is the lead plaintiff in the suit against the news site, which AOL bought for $315 million in February. His suit, which he filed in a New York court Tuesday, seeks $105 million in damages in behalf of bloggers and other Huffington Post writers who submitted work for which they weren’t paid.
Tasini, in an interview, said HuffPost was engaging in breach of contract with its contributors because of an “implied promise” of compensation. “Some people were given some promises about future payments,” he said, declining to provide specifics.
He said his suit alleges that HuffPost’s owners, including Huffington herself, engaged in “unjust enrichment” by building a business on uncompensated labor and by accepting AOL’s buyout offer. “AOL would not have paid $315 million without the value [unpaid writers] created,” he said. “Arianna Huffington believes she and only she should pocket the money for the value created.”
Tasini, a labor writer, has contributed more than 250 blog posts to HuffPost since 2005.
In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Tasini and other five other freelancers who had sued the New York Times and other publications that had archived freelance articles in electronic databases without compensation. The case prompted publications to remove freelance contributions from online databases. The publishers and authors eventually agreed to an $18 million settlement, but that agreement was held up by years of further legal wrangling.
Watch Amy Goodman give a rousing speech about the power of the people to change the media:
[M]uch of the media coverage about the plan has presented Ryan’s proposal as a serious solution to long-term budget problems, or at least the starting point of a serious conversation about the topic.
In Time magazine (4/18/11), readers learned that Paul Ryan--described as having “jet black hair and a touch of Eagle Scout to him”--has
unveiled an ambitious package of huge budget cuts designed to dig the country out of its crippling debt crisis. For Ryan, reining in spending is nothing less than an act of patriotic valor.
The magazine also declared that he is “a PowerPoint fanatic with an almost unsettling fluency in the fine print of massive budget documents.”
Deep into the article, readers get this parenthetical warning:
(He’s also been criticized for peddling fuzzy math and rosy projections. A Washington Post factcheck deemed his budget full of “dubious assertions, questionable assumptions and fishy figures.”)
So someone with “an almost unsettling fluency in the fine print of massive budget documents” has presented a budget plan full of obvious problems.
How can both things be true?
For too many media outlets, probing the details of the plan is less important than telling an appealing political story: that finally someone has presented a “serious” budget proposal. Lacking evidence to demonstrate the plan’s seriousness, media cite Ryan’s biography in order to supply the necessary credibility.
Thus the Washington Post (4/6/11) explained that Ryan is “wonky” and “an unlikely revolutionary.” The Post added that “Ryan studied economics in college, and in Congress he has embraced the weedy issues of the federal budget.” The Post’s lead wondered if Ryan can “really manage the hardest sales job in U.S. politics.” The paper seemed to think so:
So far, the sales pitch appears to be classic Ryan. He will make his case with earnestness and a hope that a quiet explanation of budget math can swing the country in a way that previous politicians could not.
Ryan’s “budget math” relies on, among other things, wildly implausible estimates concerning unemployment and government spending (Conscience of a Liberal, 4/6/11). As salesman to the corporate media, it seems Ryan is largely succeeding.
He’s been making the media swoon for months now, as the January 25 New York Times made clear:
He is the guy with the piercing blue eyes, love for heavy metal on his iPod and a reputation among Democrats, including President Obama, as a Republican who has put forward budget ideas that are thoughtful and serious, if not in sync with their own.
New York Times columnist David Brooks (4/4/11) called Ryan’s budget plan “the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes…. The Ryan budget will not be enacted this year, but it will immediately reframe the domestic policy debate.” Brooks went on to declare that “the Ryan budget will put all future arguments in the proper context,” closing with this: “Paul Ryan has grasped reality with both hands. He’s forcing everybody else to do the same.”
Even those who disagreed with Ryan’s plan found ways to praise it. In Time (4/18/11), Fareed Zakaria wrote that “Ryan’s plan is deeply flawed, but it is courageous.” Zakaria adds that “Ryan makes magical assumptions about growth--and thus tax revenues,” and that other aspects are “highly unrealistic.” But still he concludes that he applauds it as “a serious effort to tackle entitlement programs.”
And on NBC’s Chris Matthews Show (4/10/11), pundit Gloria Borger declared:”We have to give Paul Ryan an awful lot of credit because, as all of our august colleagues have said, yes, it does define the conversation for 2012.”
In a piece for Time.com, reporter Michael Grunwald (4/7/11) noted the incongruity of such praise and wondered, “What’s so brave about fuzzy math in the service of Tea Party ideology”?
