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by David Atkins, Hullabaloo
It is easy to get caught up in every rivulet of the default crisis as we approach the inevitable cascade of market panics followed by shock doctrine cuts to social services. It is easy to find fault with the Administration for its many flaws in handling the situation, and with Congressional Democrats as well.
But it’s also important to remember the big picture. The big picture is that America is being held hostage by a conservative movement that behaves much more as a bizarre religious cult, than a legitimate political entity. It is perhaps the most dangerous cult to have ever held sway over a major nation-state in modern times.
It is a cult founded on a number of dogmatic beliefs that have no basis in reality. These are people who believe that the inflection point of the Laffer Curve is somewhere in the low single digits, and that cutting taxes to insanely low levels will magically lead to revenue increases. These are people who believe that government itself is basically unnecessary but for a private property protection scheme, and that the unfettered market will provide all that society needs, and will dole out the appropriate price for all goods, wages and services with zero inflation through the magic of the market. These are people who believe it is impossible for humans to affect the climate, and that it is better for humans to attempt to magically adapt somehow to a much hotter world than to do anything to even curb the behaviors that might be making it hotter. These are people who believe that the proper way to punish corporate evildoers is to not punish them at all, because people will simply stop purchasing from corporations that poison their water and air and crash their economies--because the average consumer presumably has the secret market-given wisdom, and magic powers necessary to make financial choices to punish Koch Industries and Goldman Sachs if necessary. These are people who view Objectivism as a legitimate and serious philosophical discipline, and the fictional works of Ayn Rand as gospel to live by.
The fact that no country on earth has attempted to operate by these principles in the modern era is irrelevant. These people do not operate according to facts, but according to a deep and abiding faith in a wholly untested set of principles that can only be put into place upon the destruction of the current order.
As with any cult, the prospect of Armageddon is not troubling to them. Thus, the answer to exponentially rising healthcare costs is to do…nothing. The answer to rapidly increasing global temperatures is to do…nothing. The answer to a devastating default on the faith and credit of the United States is to do…nothing.
The possible outcomes of any and every imaginable crisis are only two: 1) give the cult everything it wants, when it wants it; or 2) do nothing and let the world burn. Which is fine, because once the flames have died down, the cult can at last build their Kingdom here as it is in Milton Friedman’s heaven. If healthcare costs explode, then the system collapses and the people who are left will only buy the healthcare they can afford at market prices. If global temperatures rise, then Social Darwinism will preserve the deserving. If the American economy collapses, then it can be rebuilt, minus the surplus population and those pesky Keynesian programs that kept it afloat and alive. 2nd Amendment remedies will deal with the lesser people who resist.
One can rage all day and night, and legitimately so, at the failures of the Left and Democrats over the last 30 years. It would take an encyclopedia to count them all.
But one also must remember that the American political system is facing perhaps the most dangerous enemy it has ever faced: an intransigent cult of individuals who simply do not care if everything goes down in flames around them, so long as the sacred tenets of the cult remain unchallenged.
The American political system was crafted by thinkers and philosophers deeply steeped in the Enlightenment. The Founders assumed that the competing elements of self-interest and cooperation, hinged on a delicate balance of powers, would be enough for men and women of Reason to, through fits and starts, ultimately find the best solutions for the problems facing the country based on evidence and argument. The system is built, in essence, upon the presumption of Reason. Of give and take. Of compromise.
The system was not built to handle a takeover of the system by an unreasoning cult. Big money has had outsize influence on our political system before, and the American People have managed to beat it back time and time again. But never before have we been faced with the sort of unified, concerted, intentionally reinforced delusion that besets our halls of power today.
Yes, it is true that the conflict within what passes for the Left in this nation is in part a fight over the power of Big Money to co-opt the political vehicles that are supposed to carry our preferred policies forward.
But even more than that, the conflict is about how to handle the metastasizing cancer that the market fundamentalist cult is perpetrating on our body politic. Some on the Left believe in the inherent intelligence and reasonableness of the American voter, and assume that by keeping a level head and appearing to be the most sensible person in the room, the public will ultimately reject the cult and its trappings, even if we must give significant ground in the meantime. Others see politics as a game of tug-of-war in which only one side is doing any real pulling, and believe that an equally forceful counterweight is needed in order to keep the cult from pulling us all over a cliff. I consider myself squarely in the latter camp.
But whichever of those two sides one agrees with, it’s important to remember the big picture: our future is being held hostage by a cult that doesn’t care if the world burns down so long as they get what they want. Dealing with the implications of that needs to be the top priority of serious thinkers in our political system if we hope to preserve it.
United States Senate Democrats:
Leader Reid’s proposal will reduce the deficit by $2.7 trillion, without affecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and without changes to revenues. Unlike Speaker Boehner’s short-term plan, the Senate package presents responsible cuts that will allow us to raise the debt limit through 2012, providing certainty to the world markets, without hurting our economic recovery and job growth.
Details Of The $2.7 Trillion Senate Democratic Package:
- $1.2 Trillion in Discretionary Spending Cuts. The $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts include both defense and non-defense spending. Before Speaker Boehner broke off talks with the White House on Friday, he had already agreed to $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts.
- $100 Billion in Mandatory Savings.The proposal includes $100 billion in mandatory savings that were negotiated by Democrats and Republicans participating in the negotiations led by Vice President Biden. These savings will not impact Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits in any way. The mandatory savings will include:
- $40 billion in Program Integrity Savings. The proposal saves $40 billion by reducing fraud and abuse in mandatory programs. This includes: Continuing Disability Reviews and SSI redeterminations, Internal Revenue Service tax enforcement, health care fraud and abuse control, and Unemployment Insurance improper payment reviews.
- $30 Billion In Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Reforms.
- $15 Billion In Spectrum Sales
- $10 -15 Billion In Agricultural Reforms
- Higher Education Program Reforms Whose Savings Go To Sustain The Pell Grant Program
- $1 Trillion in Savings From Winding Down the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will save $1 trillion. Paul Ryan’s budget also included this savings in its deficit reduction calculation, which was supported by 235 House Republicans and 40 Senate Republicans.
- $400 Billion in Interest Savings. The package includes $400 billion in interest savings, $220 billion from the discretionary spending cuts and $180 billion from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both the Ryan budget and the House Cut, Cap and Balance plan similarly included interest savings in their total calculation.
- Establishes Joint Congressional Committee to Find Future Savings. In addition to $2.7 trillion in concrete savings, the Senate package will establish a joint, bipartisan committee, made up of 12 members, to present options for future deficit reduction. The committee’s recommendations will be guaranteed an up-or-down Senate vote, without amendments, by the end of 2011.
