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barack obama

Obama’s Sequester-Mention Forecasts a Looming Crisis

Before launching into climate change, immigration reform, and gun violence in his State of the Union address, President Obama dropped a mention of “about a trillion dollars worth” of federal budget cuts that are set to “automatically go into effect this year.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Inside the beltway the measure is called the “sequester”: a package of cuts divided more or less equally between domestic and military spending, set to go into effect March 1st unless a new deficit-reduction agreement is reached. It totals over $1 trillion in the next decade, and this year’s installment, if implemented, would trim budgets by about $85 billion.

“These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research,” Obama said Tuesday night. “They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Ironically, Democrats and Republicans already agreed on the cuts in the sequester, and President Obama signed it into law as part of a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling in 2011. But it was intended as a measure of last resort, “designed to be abhorrent to both parties,” and therefore force them into more cooperative, benign means of deficit reduction.

So far, no alternative has emerged; that abhorrence explained President Obama’s urgency last night, and the willingness of Republican leaders like John Boehner to try to reach a deal by March 1st. If no bargain is hatched for 2013, we’re looking at:

  • Up to a million jobs lost, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
  • Seventy thousand kids bumped off Head Start and thousands of teaching positions in peril, according to the Obama administration.
  • Food inspectors absent from their posts because of furloughs.
  • Half a million mothers with young children cut off from welfare benefits through WIC, according to Congressional Democrats.
  • Cuts to financial aid grants and federal work study funds for young Americans.
  • Potential loss of access to mental health treatment for up to 373,000 Americans, according to the White House.
  • $1.6 billion less for health research, according to Think Progress.

And on the military side:

  • Postponed deployment of the USS Harry S Truman, leaving just one lonely aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
  • A hiring freeze in the Army, Air Force, and Navy.
  • Up to 30 days unpaid leave for civilian Air Force employees, and potential furloughs for all 800,000 civilian Department of Defense workers, according to the Washington Post.

Senate Democrats are set to offer a bill this week to replace the sequester and Republicans will likely counter with a bill of their own. A deal must be reached to avoid the cuts, but there’s still hesitancy from both parties to settle the matter. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the two sides are unlikely to reach an agreement.

Mirrored from Campus Progress.

PHOTO: Faye Golden and daughter

I was a bit surprised to see how much of inauguration coverage focused on the bigwigs. I decided to flip the camera around and focus on attendees. Not like I think that this is some huge injustice that Obama got all the attention; I was just curious to learn more about who was there and why. Click the photo to see all the images and profiles from Campus Progress.

The P Word

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Over at the blog of my august employer, Taqua Thrasher calls on President Obama and candidate Romney to talk more about poverty:

By now you’ve heard the statistics: 1 in 6 Americans living at or near the poverty line, 45 to 50 million Americans using Food Stamps, 30 to 50 million Americans without healthcare (prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act), and on and on and on.

These numbers are a devastating indictment of the character, the will, and the policies of this nation. A deeper examination of them reveals that 25% of our children (1 in 4) live in poverty; that places us second in the world among developed nations.

We are issuing a challenge to the two men vying for the title President of the United States. […] Say the word ‘poverty’ in your nationally televised convention acceptance speech, and make eradicating it your top policy priority.

But why is “poverty” such political poison? Why do politicians talk as though it’s the middle class that truly has it rough?

A few weeks ago, a friend and I took an exploratory shot at an answer. Some threads we came up with:

  • We do not think highly of poor folks. There are strong currents of thought, both explicit and implicit, that blame impoverished Americans for their own suffering. Meanwhile, we associate middle class status with virtue, hard work, and self-reliance.
  • People living in poverty are less likely to vote; they don’t represent a valuable political constituency and it’s unproductive for politicians to address their concerns.
  • Even if they do vote, almost all poor people identify as “middle class.”
  • Poverty has no place in our national identity. We are supposed to be a beacon of prosperity shining out into the world, so a 25 percent child poverty rate causes us some pretty unpleasant cognitive dissonance. And cognitive dissonance does not make good politics.

There is probably more to the story, and I’m sure I’m not the first to raise this question. If you’ve seen others address it please send their work my way.

Photo: A squatter’s bed in a shuttered Detroit auto plant. 2008.

Call It in The Air

Is Barack a heads or a tails type of guy? We would find out if Socrates (via Gary Gutting) had his way:

GUTTING: I see what you mean. It’s going to be nasty, brutish, and long — not to say immensely expensive — but of course if we want a democracy, there’s no alternative.

SOCRATES: I disagree. You shouldn’t hold the election at all. You should flip a coin instead.

G: You don’t see any difference between Obama and Romney?

S: Oh, I do. I’m very impressed with Obama, no question. He’s intelligent, courageous, self-controlled and has a good sense of justice. Just the sort of person I had in mind for my philosopher-rulers. But none of that’s going to make a difference to the American voters. The election’s likely to be close, and in any case the outcome will turn on the October unemployment report, the price of gas, an Israeli attack on Iran, who has the most money for attack ads in the last two weeks or some other rationally irrelevant factor that you don’t yet have any hint about.

After that, the dialog drifts in a different direction, pondering the pitfalls of democracy in a poorly informed and politically apathetic society. I’ve heard The Case Against Democracy before; I think that first point is far more interesting. Even if we conclude that democracy is desirable, our elections are in effect contests that produce winners at random. If you don’t believe Socrates, google “weather voter turnout.” They say rain on election day is good for Republicans.

I disagree with Gutting’s Socrates that democracy is bad. The issue here is that our current system is democratically impotent. If the outcome of our presidential election can be altered by the October jobs numbers and price of gas, how democratic are we really?

And lastly: Gutting and Socrates made one glaring omission. All of this matters only because our nation is so deeply polarized. Most years the presidential election is, statistically speaking, a tie. What we need is a system that can produce a more decisive winner.