"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Still Under Women’s Clothes”: Michigan Abortion Legislation Package Moves Forward

State lawmakers in Michigan are using their lame-duck session to pass a bundle of bills that would significantly restrict women’s ability to access and pay for abortions in the state.

The state Senate passed three bills on Thursday that would ban abortion coverage in state-based health insurance exchanges and all private insurance plans, and another bill that would allow employers and medical professionals to refuse to cover or provide health treatment to which they morally object. State lawmakers are also expected to pass a so-called omnibus bill on Thursday that would impose prohibitive building regulations on abortion clinics and ban the use of telemedicine to prescribe abortion medication.

“It feels like [state legislators] are completely tone-deaf to what Americans want in general, which is for legislators to pay attention to the economy, particularly in Michigan, and to women and their power to say, ‘This is what we want, and this is what we don’t want,'” Desiree Cooper, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, told The Huffington Post.

Senate Bills 612, 613 and 614, which passed along party lines in the State Senate on Thursday, will prevent all insurance plans in Michigan from covering abortion unless a woman would die without the procedure. The measures do not include exceptions for rape, incest or pregnancy complications that would jeopardize the mother’s health. Private insurance companies will be given the option to carry a separate abortion coverage policy that the woman would have to pay for in addition to her regular coverage.

Republicans said they support the bills because they allow people who morally object to abortion to ensure that their money doesn’t feed into a pool that pays for the procedure. Reproductive rights advocates argue that the bill is unreasonable, because insurance companies are not likely to offer that separate rider.

“It’s somewhat of a false promise,” said Meghan Groen, director of government relations for PPAM. “No insurance company currently offers a rider for abortion coverage, and no woman is going to purchase a separate rider for something she hasn’t planned. You’re talking about an unexpected pregnancy, or a fetal anomaly.”

State senators also passed a bill on Thursday by a vote of 26 to 12 that would allow employers, doctors, nurses and pharmacists to conscientiously object to providing or paying for certain medical services, including birth control and abortion. Senate Republicans argued that the bill protects religious freedom. The Detroit Free Press reports that one Republican doctor, state Sen. Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw), broke with his party to oppose the bill.

“I don’t know how this doesn’t violate the oath I took, when I promised to resuscitate someone with TB or treat someone with AIDS,” he said.

The House is expected to consider those bills next week. In the meantime, it is expected to pass an omnibus bill that would further restrict abortion access. House Bill 5711 would regulate abortion clinics as surgical centers by imposing strict physical building requirements on them, such as minimum doorway sizes and minimum square footage. The regulations could effectively shut down some clinics in the state.

The omnibus bill also includes a provision that ends telemedicine abortions, which are commonly used by women in rural and medically under-served areas of the state. According the Groen, 21 out of 83 counties in Michigan have no local OBGYN, so telemedicine allows doctors to prescribe medication abortions to women in early stages of their pregnancies through a phone or internet consultation. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) recently signed a bill that expands the use of telemedicine in other areas of health care.

State Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) sharply criticized his Republican colleagues on Thursday for pushing forward with the anti-abortion agenda. “Get the government from underneath women’s clothes,” he said. “We’ve already had this conversation. Obama won, Romney lost, get over it.”


By: Laura Bassett, The Huffington Post, December 6, 2012

December 10, 2012 Posted by | War On Women, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Something To Talk About”: The Deep, Real Spending Cuts Already Passed

The prospect of cutting Medicare benefits in a “fiscal cliff” deal has prompted an outcry from concerned liberals. But whether or not legislators actually end up raising the Medicare age or paring back Social Security payments, domestic benefits and services—ranging from veterans’ health care and low-income housing to Head Start programs—are going to get squeezed over the next 10 years.

Last year’s debt-ceiling agreement included $1.5 trillion in cuts to discretionary programs through 10-year spending caps that are already in effect. According to a new analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the domestic programs subject to the spending caps will face a $615 billion shortfall if they keep their benefits and services at 2012 levels. If such, they’ll be forced to scale back unless Congress decides otherwise—and right now, the Republicans want even less money spent on these domestic programs, not more.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’s Richard Kogan breaks down the impact of the new spending caps:

We estimate that, with the funds available under the caps, the federal government will fall about $350 billion short over the next ten years of delivering the same level of benefits and services for NDD programs as it did in 2012. This is because: (1) the costs of a number of key programs, especially VA medical care, are projected to grow substantially, and (2) Congress relied on certain temporary savings measures to meet the 2012 caps that it cannot repeat in the future. Furthermore, it would take an additional $265 billion over the next ten years to account for general population growth, which affects NDD programs ranging from Head Start to home-delivered meals for the elderly. In total, it would require $615 billion above what the caps allow to maintain the same level of benefits and servicesper person as in 2012.