Wow: Conservatives waste no time bashing John Boehner’s proposal to raise the debt ceiling in stages, and in exchange for only spending cuts, raising doubts as to whether even this plan can pass the House.
* Relatedly, an ice-cold statement from Republican Study Committee Jim Jordan dismissing Boehner’s proposal as not being a “real solution.”
* Bold pronouncement of the day: The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ Robert Greenstein absolutely blisters Boehner’s proposal:
If enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history.
* Okay, so the markets haven’t yet rendered a harsh verdict on the debt ceiling implosion, but you’re kidding yourselves if you think the very worst isn’t yet to come.
* And some sorely needed Monday comic relief: Erick Erickson, who apparently thinks he wields tremendous power over the House GOP caucus, declares that he will never grant his “absolution” (his word) to any Republican who doesn’t do exactly what he wants in the debt limit fight.
[…] It’s easy to get caught up in the political machinations. It’s easy to begin speculating about the hopes, constraints, and hidden agendas of the players. It’s easy to sound like an insider and say that the House GOP cannot accept a deal until the very last minute, or unleash some long analysis of how the president’s evident frustration will play with the voters, or say that the real story here is the relationship between Boehner and Cantor. But here’s the bottom line: We have 11 calendar days to raise the debt ceiling. Already, there’s some evidence that our dithering is hurting the economy. If we truly fail to raise the debt ceiling, however, we will unleash a market panic that will, at the least, return us to recession, and if it’s not quickly quelled, metastasize into a financial crisis that we will not soon recover from.
Earlier today, I spoke with David Beers, director of Standard Poor’s sovereign debt department. He explained that it wasn’t economic factors that had put America’s credit rating at risk, nor world events. It was credit-rating agency’s increasing fears that our political system was no longer up to the challenges that face it. “What we’re saying now,” said Beers, “is we question whether despite all the discussions and intense negotiations, if they can’t reach this agreement, will they be able to reach it after the election?”
If we convince Standard Poor’s that our political system has failed, they will downgrade our credit within three months. If they do that, interest rates on our debt will spike, perhaps by 50 basis points, perhaps by more. An easy rule of thumb is that if interest rates rise by 50 basis points, we will lose 600,000 jobs in this country.
At this point, there are three serious options on the table. A $4 trillion deal that includes some revenues, a $1 trillion-$2 trillion deal that’s all spending cuts but leaves much of the job until after the election, and a deal in which Republicans don’t come to a negotiated agreement with President Obama but they grant him the authority — and let him take the blame — for raising the debt ceiling. Those are our three options, and Congress needs to pick one. Time is running short.
karoli, Crooks and Liars:
As Frank Schaeffer explains, much of the brinksmanship is also being driven by right-wing fundamentalists.
Theology is — by nature — not about reason but about faith. If God’s will is to be served then so be it if America is plunged into chaos! This debt ceiling fiasco is just another chapter in the “culture” wars.
The extreme language of Evangelical/”pro-life” rebellion has now been repackaged in the debt ceiling showdown. It is the language of religion pitted against facts.
And the anti-government charge is being led by people who are either true believers, thus unable to reason, or people catering to the true believers so that they can remain in the good books of the Tea Party, which is nothing more than the Evangelical far right repackaged and renamed.
Well yes. In this regard he’s not telling us anything we don’t already know, except that I’m not sure I’d be so quick to wrap up the Tea Party as evangelicals only. It is an unholy alliance of evangelicals and agnostics whose religion is the Almighty Dollar.
But he goes on, and here’s where it gets interesting:
A Willingness To Destroy America In Order To Save It
George and Colson and the others who wrote and then signed the “Manhattan Declaration” (like Kreeft before them) also called for fundamentalists to unite if need be for civil disobedience to stop the U.S. government from passing laws that did not comply with their religious “values” and/or to undermine those laws if they were enacted.
Here’s the actual text of that section of the Manhattan Declaration:
Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required.
The rest of it, as you may know, is a structured list of the culture war issues: homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, etc. But as Schaeffer points out, this particular section grants them (in their own minds) the moral authority to demand that the government be destroyed in order to save it from these terrible things. The debt ceiling is just their current lever, like the Affordable Care Act was, and like all of the ridiculous votes to defund Planned Parenthood were earlier this year.
As I consider the victims in Norway who were assassinated by a gunman with views quite similar to these, I am rapidly concluding that this is an ungovernable nation with these insane, irresponsible, dogma-guided people pretending to lead. It could be that the markets will agree with that, too, in which case we may all find ourselves locked in the curse of interesting times.
[…] Removing revenue from the deal seems like (yet another) stunning capitulation by Democrats. For months, both the White House and Congressional Democrats have been insisting that new revenue must be part of any deal. As recently as Thursday, Reid himself said “there has to be some revenue in the cuts, my caucus agrees with that, and hope the president sticks with that.”
In this sense, the Republicans have won. Their original position all along was to cut spending without revenue increases, it now seems they will succeed in making Grover Norquist happy. And in a larger sense, forcing a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate to cut trillions of dollars in spending amidst a recession is a substantial political feat.
But there are some important ways in which the Republicans’ hard line on taxes may have been self-defeating in the long run, and why Reid’s new proposal isn’t so bad given the alternatives.
For one thing, entitlement cuts seem to also be off the table, and that would have been a disaster at both the political and policy levels. (Paul Krugman has a terrific evisceration of the proposed entitlement cuts today).
More important to note is that the new revenue in the grand bargain would have essentially replaced an expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Under the grand bargain, a tax code overhaul—which, again, lowered rates while eliminating exemptions—would have done away with the old tax system and replaced it with a new one, and the Bush tax cuts become a non-issue.
The expiration of the Bush tax cuts would generate far more revenue for the government than the $800 billion in the original grand bargain—and would also raise rates on top earners instead of lowering them.
Obama already pledged a fight on letting the Bush tax cuts expire—he was actually slyly reneging on that pledge with the tax overhaul proposed in the grand bargain, but with its death comes an opportunity for Democrats to fight another day on a more fair tax system that generates more revenue.
It’s extremely unlikely that Boehner didn’t realize this. But reports suggest he just can’t get his hard-line members to agree on any revenue generation now. Too bad for them—and not so bad for Democrats.
For the past few months President Obama has been open to nearly any proposal to curb spending and raise the debt ceiling. There’s only one thing he’s said he categorically won’t accept: a short-term increase that kicks the can down the road and forces us to replay this entire battle next year. So guess what John Boehner plans to propose?
Mr. Boehner planned to unveil a new debt-ceiling plan later Monday, a spokesman said. Mr. Boehner’s plan would cut the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt ceiling in two phases—one that would enable the government to cover its bills through the end of the year and a second in January 2012 depending on recommendations from a congressional commission.
