Archive for February 3rd, 2012
Republican leaders in Congress have all but reneged on a key agreement they reached with the White House last summer rather than reconsider their unwavering stance against new tax revenue.
Relations between the Obama administration and the congressional GOP were already just about as bad as can be. But even so, this sets a precedent future Congresses and White Houses will remember when partisan mismatches force them to strike deals and govern.
“I’ve got concerns about the sequester,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday. “I’ve made that pretty clear. And replacing the sequester certainly has value. The defense portion of the sequester, in my view, would clearly hollow our military. The Secretary of Defense has said that, members of Congress have said it. But the question I would pose is, where’s the White House? Where’s the leadership that should be there to ensure that this sequester does not go into effect.”
“Sequester” is budget-speak for across-the-board cuts. But the cuts he’s talking about were part of a deal he recently claimed he’d honor. Here’s what he’s talking about.
In late July 2011, the federal government was nearly out of borrowing authority, marching toward default, and a deeply divided Congress couldn’t figure out how to raise the national debt limit.
The predicament was an outcome of the GOP’s strategy of using the threat of default as leverage to force Democrats to agree to deep cuts to federal aid programs. The GOP demanded a dollar-for-dollar match between guaranteed cuts and newly allotted borrowing authority. And they got most of what they wanted.
In the end they took about half the cuts up front, with the other half tied to the success or failure of the Super Committee, tasked with securing $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. The catch was that both parties needed an incentive to deal honestly — so GOP leaders and the White House agreed that if the Super Committee failed, it would result in $600 billion in automatic, across the board cuts to national security spending, and another $600 billion in domestic cuts, taken mostly from Medicare providers. With both Democratic and Republican sacred cows in line for slaughter, surely, the Super Committee members would reach a compromise.
Immediately after the Super Committee failed in November, rank and file Republicans began a campaign to swap out only the defense cuts with other spending cuts — no tax increases.
For a time, that was a rogue effort. On November 3, 2011, Boehner told reporters, “Me, personally? Yes, I would feel bound. It was part of the agreement, and so either we succeed or we’re in the sequester. The sequester is ugly. Why? Because we didn’t want anybody to go there. That’s why we have to succeed.”
Boehner’s Thursday comments came moments after Senate Republicans unveiled their plan to partially phase out the enforcement mechanism by reducing the federal workforce and freezing federal pay. Both developments indicate Republican leaders no longer regard their own deal as sacrosanct.
Now Boehner’s pressuring the White House to let Republicans off the hook for the piece of the deficit enforcement mechanism that was designed to make them negotiate in good faith. And Democrats are furious.
“Now we’re really talking skullduggery,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters. “They understood what the consequences were. They agreed to the consequences, and they thought that they could walk away from all the deficit reduction that was possible in that and now say, well, forget about deficit reduction altogether when it comes to the defense budget. I think that an agreement was reached. It must be honored.”
This will be a huge piece of the defining election year fight on Capitol Hill — one that will test Democrats’ will to break the GOP’s anti-tax absolutism, and thus weigh heavily on the broader fight between the parties over the future of the social safety net.
© 2012, agentleman.
6 Things You Need To Know About the Komen Foundation/Planned Parenthood Controversy (Updated: Komen Reverses Decision)
By now, unless you’re living on Mars, your newspaper reports, radio waves, Facebook and Twitter streams are being swamped with stories, images and chattering about the shocking decision of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s most ubiquitous breast cancer awareness foundation, to essentially sever financial ties with Planned Parenthood.
1. Although it started off as a blow, this ended up as a PR disaster for Komen–and a win for Planned Parenthood.
When the decision was announced over the Planned Parenthood email list (it had initially been broken a short while earlier), it felt like a crippling blow to women’s healthcare–and in some ways it still is. But the big story is actually how furious many Komen supporters are, how many have taken to the Internet, to petitions, and more to declare the end of their support and donations to Komen.
This is a big change, considering the fact that Komen was a beloved, celebrity-endorsed brand — and Planned Parenthood was increasingly under attack. But something shifted after this announcement: immediate analyses from social media in fact show that the number of angry comments against Komen and in favor Planned Parenthood vastly outnumbered the comments that applauded the decision — even as Komen began to frantically erase them on its Facebook page.
