As the farm bill approved by the Agriculture Committee last week reaches the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) will be a few hours into an experiment: eating for a week on the meager food budget afford by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Murphy announced on Twitter that he would take the SNAP Challenge, which is the brainchild of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).
That means Murphy will be eating on a few dollars per day, as his colleagues debate a measure that would cut $4 billion from the SNAP budget over the next decade. Murphy is using the $3 per day allowance FRAC and allies recommended in 2007 guidelines for lawmakers interested in the challenge, although government data shows the program averaged about $4.40/day nationwide in fiscal year 2012.
But if anything, the SNAP Challenge understates the hardships actual SNAP recipients face, both today and in the near future.
Those Americans must make it a full month on SNAP, and statistics show that about 80 percent of a given recipient’s monthly allotment gets spent in the first two weeks of the month:
Additionally, there is already a major cut scheduled for fall of 2013:
It’s harder to quantify another facet of life on SNAP that Murphy’s attempt to raise awareness of the program won’t require him to face: social stigma. The senator won’t have to worry about a cashier loudly asking him to run his Electronic Benefits Transfer card again while other customers wait behind him. He probably won’t experience the judgment of peers described here by Tiffani Stacy of Columbus, TX.
Murphy’s experience of life on SNAP, however muted, ought to help draw attention to the program’s inability to absorb the further cuts Congress has proposed.
Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), who entered Congress in 2011, was asked last week prior to the House’s vote to repeal Obamacare whether he would be giving up his own government-sponsored health insurance. “Happy to,” Amodei replied.
QUESTIONER: Will you give up your own congressional health care after voting to repeal tomorrow?
AMODEI: Happy to. Have a nice day.
The Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), which covers all federal workers, is similar in many ways to Obamacare. For example, both provide tax-payer subsidized coverage and allow enrollees to choose private insurance plans from a highly-regulated market.
ThinkProgress reached out to Amodei’s office to see whether he has dropped his government insurance plan yet, but they have yet to respond.
Unless the Nevada congressmen is fortunate enough to attain insurance elsewhere, whether though a spouse or a private insurance plan, Amodei’s decision to give up FEHBP is financially ill advised. Giving up health insurance means he’s more likely to forgo preventive care and would have to pay large medical bills out of pocket or, if he can’t afford them, pass those bills onto taxpayers.
Still, giving up government health insurance was briefly in vogue among Tea Party Republicans on Capitol Hill. At least half a dozen GOP congressmen personally gave up government-sponsored health care in 2011 after running on a repeal-Obamacare platform.
With odds stacked sky high against actually winning a jackpot, lottery players lose an average of 47 cents on the dollar for each ticket. With such low payouts, tickets act as an implicit tax of 38 percent.
Yet poor people are far more likely to buy tickets than their wealthier counterparts. They spend a larger percentage of their income on the lottery, and many studies of state lotteries have found that low-income Americans account for most of the sales and that sales are highest in the poorest areas. One study found that a reason for this is that “lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals’ desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations.” The loss in income of buying tickets that provide no reward is harder to bear on a slim budget.
Those who win may not be much better off, however. The National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that as much as 70 percent of those who land sudden windfalls lose the money within several years. Lottery winnings have led some to drugs, bankruptcy, and family fractures.
The revenues from lottery tickets act as a regressive tax because states use them to fund many public services, such as education. Lotteries netted 11 states more revenue than their corporate income tax in in 2009. But states don’t fare well either in the long run. While states that have lotteries increased per-capita spending on education at first, after some time they ended up decreasing overall spending, while states without them increased investment. One study found that “nonlottery states spend, on average, 10 percent more of their budgets on education than lottery states.” In fact, lottery revenues may not end up increasing funds and could actually increase budget imbalances. There are only so many tickets that a state’s population can buy, making it a short or medium term fix but not a long term source of revenue.
The chances of winning the Powerball jackpot were very low at just 1 in 175.2 million. One person has likely won it and will now face the challenges of managing a huge influx of new money. The rest of the residents and the state’s revenues are not likely to fare as well.
Tiffany Germain is a Senior Climate/Energy Researcher in the Think Progress War Room.
The Canadian government has nearly doubled its spending to promote the Keystone XL pipeline to $16.5 million, up from $9 million a year ago.
This dramatic spending increase is a result of an increased lobbying effort the government is planning, which includes high-profile ad buys and dispatching a series of officials to reiterate talking points that the pipeline will increase U.S. energy security and provide us with thousands of home-grown jobs.
Their expanded lobbying efforts include Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper traveling to New York City to speak with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and participate in roundtables with American business leaders. During his Q&A session with the CFR, Mr. Harper advocated for approval of the pipeline, insisting it would add “almost nothing globally” to carbon emissions.
Harper’s claim just isn’t true — extracting crude from the oil sands is an incredibly energy intensive process that emits 3 to 4 times more greenhouse gases than producing conventional crude oil, making it one of the world’s dirtiest forms of fuels. Approving Keystone would more than double the production of carbon-intensive tar sands by 2024, leading to an increase in greenhouse gases equivalent to adding 8 million cars on the road every year. Without the pipeline, tar sands production is expected to fall flat by 2020.
Harper also said the US should not “turn up” its nose at the potential of 40,000 construction jobs nor the prospect of being able to reduce its dependence on oil shipped in from overseas.
Again, Harper is just avoiding the facts — the State Department released a draft environmental impact statement earlier this year that found the pipeline would directly only create “3,900″ temporary construction jobs. After construction is complete, the operation of the pipeline would support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs, with “negligible socioeconomic impacts.” The State Department’s report, which was written by a private consulting firm with links to the pipeline’s owner, also made clear that at least some of Keystone’s oil will be refined and exported in response to “lower domestic gasoline demand and continued higher demand and prices in overseas markets.” The pipeline will add nothing to U.S. energy security and is simply a way for the oil industry to sell refined fuel at higher prices available overseas.
