Weekly Pulse: DIY Abortions on the Border, Pawlenty Screws MN on Sex Ed

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Women on along U.S.-Mexico border are buying black market misoprostol to induce abortions, according to a new report by Laura Tillman in the Nation. The drug is easily available over the counter in Mexico.

DIY abortion is cheaper—a bottle of misoprostol costs can cost as little as $70, a fraction of the price of a medical abortion. The DIY approach can also be more convenient and private. One abortion provider told Tillman that about 20% of his patients tried misoprostol before coming to see him.

He estimates that many others took the drug successfully. Misoprostol is about 80%-85% effective when used as directed, but if it doesn’t work the woman needs immediate medical help. Potential complications include severe bleeding and uterine rupture. For more information on misoprostol abortions, see last week’s edition of the Weekly Pulse.

Comprehensive ignorance

As the bumper sticker slogan goes: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota bought some very expensive ignorance this week by turning down $850,000 in federal funding for comprehensive sex education through the federal Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP).

According to Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent, Pawlenty opted to apply for the Title V State Abstinence Education Grant Program instead of the PREP, a comprehensive sex ed program. Comprehensive sex ed teaches kids how to say no to sex and how to reduce their risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections if they do become sexually active. Now, cash-strapped Minnesota will have to come up with $379,307 in state funds in order to get $505,743 in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-hetero-marriage education.

Robin Marty of RH Reality Check observes that Pawlenty is trying to burnish his conservative credentials in advance of a possible presidential run in 2012. It’s part of a national race to the bottom where conservative presidential hopefuls compete to see who can take away more rights from women.

E. coli comes home to roost

The agribusiness giant Cargill Meat Solutions recalled 8,500 pounds of ground beef after 3 people contracted salmonella, Mac McDaniel reports for Care2. The Cargill recall comes on the heels of the largest egg recall in U.S. history. So far, 550 million potentially salmonella-tainted eggs from to factory farms in Iowa have been recalled. McDaniel argues that these food recalls should prompt a larger discussion about the state of our food safety net and the wisdom of factory farming.

At AlterNet, food scientist and activist Dr. Marion Nestle writes that “Industrial egg operations have gotten out of hand in size, waste, and lack of safety.” So far, at least 1500 people caught salmonella from tainted Iowa eggs. Nestle urges the Senate to pass the long-awaited food safety bill, S. 510, which the upper chamber has been sitting on for over a year. It’s about time. Powerful agribusiness interests have hijacked the regulatory process for too long. The chickens are coming home to roost.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Republican presidential prospects in Iowa for 2012

The decision won't be final until the Republican National Committee's summer meeting in August, but it appears likely that the Iowa caucuses will remain the first presidential nominating contest in 2012. This week the RNC's Temporary Delegate Selection Committee recommended adopting a rule that would allow only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold primaries or caucuses before March 6, 2012. Click here to read the rule, which would also require all states that hold nominating contests before April 2010 to award their delegates proportionally, rather than through a winner-take-all system that is typical for the Republican Party.

So, Iowa will continue to be a frequent travel stop for Republicans considering a presidential bid. It's been six months since I last discussed the prospects of likely challengers to President Obama in Iowa. New speculation is after the jump.

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We don't need budget advice from Pawlenty

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was in Iowa this weekend to headline an event organized by Iowans for Tax Relief. The crowd cheered the future presidential candidate after Pawlenty blasted the Obama administration and proposed one bad idea after another.

Pawlenty's "economic bill of rights" includes requiring Congress to balance the budget every year. Freezing or reducing federal spending every time revenue drops is great if you like turning recessions into depressions, but basic economic facts won't stop Pawlenty from pandering to the "Party of Hoover" set. I wonder whether Pawlenty's proposed balanced budget amendment still includes "exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies."

Pawlenty also wants line-item veto powers for the president. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that unconstitutional at the federal level, and it's unlikely Congress would ever approve a constitutional amendment on this matter.