Marketing expert Kivi Leroux Miller calls Komen’s actions a “communications debacle unfolding before us,” writing, “At one point last night, I did a quick count and found the ratio of anti-Komen decisions to pro-Komen decisions to be about 80 to 1 on Twitter.” Miller has a blow-by-blow post on how the news broke and essentially how the Komen foundation utterly failed at every step to anticipate and properly deal with the outrage.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood, in a few short days, nearly raised the entire amount of money lost from Komen — $650,000 has been pledged as of February 1. On Thursday, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $250,000 donation, and Facebook has been flooded by loyal supporters posting, “I still stand with Planned Parenthood” graphics on their pages.
2. Despite the uproar, this disheartening move was a natural end-result of the political “war on women”–a war which will continue to try to isolate abortion providers at all costs.
As heartening as the outpouring and the reversal has been, and as satisfying as it’s been on some level to watch Komen’s PR strategy implode, the initial decision is still bad news, and it comes after a year of bad policy. One of the primary items on the right-wing agenda since the GOP swept into Congress in 2010 has been to isolate, ostracize, harass and shame Planned Parenthood. They’ve tried to de-fund it at the federal and state levels and launched a bogus investigation. Planned Parenthood and all abortion providers are part of a never-ending paranoid obsession. Many bloggers have been comparing it to the Salem, Massachusetts hysteria, the kind of witch-hunt that taints everyone by association.
They’ve already succeeded in making abortion a pariah among medical procedures, the only one not funded by Medicaid, the only one hushed up and shunted aside. Now they’re trying to extend that blacklist to Planned Parenthood, and backlash aside, Komen’s move shows that this relentless campaign has met with some success.
3. Komen is a corporatist nonprofit organization with a dubious record when it comes to putting women’s needs above its own interests.
While some of what Komen has done is undoubtedly beneficial, it is an organization that has been in trouble for corporate ties and lack of concern for health issues for a long time. In a Daily Kos diary, user Betty Pinson has an explosive account of her own research into Komen. Her journey began with a rude awakening when she called a local politician to advocate for a cancer treatment funding program for low-income women–and discovered that Komen was lobbying against it. Here’s what she says about Komen:
They fought behind the scenes in my state to prevent the governor from adopting the treatment program. They worked for several years to stall or kill the Breast Cancer & Environmental Research Act. In the end, they eviscerated it by removing new funding for environmental research and substituting a panel to review all research on breast cancer & environment. Using private funds, they recently collaborated with the Institute of Medicine to develop said report. Released last December, it sadly detailed the same old arguments that there’s no evidence of links between environmental toxins and that no further research should be done on the subject since everyone has those toxins in their bodies already. Instead they chose to blame breast cancer patients for getting the disease (more here).
In 2009, Komen lobbied behind the scenes to weaken the healthcare bill (ACA) as it was being debated in Congress. They hired Hadassah Lieberman, wife of Joe, in an effort to convince Joementum to vote against the Public Option. Komen spent over $1 million in 2008 & 2009, on behind-the-scenes lobbying related to the healthcare reform bill, so who knows what else was on their agenda.
She also notes CEO Brinker’s ties to George W. Bush and other Republicans — which partially explains her institution’s opposition to progressive policy.
These kinds of positions go hand-in-hand with being buddied up to corporate behemoths, as Komen is–and becoming more focused on appearance than results.
The list goes on–Komen has also been accused of being overly litigious over use of the word “cure,” which began to raise public ire and suspicion that the charity was more concerned with its image than the “cure” it claimed to be desperately seeking.
4. Even within this context, this decision was so heated it led to resignations and defections within Komen.
Contrary to the spin put out by Komen, the decision caused tremendous friction within the organization. Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic made some phone calls on Thursday morning, and his sources told him their perception of what happened once the decision was reached:
The decision, made in December, caused an uproar inside Komen. Three sources told me that the organization’s top public health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood. Williams, who served as the managing director of community health programs, was responsible for directing the distribution of $93 million in annual grants.
Williams offered a statement to Goldberg saying she hoped that Komen and Planned Parenthood would find a way to work together. Meanwhile, several Komen chapters, including affiliates in Colorado and Connecticut, have expressed their dissent with the national group’s decision and their desire to stay in partnership with Planned Parenthood locally.
This may explain some of the reason for Komen’s eventual reversal.
5. The new policy was created expressly to defund Planned Parenthood, not as a blanket rule.
Susan G. Komen top brass are claiming that the sloughing off of PPFA is purely a side-effect of a new rule that prohibits funding organizations under political investigation. However, Goldberg notes that according to his research, the order was reversed: the investigation was a convenient way to get rid of PPFA.
But three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut off Planned Parenthood. (Komen gives out grants to roughly 2,000 organizations, and the new “no investigations” rule applies to only one so far.)
But if the “blanket rule” applies to all entities under investigation, why is Komen still funding Penn State? At Mother Jones, Adam Serwer makes this brilliant catch. Komen, he notes,
currently fund[s] cancer research at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to the tune of $7.5 million. Like Planned Parenthood, Penn State is currently the subject of a federal government investigation, and like the Planned Parenthood grant, the Penn State grant appears to violate a new internal rule at Komen that bans grants to organizations that are under investigation by federal, state, or local governments. But so far, only the Planned Parenthood grants appear to have been cancelled.
Sounds like a double-standard is in place.
6. It is widely understood that the anti-gay, anti-choice Palin pal who’s a new VP at Komen had a major role in the company’s new direction–and replaced a Democratic lobbyist.
Jezebel dubs the aforementioned “no grants to institutions under investigations” rule the “Handel rule,” after Karen Handel, the company’s new vice-president, plucked from the far-right of the Republican party. Handel got caught red-handed retweeting a nasty little tidbit after the decision was announced, and then later deleted the tweet–but not before the screengrab was captured, with tens of thousands of views already.
This tweet disappeared, but others, revealing Handel’s ultra-conservative bona-fides, remain. At Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan goes back through Handel’s previous tweets:
Handel didn’t bother to scrub her earlier political tweets before becoming the Senior Vice President of Public Policy at Susan G Komen for the Cure. Like this one, where she talked about how great it was to hang out with pro-life organizations. Or this one, where she promised to pass a racist immigration law in Georgia, like the one they have in Arizona. Or the celebratory tweets where she’s just beside herself that Sarah Palin endorsed her, making her an honorary Mama Grizzly. Or all the tweets where she promised Georgians to get rid of Obamacare— because health care is something you earn, especially if you have cancer, right, non-doctor lady who works for Susan G. Komen for the Cure making health care decisions for poor women?
It seems that just before Handel was hired, a previous Democratic-leaning VP left Komen. Megan Carpentier at Raw Story has dug up information around that staff transition:
Before Handel’s hiring, Komen’s lobbying shop was staunchly Democratic — from its head to its hired guns…And when their lead lobbyist, former Democratic staffer Jennifer Luray, quietly left in 2010, she took with her a six-figure severance package not in keeping with an employee that just found a new job.At the time Handel was hired as a consultant — shortly after Luray left — Handel told the local magazine Northside Woman that Komen was her first and only client, and that her role was to “[work] with [the affiliates] to make sure they are as strong as they can be”…That would seem to belie Komen Foundation President Nancy Brinker’s assertion today that Handel wasn’t involved in the decision to end most affiliates’ grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings, let alone her assertion that none of their decisions were “political.”
Handel and Brinker are in the middle of a genuine firestorm, deservedly so.
Here’s the reality — the war on Planned Parenthood will continue and the effort to isolate it from the medical community will continue. But the pro-choice community can be thankful that this nasty public breakup reflects well on Planned Parenthood, and poorly on those who disavow it. It reflects on those disavowers so badly that many of us have remembered just how pernicious certain aspects of the mainstream breast cancer awareness movement has been, and redoubled our suspicions.
Like many dozens of others this week, I’ve gone back to Barbara Ehrenreich’sCancerland to be reminded of this truth: “In the harshest judgment, the breast-cancer cult serves as an accomplice in global poisoning — normalizing cancer, prettying it up, even presenting it, perversely, as a positive and enviable experience.”
Planned Parenthood keeps its focus on women’s health, plain and simple, and includes abortion as part of that comprehensive approach. It doesn’t try to gussy up health issues, or prettify them, or politicize them. It’s the other side that does the politicizing. Maybe the outrage and the mea culpa it forced Komen to issue will finally make other organizations think twice before they stab a beloved health organization in the back the way Komen has done.
© 2012, agentleman.
A Painful Betrayal
With its roster of corporate sponsors and the pink ribbons that lend a halo to almost any kind of product you can think of, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has a longstanding reputation as a staunch protector of women’s health. That reputation suffered a grievous, perhaps mortal, wound this week from the news that Komen, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, decided to betray that mission. It threw itself into the middle of one of America’s nastiest political battles, on the side of hard-right forces working to demonize Planned Parenthood and undermine women’s health and freedom.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the foundation is cutting off its financing of breast cancer screening and education programs run by Planned Parenthood affiliates. That means nearly $700,000 less for Planned Parenthood, which performed 750,000 such screenings last year, many thousands of them with money from the Komen foundation.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York pledged to matchup to $250,000 for Planned Parenthood, a generous move, although it addresses only one year’s financing. There was also an outpouring of support from small donors.
In addition to harming women, the foundation has also tarnished, perhaps permanently, its brand, symbolized by the pink ribbon that adorns yogurt cups and running shoes and tote bags and Federal Premium Ammunition’s pink shotgun shells. Companies like Ford Motor, Dell and Yoplait may not find the same value in identifying themselves with the foundation after its sharp departure from political neutrality.
To try to justify its move, the foundation cited a new policy against making grants to groups under federal or state investigation — in Planned Parenthood’s case, an inquiry into how it spends its taxpayer money by Representative Cliff Stearns, a Republican of Florida. That is just a flimsy fig leaf.
Mr. Stearns’s “investigation” is nothing more than a political witch hunt, stirred up by Republican leaders and by a right-wing antichoice group, Americans United for Life,which now displays the pink ribbon on its Web site as part of a fund-raising campaign for Komen. The inquiry is part of the Republican campaign to stigmatize Planned Parenthood and end financial support for its invaluable network of clinics. Abortions make up only about 3 percent of its work, but most of this crowd also objects to its leading role in providing access to contraceptives.
The Komen foundation should be speaking out against this abuse of Congressional power. At the least, the foundation’s leaders should have the decency and good sense not to do or say anything that even implies an endorsement.
It’s not clear whether this move reflects the political agenda of Komen’s leadership, including its new senior vice president for public policy, Karen Handel, who called for defunding Planned Parenthood during her failed gubernatorial campaign in Georgia in 2010. Perhaps the foundation just caved in to bullying by politicians, although it is not clear why it would have unless it was sympathetic to their cause. Either way, the result is the same: negative fallout for women’s health.
BREAKING News Today 2/3/2012: Susan G. Komen for the Cure has changed its decision regarding its partnership with Planned Parenthood. We are happy and relieved they have made this decision and hope women’s access to critical health care is uninterrupted.
BREAKING News Today 2/3/2012: Letter of Apology to public:
We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.
The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.
Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.
Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.
It is our hope and we believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow down and reflect on how grants can most effectively and directly be administered without controversies that hurt the cause of women. We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue. We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics.
Starting this afternoon, we will have calls with our network and key supporters to refocus our attention on our mission and get back to doing our work. We ask for the public’s understanding and patience as we gather our Komen affiliates from around the country to determine how to move forward in the best interests of the women and people we serve.
We extend our deepest thanks for the outpouring of support we have received from so many in the past few days and we sincerely hope that these changes will be welcomed by those who have expressed their concern.
© 2012, agentleman.
Why is Obama So Chicken, Unwilling to Even Address the Question of Pot and the Failed Drug War?
“We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws.”
Can you guess which 2012 presidential candidate said the above statement? You’d be forgiven for thinking Ron Paul, or even Gary Johnson, since both have publicly advocated for reforming our country’s drug laws. You’d be forgiven for guessing anyone but Barack Obama, based on his actions during the past few years, but it was. It may be hard to believe, but President Obama is the same person who once called for reforming our marijuana laws, and deemed the drug war an “utter failure” during his 2004 campaign for the US Senate. Despite previous calls for reform, on Monday night, when faced with over 70,000 individuals urging him to address the issue of marijuana prohibition, Obama’s only response was his silence. NORML and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition posted two of the most popular questions submitted to the White House’s recent Q&A on YouTube, alongside hundreds of others on the topic of marijuana law reform, but Obama offered no response or acknowledgement.