Is there any doubt left about what Republican goals are at this point? Boehner has rejected every possible compromise offered to him, and now plans to unilaterally hold a vote on the one thing — the only thing — that he knows Obama won’t accept. This is all he cares about. He doesn’t want to solve a problem, he just desperately wants to figure out some way to get Obama to say no so that he can make some political hay out of it.
Seriously, how much more obvious can he be? Is there anyone left in Washington who doesn’t get this?
[…] The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of Washington’s most powerful business lobbies, says the Lindsey case shows that the law is bad for business and that the way the government is interpreting it has gotten out of hand.
“You’d laugh at the absurdity of it — unless you were Keith Lindsey and you were defending yourself in a trial in which how one defines ‘foreign official’ could mean jail and millions of dollars in fines,” Lisa A. Rickard, president of the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, wrote in a May online commentary.
“The Lindsey case and others like it have brought attention to the need to reform an outdated law that many believe is hurting American businesses’ ability to compete fairly in the global market,” Rickard wrote.
The FCPA was signed into law in 1977 amid revelations that hundreds of U.S. corporations had made illegal or dubious payments to foreign politicians, parties and government officials.
Congress explained the law in economic as well as moral terms.
Bribery “short-circuits the marketplace by directing business to those companies too inefficient to compete in terms of price, quality or service, or too lazy to engage in honest salesmanship, or too intent upon unloading marginal products,” a House report on the legislation said. The practice “puts pressure on ethical enterprises to lower their standards or risk losing business,” the report added.
The FCPA can be a headache for companies operating in countries where payoffs are expected. It can also create hazards when a U.S. corporation buys another company. The new owner acquires any advantages obtained through past bribes — along with the legal liability.
[…] Dave Dayen is watching the ratings agencies, particularly S&P, say that a clean debt ceiling increase won’t cut it, and that there needs to be a $4 trillion dollar deal in order to keep the United States’ credit rating secure:
This concern about the markets has happened very suddenly. All of a sudden there’s a belief that a clean increase or a small debt deal with a minor amount of spending cuts would not be enough to avoid a downgrade. Standard and Poor’s basically forced this by saying that they would downgrade if there wasn’t a $4 trillion deficit deal in the next 90 days. The claim is that this has been caused by political leaders attaching the debt limit to a deal on reducing the deficit, and the inability to reach an agreement, the political stalemate, has led the markets to lose confidence.
Two quick sources that you might find helpful. There’s a long running argument that the ratings agencies work as a mini-IMF, forcing austerity measures favorable to bond-holders everywhere from developing nations to municipalities and states here in the USA.
But their travels in the political sphere go beyond that. It’s tough to rank the awful financial-sector policy decisions that were made in the past decade, but two of the worst ones were very much influenced by rating agency political pressures. When Congress tried to put some resolution powers in place to deal with the possibility of the GSEs collapsing, the ratings agencies put pressure there. When states were trying to put in sensible state-level regulations to deal with predatory subprime lending, the ratings agencies put pressure on federal regulators to overrule (“pre-empt”) them, leaving state housing regulatory powers at the mercy of the pro-bank OCC.
Check out Josh Rosner and Joseph Mason’s Where Did the Risk Go? How Misapplied Bond Ratings Cause Mortgage Backed Securities and Collateralized Debt Obligation Market Disruptions, for specifics:
F. Rating Agencies Are Activist in Ways They Have Never Been
…What is clear is that NRSRO powers have extended to areas of public policy in ways we have not witnessed before….In early 2004, after accounting problems were discovered at Freddie Mac but before those of Fannie Mae were fully uncovered, Congress again embarked on a legislative process to create a new regulator with enhanced powers. One of the key provisions legislators considered was one that would better define the receivership authority of the GSE’s regulator in case they became seriously undercapitalized. In early April S&P “hinted about a possible downgrade of GSE debt if a new regulator had receivership powers”. This announcement supported the GSE’s goals of trying to prevent receivership authority from being included in legislation…
On October 1, 2002, the Georgia Legislature passed sweeping new anti-predatory lending legislation. The Georgia Fair Lending Act contained a provision that assigned unlimited liability exposures to lenders who made “high cost loans” (and noteholders). In January of 2003 the three major credit-rating agencies announced that they would no longer be willing to rate RMBS originated in Georgia. As a result, the Georgia legislature moved quickly to make amendments to their legislation to stop lenders from leaving the State. As other States began to move to pass similar legislation they were reminded of the effect that the Georgia law had and also limited their liability provisions.
(We discussed Comptroller of the OCC, John D. Hawke Jr., and his speech he gave to the Federalist Society on July 24th, 2003, where they announced they were going after Georgia law, here. It’s an important speech for the what a neoliberal financial-sector policy looks like in practice.)
There’s a few ways to think about how the ratings agencies could add value to the financial marketplace. Information tends to be a public good, so there’s a free rider problem towards any individual investor paying to rate a bond. This is one reason why issuers tend to pay for the rating. There are also instruments so complex, or with so little historical and comparative information, or so illiquid, that the ratings agencies can bring their so-called expertise to give information.
But the United States bond market is one of the largest, most-liquid, most-studied, most transparent markets in the world. There’s nothing the ratings agencies have that any else doesn’t have.
A few days ago, Standard & Poor’s announced that even if Congress passes a debt ceiling increase, they might still downgrade U.S. debt if there’s not also an agreement to cut the long-term deficit by at least $4 trillion. Now, there are all sorts of reasons why no one should care much what S&P thinks. For example, there’s the fact that they don’t know anything more about U.S. solvency than anyone else. There’s the fact that they displayed monumentally bad judgment during the housing bubble. And as Mike Konczal pointed out earlier today, there’s the fact that they routinely do a lousy job of rating sovereign debt.
But there’s another interesting aspect of the whole thing. Here is S&P’s explanation for why they’re so concerned:
U.S. political debate is currently more focused on the need for medium-term fiscal consolidation than it has been for a decade. Based on this, we believe that an inability to reach an agreement now could indicate that an agreement will not be reached for several more years. We view an inability to timely agree and credibly implement medium-term fiscal consolidation policy as inconsistent with a ‘AAA’ sovereign rating, given the expected government debt trajectory noted above.
Did you see the card they palmed via use of the passive voice? Here’s the translation: If Congress had just gone through its usual kabuki and then raised the debt ceiling, S&P wouldn’t have cared. Life would go on as usual. But because “U.S. political debate” is currently so focused on the deficit, that makes addressing the deficit suddenly important regardless of what action is taken on the debt ceiling.