It’s a good reminder of the trade-offs that we have already made in the name of deficit reduction, which have received little attention amid the hand-wringing over the fiscal cliff. And, as Kogan points out, these domestic programs still remain vulnerable to further cutting. House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) has already proposed $300 billion in further cuts to discretionary programs, though he hasn’t specified how they’d be carried out. And unlike the defense programs that face big cuts, these domestic programs don’t have deep-pocketed industry lobbyists to help shield them.


By: Suzy Khimm, The Washington Post Wonkblog, December 9, 2012


December 10, 2012 Posted by | Congress, Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Robots And Robber Barons”: Profits Continue To Rise At The Expense Of Workers

The American economy is still, by most measures, deeply depressed. But corporate profits are at a record high. How is that possible? It’s simple: profits have surged as a share of national income, while wages and other labor compensation are down. The pie isn’t growing the way it should — but capital is doing fine by grabbing an ever-larger slice, at labor’s expense.

Wait — are we really back to talking about capital versus labor? Isn’t that an old-fashioned, almost Marxist sort of discussion, out of date in our modern information economy? Well, that’s what many people thought; for the past generation discussions of inequality have focused overwhelmingly not on capital versus labor but on distributional issues between workers, either on the gap between more- and less-educated workers or on the soaring incomes of a handful of superstars in finance and other fields. But that may be yesterday’s story.

More specifically, while it’s true that the finance guys are still making out like bandits — in part because, as we now know, some of them actually are bandits — the wage gap between workers with a college education and those without, which grew a lot in the 1980s and early 1990s, hasn’t changed much since then. Indeed, recent college graduates had stagnant incomes even before the financial crisis struck. Increasingly, profits have been rising at the expense of workers in general, including workers with the skills that were supposed to lead to success in today’s economy.

Why is this happening? As best as I can tell, there are two plausible explanations, both of which could be true to some extent. One is that technology has taken a turn that places labor at a disadvantage; the other is that we’re looking at the effects of a sharp increase in monopoly power. Think of these two stories as emphasizing robots on one side, robber barons on the other.

About the robots: there’s no question that in some high-profile industries, technology is displacing workers of all, or almost all, kinds. For example, one of the reasons some high-technology manufacturing has lately been moving back to the United States is that these days the most valuable piece of a computer, the motherboard, is basically made by robots, so cheap Asian labor is no longer a reason to produce them abroad.

In a recent book, “Race Against the Machine,” M.I.T.’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee argue that similar stories are playing out in many fields, including services like translation and legal research. What’s striking about their examples is that many of the jobs being displaced are high-skill and high-wage; the downside of technology isn’t limited to menial workers.

Still, can innovation and progress really hurt large numbers of workers, maybe even workers in general? I often encounter assertions that this can’t happen. But the truth is that it can, and serious economists have been aware of this possibility for almost two centuries. The early-19th-century economist David Ricardo is best known for the theory of comparative advantage, which makes the case for free trade; but the same 1817 book in which he presented that theory also included a chapter on how the new, capital-intensive technologies of the Industrial Revolution could actually make workers worse off, at least for a while — which modern scholarship suggests may indeed have happened for several decades.

What about robber barons? We don’t talk much about monopoly power these days; antitrust enforcement largely collapsed during the Reagan years and has never really recovered. Yet Barry Lynn and Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation argue, persuasively in my view, that increasing business concentration could be an important factor in stagnating demand for labor, as corporations use their growing monopoly power to raise prices without passing the gains on to their employees.

I don’t know how much of the devaluation of labor either technology or monopoly explains, in part because there has been so little discussion of what’s going on. I think it’s fair to say that the shift of income from labor to capital has not yet made it into our national discourse.

Yet that shift is happening — and it has major implications. For example, there is a big, lavishly financed push to reduce corporate tax rates; is this really what we want to be doing at a time when profits are surging at workers’ expense? Or what about the push to reduce or eliminate inheritance taxes; if we’re moving back to a world in which financial capital, not skill or education, determines income, do we really want to make it even easier to inherit wealth?

As I said, this is a discussion that has barely begun — but it’s time to get started, before the robots and the robber barons turn our society into something unrecognizable.

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 9, 2012

December 10, 2012 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Heritage Diagnosed, Severe DeMintia”: On The Far, Far Outer Reaches Of The Conservative Movement

For nigh on forty years, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation have been doing a good-cop/bad-cop routine—make that a bad-cop/really bad-cop routine. Yesterday, Heritage decided to double down on bad, with stained-glass windows.

Up until now, the Heritage Foundation has done a fairly competent job of disguising itself as a “think tank” where sobersided “scholars” write unreadable “policy papers” with “executive summaries.” But by appointing Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, as its new president, Heritage risks “rebranding” itself as a full-bore, revival-tent, Jesus-saves belief tank of the Christianist right.

DeMint inhabits the outer reaches of movement conservatism pretty much across the board, but his greatest passion seems to be reserved for what are delicately termed “social issues.” On questions of sexual identity and behavior, he is a forthright bigot and a prude. Shortly before the 2008 election, speaking at a Dominionist “Greater Freedom Rally,” he summarized his position thusly:

If someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom. And he holds the same position as an unmarried woman who’s sleeping with her boyfriend. She shouldn’t be in the classroom.