In addition to winning America’s approval of the pipeline, Canadian officials are fighting against a European Union plan that would label tar sands as more polluting than crude oil. According to Reuters, the EU’s executive commission developed a Fuel Quality Directive as part of a plan to cut greenhouse gases from transport fuel that would single out Alberta’s oil sands as more polluting than conventional crude oil, a move that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said is unfair and could damage Canada’s bid to find new export markets.
Dr. James Hansen, the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming, accused the Canadian government of acting as the industry’s tar sands salesman and “holding a club” over the UK and European nations to accept its “dirty” oil. “Oil from tar sands makes sense only for a small number of people who are making a lot of money from that product,” he said in an interview with the Guardian. “It doesn’t make sense for the rest of the people on the planet. We are getting close to the dangerous level of carbon in the atmosphere and if we add on to that unconventional fossil fuels, which have a tremendous amount of carbon, then the climate problem becomes unsolvable.”
While Canada may be ramping up their bid to receive approval of their pipeline, the bottom line is that Keystone is a gateway to a huge pool of carbon-intensive fuel, most of which must be left in the ground if humanity is to avoid a devastating climate impacts that may be beyond any plausible plans of “adaptation.”
There’s new evidence to suggest that Obamacare is impacting the health industry for the better by successfully encouraging a greater emphasis on primary care. Ensuring that Americans are receiving regular preventative care is an important tenant of the health law, since it can ultimately help lower costs by preventing people from delaying medical treatment until they’re already very sick.
For the first time ever, Americans are now spending more money on primary care physicians than they are on specialists, according to a new survey by the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. In what Merrit Hawkins’ president referred to as a “seismic shift” in medicine, primary care doctors are now the greatest source of revenue for the hospitals where they work:
For the first time, primary care physicians are driving more revenue on a per-doctor basis to hospitals than are specialists, according to a survey of hospital chief financial officers by physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. It’s expected that this result is not a fluke, but a reflection of the growing emphasis on primary care by hospitals and the health care system in general. [...]
Merritt Hawkins said there were major shifts in the health care system from 2010 to 2013 that put pressure on all physicians, particularly specialists. One major factor is the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which has several pieces that put more onus on primary care to cut overall costs and keep patients healthy, especially those with chronic conditions or who otherwise would delay care until they are seriously ill. The rise in primary care contributions came as overall per-physician revenue for hospitals fell — from more than $1.5 million in 2010 to more than $1.4 million in 2013. It’s the lowest median in the 11 years Merritt Hawkins has conducted the survey.
As more than 25 million previously uninsured Americans gain coverage under Obamacare, the trend toward primary care is expected to continue. Those people likely avoided expensive medical treatment while they didn’t have insurance, but they’ll have the opportunity to seek regular check-ups once they become covered in 2014. In order to tackle the influx of Americans who will require primary care services, there will be opportunities for nurse practitioners to expand their role as health care providers.
As state and federal officials work toward the full implementation of Obamacare, politicians on both sides of the aisle have blasted the ongoing effort as a “train wreck.” But there’s mounting evidence to suggest those concerns are overblown. Although there’s still more work to be done to prepare for the state-level insurance marketplaces that will open to the public in 2014, much of the health reform law is already in effect — and it’s already having a demonstrable impact on the United States’ health industry. In addition to the shift to primary care, Obamacare has also already ensured that health care will be cheaper for many Americans by forcing private insurers to lower their premiums.
UPDATED: Virginia GOP Nominee For Attorney General Introduced Bill Forcing Women To Report Their Miscarriages To Police
If a woman in Virginia has a miscarriage without a doctor present, they must report it within 24 hours to the police or risk going to jail for a full year. At least, that’s what would have happened if a bill introduced by Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) had become law.
And yet, the Virginia Republican Party wants to make Obenshain into the state’s top prosecutor. This weekend, Virginia Republicans selected Obenshain as their nominee to replace tea party stalwart Ken Cuccinelli (R) as the state’s attorney general.
Under Obenshain’s bill, which was introduced in 2009,
When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the mother at or after the delivery or abortion, the mother or someone acting on her behalf shall, within 24 hours, report the fetal death, location of the remains, and identity of the mother to the local or state police or sheriff’s department of the city or county where the fetal death occurred. No one shall remove, destroy, or otherwise dispose of any remains without the express authorization of law-enforcement officials or the medical examiner. Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Under Virginia law, a Class 1 misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of “confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500,” so Obenshain’s bill could lead to a woman who decides to take a day to grieve the loss of a pregnancy she’d hoped to carry to term spending a year of her life in jail for that decision.
Even without Obenshain’s bill, Virginia law already treats many miscarriages as potential crimes. Under existing Virginia law, “[w]hen a fetal death occurs without medical attendance upon the mother at or after the delivery or abortion or when inquiry or investigation by a medical examiner is required, the medical examiner shall investigate the cause of fetal death and shall complete and sign the medical certification portion of the fetal death report within twenty-four hours after being notified of a fetal death.” Obsenshain’s bill, however, would treat many women as if they were criminal suspects at the moment they are confronted with a deep personal tragedy — and imprison them if they would rather deal with that tragedy privately with their family than share the vulnerable moment after a miscarriage with law enforcement.
Jared Walczak, a Deputy Campaign Manager with Obenshain for Attorney General, provided a statement to ThinkProgress explaining his boss’ support for this legislation. The statement is copied below, with an added link to a news story Walczak identified as the “law enforcement issue” prompting the legislation:
At the request of one of his local Commonwealth’s Attorneys, Senator Obenshain carried legislation (SB 962 of 2009) dealing with a specific law enforcement issue. As sometimes happens, the legislation that emerged was far too broad, and would have had ramifications that neither he nor the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office ever intended. Senator Obenshain is strongly against imposing any added burden for women who suffer a miscarriage, and that was never the intent of the legislation. He explored possible amendments to address the bill’s unintended consequences, and met with representatives of both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice in an attempt to identify a solution. Ultimately, however, he was not satisfied that any amendment could sufficiently narrow the scope of the bill to eliminate these unintended consequences, so he had the bill stricken at his own request.
Obenshain’s bill was indeed “stricken at request of patron” as Walczak states.
At the end of last week, three Democratic legislators renewed their efforts to protect women from right-wing crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), anti-abortion front groups that often use misleading advertising to market themselves as women’s health clinics. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) have reintroduced the “Stop Deceptive Advertising For Women’s Services Act,” which would hold those facilities accountable for any deceptive marketing tactics that falsely advertise abortion services they don’t actually provide. The measure encourages the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on the facilities that falsely advertise abortion services that don’t actually exist, while the organizations that are already accurately depicting their services wouldn’t be penalized.
Crisis pregnancy centers have a long history of preying on vulnerable women with medical misinformation. CPCs present themselves as a valid alternative to women’s health clinics, hoping to lure in women who want more information about their reproductive options, but they actually use conservative propaganda to dissuade women from choosing an abortion. And CPCs like to locate themselves close to reproductive health facilities — often moving in right next door — specifically to confuse patients who may be seeking an abortion.
“Deception has no place when a woman is seeking information about her health or a pregnancy,” Maloney said in a statement introducing the new CPC legislation. “While I will defend crisis centers’ First Amendment rights even though I disagree with their view of abortion, those that practice bait-and-switch should be held accountable so that pregnant women are not deceived at an extremely vulnerable time in their lives.”
Nevertheless, CPCs across the country have largely escaped accountability by citing those First Amendment rights. In cities that have attempted to prevent crisis pregnancy centers from lying to women, CPCs have typically been able to overturn those ordinances by arguing that any additional regulation stifles their freedom of speech. But there has been some slow progress lately. Last year, a judge in San Francisco ruled that CPCs don’t deserve constitutional protections for their misleading advertisements. And lawmakers in Oregon are currently advancing a measure that would require the CPCs in that state to explicitly disclose accurate information about the medical services they offer.
So far, the federal bill to crack down on CPCs has won the support of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “We know these crisis pregnancy centers lie to women in the moment they most need accurate information to decide the future of their pregnancy and their lives,” Ilyse Hogue, NARAL’s president, said in response to the bill’s introduction. “We’re thrilled that Sen. Menendez is taking action to hold these fake ‘clinics’ accountable.”
But anti-abortion politicians have actually attempted to drive more business to crisis pregnancy centers rather than work to hold CPCs accountable for spreading misinformation. In states like Texas and Ohio, Republicans have advocated defunding Planned Parenthood and reallocating those funds to CPCs — even though those right-wing organizations don’t provide the same range of medical services as Planned Parenthood does. In South Dakota, an onerous new anti-abortion restriction requires women to not only wait more than 72 hours before getting an abortion, but also forces women to receive “counseling” at a biased crisis pregnancy center before she may make the appointment to terminate her pregnancy.
Columbia University asked a Manhattan judge to allow them to change the requirements of a scholarship fund which limits recipients to members “of the Caucasian race.” The Lydia C. Roberts fellowship was created in 1920 when a woman donated her $500,000 estate to create the racially exclusive fund. Beyond limiting recipients to white people, the fellowship’s terms also require it to go to an Iowa resident, and it cannot be given to students who study “law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary surgery or theology.”
Columbia’s court filing argues that the terms of the fellowship should be altered because it is impossible to comply with its terms and also comply with laws banning race discrimination. The fellowship has not been awarded since 1997.
What’s Next For Kaitlyn Hunt, The Teen Charged With A Felony For Same-Sex Relationship With Classmate
On Friday night, 18-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt and her family went public with their story: Kaitlyn was charged with a felony stemming from a relationship she had with a 15-year-old girl at her high school. The response in the 48-hours that followed, Kaitlyn’s father Steven Hunt told ThinkProgress in an interview, was “extraordinary.”
Already, nearly 40,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Assistant State Attorney, Brian Workman, to drop the case. On Facebook, more than 13,000 people have joined a group — Free Kate — in support of the family.
Last week, her father said, Workman offered Kaitlyn a plea bargain. She could plead guilty to child abuse, a felony, and spend two years under house arrest. The judge would determine if she would have to register as a sex offender. They were given a deadline of May 24th to accept the offer or face trial.
Kaitlyn’s father suggests his daughters arrest — and the substantial sentence sought by the prosecutor — are motivated by anti-gay bias. He told ThinkProgress that the younger girl’s parents have told teachers at the high school that “their daughter will NOT be gay.”
So what’s next for Kaitlyn?
The family is hoping that public pressure will improve the offer from the State Attorney. Her father said Kaitlyn would be willing to plead to a misdemeanor, but not a felony. If the position of the State Attorney does not change, Kaitlyn and her family are prepared to go to trial.
The family’s attorney, Julia Graves, has assembled a table of experienced defense lawyers that will convene next week to discuss Kaitlyn’s legal options. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn is scheduled to appear in court again on June 20. At that time, if a plea agreement is not reached, the judge could set a date for trial.
The Virginia Republican Party this weekend nominated for lieutenant governor a minister who has a history of virulent anti-gay statements, accuses the Democratic Party of enslaving African Americans, and criticized President Obama for having “Muslim sensibilities.” The former Senate candidate, who in 2012 garnered less than 5 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, bested six other candidates during the Virginia GOP convention, and will join conservative Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on the Republican ticket. He is the first black candidate the state party has endorsed since 1988.