But this focus on the deficit didn’t spring fully formed out of Zeus’s forehead. It’s the product of a deliberate political offensive by one of America’s two major parties. (The other major party is more focused on addressing sky-high unemployment and poor economic growth.) So what S&P is saying here is this: If Republicans unilaterally decide to focus on something for partisan reasons, then the nation had better address it. And if the nation doesn’t address Republican concerns, then its credit rating will go down.
In a former life I was a trustee of the Social Security trust fund. So let me set the record straight.
Social Security isn’t responsible for the federal deficit. Just the opposite. Until last year Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits. It lent the surpluses to the rest of the government.
Now that Social Security has started to pay out more than it takes in, Social Security can simply collect what the rest of the government owes it. This will keep it fully solvent for the next 26 years.
But why should there even be a problem 26 years from now? Back in 1983, Alan Greenspan’s Social Security commission was supposed to have fixed the system for good – by gradually increasing payroll taxes and raising the retirement age. (Early boomers like me can start collecting full benefits at age 66; late boomers born after 1960 will have to wait until they’re 67.)
Greenspan’s commission must have failed to predict something. What?
Remember, the Social Security payroll tax applies only to earnings up to a certain ceiling. (That ceiling is now $106,800.) The ceiling rises every year according to a formula roughly matching inflation.
Back in 1983, the ceiling was set so the Social Security payroll tax would hit 90 percent of all wages covered by Social Security. That 90 percent figure was built into the Greenspan Commission’s fixes. The Commission assumed that, as the ceiling rose with inflation, the Social Security payroll tax would continue to hit 90 percent of total income.
Today, though, the Social Security payroll tax hits only about 84 percent of total income.
It went from 90 percent to 84 percent because a larger and larger portion of total income has gone to the top. In 1983, the richest 1 percent of Americans got 11.6 percent of total income. Today the top 1 percent takes in more than 20 percent.
If we want to go back to 90 percent, the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security tax would need to be raised to $180,000.
Presto. Social Security’s long-term (beyond 26 years from now) problem would be solved.
So there’s no reason even to consider reducing Social Security benefits or raising the age of eligibility. The logical response to the increasing concentration of income at the top is simply to raise the ceiling.
Construction projects at airports across the country have been halted because a bill to extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s operating authority is stuck in Congress, officials said on Monday.
“Construction workers across America will lose their jobs and local communities will be hurt the longer this goes on. Congress needs to pass an FAA bill to prevent further economic damage,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”
Congress failed to pass a measure before last Friday’s deadline because lawmakers are deadlocked over two partisan issues – subsidies for rural airports and the unionization rights of employees. Republicans want to end the subsidies and make it harder for airline workers to unionize, putting them at loggerheads with Democrats.
Michigan, to cite one example, stands to lose $36 million in federal funding as long as the stand-off continues, according to the Detroit News. And work was set to begin Saturday on demolishing a control tower at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, but amid the FAA partial shutdown that project has been put on hold, and the 40 workers hired were told not to show up, according to FAA administrator Randy Babbit.
Four thousand FAA employees also have been furloughed, officials said. But workers essential to air travel safety, such as controllers, are continuing on the job.
Meanwhile, the lack of an authorizing resolution also means the FAA will not be able to collect about $200 million a week in air-travel taxes. That could have been a boon to consumers, but the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that airlines are instead raising fares.
Congress has extended the FAA’s authority with short term mandates since it expired in 2007, and LaHood is asking lawmakers to deliver a long-term mandate for the agency.
In all the debate about debts and deficits, it’s been easy to forget that Congress is making cuts that, if approved, will have an impact immediately. This week, the House is poised to pass the 2012 spending bills for the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency—with cuts that congressional Democrats are attacking as Draconian.
“This spending bill represents one of the most egregious assaults on the environment in the history of Congress,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) at a press conference Monday morning, via The Hill. Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) called it “the worst” Interior and Environment Appropriations bill he’s seen in his 35 years on the committee in a statement. He also warned that it could get “even worse” as debate on the bill proceeds in the full House this week.
House Dems have a bit of a flair for the dramatic (note Markey holding up a copy of the bill covered in police tape earlier today, as an example). But the proposed cuts are dramatic. Among them:
- a 7 percent cut to the Department of Interior overall, and a 21 percent cut to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in particular (which handles endangered species issues, among other things)
- an 18 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency
Republicans on the committee also approved 38 riders targeting specific programs, such as:
- defunding the EPA’s rulemaking on coal ash as well as mercury and other toxic air pollutants
- blocking EPA from moving forward on implementing greenhouse gas emission rules
- preventing the EPA from issuing the next round of fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks
National Wildlife Federation and Earthjustice have more on the targeted cuts. It’s a good reminder that while big-picture, long-term cuts are the getting all the news attention right now, there are immediate cuts making their way through Congress, too.
At the beginning of the year, there was a brief period when the Senate started confirming judges at a reasonably normal pace, and the judicial vacancy rate actually declined steadily for the first time since President Obama took office. That trend has now been completely reversed. There are now 115 vacant federal judgeships, one more than there were at the beginning of the year.
Center for Economic and Policy Research:
If so, they really should share them with readers. The Post told readers that Obama’s decision to propose raising the age of Medicare eligibility to 67 and to cut Social Security is a way to appeal to centrist voters. This is difficult to understand since every poll done on this issue shows that people across the political spectrum, including Tea Party Republicans, overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The Post either has some polls that no one else knows about or it’s just making things up. (BTP reports, you decide.)
It is certainly true that many Wall Street types (e.g. Peter Peterson and Erskine Bowles) would like to see cuts to Social Security and Medicare. However, these people are important because of the money that they can give to President Obama re-election campaign, not the voters they represent.
This piece also identifies Third Way as a “left-leaning group.” Third way has been prominent in pushing for large cuts to the budget, including cuts to Social Security and Medicare. This is not a position that would ordinarily be identified as left-leaning.
Center for Economic and Policy Research:
In its morning segment Marketplace Radio told listeners that China’s response to the standoff over the debt ceiling may be to shift some of its dollar holdings into the euro and other currencies. It then said that this would be bad news for the U.S. economy.
Marketplace better tell President Obama about this. The official policy of the Obama administration is that it wants China to raise the value of its currency against the dollar. This would mean selling its dollar assets and instead buying the assets of other countries.
The reason for wanting the dollar to fall (i.e. the yuan to rise) is that it would reduce the trade deficit by making imports from China more expensive in the United States and making U.S. goods cheaper for people in the China. The Obama administration says this would be good for the u.S. economy, it would be interesting to hear why Marketplace Radio thinks it will be bad.
The Justice Department is readying subpoenas as part of a probe into allegations that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. attempted to hack into phones of Sept. 11 victims, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday night.
The paper, citing a government official, said the subpoenas still required approval by senior department leadership. The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp.