Last year, he indicated that his belief in small government is rooted in the theory that there is a fixed and limited amount of space that can be occupied by the government and the deity combined. The size of the public sector and the size of the Almighty are inversely proportional to each other. It’s an iron law, a zero-sum game:

I’ve said it often and I believe it—the bigger government gets, the smaller God gets.

DeMint appears to believe that there is a similarly inverse, zero-sum relationship between science and Christianity. He is a notorious global-warming denialist and creationist. And he is an enemy of the very idea of public education. At the “Greater Freedom Rally,” he explained why:

The thing that we’ve conceded as a people that we’ve got to fix, is turning the education of our children over to the government…. Let ’em go to a school where they can learn that God created this earth—because we know he did. Scientists more and more are—are being trapped or backed into this whole idea. As they see the whole genome experience, experiment, or they research all the DNA, they realize that this had to be created. It could not have happened by accident. It’s impossible. So we can go out with confidence that we are created, we are given unalienable rights, and God has blessed this country beyond anything we could have imagined. And he’s put us in charge of this vineyard we call America.

DeMint’s garbled reference to genomes and DNA, by the way, was apparently a confused allusion to Francis Collins, the former director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, whom President Obama appointed to head the National Institutes of Health. Collins is an evangelical Christian, but, like all reputable scientists, he rejects creationism, including its “intelligent design” variation, and does not believe that global warming is a hoax engineered by liberal scientists motivated by a fanatical ideological preference for government regulation of private business.

The big Washington story of the moment is the battle between conservative Republicans and very conservative Republicans over whether or not to hold the economy hostage in order to prevent marginal income-tax rates on the top two per cent from reverting to the slight higher Clinton-era levels. A parallel story over the next few years may be the quiet struggle between A.E.I. and Heritage for Republican hearts and minds. A.E.I. may have the advantage when it comes to minds, but Heritage is where the hearts are. Heritage was founded in the first place because the older organization was considered too squishy. Even so, badthink has sometimes crept in. It was Heritage, you may recall, that invented the “individual mandate” that became the basis of Obamacare and, earlier, Romneycare. DeMint is unlikely to tolerate any such outbreaks of left deviationism at Heritage. Under him, its grip on the organ of G.O.P. emotion can only strengthen. Its grip on the organ of reason, such as it is, is apt to fare less well.


By: Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, December 7, 2012





December 10, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Revenge Of The Kochs”: Michigan Finds A Way To Crush Those “Pesky Labor Unions”

Let’s say you and your brother are a pair of billionaires who reap your profits from the poisoning of the earth and whose daddy co-founded the John Birch Society — and you poured millions into the 2012 elections, only to see your candidates felled by a party led by a black guy who’s big on green energy, and who bailed out the U.S. auto industry in a way that voters seemed to like.

Wow. You must be feeling pretty powerless, especially after all of that press about how you’re the mighty and nefarious force behind the Tea Party, whose brew has suddenly gone a bit tepid. So whattaya gonna do?

Why, find a way to crush those pesky labor unions in a place that will hurt them badly. Say, the auto capital of the world, where an entire industry (and consequently, its unions) was saved through government intervention by that integrationist tree-hugger: Michigan. You’ll show those “urban” voters who liked that stinkin’ bailout!

So, in a lame-duck legislative session last week, the Republican majority rammed through a destructively anti-union bill, which the governor — in contradiction of his previous policy — has pledged to sign. (Brother Kilgore has the deets here.) And the Koch-founded group, Americans For Prosperity, gave the governor a big high-five.

Local analysts chalk it all up to payback by Michigan legislators for the unions’ attempt to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution via a referendum known as Proposal 2, which failed at the ballot box on November 6, and for the repeal of Snyder’s “emergency manager” law, which succeeded. But from where I sit, in the nation’s capital city, I see something bigger, something national in character.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has always tried to present himself as a breed apart from Kochbot governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, even as he grabbed for power with an “emergency manager” law that allowed him to appoint operatives to run failing cities and break labor agreements with public employees in those towns. But other anti-union measures, such as those forced through in Wisconsin, were deemed to be off the table by Snyder, as was the onerous proposition that workers in closed union shops should be allowed to opt out of paying dues. (Proponents call this sort of thing “right to work”; unions call it “right to work for less”.)

But last week, as David Koch presumably sat stewing in the pot of wholesale defeats, Snyder had a sudden change of heart, promising to sign a bill that was rammed through both houses of a lame-duck legislature last week, a bill that would do just that, conveniently drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and organization funded by Koch and his brother, Charles.

Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group founded by the Kochs, led the charge, as state police maced union protesters and locked them out of the state capitol building.

It was so ugly that even the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press, which once cheer-led for Snyder, basically called him, in not so many words, a duplicitous, overstepping liar.


By: Adele Stan, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 9, 2012

December 10, 2012 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: