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“The Stealth Sequester”: Americans Are Starting To Feel The Pain, They Just Don’t Know It Yet

So far, the much-dreaded “sequester” – some $85 billion in federal spending cuts between March and September 30 – hasn’t been evident to most Americans.

The dire warnings that had issued from the White beforehand – threatening that Social Security checks would be delayed, airport security checks would be clogged, and other federal facilities closed – seem to have been overblown.

Sure, March’s employment report was a big disappointment. But it’s hard to see any direct connection between those poor job numbers and the sequester. The government has been shedding jobs for years. Most of the losses in March were from the Postal Service.

Take a closer look, though, and Americans are starting to feel the pain. They just don’t know it yet.

That’s because so much of what the government does affects the nation in local, decentralized ways. Federal funds find their way to community housing authorities, state unemployment offices, local school districts, private universities, and companies. So it’s hard for most Americans to know the sequester is responsible for the lost funding, lost jobs, or just plain inconvenience.

A tiny sampling: Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts is bracing for a cut of about $51 million in its $685 million of annual federal research grants and contracts. The public schools of Syracuse, New York, will lose over $1 million. The housing authority of Joliet, Illinois, will take a hit of nearly $900,000. Northrop Grumman Information Systems just issued layoff notices to 26 employees at its plant in Lawton, Oklahoma. Unemployment benefits are being cut in Pennsylvania and Utah.

The cuts — and thousands like them — are so particular and localized they don’t feel as if they’re the result of a change in national policy.

It’s just like what happened with the big federal stimulus of 2009 and 2010, but in reverse. Then, money flowed out to so many different places and institutions that most Americans weren’t aware of the stimulus program as a whole.

A second reason the sequester hasn’t been visible is a large share of the cuts are in programs directed at the poor – and America’s poor are often invisible.

For example, the Salt Lake Community Action Program recently closed a food pantry in Murray, Utah, serving more than 1,000 needy people every month. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium is closing a center that gives alcohol and drug treatment to Native Alaskans.

Some 1,700 poor families in and around Sacramento, California are likely to lose housing vouchers that pay part of their rents. More than 180 students are likely to be dropped from a Head Start program run by the Cincinnati-Hamilton County (Ohio) Community Action Agency.

Most Americans don’t know about these and other cuts because the poor live in different places than the middle class and wealthy. Poverty has become ever more concentrated geographically.

A third reason the sequester is invisible is many people whose jobs are affected by it are being “furloughed” rather than fired. “Furlough” is a euphemism for working shorter workweeks and taking pay cuts.

Two thousand civilian employees at the Army Research Lab in Maryland will be subject to one-day-per-week furloughs starting on April 22, for example, resulting in a 20 percent drop in pay. The Hancock Field Air National Guard Base is furloughing 280 workers. Many federal courts are now closed on Fridays.

Furloughs spread the pain. The hardship isn’t as evident as it would be if it came in the form of mass layoffs. But don’t fool yourself: A 20 percent pay cut is a huge burden for those who have to endure it.

Bear in mind, finally, the sequester is just starting. The sheer scale of it is guaranteed to make it far more apparent in coming months.

Some 140,000 low-income families will lose their housing vouchers, for example. Entire communities that depend mainly on defense-related industries or facilities will take major hits.

If you thought March’s job numbers were disappointing, just wait.

With the sequester, America has adopted austerity economics. Yet austerity economics is the wrong medicine at exactly the wrong time. Look what it’s done to Europe.

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, April 8, 2013

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Sequester | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Defund Planned Parenthood”: Santorum Reveals His Plan To Save The GOP

Since Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus introduced the “Growth and Opportunity Project” in mid-March, the party has proven over and over and over again that it just isn’t ready to change.

The latest example of the GOP being intellectually and politically stuck in the 2012 presidential primaries comes courtesy of one of the stars of those disastrous contests: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. According to Santorum, the Republican Party’s path to revitalization is not a new round of engagement with women, young voters, and other groups that delivered an electoral landslide to President Barack Obama in November. No, Santorum has a different plan for saving the GOP: defunding Planned Parenthood.

The Raw Story reports that Santorum presented his three-point plan to save the party in a fundraising email over the weekend: mobilizing “pro-family conservatives,” “refuting the lies and half-truths that our detractors in the GOP are spreading about us,” and attacking the women’s’ health care provider.

“[W]e are going to push Republican congressional leaders to defund the monstrosity that is Planned Parenthood,” Santorum wrote. “Too many in the GOP want to ignore the millions of innocent lives that have been extinguished by this vile organization. Defunding Planned Parenthood is a winning issue. The polls prove it.”

In reality, polls prove the exact opposite — Americans oppose cutting the organization’s budget, and there’s reason to believe that Mitt Romney’s insistence on attacking Planned Parenthood cost him dearly on election night — but it comes as no surprise that Santorum, who lost his last general election by 17 points, would ignore the numbers.

But Santorum’s plan could signal a serious problem for the Republican Party. Despite the RNC’s effort to moderate the GOP’s tone with an eye towards the 2016 election, it’s clear that extreme right-wing rhetoric will still play a major role as the party settles on a nominee. In fact, Santorum himself may be the messenger once again.

All of the rebranding efforts in the world — even the NRCC’s nifty new website, which features a BuzzFeed-style “13 Animals That Are Really Bummed About Obamacare” listicle (but almost no mention of the word “Republican”) — won’t make a difference as long as the party is represented by ambassadors like Rick Santorum.

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, April 8, 2013

April 10, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“McConnell Hardball”: The Scope Of Mitch McConnell’s Anxiety Is Still Coming Into Focus

I’ve long believed we can learn a lot about politicians by how they conduct their campaigns. Candidates who are honest and above board before the election tend to be honest and above board after the votes are tallied. Those who choose to be dishonest and sleazy during the race are often less than forthright once in office.

And if this adage is true, we’re learning some unsettling things about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

For months, McConnell has made no real effort to hide his anxiety about his re-election. Despite his power and leadership role, and despite representing a “red” state, McConnell is not at all popular in the Bluegrass State. He’s sitting on an $8.6 million campaign war chest, which he’s already been forced to tap into — McConnell was the first incumbent to launch television ads in this cycle, 20 months before Election Day.

Is the panic justified? Probably — new results from Public Policy Polling shows McConnell with a 36% approval rating from his own constituents. Though his party affiliation is enough to lift him above likely Democratic challengers, PPP found his advantage over Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes at only four points, 45% to 41%.

The scope of McConnell’s anxiety is still coming into focus. Mother Jones‘ David Corn has obtained another secret recording and published this report this morning.

On February 2, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the US Senate, opened up his 2014 reelection campaign headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, and in front of several dozen supporters vowed to “point out” the weaknesses of any opponent fielded by the Democrats. “They want to fight? We’re ready,” he declared. McConnell was serious: Later that day, he was huddling with aides in a private meeting to discuss how to attack his possible Democratic foes, including actor/activist Ashley Judd, who was then contemplating challenging the minority leader.

During this strategy session — a recording of which was obtained by Mother Jones — McConnell and his aides considered assaulting Judd for her past struggles with depression and for her religious views.

Even by contemporary GOP standards, some of the planned lines of attack were unusually ugly.

For example, during their strategy session, one McConnell aide argued that Judd is “emotionally unbalanced,” pointing to her “suicidal tendencies.”

Judd wrote in her autobiography about her struggles with depression, including having considered suicide as a sixth-grader.

But what kind of campaign looks at that as a legitimate area for a political attack?

On religion, Judd had described herself this way: “I still choose the God of my understanding as the God of my childhood. I have to expand my God concept from time to time, and you know particularly I enjoy native faith practices, and have a very nature-based God concept. I’d like to think I’m like St. Francis in that way. Brother Donkey, Sister Bird.”

Apparently, Team McConnell found this hilarious. Corn reported:

Laughter erupted again, with one guy in the meeting exclaiming, “Brother Donkey, Sister Bird!” The group didn’t seem to realize that Judd was referring to well-known stories about St. Francis, who once preached a sermon to birds—”my little sisters”—and who referred to his own body as the “Brother Donkey.” (In her book, Judd identifies herself as a Christian and often refers to church and prayer.)

With his comrades laughing about Judd’s reference to donkeys and birds, the chief presenter remarked, “That’s my favorite line so far. Absolute favorite one so far.”

Obviously, with Judd no longer considering the race, the specific lines of attack are a moot point. There’s no point in a senator attacking the personal life of a movie star just for the sake of doing so.

But the fact that this is where McConnell and his team were prepared to go doesn’t speak highly of the Senate Minority Leader’s values.