This recent attempt at citizen engagement, entitled “Your Interview With the President,” was launched to coincide with the State of the Union Address. The concept was simple. Anyone could submit a text or video question through the White House YouTube channel, before the public voted on them over the course of the week. The highest rated questions would be selected for Obama to address. On Tuesday, January 24th, NORML submitted a question of our own, which inquired:
“With over 850,000 Americans arrested in 2010, for marijuana charges alone, and tens of billions of tax dollars being spent locking up non-violent marijuana users, isn’t it time we regulate and tax marijuana?”
The question exploded in popularity and received more than 4,000 votes in the first several hours, making it the 2nd highest rated question. Much to our surprise, that evening the question was removed from the YouTube channel and flagged as “inappropriate.” In response, an upset contingent of citizens flooded the page with marijuana law reform questions. Initially, many of their inquiries were met with censorship as well, but by the end of the week it seemed the moderator had given up and most reform questions remained posted. When voting closed on January 28th, marijuana related questions accounted for 105 out of the top 160 questions and received more than 72,000 votes in total. Individual reposts of NORML’s question netted well over 20,000 combined. A video posted by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition came in second overall, and inquired:
“Mr. President, my name is Stephen Downing, and I’m a retired deputy chief of police from the Los Angeles Police Department. From my 20 years of experience I have come to see our country’s drug policies as a failure and a complete waste of criminal justice resources. According to the Gallup Poll, the number of Americans who support legalizing and regulating marijuana now outnumbers those who support continuing prohibition. What do you say to this growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you have delivered in your first term?
We waited with anticipation until last night when President Obama took to his webcam and began addressing the questions. After about an hour came and went with some unsubstantial discussion about jobs, a question from an internet comedian, talk of the Obama’s upcoming wedding anniversary, and the President offering to check out the resume of an attendee’s spouse, the “interview” ended, with not a single word spoken about marijuana prohibition. It seems they found silence to be more effective than censorship.
It is regrettable that since taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue it seems “hope and change” became “more of the same,” at least on the marijuana issue. Raids against medical marijuana programs have continued and intensified under the current administration, while the Department of Justice lodged threats of intervention at California when they even considered legalizing cannabis in 2010. The United States currently arrests over 800,000 Americans every year for marijuana charges, the majority of which are for possession alone, to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars. The ongoing drug war continues to disproportionately affect communities of color, who are arrested in staggering numbers completely out of sync with their use rates. Under our unregulated system, children can currently access marijuana with greater ease than regulated products such as cigarettes or alcohol. Meanwhile, the legalization and regulation of cannabis has the potential to bring in large amounts of tax revenue and create a brand new, employment rich industry. All of these things taken into consideration make the president’s continual skirting of the issue all the more frustrating.
“Inappropriate?” What is more appropriate to discuss at a time like this than fiscal responsibility and civil liberties? President Obama once pledged to have “science and the scientific process…inform and guide decisions” of his Administration, and many of us are still holding out hope he will finally follow through on that promise.
Throughout his presidency, he played off the social media and grassroots strategies that propelled his 2010 campaign. President Obama utilized modern communication tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube throughout his first term to engage with the American people. The programs varied from YouTube video town halls, to Twitter Q&As, to petition drives, but the general concept was always to solicit policy and reform ideas from the general public, and address them in a formal and intelligent way. Many saw these as perfect opportunities to raise the issue of marijuana prohibition, and as a platform for an otherwise neglected issue to be seriously addressed. In practice, it never seemed to go that way for marijuana reform advocates. Through each of the previous nine efforts of this nature, questions on ending the drug war and legalizing marijuana have finished at the top every time and have typically dwarfed any other issue in volume of responses. Each time the administration has either ridiculed the question, ignored it entirely, or given it a vapid response. In this regard, the latest snub is simply a continuation of the status quo.
It is immensely disappointing that, yet again, the administration has declined the opportunity to discuss the very serious issue of ending marijuana prohibition in this country. For the ninth time, the White House has solicited the American people for direct input on the issues they cared about, and then, when the resulting answers called overwhelmingly for marijuana law reform, President Obama ignored the will of the American. Over half of the country now supports regulating and taxing marijuana; we can only hope that during the general election the issue is addressed with the respect and urgency it demands. If things continue as they are, President Obama very well may earn the dubious honor of running to the right of his predecessor George W. Bush on the marijuana issue.
President Obama once stated that marijuana legalization is an entirely “legitimate topic for debate.” The American people are clearly ready for that debate, Mr. President. When will you be?
© 2012, agentleman.