Here are some of the most alarming facts you need to know about E.W. Jackson:
- He has said gays and lesbians are “very sick people, psychologically and emotionally” whose minds are perverted. He has also said homosexuality “poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies”
- He called alleged Democratic Party ties to Planned Parenthood “more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was” and thinks blacks who join the Democratic Party are voluntarily selling themselves into slavery.
- He has equated Islam with anti-semitism, and criticized President Obama for having “Muslim sensibilities,”
- He led an “Exodus Now!” movement encouraging African Americans to leave the Democratic party because opposition to same-sex marriage and government endorsement of religion means “Democrats are engaged in a concerted effort to do away with all symbols of our Judeo-Christian culture.”
- He rallied against hate crimes legislation as a “virulent strain of Anti-Christian bigotry and hatred.”
Harvard students delivered a petition last week demanding an investigation into how a thesis built on those views and assumptions was able to make it through the approval process in the first place. “Academic freedom and a reasoned debate are essential to our academic community,’’ the petition read. “However, the Harvard Kennedy School cannot ethically stand behind academic work advocating a national policy of exclusion and advancing an agenda of discrimination.” As of last Wednesday, May 15 the students had collected 1,200 signatures.
Several days ago, 24 student groups at Harvard wrote a letter condeming the university’s approval of Richwine’s dissertation, saying it “debases” all their degrees.
Richwine himself hit back at the students on Friday, suggesting their demands were an attack on free speech and academic inquiry. David Ellwood, the dean of the Kennedy School, defended the committee that accepted Richwine’s thesis as “highly respected and discerning.” George Borjas, one of the members of that committee, characterized Richwine’s work as “sound.” Borjas himself previously lent his pen to arguments against immigration on economic grounds.
Meanwhile, recently completed research failed to find an identifiable racial gap in IQ, and the entire assumption that race is a stable and reliable biological category suffers from its own problems. Even using IQ as a measure of intelligence often fails to acknowledge that what we mean by “intelligence” is itself dependent on historical and social context, and buffeted by a wide array of structural forces.
This post has been edited for clarity.
I didn’t know Chris Stevens. I admit that the first I’d heard of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya was the morning of Sept. 12, when I woke up and, along with the rest of the country, learned that he and three others had died in an attack on a diplomatic mission in Benghazi. By all accounts, Stevens was well-respected among his peers and adored by his family and friends. I didn’t know Ambassador Stevens, but I do know one thing: he deserved better from his government all in these weeks and months after his death, from the Republican party that chose to place him center ring in an embarrassing circus to the Obama administration that failed in its responsibility to keep him safe.
In retrospect, the original Republican attempt to co-opt his death and turn it into something political, a weapon to use against President Obama’s reelection, is almost to be expected. The Obama administration’s troubling lack of transparency when it comes to national security matters certainly didn’t help debunk the inchoate sense that something was being hidden from the public.
Since the election, however, the furor over Benghazi hasn’t settled into sober examination of just went wrong. Instead, the sniping and bickering has seemed to escalate, keeping the tone surrounding the tragedy somewhere in the range of the level of discourse during the Whitewater scandal. By allowing the conversation to stay firmly on the questions that don’t matter, such as “Who changed the talking points?”, we manage to avoid the questions that do, such as “What do we do to keep this from happening again?”
Republicans in Congress have sought to play up the former for all its worth, resulting in a waxing and waning faux scandal that reemerges to the headlines every few months. In the months after the election, Republican senators threatened to filibuster any number of President Obama’s potential nominees unless they learned “the truth” about what happened. In the process, they and their House colleagues relentlessly attacked U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice for her presentation of what the administration initial knew about the tragedy, calling her “incompetent” and eventually forcing her to remove herself from the running to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. As the release this week of emails surrounding the drafting of the talking points Rice used revealed, those attacks were misplaced.
The very real role that the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee has in policing the Executive Branch has likewise devolved into a witch-hunt, searching for someone, anyone to burn at the stake, despite learning nothing new in many of them. Four dead Americans, is the repeated refrain from Republican congressmen, without seeming to care how or why they wound up that way or preventing more from reaching a similar fate. To aid their pursuit, the House Republicans have developed their own report on Benghazi, one filled with misleading evidence twisted to reveal a mythical cover-up.
It’s not as though the Republicans have been forced to hunt for legitimate things to criticize the Obama administration for in the wake of Benghazi. The State Department convened what’s known as an Accountability Review Board to examine just went wrong in the lead-up to the attack and how to fix them in the future. The final report from the Board, co-chaired by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, revealed real issues with the State Department’s execution of diplomatic security. The unclassified version of the report names twenty-four recommendations for preventing further loss of life at missions in high-risk areas, with the classified version putting forward another five recommendations.
Among the more damning findings of the Board for the Obama administration is that the security posture at Special Mission in Benghazi was “inadequate,” to put it mildly, due both to failures at State to provide the requisite tools needed and funding that was lacking. To prevent future State Department facilities from experiencing the latter, the Board recommended that State “work with Congress to restore the Capital Security Cost Sharing Program at its full capacity,” boosting the program’s funding to about $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2015, “prioritized for construction of new facilities in high risk, high threat areas.” It also suggested working with Congress to use Overseas Contingency Operations funding — the money set aside to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — to help meet the needs of high risk, high threat posts.
And it isn’t as if there hasn’t been opportunity for Republicans to work together with Democrats to implement these recommendations. In February, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) authored a bill that would transfer $1.3 billion in unused funding bookmarked for Iraq to the Department of State to bolster embassy security as the Board suggested. To his credit, Sen. Graham co-sponsored that bill, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent. It still sits in the House of Representatives, however, having not been referred to any committee for deliberation.
March’s continuing resolution to keep the government funded did include a boost in funding for embassy security that brought it back in line with the President’s request. In the face of sequestration’s across the board cuts, however, its uncertain whether embassy security funding will be able to remain at that level. And given that part of the problem that led to that lack of security at the mission in Benghazi was the poor decision making regarding the prioritization of funds, its not clear how sustainable this band-aid really is. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on Thursday introduced the Embassy Security and Personnel Protection Act to more permanently enact the increase in funding to the Capital Security Cost-Sharing Program the Board suggested. No Republicans have thus far chosen to serve as co-sponsors of the bill.
A search of the Library of Congress’ repository of legislation also reveals that of the most vocal critics of the administration in the House, only House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce has cosponsored a bill related to diplomatic security. None have introduced their own legislation related to this topic, and neither House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa nor Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) have signed on to support the only Republican-drafted bills that seek to improve the way the State Department handles personnel failures discovered in the course of internal reviews and procures contractors to aid in providing security to its facilities. Instead, Chaffetz in November once proudly declared on Fox News that he had in fact voted to cut funding for embassy security.
The real reason this is such a shame is that Amb. Stevens not only deserved better from the GOP in Congress, he deserved better from the administration he served. It’s certainly true that Stevens was an experienced diplomat, who knew the risks diplomatic officers in a dangerous country assume. But that’s not an excuse for poor diplomatic security. Yet Republican scandalmongering has given the administration a free pass on having a serious conversation with the public about whether or not we’re doing enough to protect our diplomats, though it has recently stepped up its efforts to actually prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
But it’s not yet enough. The Center for American Progress’ own Brian Katulis and Peter Juul recently laid out the possible repercussions of the executive and legislative branches putting Benghazi flash over substance:
The effort to turn the Benghazi attack into a political albatross for current and former Obama administration officials has done and will do significant damage to American diplomatic efforts in hostile environments. Policymakers may become even more reluctant to take risks with diplomatic personnel in these situations for fear of a political boomerang if something goes wrong.
As a result, the default policy may be to retrench behind the walls of so-called fortress embassies, take few if any risks with nonmilitary personnel, and surrender potential American influence on the ground in dangerous parts of the world. By flogging the phantom scandal of Benghazi, Obama administration critics who demand more direct intervention in Syria ironically are undermining their own argument. And if something goes wrong and Americans die, the administration will likely be rewarded with scandalmongering by advocates of the very policy that put American personnel at risk in the first place.
In the absence of strong action, the government could soon find itself relying more heavily on private security groups — like Acedemi, the artist formerly known as Blackwater — to provide protection to its diplomats, something many progressives, and host peoples, might blanch at. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in her book Drift, the trend over the past three decades towards the use of private military companies and contractors in place of government assets has resulted in a shadowy world of security with little oversight and less transparency. For that solution to be shoddily slapped onto the problem diplomatic security poses would be a disservice to both the public and those the government is meant to protect.
Unfortunately, it’s looking like the Republican probe into Benghazi could last until 2014, dragging it into yet another election cycle. Despite the fact that non-Republican voters see Benghazi as a non-scandal, GOP members of Congress will keep hammering away at it, continuing to suck the air out of legislative efforts to improve diplomatic security.
Republicans have held up Ambassador Stevens’ death for months as a symbol of everything that’s wrong in Washington. And, in a way, they’re right.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) went on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday to use the IRS scandal to attack the Obama administraiton, but flubbed a key part of his case: he couldn’t defend the claim that IRS was targeting conservative groups as part of a political strategy to help the White House.
Paul, like most Republicans, has been spinning the scandal as an Obama Administration attack on dissenters. “What the IRS did is how the KGB used to target dissidents,” he wrote in a CNN op-ed. “It is how they deal with troublemakers in China.”
Some have argued the extra IRS scrutiny was part of a failed attempt to implement election law, as opposed to a political crackdown. Host Candy Crowley asked Paul why this interpretation was wrong. He couldn’t give her a reason:
CROWLEY: We do know this one place processes 70,000 applications. Can you see in your mind’s eye a way this might not have been political, that this was a misguided stupid way to sort but that they didn’t intend it to be some kind of political attempt to harass the Tea Party?
PAUL: I would think if there’s any chance that this was a mistake, the Investigator General wouldn’t be coming out and saying otherwise, and the IRS themselves wouldn’t be saying –
CROWLEY: They say it’s a mistake. I think the question is whether it’s political.
PAUL: Well, I think we’re going to have to see the memorandum. Apparently there is a policy, and I think we’re going to find there’s a written policy that says we were targeting people who were opposed to the President. And when that comes forward, we need to know who wrote the policy and who approved the policy…now there’s rumors who wrote the policy is the person running Obamacare, which doesn’t give us a lot of confidence about Obamacare.
CROWLEY: Senator, I have to run. I’m way over on this, but I have to just go back to something you said. Are you telling me you think there’s a memo somewhere in which someone said in the memo we’re targeting people going after the president? Is that what I heard you say?
PAUL: Well, we keep hearing the reports and we have several specifically worded items saying who was being targeted. In fact, one of the bullet points says those who are critical of the President. So I don’t know if that comes from a policy, but that’s what’s being reported in the press.
It’s unclear what Paul’s source for that last claim is, but the Investigator General’s report Paul references found no evidence that conservative groups were targeted as part of a political strategy to weaken the president’s political opponents. The report blamed independent IRS management for allowing the practice to go on in the lower-level Cincinnati office.
On Sunday, during an appearance on Meet The Press, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — the GOP leader in the senate — distanced himself from Republican efforts to portray the Obama administration’s response to the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic issue in Benghazi, Libya as a Watergate-level scandal that should result in impeachment. McConnell’s comments come just days after the White House released 100 pages of emails undermining GOP claims that administration officials doctored the public talking points U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used to discuss the incident on the Sunday morning talk shows.