In addition, Pawlenty favors extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Those tax cuts didn't prevent the most severe economic recession since World War II, but they did manage to massively increase our national debt and deficit while delivering most of the benefits to the top few percent of the population.

But wait, there's more to Pawlenty's wish list: "He also called for requiring a supermajority of Congress to raise taxes or the debt ceiling." Unfortunately, that would exacerbate our budget problems. When the Pew Center on the States examined state fiscal problems last year, a common feature of the states deemed "most like California" was a supermajority requirement for tax increases or budget decisions.

Speaking to the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd, Pawlenty bragged about getting Minnesota out of the top 10 states for taxes but glossed over other aspects of his record as governor. Iowa Republicans have hammered Democrats for supposedly "overspending," even though our state leaders have kept our budget balanced without depleting our state's reserve accounts. What would they say if they knew about Pawlenty's record?

During Pawlenty's first year as governor, the state drew down its reserves and relied too heavily on one-time revenue to address its budget problem. As a result, the state lost its Aaa bond rating from Moody's Investors Service; the state has yet to regain its Aaa rating from Moody's.

The 2009 report of the bi-partisan Minnesota Budget Trends Study Commission has recommended that the state build up its budget reserves and cash flow account in response to an increasingly unstable revenue outlook. All members of the Commission, including the five appointed by Governor Pawlenty, endorsed this recommendation.

Pawlenty and state legislators couldn't agree on an approach to balance the Minnesota budget. As a result, last year "Minnesota's [projected] budget gap was the largest in the nation on a per capita basis." Pawlenty can bash President Obama, but his state desperately needed the roughly $2.6 billion it received through the federal stimulus bill to help cover the shortfall. Even with the stimulus money, Minnesota was still billions of dollars short. So, in addition to some spending cuts, Pawlenty proposed "a bond issue that would be paid for by existing and forecast revenues from the tobacco settlement—a one-time fix disliked by some because it aimed to use long-term borrowing to pay for current state operations."

To be clear: Pawlenty wanted the state of Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills. In contrast, Iowa's state borrowing program (I-JOBS) is funding capital investments in infrastructure. Last summer, Iowans for Tax Relief in effect ran the Republican campaign for a special election in Iowa House district 90. During that campaign, the Republican candidate made false and misleading claims about Iowa's state budget and borrowing. How ironic that the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd gave a standing ovation to a panderer with a much worse record of fiscal management.

Not only did Pawlenty want Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills, he also decided that underfunding local governments and forcing them to draw down their own reserves was a good way to control spending for the 2010-2011 budget period. Yes, Pawlenty decided in 2009 that cutting aid to local governments by hundreds of millions of dollars was a good way to balance the state budget:

“Many [cities], if not all, have reserve funds, or rainy day funds, and they should use them,” Pawlenty said.

He also talked of the option cities have of raising property taxes to make up for any LGA [local government aid] cuts.

One of the Republican talking points against Iowa Governor Chet Culver is that his midyear budget cuts supposedly forced local governments to raise property taxes. Yet Pawlenty gets a free pass from his Iowa friends. Culver's across-the-board budget cut last October wasn't popular, but it did keep state government from overspending. In contrast, late last year Minnesota's cash flow was so poor that state officials considered short-term borrowing to meet budget obligations.

"It's a bad sign," said former state Finance Commissioner Peggy Ingison, now chief financial officer with Minneapolis public schools. "It signals you didn't have good fiscal discipline."

Minnesota has muddled through without borrowing money to pay bills so far, but prospects for later this year are dicey:

State budget officials updated lawmakers [April 12] on Minnesota's precarious cash-flow situation. They all but ruled out short-term borrowing for the 2010 budget year that ends June 30.

Budget director Jim Schowalter says "deep cash problems" loom for the 2011 fiscal year. Barring law changes, spending cuts and upticks in revenue, he says the state might have to take out short-term loans to meet its obligations.