This illustrates one of the awkward ironies of corporate media “factcheck” articles. If the essential claims made by a politician are in fact wildly misleading, then it’s not nearly enough for that to be said one time in one brief article. That assessment should be part of every single report on Ryan’s budget, if journalists intend to do their job.
Last week, the U.S. news media turned inward.
For the first time in nearly two months, a domestic- — rather than international — crisis led the news as the threat of a government shutdown (averted at nearly the last second) was the No. 1 story. A closely related topic, the overall economy, driven by Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial 2012 budget blueprint, was the second-biggest topic.
The two domestic issues combined to fill 40% of the newshole from April 4-10, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The two overseas events that have been dominating the news in recent weeks — turmoil in the Middle East and the earthquake in Japan — accounted for less than half as much attention (18%). Just one week earlier, those foreign stories accounted for 50% of the overall coverage compared with only 15% for the economy and the threat of a shutdown.
That’s certainly been the preferred Beltlway press storyline about the Republican, first-term governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie: “People” are responding to the conservative’s “plain talk” and fueling his “astonishing” political “ascent.” (He might run for president!)
Christie has been showered with glowing, feel-good press coverage over the last year as pundits and reporters have gone out their way to stress that voters are the ones driving the bandwagon. (Not them.)
The problem is that polling has never really supported the “people” claim. At home, Christie enjoys roughly the same approval rating that Obama does nationally; a rating the press does not toast when it’s attached to the president. And according to one survey this year, if Christie faced Obama in 2012, the Republican would lose his home state by nearly 20 points.
Yet the press has stubbornly persisted with its preferred Christie narrative: He’s a rising star in Americans politics!
Now a new Gallup poll suggests most “people” don’t even know who Christie is. And of those who do, only a small plurality view him favorably.
If members of the media want to cheerlead for Christie, that’s their right. Just don’t hide behind the “people” in the process.
But, despite being at its post-World War II peak, MIC spending is now more vulnerable than at any time in the past 20 years when the collapse of the Soviet Union opened a window for a “peace dividend” that was partially realized during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations when the overall military budget from 1989 through 1998 fell 28 percent. Instead of lamenting that we’re helpless in the face of the MIC juggernaut that has consumed $7.2 trillion since 1998, that weakness should be exploited to the max in the budget debates that will consume much of the rest of 2011.
Our momentary advantage comes from a convergence of views that spans a good portion of the political spectrum combined with widespread hawkishness on deficit spending. While any immediate impact is likely to be small, now is our best chance to set the foundation for a vast reduction in the military spending from 2013-14 and onward.
Candidate Obama had an ability to tell a story of America that captured national striving, greatness, accomplishment, and triumph without ignoring struggles, disappointments, disagreement and loss. Take, for example, the night he was elected president of the United States. Barack Obama told a story about an African-American woman, Ann Nixon Cooper. Cooper was 106 years old, lived in Georgia and vigorously supported his candidacy. She was born in 1902, a time that President-elect Obama described as “just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky, when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons—because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.” During her life Cooper was a civil rights advocate, a community leader, a mother and a wife.
Many progressives kept waiting for the great storyteller to emerge throughout the summer of healthcare reform debate. The Tea Party effectively rewrote American history as they equated efforts of an enthusiastically elected government to pass a popularly mandated reform with the founding struggle against an oppressive monarchy. But there were few effective, penetrating tales of Americans who needed, wanted and supported reform. The Democrats proved incapable of linking health reform to great American traditions of civic responsibility or care for the vulnerable.
Similar failure of narrative have been egregious during the current budget fight. Once again the extremist elements of the GOP have managed to tell the most legible and convincing stories. Republicans hammered home the idea that the national budget ought to mirror household budgets. “When the going gets rough,” the GOP says, “people have to tighten their budgets, the American government ought to do the same.” This is a compelling story. People hear it and think to themselves, “Yes, yes, I have cut my cable bill, cancelled my vacation, and started cutting coupons; the government should do the same.” This is a false equivalency. Household budgets are not the same as national ones.
The Democratic Party has largely failed to counter these well-spun fictions. The Democrats’ poor story-telling is going to have long-term consequences. It is a mistake to think false storylines are easily forgotten or that they can be swiftly overturned by simple recitation of countervailing facts. Today’s observance of the Civil War is a perfect example. Reconstruction was a short-lived effort and Confederates were given leave to (re)write the story of the Civil War from their own perspective. Thus Southern states still fly the flag of traitors and school kids are still taught that it was the “War of Northern Aggression.”
So what are we to do? It is time to take back the narrative. Time to tell our stories.
One organization with a commitment to precisely this kind of effective, progressive story telling is The Opportunity Agenda. Just last week The Opportunity Agenda celebrated its fifth anniversary. Their work focuses on framing our pressing national issues in the language and narrative of shared American values and identity. The Opportunity Agenda’s Communication Institute works with nonprofit leaders to give them comprehensive training on a variety of communications skills, including framing and narrative development, using public opinion and media research, and persuasive writing. Community leaders have a keen understanding of our challenges and important ideas about how to solve these problems, but they sometimes lack the ability to convey this information in memorable, convincing stories. The Opportunity Agenda is working to build our capacity to challenge the false narratives of the right and to offer our meaningful, substantive and engaging stories of our own.
Theirs is one of the crucial efforts to take back public space and to tell our stories. We need many more.
In a Pew poll released Tuesday, just 3% of adult Americans nationwide used positive terms to describe the budget negotiations, while 69% described the negotiations negatively. Additionally, 16% used neutral terms to express their feelings about the budget wrangling that nearly resulted in a government shutdown last week.
Pew surveyed 427 adults nationwide on April 9 and 10 — the two days immediately after the budget deal was announced — and asked for their thoughts on the entire negotiating process. “Ridiculous” was the most common response, followed by words including “disgusting,” “frustrating” and “stupid.”
The seventh most common response? “Bullshit.”
The poll also found that Americans blamed both parties and President Obama for almost allowing a temporary government shutdown. As to who gets the blame, 87% of respondents placed “a lot” or “some” blame on Democratic leaders, while 80% in part blamed Republican leaders, and 79% said the same about Obama.
Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker:
All along, the biggest stumbling block to N.P.V. has been that the first reaction of many Republicans is to suspect that it’s a nefarious plot to reverse the outcome of the 2000 election. That’s understandable. But there’s never been any good substantive reason for Republicans to oppose electing our Presidents the same way we elect our governors, our mayors, and our legislators. And now, with Bush v. Gore more than ten years in the past, growing numbers of Republicans are willing to examine the merits of having our national leader chosen in a national election after a national campaign on national issues.
So far, Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia, which have a combined total of seventy-four electoral votes, have enacted the N.P.V. bill, under which the compacting states pledge to cast their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. To bring the plan into effect, states with a combined total of two hundred and seventy must sign up. I don’t want to count any unhatched chickens, but if California throws its fifty-five votes into the ring, the United States will be nearly halfway there—47.8 per cent, to be exact.
Today, in Sacramento, the California Assembly’s Committee on Elections and Redistricting opens hearings on the bill.
Special video bonus, above: Assemblymen Nestande and Hill, along with N.P.V.’s Barry Fadem, explain why it’s a good idea.
PPP’s newest national poll finds that after a little more than 3 months in charge House Republicans have fallen so far out of favor with the American public that it’s entirely possible Democrats could take control of the House back next year.
43% of voters think that House Republicans are doing a worse job now than the Democrats did, compared to only 36% who think the GOP has brought an improvement. 19% think things are about the same. 62% of voters thinking that the Republicans have either made things worse or brought no improvement to an already unpopular Congress does not bode particularly well for the party.
46% of voters say that if there was an election for Congress today they would vote Democratic, compared to only 41% who would vote Republican. That five point advantage for Democrats is only a hair below the margin Republicans won by in the national popular vote last year. A victory of that magnitude for the Democrats next year would at the very least result in the party taking back a large number of the seats it lost last year, and it could be enough to take back the outright majority- hard to say at this point without knowing how good a number the GOP can do in redistricting.
The key to this strong movement back toward the Democrats right now is the same as the key to the strong movement away from the Democrats last year- fickle independents quickly growing unhappy with the party in power.
The first sign that the ground had shifted in political fundraising came last year, when conservative groups quickly took advantage of new court rulings to dramatically outspend their liberal rivals.
Now comes the next tremor, as Democratic activists finalize plans for an entirely new political infrastructure in 2012. A network of liberal groups formed in recent weeks is poised to spend $200 million or more in support of President Obama and other Democrats, in large part by raising unlimited donations from wealthy donors.
The effort — spearheaded by a small group of longtime congressional and White House aides — represents Democrats’ response to the electoral drubbing of 2010, when a coterie of conservative and business groups did a far better job than their opponents of adapting to a new campaign finance landscape.
The plans underscore the rapidly growing importance of political groups outside the party system, many of which are free to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money because of a landmark Supreme Court decision and other court rulings last year.
The rulings led to a new kind of political action committee, dubbed “super PACs,” which must disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission but are not bound by the financial limits that apply to political campaigns. House and Senate candidates are also free to solicit donations on behalf of such groups as long as they do not coordinate with those groups on how the money is spent.
The new Democratic strategy centers on building a network of such groups focused separately on the presidential race, Senate contests and opposition research. Another piece of the puzzle is expected to fall into place this week with the formation of a group to aid Democratic candidates in the House.
The strategy poses a political problem for Obama and other Democrats, who railed against unfettered spending by outside interest groups last year but didn’t pass legislation to curb them. At least two of the new Democratic groups — Majority PAC and American Bridge 21st Century — will include a nonprofit arm that will not have to disclose donors to the public; another group that’s focused on the presidential race could follow the same path.
When Elena Kagan was nominated by President Obama to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court, some observers speculated that she might be the long-sought liberal counterweight to Antonin Scalia, noted for his intelligence, his wit and his prose style. Of course it’s too early to tell, but Kagan’s dissent (her first) in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn would seem to give those distressed by the Court’s current direction some hope. (Scalia honed his rhetorical skills as a dissenter earlier in his career.)
What Kagan can do, however, is display a style of argument that marks her as someone to reckon with, both inside and outside the Court. And that she does, not by attempting to match Scalia’s sentence-by-sentence pyrotechnics (see for example his scintillating and prophetic dissent in Lawrence v. Texas) but by dismantling the majority’s reasoning piece by piece until there is nothing left standing.
If there is a rhetorical gesture that marks her performance (as biting scorn marks Scalia’s), it is “Oh yeah?” — as in, I see you assert X, but here is evidence, often from your own mouths, that X is a bad or inapposite or silly argument. Her weapon of choice is not the hit-and-run example (that is Scalia’s forte), but the extended example that open up and fills the landscape. To illustrate her point that the majority’s distinction between direct and indirect funding “is one in search of a difference,” she asks us to “imagine that the Federal Government decides that it should pay hundreds of millions to insolvent banks” (imagine that!) but finds itself resisted by taxpayers who don’t want “their hard-earned money to reward irresponsible behavior.”
Gov. John Kasich (R) has suffered mightily for his plan to restrict the collective bargaining rights of unionized state workers in Ohio. Though the Republican-controlled state legislature passed the law, known as Senate Bill 5, and Kasich has signed it, the optics of passage have been terrible and voters have turned on their new governor less than six months after he defeated a Democratic incumbent.
Now, as the fight over SB5 shifts to a massive ballot repeal initiative organized by labor, Democrats and progressives in Ohio, Kasich’s got a new problem on his hands: the support of the state Chamber of Commerce, which broke with tradition and made Kasich the first gubernatorial candidate to ever get its endorsement, is fracturing. The break is slight at the moment, but a growing number businesses who support the union cause and/or serve union members are breaking with the Chamber — and the man they helped propel into office.
Kasich needs a strong Chamber to help fight off the repeal initiative, which is expected to put SB5 in the hands of the voters this November. Unions have said they might spend as much as $20 million to strike down the law, and with no organized operation to defend the bill, opponents in Ohio expect the Chamber to pick up the cost.
The Tennessee Education Association delivered a petition Tuesday to state lawmakers that it said bears the signatures of nearly 9,000 teachers and supporters opposed to legislation that would end a requirement that school districts recognize teachers unions.
“Teachers believe that this legislation represents an attempt to silence our professional voices, leaving us with little opportunity to impact public education policy at the local and state level,” the organization says in a cover letter signed by its president, Gera Summerford.
It has been 150 years since the Civil War began with the first shots at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and in some respects views of the Confederacy and the role that slavery played in the events of 1861 still divide the public, according to a new national poll.
In the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners.
When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states’ rights, 52 percent of all Americas said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.
“The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that still exists a century and a half later,” CNN Polling Director Holland Keating said.
When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union.
Republicans were also most likely to say they admired the leaders of the southern states during the Civil War, with eight in 10 Republicans expressing admiration for the leaders in the South, virtually identical to the 79 percent of Republicans who admired the northern leaders during the Civil War.
By the end of March, seven states had enacted 15 new laws on these issues, including provisions that:
- expand the pre-abortion waiting period requirement in South Dakota to make it more onerous than that in any other state, by extending the time from 24 hours to 72 hours and requiring women to obtain counseling from a crisis pregnancy center in the interim;
- expand the abortion counseling requirement in South Dakota to mandate that counseling be provided in-person by the physician who will perform the abortion and that counseling include information published after 1972 on all the risk factors related to abortion complications, even if the data are scientifically flawed;
- require the health departments in Utah and Virginia to develop new regulations governing abortion clinics;
- revise the Utah abortion refusal clause to allow any hospital employee to refuse to “participate in any way” in an abortion;
- limit abortion coverage in all private health plans in Utah, including plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange; and
- revise the Mississippi sex education law to require all school districts to provide abstinence-only sex education while permitting discussion of contraception only with prior approval from the state.
In addition to these laws, more than 120 other bills have been approved by at least one chamber of the legislature, and some interesting trends are emerging. As a whole, the proposals introduced this year are more hostile to abortion rights than in the past: 56% of the bills introduced so far this year seek to restrict abortion access, compared with 38% last year. Three topics—insurance coverage of abortion, restriction of abortion after a specific point in gestation and ultrasound requirements—are topping the agenda in several states.
At the same time, legislators are proposing little in the way of proactive initiatives aimed at expanding access to reproductive health –related services. This stands in sharp contrast to recent years when a range of initiatives to promote comprehensive sex education, permit expedited STI treatment for patients’ partners and ensure insurance coverage of contraception were adopted. For the moment, at least, supporters of reproductive health and rights are almost uniformly playing defense at the state level.
Insurance Coverage of Abortion…more
Gestational Limits for Legal Abortion…more
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
The technologies that inflicted upon the world the ongoing tragedies in both the Gulf of Mexico and Japan serve a dangerous addiction, an addiction to blind optimism, a habituation of mind that allows us to dwell within provisional comfort zones but renders vast spaces of the world into deathrealms.
After each catastrophe, there ensues a scramble to contain the damage leveled, as, concurrently, the apologist of the present system explain the anomalous nature of the event. Yet, this much should be obvious: Attempting to clean up the mess, after it occurs, as oppose to altering the way of life that incurs the damage, is analogous to an addict believing a few days in detox will serve as a solution to his addiction.
In the same way drug dealers are reliant on an addict’s unwillingness to reflect on the carnage created in his life, as well as, the havoc reaped in the lives of those near him, engendered by his addiction, the small group of hyper-wealthy elites who benefit from the current system rely on collective cognitive dissidence (or, as it has been termed, the fear of fear itself) to dissuade the public at large from peering deeply into the pernicious situation.
One of an addict’s biggest obstacles is his optimism i.e., he is convinced he can figure out somehow, someway to use his drug of choice in a less destructive way…and, by reflex, rebels against the deepening sorrow that he must change.
When large, powerful corporations create messes beyond their ability to control the damage wrought by their institutional cupidity, those in charge spare no expense aggressively confronting the problem…that is, of course, by means of public relations blitzes aimed at the general public, while tsunami-sized waves of campaign contributions flood the coffers of elected officials.
Apropos, a school of thought has developed in which framing the perception of a catastrophe supersedes all other considerations. An after the fact casuistry, possessed of crackpot optimism, similar to the following, is affected: Dated technologies were at fault in that particular mishap, but, not to worry, in the near future, new innovations will safeguard against similar calamities.
Sure thing: The future will be bathed in the benign light of new technological wonders; our dread will be washed away by sparkling clean coal. Magical technological innovations will soon render nuclear power so safe that the only danger to the general public will be posed by the risk of being smothered by its profoundly huggable properties.
Such are the free market capitalist’s versions of End Time belief systems, a variation of the type of magical thinking that induces an individual to scan the empty sky, waiting for Jesus to float earthward and redeem the ceaseless folly perpetrated by mankind.
Slideshow of cool things people do to their cities. This is what I love to see! More, please!
The Day — Moby and MoveOn Protest Budget Cuts on the Poor
On April 18th, 1775, Paul Revere rode from Boston to Lexington, bringing together five hundred patriots to face the might of the British army.
On April 18th, 2011, fifty marchers will retrace Revere’s route in reverse from the Lexington Battle Green to the Paul Revere House, rallying with five hundred modern-day patriots joining together to fight for the future of community and public service.
We need you to use the form below this video to send a quick letter to President Obama letting him know that you support his position on Social Security and encouraging him to use his speech this Wednesday April 13th to fight for Social Security.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex. ~ Karl Marx