“You’re talking about others who may have said various things about this, let me tell you what I think about it. It’s clear there was inadequate security out there and it’s very clear that it was inconvenient within six weeks of the election, for the administration to in effect announce, that it was a terrorist attack,” McConnell said. “I think that’s worth examining, it is going to be examined.”
But asked repeatedly if Republicans should tone down their attacks against the administration, McConnell demurred, saying only that Obama should allow for an investigation. He also couldn’t identify specific evidence of an administration cover-up:
DAVID GREGORY (HOST): But you have specific evidence that they made up a tale, or was it based on information they had at the time?
MCCONNELL: Well, the talking points clearly were not accurate. I think getting to the bottom of this is an important investigation.
E-mails between the White House, CIA, State Department, Justice Department, and the FBI show that Rice’s remarks reflect the early view of the intelligence community and were produced with few changes from the White House. On Thursday, CBS’ Major Garrett reported that Republican sources misquoted or significantly embellished the emails officials used to draft Rice’s remarks in order to implicate the administration in a conspiracy to mislead the public about Benghazi.
During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) also admitted that he did not know if the Obama administration engaged in a “cover-up” of the Benghazi attacks.
Matt Kasper is the Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress.
On Wednesday night, Minnesota State Representative Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) took to the House floor to talk about climate change and renewable energy.
Using sources such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Gruenhagen told his colleagues that climate change is a “complete United Nations fraud and lie…. The latest facts from CPAC show that in the last sixteen years there’s been no global warming.”
While it is common practice among climate skeptics to claim that the Earth is no longer warming, the fact is global temperatures are rising. 2010 was the hottest year on record and every year of the 2000s was warmer than 1990s average. Over 30 million people were displaced by climate-related extreme weather events in 2012, and it is increasingly likely millions more will be displaced in the near future.
Watch the speech here, courtesy of theuptake.org:
Gruenhagen made his speech the same day a new survey of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers found a 97 percent consensus that global warming is happening and humans are the cause and just a few days after it was reported that atmospheric C02 levels reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence
Indeed, Minnesota residents are feeling the very real impacts of climate change. The MinnPost reports that three 1,000 year floods have occurred in the state in the last eight years as a result of shifts in rainfall patterns. Extreme drought is occurring not just in Minnesota but almost every state, and climate change is having cumulative stress on the Great Lakes. Rising levels of water vapor in the warming atmosphere are spiking heat indexes and associated health warnings.
Gruenhagen aside, the majority of lawmakers in Minnesota have recognized the importance of enacting policies to address climate change and in 2007, implemented one of the highest renewable energy standards in the nation – laws which require electric utilities companies to produce a portion of their electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources. Indeed, Minnesota ranks seventh in the nation in overall wind energy capacity and lawmakers in the state recently agreed to a solar energy standard.
At the federal level, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) recently attacked climate deniers on the Senate floor saying, “If 98 out of 100 doctors tell me I’ve got a problem, I should take their advice. And if those two other doctors get paid by Big Snack Food, like certain climate deniers get paid by Big Coal, I shouldn’t take their advice.”
Because this is apparently a week that involves a lot of me lowering my head slowly and deliberately to my desk a la Peggy Olson, First Lady Michelle Obama decided to trot out some very old talking points in her commencement address to the 2013 graduating class at Bowie State University:
“Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper,” Obama continued. “Right now, one in three African American students are dropping out of high school, only one in five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree.”
But priorities should change, she said, because “getting an education is as important if not more important than it was back when this university was founded.”
While those statistics are absolutely worrisome, I’m pretty sure that the challenges of preparing a competitive resume, getting equal access to standardized test prep, navigating the admissions process, and managing the cost of financial aid are also relevant issues to this conversation. Some of those barriers have been priorities for her husband’s administration. Mrs. Obama acknowledged the odds that a number of the graduates faced to get to and complete their educations Bowie State, though she focused on the cost of tuition and difficult family situations more than other structural issues that might affect students’ abilities to get access to a college education. And she framed their success as a matter of personal will and determination. I can also see why she might have wanted to continue a conversation of long standing within African-American communities given the setting, and as part of her larger, and important historical lesson about the obstacles that black students have faced to get educated in America.
But this particular talking point, which both Mrs. Obama and the President use relatively frequently, could do more to address the structural elements that prop up a culture that values athletics over academics. Personal motivations may be a problem, but the massive public investment in college athletic facilities, the fact that coaches are some states highest-paid public employees, and the allocation of both scholarship money and admissions spots to athletes who are unlikely to complete their academic degrees before entering professional drafts. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to dismantle “the slander that a black child with a book is trying to act white,” but I’m not sure the fantasy career aspirations of black children are the only, or even the main thing, at issue here.
And if we’re going to talk personal motivations, wanting to be “a baller or a rapper” is not a dream that’s solely the property of African-Americans. America has three major televised singing competitions right now, American Idol, The Voice, and X-Factor, all of which promise that it’s possible to rise from anonymity to remarkable fame and a career in music, and the first of which actually became notorious for airing auditions of people who had neither the skills to realistically pursue their aspirations, nor the self-knowledge to recognize the gap between their abilities and their ambitions. Participation is hardly limited to African-American singers by design or choice. There are plenty of white folks who hope to make it big in the manner of Taylor Swift in the same way African-American boys might be dreaming of growing up to become Jay-Z.