The Minnesota Budget Bites blog takes a more detailed look at the state's "troublesome" picture for fiscal year 2011. BulliedPulpit posted a good rebuttal of "TPawnomics" at MN Progressive Project. The last thing our country needs is budget advice from Tim Pawlenty.

Political Disenchantment Affects 2012 GOP Hopefuls

Bumped. -N

Nation-wide discontentment with politics and politicians isn’t unique Democrats. Populists and workers are ticked at both parties. According to PPP, only four of the 38 Senators they’ve polled on have approval ratings above 50%.

To be fair, three of those four are Republicans, and all six of the Senators with disapprovals above 50% are Democrats. All six, however, are tainted or conservative Democrats, expressing the progressive base’s frustration with inaction as much as the nation’s frustration with politics.

I don’t want to read too much into this and say that the main problem is that Democrats aren’t progressive enough. That would be too much like the Republicans who said Obama only won because the Republican Party wasn’t conservative enough. It should be noted, though, that save John Thune, 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls are no more shielded from this discontent than are Democrats. This really is a political backlash, not a partisan backlash. For example, according to Politico, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s approval rating is at an all-time low.

An analysis of over 70 public polls — 50 of which came from SurveUSA — since Pawlenty took office more than seven years ago conducted by the University of Minnesota shows that the governor's 42 percent approval rating in a recent poll of 500 Minnesotans is his low point.

The poll was conducted March 1-3 and was sponsored by the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis. Pawlenty's previous low came in July 2005, when 43 percent of Minnesotan's approved of his performance as governor.

Pawlenty might be the only 2012 hopeful at an all-time low, but while he may be the only one below the barrel’s bottom, there are still several at the bottom. His nosedive comes on the heels of Mitt Romney losing the CPAC straw poll for the first time since 2005. Mike Huckabee’s chances were severely damaged when a criminal whose sentence he commuted as Governor killed several Seattle police officers. And we’re all familiar with polls that show even a majority of Republicans don’t consider qualified for the job. Unfortunately I can’t find current data on Haley Barbour or Mitch Daniels.

There’s no predicting a presidential race almost three years out. I’m not going to say that this means we’re more likely to see a nominee Thune than a nominee Pawlenty. What I will say is that anyone who thinks something more than three weeks away is ever a sealed deal in politics, including the Democrats’ fate in 2010 and 2012, stayed too long at a Wonderland 3D debut party.

Pawlenty pushes balanced budget amendment

Not content to push for a balanced-budget constitutional amendment in his own state, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has endorsed the idea of a federal constitutional amendment to require Congress to pass balanced budgets every year. The Wall Street Journal's Amy Merrick observes,

Previous efforts to pass a national balanced-budget amendment have foundered in Congress. Many lawmakers believe deficit spending can help boost the U.S. economy during downturns, and calls to balance the budget sometimes fade as other priorities surface.

It would be insane to restrict the federal government's ability to run deficits during a recession. That's not just something many members of Congress "believe," it's a consensus view among economists. But don't worry, Pawlenty isn't entirely rigid on the subject of deficit spending:

Mr. Pawlenty's proposal for a federal amendment would include exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies. The U.S. has been at war for most of the past decade.

No self-respecting Republican ever let spending worries stand in the way of a blank check for war.

Although it's tempting to laugh at Pawlenty's proposal, I think highlighting the budget amendment could boost his standing in the 2012 presidential race. His idea isn't outside the GOP mainstream; leading Republicans proposed a federal spending freeze instead of the stimulus bill Congress passed in February. Republican politicians in Iowa have also embraced Hoovernomics.

The idea could prove popular with the GOP rank and file too. Mike Huckabee gained a lot of traction in Iowa during the summer of 2007 by being the only Republican to endorse the so-called "fair tax." That idea is even wackier than a federal spending freeze during a recession, but many caucus-goers embraced it.

Any comments about Pawlenty's prospects or the Republican presidential field are welcome in this thread.

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