The FBI opened an investigation into the allegations last week, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press .
Also last week, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., told NBC News that he and his colleagues were seriously considering summoning media mogul Murdoch to Capitol Hill to testify about the allegations.
James Murdoch’s ‘mistaken’ testimony?
On Friday, British opposition Labour lawmaker Tom Watson said police should investigate claims that James Murdoch, who is head of News Corp.’s Europe and Asia operations and son of the owner, gave “mistaken” testimony to a parliamentary committee about his involvement in a $1.1 million phone-hacking cover-up.
Former News of the World editor Colin Myler and Tom Crone, former senior legal officer for News Corp.’s British newspapers, have disputed Murdoch’s claim that he was unaware of an email that suggested that wrongdoing at the tabloid went beyond one rogue reporter.
“If their version of events is accurate, it doesn’t just mean that parliament has been misled, it means the police have another investigation on their hands,” Watson, part of the media committee, told the BBC, adding he would refer the matter to London police.
When the Murdochs addressed a parliamentary hearing Tuesday, James Murdoch addressed “astronomic sums” paid secretly in 2008 to hacking victim Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
The payoff was a confidential, out-of-court settlement and was cited in legal papers that also referred to a “for Neville” email about News of the World reporter Neville Thurlbeck, the paper’s disgraced chief reporter, according to The Guardian newspaper of London.
Police had given Taylor’s lawyers a copy of the email, which contained transcripts of Taylor’s hacked voicemails, the Guardian said.
The existence of the “for Neville” email was uncovered by the Guardian in 2009 and represented a challenge to News International’s defense at that time that the phone-hacking was the work of one “rogue reporter,” former royal correspondent Clive Goodman, The Guardian said.
On Tuesday, James Murdoch told the Parliament committee that the email had been concealed from him by two company executives when he was persuaded to sign off the secret deal, The Guardian said.
Murdoch defends statement
James Murdoch, in a statement released by News Corp., said he stood by his statement to the Parliament committee.
John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons select committee, told the Guardian he will recall James Murdoch to explain the statement by Myler and Crone.
“We as a committee regarded the ‘for Neville’ email as one of the most critical pieces of evidence in the whole inquiry,” Whittingdale told the Guardian. “We will be asking James Murdoch to respond and ask him to clarify.”
At the parliamentary hearing, Rupert Murdoch said he had never heard of Thurlbeck, who was arrested in April an allegations of hacking into voice mails. He is free on bail and has refused to answer reporters’ questions.
[…] After the merger with AOL, my thoughts were confirmed as Arianna took to the airwaves and proclaimed that “Huffpoo” isn’t liberal or conservative and how she and Tim Armstrong, the CEO of AOL, shared a vision. Tim Armstrong calls himself a libertarian but has given a lot of money to conservatives over the years. I’m sure they shared a vision.
So you can imagine my satisfaction when I read that The Huffington Post ranks last in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). I’m not the only one who thinks that website sucks, apparently. When you build a website on the backs of liberals, trading on anger and outrage towards President George W. Bush and then turn you targets towards liberals and our Democratic president, what do you expect?. The word on the street these days is that the merger isn’t going so well and the entire deal is at risk of falling apart. I wonder what Arianna’s next scam will be?
[…] Murdoch’s acquisition has irritated some investors — the Journal is now valued at half of its purchase price — but circulation is up and the company says the paper has returned to profitability, although News Corp. does not break down the figures.
Back in 2007, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera was among those who actively endorsed the takeover, saying the media mogul’s deep pockets would protect the paper.
But now, in light of the scandal, Nocera has written a mea culpa.
“The Journal was turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner’s conservative views. That’s half the definition of Fox-ification,” he wrote. “The other half is that Murdoch’s media outlets must shill for his business interests. With the News of the World scandal, the Journal has now shown itself willing to do that, too.”
Several former Journal staffers interviewed by NPR pointed to news articles that referred to the “assault on business” by the Obama White House. But other current staffers, who spoke on condition they were not named, say such thumbprints are far fewer now than at first.
The longest-running show on Comedy Central debuted July 21, 1996 — 15 years ago this week. Jon Stewart became host of “The Daily Show” in 1999, and has been commenting on the media ever since. Stewart, who has often been compared to broadcast news icon Edward R. Murrow, insists he is not a journalist but holds accountable those who are. Stewart and his staff are serious about media criticism, as they told Mallary Tenore in 2009. Here are highlights of the show’s media criticism through the years.
There is no doubt what should be done in the debt and budget problems.
We should be raising taxes on the very wealthy, insuring that multi-billion dollar corporations actually pay taxes and widening Medicare eligibility to bring in users who don’t need as many medical services as seniors. At the same time there should be a $100 billion a year infrastructure program to help create thousands of jobs and rebuild this country’s physical plant.
Well, that isn’t going to happen. However, we really need to stop the overbearing hand wringing at the what we are likely to get. It does not serve us at all.
I was wondering last night, what would be going on if there was a Democratic House. There would have been passage of a clean debt ceiling raise with little fuss at all. The Senate would have had a filibuster or two, but there are still enough Republican senators who would know better, voted for cloture and it would have passed their too.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. The entire nation is being held hostage by the lunatics that is the GOP Caucus in the House.
What they really want is absolute armageddon. They would love to see Medicare go down the Ryan Road to privatization. They would love to see Social Security go to Wall Street. And even if they got that, at the last moment, they’d tie the debt ceiling to abortion rights or something like that.
So, what’s a Democrat to do?
Well, the President decided to dare them. He became a bigger deficit cutter then they ever really want to be. He’d cut programs, but he also would raise taxes on the wealthy. He knew they wouldn’t bite because they are so beholden to their anti-tax pledges.
In the end, a bill has to get passed and more than likely it looks like Harry Reid will be the writer of it. It doesn’t sound good on the surface, but dig and it may not be all that bad.
Reports are that it is $2.7 trillion in cuts and no tax changes. How do you do that with killing everyone? Well, simple actually- end the wars.
Take the wars out the budget by setting concrete timelines of withdrawal and the CBO cuts the money out the future budget projections. For our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, that amounts to $1.2 trillion. Add to that the interest saved over ten years, and you have another almost $300 billion.
So, for everything trillion we save over ten years, we also save about $250 billion in interest. Great.
So, to get the other $1.2 trillion, we need to find about $950 billion in actual cuts… $95 billion a year. A defense program or two, some slicing around the edges of certain Medicare spending (like the dual testing that a lot of doctors have been doing, and other inefficiencies in the the program, and finding a $100 billion to cut shouldn’t be all that hard or painful.
Yet, all I seem to see on this site is diary after diary of the caving of the President, of the Democratic party, and so on and so on. It really is getting tiring.