The same is more true for sports than Mrs. Obama’s remarks would suggest. In Division I men’s basketball, 1,443, or 27 percent, of the 5,265 players who participated in the 2011-2012 season were white, while 3,158, or 59 percent were African-American. During that same season, in Division I baseball, the figures were most striking. 8,304, or 82 percent of the 10,093 players, were white that season. Clearly, in the college athletic programs that feed into careers in professional sports, there’s a great deal of white interest and participation, even if it isn’t evenly distributed by sport. Miami Heat star LeBron James may be an argument for skipping college in pursuit of a professional athletic career right out of high school, but so is Washington Nationals left-fielder Bryce Harper, who earned a GED and didn’t even finish high school in a classroom setting, all so he could focus on baseball instead, even though the idea that any ordinary person could emulate either of their paths is equally improbable.
The difference, then, might not be between the wildest dreams African-American and white prospective college students harbor in their hearts, but the risks and costs associated with pursuing them. The black-white wealth gap that has expanded dramatically over the last quarter century means both that there are fewer African-American families who can, as Serena and Venus Williams’ father, and as Bryce Harper’s parents did, did, devote the resources into turning their children into professional athletes—and who have the resources to get their children back on an academic path if those efforts fail. It may be easier to call for African-American students and their families to put aside unrealistic dreams in a commencement address than it would be to address the entire architecture of inequality that makes pursuing such dreams a riskier proposition for African-American families than white ones, just as pursuing a basic education once was. But building what Mrs. Obama called “an even better future for the next generation of graduates from this fine school and for all of the children in this country,” means building the right to dream big, and to fail and to find a new path, not just to walk the straight and narrow one.
On his Facebook page Friday, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) denied he ever voted against strengthened background checks amid blacklash over his opposition to the bipartisan Manchey-Toomey background checks amendment.
Flake used his vote for a watered-down amendment offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to argue that he voted to expand background checks. In reality, the amendment would do little to expand background checks and in fact would weaken gun safety laws. Flake made the comments in response to an ad criticizing his opposition to Manchin-Toomey:
If you are anywhere close to a television set in Arizona in the coming days, you’ll likely see an ad about gun control financed by NYC Mayor Bloomberg.
Contrary to the ad, I did vote to strengthen background checks. I voted for the bipartisan Grassley Amendment, which included language from a bill I helped write which strengthened background checks for those with mental illness. The Grassley amendment also included language to increase prosecution of criminals and fugitives who circumvent the current background check system.
Mayor Bloomberg can spend millions trying to get me to support his view of background checks. That’s his call. But we Arizonans aren’t easily bullied. The legislation that would have done the most to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them was the Grassley Amendment. And that’s the amendment I supported.
Flake has misrepresented his position on gun violence before. He once wrote to the mother of an Aurora shooting victim that “Strengthening background checks is something we agree on.” However, a month later, Flake voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment to expand background checks.
What Flake voted for was a plan that would weaken gun laws by making it easier to buy and transport across state lines, helping people evade stricter laws. The central solution Flake cites from the Grassley plan — that states would share their mental health records and provides more prosecution of felons who seek guns — is only one step. It still does nothing to prevent people who take advantage of existing holes in the first place, like online sales. The Grassley amendment also would make it easier for some mentally ill people to obtain guns, by exempting patients who are involuntarily committed.
After his vote, Flake saw his approval rating tank. “Nothing like waking up to a poll saying you’re the nation’s least popular senator,” Flake wrote. “Given the public’s dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum.” Flake’s colleague Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is facing similar fire from constituents for her vote with the National Rifle Association.
Legislation at the federal level designed to improve women’s economic opportunities appears stalled, including, most recently, the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. But some states are taking matters into their own hands and working on similar laws in their legislatures. They could serve as models for what needs to be done at the federal level.
On Tuesday, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed an equal pay bill into law. The new law will require employers to prove they have legitimate business reasons for paying workers unequal wages, protect workers who discuss pay with each other, provide protections for employees who request flexible work arrangements, give mothers who need to express breast milk at work protection, and improve the process that ensures state government contracts pay equal wages. It also establishes a study committee to look at instituting a paid family leave law.
New York may soon follow in Vermont’s footsteps. In his 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a Women’s Equality Agenda that is currently winding its way through the state legislature, and many of the provisions relate to women’s economic opportunities.
One would amend state law to make it explicit that pregnant workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy and childbirth unless they would create a hardship for the employer. Women are often pushed out of their jobs or fired when they request accommodations like a stool, the ability to drink water on the job, or be given light lifting duties. On a recent conference call about the proposal, Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, recounted the stories of New York women who experienced these responses, including a worker who was pushed out of her job at 17 weeks pregnant because her employer refused to modify a lifting requirement. She ended up in a homeless shelter thanks to the loss of income.
Another provision would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who share wage information with each other and redefine what exceptions employers can cite for pay differentials so that they can only relate to job performance or business necessity. Yet another would amend New York State’s human rights law to provide explicit protections for workers who have children.
New York goes even further, though, by taking an intersectional approach to women’s equality. While statehouses across the country continue to consider a record number of bills that seek to limit women’s reproductive access, New York’s bill is the only current one that would expand it. The state’s existing laws regulate abortion in the criminal code and only allows for abortion care later in a pregnancy when a women’s life is at risk, not when her health is at risk. If the national precedent of Roe v. Wade were to be struck down, abortion care could be hampered, so the agenda seeks fixes to clarify women’s rights.
While it may seem unrelated to women’s economic opportunities, access to abortion care plays a big financial role in women’s lives. Women who aren’t able to get an abortion when they seek to terminate a pregnancy are three times more likely to fall below the poverty line within two years. Controlling fertility allows women to hold jobs and invest in their education.
New York and Vermont are following other state-level successes for equal pay laws. Texas passed its own Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to reform the constitution to allow workers more time to file a charge of discriminatory pay. New Mexico passed the Fair Pay For Women Act this year, which also eases the ability to bring cases alleging pay discrimination.