Postscript: The Republican senator hasn’t commented on the substance of David Corn’s report, but McConnell’s campaign wants an FBI investigation to determine how Corn obtained the recording. McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton accused “the Left” of “Watergate-style tactics,” and believes “a criminal investigation” is warranted.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 9, 2013

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Senate | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Her Tea Party”: What Margaret Thatcher Really Meant To England And The World

Amid all the suffocating claptrap celebrating Margaret Thatcher in the media, only the British themselves seem able to provide a refreshing hit of brisk reality. Over here, she is the paragon of principle known as the “Iron Lady,” devoted to freedom, democracy, and traditional values who bolstered the West against encroaching darkness. Over there, she is seen clearly as a class warrior, whose chief accomplishments involved busting unions and breaking the post-war social contract.

Promoting the economic doctrines of the far right – whose eager acolytes in the Tea Party today revere her – Thatcher helped to hasten the decline of the venerable English village whose values she claimed to represent. “There is no better course for understanding free-market economics than life in a corner shop,” she once wrote, recalling her upbringing in the little grocery store that her father operated in the town of Grantham. But as a left-leaning British writer observed acidly, her “free-market” policies “led to the domination of small-town life by supermarkets and other powerful corporations.”

In the hometown she left behind, factories were shuttered and coal mines closed, owing to her policies – which may be why not so long ago, the vast majority of the town’s residents expressed opposition to erecting a bronze statue of her.

Indeed, much as she emphasized her humble roots – a theme echoed constantly in the American media – the less romantic fact is that Thatcher’s path to 10 Downing Street was paved with the fortune of her husband Denis, a millionaire businessman. It was not an image that matched her self-portrait as a hardworking grocer’s daughter, but it turned out to be the template for the policies she pursued as prime minister – cracking down hard on unruly workers; cutting aid to the poor, even milk for children; and privatizing public services for better or worse, but always to the benefit of the financial class.

At the same time that she and her ideological companion Ronald Reagan were smashing labor on both sides of the Atlantic, with lasting consequences for equality and democracy, they voiced support for workers in Eastern Europe, where unions rose up against Stalinism and Soviet domination. Workers’ rights were to be defended in the East, and abrogated in the West.

Three decades later, her ideological heirs continue to prosecute class warfare against public and private sector workers, seeking to deprive them of the same rights that she and Reagan supposedly held sacrosanct in communist Poland. Seeking to complete the Thatcherite crusade against organized labor, America’s Tea Party governors are now trying to undermine and virtually abolish the right to unionize in their states.

The justification for this sustained assault on working families, then and now, was to prevent inflation and promote economic growth. Yet the result of Thatcher’s policies was unemployment that hovered around 10 percent during most of her rule, and inflation that remained around 5 percent. Hardly a roaring success, even when measured against the current weak recovery.

In a statement released by the White House, President Obama said that her death meant the loss of “one of the world’s great champions of freedom and liberty” – a peculiar tribute from the first black U.S. president, considering that Thatcher, like Reagan, defended the apartheid regime in South Africa from its Western critics.

She opposed the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress who later became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, referring to him as a “terrorist.” In 1984, she reversed longstanding British foreign policy by hosting a state visit by white South African president P.W. Botha. And although she defeated Argentina’s military junta in the Falklands war, Thatcher befriended the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet – even inviting him to her home in England when he was under investigation for human rights atrocities.

Here in America, at least, the pap mythology surrounding Thatcherism – its putative successes and purity of purpose – contrasts with the reality of a cruel and contradictory ideology whose malignant impact lives on without its namesake.


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, April 9, 2013

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Baffling, Ignorant And Irresponsible”: Sen Jim Inhofe, Gun Debate Has Nothing To Do With Newtown Families

I’ve long marveled at Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and his, shall we say, unique perspective on the world around him, but even by Inhofe standards, today’s argument about the gun debate was a doozy.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Tuesday that the gun control debate doesn’t have anything to do with the families of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims, and that the only reason those families think it does is because President Barack Obama told them it did. […]

“See, I think it’s so unfair of the administration to hurt these families, to make them think this has something to do with them when, in fact, it doesn’t,” Inhofe said.

By “these families,” Inhofe was referring to 11 family members of victims killed during the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Inhofe believes, and is willing to argue publicly to reporters, that efforts to prevent gun violence have nothing “to do with them.”

As the Huffington Post report added, when someone suggested the families of Newtown victims actually believe the gun debate pertains to them, Inhofe responded, “Well, that’s because they’ve been told that by the president.”

Hmm. So in the mind of the senior senator from Oklahoma, those whose loved ones were killed in a brutal school shooting are detached from the debate over gun violence. And these folks would realize this truth were it not for the rascally president convincing them otherwise.

Inhofe, incidentally, is one of the 15 Republican senators who has vowed to block any effort to debate any legislation that changes any gun law in any way.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April9, 2013

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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