Worse yet, what effect does that have on next year?
Haven’t we learned our lesson yet? Was 2010 not enough?
The reason we have an insane asylum for a Congress is not because the country is so taken with the Tea Party lunatics, the reason is because so many people were so angry at the Democrats and the President for not being FDR and his 73rd Congress that they just stayed home and didn’t vote.
Awesome. That worked so well. That really showed them.
Just like all the morons who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 because they believed his bullshit about no difference between Bush and Gore. (And if you were one of those people, and are insulted… tough shit. Imagine the last ten years if Gore had been President from 2001 to 2009. Go ask the families of the 4000+ killed in Iraq.)
So here we are again… still bitching because we have to be the adults and do things we do not like even if the deal is at least half smoke and mirrors. Criticism is fine, it is welcome, but it also needs to be constructive. What I’ve been reading around these parts isn’t just not constructive, I see it as destructive.
Really want to effect change? Really want that WPA for the 21st Century?
Stop the fucking bitching and whining and get out and vote for Democrats. Yes, the more progressive the better. But keeping whining and threatening not to vote or to get a primary challenge to Obama… might as well just hand the Senate and the White House over the Tea Party.
The choice is ours- we get out over the next 16 months and re-elect this President (because honestly, unless he decides not to run, he’s our only choice) and to take back the House and win a some additional seats in the Senate. The other choice, bitch, whine, and stay home… and the Bush years will seem quaint when compared to President Bachmann or even Romney and Majority Leader McConnell or DeMint and Speaker Cantor.
So Harry Reid is drafting a plan to “put our fiscal house in order” by cutting, cutting, cutting with no revenues. And he’s tackling what sounds like a counterintuitive plan by taking aim at the Pentagon budget, factoring in the cost of ending the wars, and other spending which is not spending on Medicare and Social Security.
As Matt Yglesias points out, Reid is calling the Republicans’ bluff.
In the debate over the debt ceiling, for example, Republicans have sought to portray themselves as having two bottom lines. One is that any increase in the debt ceiling must be met dollar-for-dollar with spending cuts. The other is that no revenue increases can be part of the deal. What Harry Reid did yesterday was essentially call the GOP’s bluff by outlining a plan that raises the debt ceiling by $2.7 trillion and includes $2.7 trillion in spending cuts, a healthy share of which comes from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republicans are rejecting this even though it nominally meets their demands. Why? Because it doesn’t achieve either of their two real objectives. In particular, the plan doesn’t cut Medicare, which means that Democratic party candidates for office in November 2012 and 2014 can accurately remind voters of the content of the Republican budget plan. In case you forgot, this plans repeals Medicare.
Of course, if you listen to the Republicans talk on cable TV, they all shake their heads in very serious ways and insist that they are, first and foremost, all about getting the spending down. Doesn’t matter how, just that it happens. Never mind that Paul Ryan included some of Reid’s proposed cuts in his own budget that killed Medicare, that doesn’t matter. They’ll tell you ending the wars aren’t really cuts in the budget or spending because they are not “entitlements”
Let’s review the bidding. Ezra Klein does it quite well:
Originally, the Democratic position was that we should simply raise the debt ceiling. Republicans said “no.” There would have to be a deal that reduced the deficit by at least $2.4 trillion — which is the size of the debt ceiling increase needed to get us into 2013.
Then the Democratic position was that we should raise the debt ceiling through a deal that reduced the deficit by about $2.4 trillion, with $2 trillion of that coming from spending cuts and $400 billion coming from taxes. Republicans said “no.” There would have to be a deal that disavowed taxes.
Then the Democratic position was that we should raise the debt ceiling through a deal brokered by Barack Obama that reduced the deficit by $4 trillion, with about $3 trillion of that coming from spending cuts and about $1 trillion coming from tax increases. Republicans said “no.” There would have to be a deal that disavowed taxes, and it would have to be cut between the congressional leadership of the two parties. Obama couldn’t have this as a win.
So here we are with a deal that satisfies (sort of) the “no revenues” requirement alongside the “cut dollar-for-dollar” spending requirement. And as you’ll see from Stuart Varney, the answer will still be “no”, just as it has been all along.
Varney: That’s why I say, the likelihood of this downgrade — let’s be clear — a downgrade means you lose your financial reputation, you’re not the gold standard any longer.
Doocy: But it’s different than default.
Varney: It is different from default. I am now saying a downgrade now looks very likely, bearing in mind this chaos over the weekend and this Harry Reid plan which means absolutely nothing to investors.
Killmeade: It seems as though they’d say if we do something drastic enough that shows people that we’re on a fiscal sustainable path — something Titanic — we could avoid that, don’t you agree?
Varney: I would agree with that. If we got our house in order and said we’re going to tackle entitlements, we’ll go after this, we’ll do something concrete. If you did that, the likelihood is that the stock market would go up.
Unspoken but implied: The likelihood is that you’d get a deal on exactly the terms Republicans want. Destruction of the social safety net in exchange for an unchanged credit rating and raised debt ceiling. Our banker overlords are decreeing it, you know.
Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Watching the extraordinary polarization in Washington today, many people have pointed the finger at the Tea Party saying it’s ideologically extreme, refuses to compromise and cares more about purity than problem solving.
I happen to agree with much of that critique, but it doesn’t really answer the question: Why has the Tea Party become so prominent? Why is it able to dominate Washington?
We’ve had plenty of ideologically charged movements come to Washington before. Think of Barry Goldwater or George McGovern.
But once in Washington the system encouraged compromise and governance.
Over the last few decades, however, what has changed are the rules organizing American politics. They now encourage small interest groups -- including ideologically charged ones -- to capture major political parties as well as Congress itself. Call it ‘ political narrowcasting.
Here are some examples:
1) Redistricting has created safe seats so that for most House members, their only concern is a challenge from the right for Republicans and the left for Democrats. The incentive is to pander to the base, not the center.
2) Party primaries have been taken over by small groups of activists who push even popular senators to extreme positions. In Utah, for example, 3,500 conservative activists managed to take the well- regarded Senator Robert Bennett off the ballot. GOP senators like Orrin Hatch and John McCain have moved farther to the right, hoping to stave off similar assaults.
3) Changes in Congressional rules have also made it far more difficult to enact large, compromise legislation. In the wake of the Watergate Scandal, “Sunshine rules” were put into place that required open committee meetings and recorded votes. The purpose was to make Congress more open, more responsive -- and so it has become to lobbyists, money and special interests. This is because they’re the people who watch every committee vote and mobilize opposition to any withdrawal of subsidies or tax breaks.
4) Political polarization has also been fueled by a new media, which is also narrowcast.
Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he suggested that he might further the conservative agenda through an occasional compromise. That provoked a tirade from Rush Limbaugh, which then produced a torrent of angry e-mails and phone calls to Issa’s office. Issa quickly and publicly apologized to Limbaugh and promised only opposition to Obama. Multiply that example a thousandfold, and you have the daily dynamic of Congress.
It’s depressing, but the fact that our politics are the result of these structural shifts means they can be changed. […]
Some political scientists long hoped that American parties would become more ideologically pure and coherent, like European parties. They seem to have gotten their wish -- and the result is abysmal.
Here’s why: America does not have a parliamentary system like Europe’s, in which one party takes control of all levers of political power -- executive and legislative -- enacts its agenda and then goes back to the voters. Power in the United States is shared by a set of institutions with overlapping authorities -- Congress and the presidency. People have to cooperate for the system to work.
The Tea Party venerates the Founding Fathers. It should note that the one thing on which they all agreed was that adversarial political parties were bad for the American republic.
On Saturday night, aided by “a nice pinot noir,” the tech and business-of-news writer Jeff Jarvis started to tweet.
“Hey, Washington assholes,” he wrote, “it’s our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it.”
He started rolling. Inspiration struck. “Can we start a Twitter chant: FUCK YOU, WASHINGTON! Pass it on.” He willed the chant into existence. […]
Eventually, another tweeter set Jarvis straight and crafted this into a hashtag. We could see where this was going. Jarvis, one of the smartest promoters and meme-catchers out there, cultivated and curated a wave of angry tweets, retweeting the best ones, eventually harshing on the censorship that stopped his Howard Beale hashtag from trending. Most of the tweets came from liberals angry at the debt impasse. A small sample:
@mcullen546: #FuckYouWashington for calling programs that we pay for entitlements
@mwynn: We see through your public pension theft conspiracy so #fuckyouwashington
@Mr_Pettapucci #fuckyouwashington or letting corporations steal our natural resources and sell them back to the people for profit.
@rogldr5 #fuckyouwashington for all this posturing to assure your reelection.
@bguthro: #FuckYouWashington for playing russian roulette with the world’s economic stability
He retweeted critics. TPM’s Josh Marshall pointed out that the hashtag put blame on all parties, instead of Republicans. “To use threat of default to leverage policy changes that can’t be one at the ballot box, an unprecedented tactic which amounts to threatening vast damage to country if policy demands r not met (sic),” he wrote. “Generalities instead of specifics serves no purpose.” By making rage generic, Jarvis was muddying the story of the current crisis, making it one of Washington failing, not obstructionist Republicans holding spending and debt limit votes hostage until the last minute in order to extract demands.
But the timing was perfect. As the hashtag was trending, Tom Friedman’s new column was going up. It was longer and less profane than Jarvis’s twitter campaign, but it went after the same emotional triggers. Friedman was pining for “a party that would have offered a grand bargain on the deficit two years ago, not on the eve of a Treasury default.” It was time for some glib claptrap! Friedman swung his endorsement behind Americans Elect, the latest effort (“financed with some serious hedge-fund money”) to use the Internet to create a centrist third party focused on problem-solving.
First, anyone interested in becoming a delegate goes to the Americans Elect Web site and registers. As part of that process, you will be asked to fill in a questionnaire about your political priorities: education, foreign policy, the economy, etc. This enables Americans Elect to put you in contact with others who share your views so you can discuss them and organize together. Then you will be invited to draft a candidate or support one who has already been drafted and to contribute to the list of questions that anyone running on the Americans Elect platform will have to answer on the site.
The tweeters are right: Washington doesn’t work right now. The optimists like Friedman are wrong about how to fix it. The cynics, who are now trying to figure out some way to pass bills without subjecting them to real rigor, are the ones in the best position to win. That’s the legacy of the 2010 elections — the exact opposite of what angry voters said they wanted, something that makes them even angrier.
For weeks, Republican presidential candidates have been a running a gauntlet of ever-more draconian pledges put forth by party purists. Grover Norquist’s anti-tax oath, the Susan B. Anthony List anti-abortion manifesto , the “Marriage Vow” and the “Cut, Cap and Balance” pledge are just some of the multiplying litmus tests now demanded by social and economic conservatives alike.
But as the 2012 primaries approach, another de facto requirement for GOP White House hopefuls is emerging. That is, candidates must not only (a) proclaim that they have been called on God to seek the presidency, but (b) declare that divine intervention is the cure for what ails America. Call it the Divine Right Pledge. And so far, it’s one most of the GOP field seems more than willing to take.
Of course, the GOP has long been parodied as “God’s Own Party.” But now, the Party of Lincoln is rapidly turning Honest Abe’s mantra (“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”) on its head.
“I’m not ready to tell you that I’m ready to announce that I’m in. But I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs.”
If the Lord is calling on Rick Perry to lead the United States, Perry plans to call Him back when it’s time to actually run it.
On August 6th in Houston, Governor Perry will tunnel under the wall separating church and state to lead The Response, an evangelical day of prayer and fasting seeking divine intervention for America. As Perry put it:
“I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.”
Perry, whose faith-based policy like the governors of Georgia and Oklahoma includes asking residents to pray for rain for their drought-stricken state, later explained that the solutions to America’s woes are above his pay grade:
“A new filing in the King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell case includes a copy of the Ohio Secretary of State election production system configuration that was in use in Ohio’s 2004 presidential election when there was a sudden and unexpected shift in votes for George W. Bush,” according to Bob Fitrakis, columnist at http://www.freepress.org and co-counsel in the litigation and investigation.
If you recall, Ohio was the battleground state that provided George Bush with the electoral votes needed to win re-election. Had Senator John Kerry won Ohio’s electoral votes, he would have been elected instead.
Evidence from the filing suggests that Republican operatives — including the private computer firms hired to manage the electronic voting data — were compromised.
53 percent of respondents in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll said that President Barack Obama cares more about the economic interests of the middle class, while just 35 percent thought that was true of the Republicans in Congress. In contrast, 67 percent thought Republicans in Congress cared more about the interests of large business corporations, compared to 24 percent who thought that of President Obama. So conservative intransigence is starting to seem less a matter of principle than an expression of whose side they’re on.
Reflecting these attitudes, the public believes Republicans should compromise on raising taxes in a debt ceiling deal. Sixty-two percent think they should give in and accept tax rises on the rich, while only 27 percent think they shouldn’t give in. But the public doesn’t believe Democrats should give in on cutting Social Security and Medicare, programs that are hugely important to middle-class economic security. By 52-38 the public believes Democrats should not agree to such cuts even if it’s the “only way” to get a debt ceiling deal.