These bills are popular with both the general public as well as the business community. In New York, 84 percent want to enact equal pay legislation and 80 percent want to update the state’s abortion laws. The state’s chamber of commerce has also come out in support. Federal lawmakers may want to take note of the success of these efforts at the state level.
Aside from the ironic fact that teens who receive abstinence-only education are actually more likely to become pregnant than the students who receive accurate sexual health information about prevention methods, the situation in Michigan also illustrates the pervasive negativity that Americans associate with teenage pregnancies. That attitude ultimately creates a environment that punishes, stigmatizes, and shames young mothers — many of whom are subject to much larger structural issues that are out of their control, like the type of sex education they received in school or the level of poverty they were born into.
Unfortunately, the situation in Michigan is hardly the only example of this dynamic in play. Here are five other instances of teen moms being shamed instead of supported:
1. A North Carolina high schooler’s photo won’t appear in her yearbook because she posed with her newborn son. One teen mom in North Carolina can relate all too well to the pregnant students in Michigan. After posing for a photo with her baby son, she was told that the picture wouldn’t be allowed to appear in the yearbook this year. The school claimed that the image would “promote teen pregnancy” and told the student she had two days to submit a different photo without her son. She declined, saying, “If he wasn’t going to be in it with me, I didn’t want be in it at all.”
2. One Louisiana high school banned pregnant teens from attending classes on campus altogether. Last year, a charter school in Louisiana received significant backlash for its policy forbidding pregnant students from remaining on campus. According to the school handbook, pregnant students were required to either switch to another school or begin a home school program — and if the school “suspected” a girl of being pregnant, administrators could force her to take a pregnancy test to find out for sure. After the ACLU stepped in to file a formal discrimination complaint, the Louisiana Department of Education ordered the school to drop its policy.
3. A celebrity-studded national campaign tells teens that being a mother is incompatible with being successful. Public service campaigns that stigmatize young parents are all too common. Teens are often bombarded with negative messages intended to dissuade them from having a baby at a young age — but instead of focusing on effective information about tools to prevent pregnancy, like information about where to access affordable birth control or other family planning support, these ads simply focus on how teen mothers’ lives are ruined. Many of them also have the added effect of dismissing parenthood altogether. A recent campaign from the Candie’s Foundation depicts celebrity’s faces alongside these messages, including Carly Rae Jepson proclaiming that being a mother prevents women from achieving great things:
4. New York City advertisements tell teen moms that they will be poor and their boyfriends will leave them. New York City, which has taken huge steps to lower its rates of unintended teen pregnancies by expanding access to contraception, recently decided its efforts also needed to include an “edgy” ad campaign intended to illustrate “the real cost of teen pregnancy.” The posters in the campaign fall right in line with the typical scare tactics that attempt to frighten teens out of becoming pregnant, displaying children’s faces alongside dire statistics about why teen motherhood is destined for failure. Rather than addressing the deep-seated economic issues at play, this type of advertising chooses instead to simply blame teen mothers — and their children — for creating their own cycle of poverty:
5. An Oregon high schooler faked a pregnancy to experience the stigma firsthand, and even she was surprised at the negative reactions. High school senior Maria Miranda lives in an area that has a high rate of teen pregnancies, especially among Latina youth, and she wanted to investigate the types of stereotyping those young women experience. For six months, she pretended to be pregnant — and lost many friends in the process. Miranda asked four friends to participate in the social experiment and collect the gossip spreading about her. They reported that she was being called “irresponsible” or “stupid.” One of her teachers said, “Oh great, another child having a child.” In later interviews, Miranda said she had never learned more about judgment than she had during those six months.
Ultimately, since teens aren’t “supposed” to be getting pregnant, American society assumes that the ones who do are failures. Those “deviant” teens should never be celebrated; rather, they should be held up as a warning to dissuade other youth from following in their footsteps. But those messages are harmful for the millions of young parents who are living with the reality of caring for a child. Those youth need support, not stigmatization, as they transition into being parents. In fact, studies have shown that robust youth support programs are actually more effective at preventing unintended pregnancies than efforts to shame teens about their sexuality are.
Of course, the United States — which has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world — should take steps to ensure that youth have the education and the resources they need to decide when they’re ready to become parents. But that public health effort shouldn’t come at the expense of the millions of teenage parents who don’t deserve to be ostracized, especially when there are more effective policy solutions that could better address the root of this issue.
A week after a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee overwhelmingly approved a rollback of certain financial reforms contained in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, one of the Senate’s biggest consumer advocates is pushing back.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) came out swinging against the repeal of new rules meant to regulate derivatives, the complex financial instruments that were at “the center of the storm” that caused the financial crisis. The rules shouldn’t be weakened or repealed just because big banks want to see them eliminated, Warren argued Thursday, The Hill reports:
“The big banks won some battles and lost some battles during the financial regulatory debate in 2009 and 2010, but their tune never changed and their lobbying never let up,” she said. “It is dangerous for Congress to amend the derivatives provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act without at the same time taking accompanying steps to strengthen reform and maintain the law’s equilibrium.”
One rule the package of legislation advanced by the House committee would eliminate is a “push out” provision that would limit derivatives trading at banks that receive federal backing. Similar to the Volcker Rule, another provision Wall Street largely opposes, it is aimed at making taxpayer-backed banks safer to avoid crises similar to the one that thrust the United States into a recession and led to a bailout of major banks in 2008.
Warren isn’t alone in her opposition to the rollback. The Obama administration has long opposed the repeal of the derivatives rules, and former Federal Deposit Insurance Commission chair Sheila Bair has said the swaps and derivatives rules need to be strengthened rather than weakened. Whether the rules will face a repeal vote in the Senate isn’t clear: the House passed similar legislation in 2012, only to see it die in the Senate without a vote.