Of seven abortion restrictions tested in a July 15-17 Gallup poll, informing women of certain risks of an abortion in advance of performing it is the most widely favored, at 87%. Seven in 10 Americans favor requiring parental consent for minors and establishing a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. Nearly two-thirds favor making the specific procedure known as “partial birth abortion” illegal.
At the other extreme, 57% of Americans oppose laws prohibiting health clinics that provide abortion services from receiving any federal funds — a policy akin to the recent efforts in Congress and some states to defund Planned Parenthood.
Americans are more mixed in their reactions to laws requiring women to see an ultrasound image of her fetus prior before having an abortion and to so-called “conscience laws” that allow pharmacists and other health providers to opt out of providing abortion services.
Partisan Gaps Dwarf Gender Differences
Gallup typically finds few differences between men’s and women’s attitudes about the legality of abortion in general. Consistent with that, the new poll shows relatively minor gender differences in views about the seven specific restrictions tested.
Partisan differences are much greater, although majorities of Democrats as well as most Republicans favor informed consent, parental consent, 24-hour waiting periods, and a ban on “partial birth abortion.”
By contrast, Republicans and Democrats are on opposite sides when it comes to opt-out provisions and withholding federal funds from abortion providers.
Residents of the states where these laws have been passed may have views that differ from those of the public at large. While Gallup does not have state-level data on these questions, regional breakdowns show that residents of the South and Midwest are generally more supportive of the policies than those in the East and West. This is particularly true for attitudes on mandatory ultrasound counseling, parental consent laws, 24-hour waiting periods, and bans on funding of abortion clinics.
Most Americans Oppose Abortion in Advanced Trimesters
The abortion issue has had a relatively low profile in national politics in recent years, particularly by comparison with the activity seen at the state level. According to information compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, 19 states enacted 80 laws putting new restrictions on abortion in the first half of 2011, up from 23 such laws enacted in 2010 and shattering the previous record of 34 set in 2005.
The net result of this year’s legislative activity is that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 46 states now allow medical professionals and 43 allow at least some institutions to opt out of participating in abortions, 36 require parental involvement for minors (either notification or consent), 24 have waiting-period requirements, 19 mandate some sort of counseling, and 16 ban “partial birth” abortions.
Additionally, the Guttmacher report indicates that 39 states have limits on how late in pregnancy abortions can be performed, with exceptions for abortions necessary to protect the woman’s life or health. Most of these laws prohibit abortion either after “viability,” after 24 weeks, or in the third trimester.
According to recent Gallup polling, these gestation-based limits are consistent with Americans’ hesitancy about late-term abortion. When asked if abortion should be legal in each of the three trimesters, 71% say it should be illegal in the second trimester and 86% in the third. This is according to a June 9-12 Gallup poll. However, 6 in 10 think abortion should be generally legal in the first trimester, consistent with prior Gallup polling showing that Americans reject overturning Roe v. Wade or banning abortion outright.
Since the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey Supreme Court case, which lowered the constitutional hurdle for state-level restrictions on abortion, “pro-life” lawmakers and activists have focused more of their efforts on chipping away at the legality of abortion in the states than on trying to win a sweeping ban in Washington.
After nearly two decades, these efforts have resulted in a patchwork of restrictions across the states, many of which enjoy broad public support. Most Americans favor laws that require abortion providers to inform women of certain risks and consequences of abortion and give parents more control over their daughters’ reproductive decisions. They are also broadly receptive to laws that protect the fetus late in pregnancy, including “partial birth abortions.” While Americans might not agree with specific aspects of all of these laws as enacted, they do favor the broad outlines as described in Gallup polling.
Other abortion restrictions have less public support. Nearly as many Americans oppose as favor requiring abortion providers to conduct ultrasounds and display ultrasounds for pregnant women seeking an abortion. The issue is making news in Texas as a “pro-choice” group is challenging that state’s newly enacted ultrasound requirement in federal court. And despite laws in most states permitting medical providers to opt out of participating in abortions, the slight majority of Americans oppose this. However, public opinion stands most clearly against bans on federal funds for health clinics that provide abortions, something that could help Planned Parenthood and similar clinics thwart Republican efforts to do this at both the state and national levels.
As if it’s not bad enough that Republicans are wrecking what little financial stability we have left with their ridiculous debt-ceiling chicken dance, they’re also working hard in the states to disenfranchise voters. In Wisconsin, the preferred method is to require voters to present valid photo identification at the polls. The Voter ID law passed under Scott Walker’s watchful eye earlier this year, with all due credit to ALEC for their helpful drafting of the legislation for lazy lawmakers.
One Wisconsin Now explains how that impacts voters:
Wisconsin’s population is substantially less likely to have a state-issued identification. Those without state-issued photo identification and who would need to obtain one under the Wisconsin Voter ID bill include:
23 percent of all elderly Wisconsinites over the age of 65
17 percent of white men and women
55 percent of all African American males and 49 percent of African American women
46 percent of Hispanic men and 59% of Hispanic women
78 percent of African American males age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24
Yes, the bill as written does have a provision to provide free identification for some Wisconsinites. Each and every one of these people would have to take the time off (in many cases unpaid) from work or family obligations to flock to Wisconsin DMVs. However, access to the DMV is a problem in Wisconsin; Indiana provides its residents exponentially more access to its Department of Motor Vehicles offices to obtain identification.
That post was written in January. It’s now July, and guess what? Governor Scott Walker, citing budget squeezes, is closing 10 DMV offices throughout the state. But these aren’t just any old DMV offices, no. They’re conveniently located in Democratic districts.
Michael Shatz, a Wisconsin blogger:
This story shows just how stupid neoconservatives think the public really is. Walker and his ilk pass a bill requiring voters to present valid photo identification at the polls. Then, in the same breath, Walker and his ilk propose a bill to close the identification issuing centers (the DMV’s) in the Democratic districts, making ID’s more difficult for low-income voters to obtain.
And the reaction when they were called on it was just classic:
A high-ranking DOT official rejected that claim, saying the changes were based on economics, not politics.
Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, called on the state Department of Transportation to reconsider its plants to close the Fort Atkinson DMV center. The department plans to expand by four hours a week the hours of a center about 30 minutes away in Watertown.
Jorgensen said he was concerned doing that would discourage people from Fort Atkinson from participating in elections.
“What the heck is going on here?” Jorgensen said. “Is politics at play here?”
Transportation Department executive assistant Reggie Newson denied that politics was behind the office closure plan, saying the decisions were being made based on what made the most economic sense.
“This has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that we can provide service in each county statewide efficiently.”
(OUTRAGEOUS) How Koch/Walker blocks the vote (MUST-SEE VIDEO)
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
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QUOTE OF THE DAY:
- The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object. ~~Thomas Jefferson