A Prelude to Armageddon

Matthew Cooper of the National Journal has it right, I think, in his piece entitled The Budget Skirmish Ends, The War Begins noting that "we’ve just seen is a phony war in Washington, a quibble over a few billion that presages the fight over trillions." With the ink on the budget agreement not yet dry and with a vote scheduled for next week finalizing its approval, conservatives have already moved on the bigger battle looming now in two weeks time, the vote to raise the debt ceiling. Indeed as Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas already candidly forewarned on CNN yesterday, "The debt ceiling is going to be Armageddon." 

While most of us were still engaged in watching this macabre display of legislative hostage taking that House Speaker John Boehner led, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential GOP Vice Presidential nominee, took to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal on March 30th to announce that he intended to vote against "an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid." Despite the feigned concern for New Deal and Great Society era social insurance programs that the Tea Party favorite has on more than one occasion vowed to privatize, Senator Rubio was savvy enough to throw back then-Senator Obama's own words in 2006 when he voted against raising the debt ceiling declaring "Raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure." 

Considering the scope of Senator Rubio's demands, it's fair to predict that debt ceiling fight promises to be an even more bruising battle than the one we just endured. Within moments of President Obama hailing the deal that was struck, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to recapture his lost relevance by saying he hoped that the debt limit vote would be an occasion for more spending cuts. If the Republicans managed to cut nearly $40 billion spending in this budget showdown, Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced in January that before any debt ceiling limit was voted on, he would demand $100 billion in cuts. If Rep. Camp holds true to his word, we only have to find another $60 billion in cuts.

Despite Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's recent exhortations to Congressional Republicans not to "play around with" a coming vote to raise the government's legal borrowing limit, I have no doubt that the GOP intends to demand more cuts in the next round of legislative hostage taking. In short, buckle up we're in for the ride of our lives as life in America as we have known it comes to an end. I have no doubt that GOP will win in the short-term drawing the country ever closer to a collapse in living standards for 80 percent of Americans all in the name of protecting the wealth, often ill-gotten, of the top one percent. Amageddon, here we come.

The Possibility of US Troops Remaining In Iraq Past 2011 Grows

In February 2009, President Obama flew to Camp Lejeune , a US Marine base in North Carolina, to fulfill a campaign promise, indeed the one campaign promise that had galvanized critical support for his candidacy early in 2007 when he remained largely an unknown first term US Senator. There amidst a crowd of some 6,000 Marines, the President delivered a passionate speech outlining the end of combat operations in Iraq, a war that at point had lasted over six years claiming 4,425 Americans dead, costing well over a trillion dollars while laying waste to Iraq plunging that country into a bitter sectarian civil war from which it has yet to fully emerge. Then he intoned, "Let me say this as plainly as I can - by August 31 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

Of the 142,000 US troops then in Iraq, some 92,000 were withdrawn by August 2010. The mission at that point changed, from combat to one that dealt primarily with training Iraqi forces, supporting the Iraqi government and engaging in counter-terrorism. Even if some 50,000 US troops did remain past the end of combat operations in August 2010, they would be withdrawn in toto by the end of 2011. The President's words were as clear and crisp as the weather on that February day: "Under the status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honour that they have earned."

That was then, this is now. There are currently some 47,000 US troops still stationed in Iraq, there ostensibly to train Iraqi forces and to engage in counter-terrorism. This week, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, making his 13th and likely his last trip to Iraq, mentioned the possibility of an US presence in Iraq beyond the end of the year. From the Army Times:

U.S. officials, including at least some top military officers, believe that Iraq has significant gaps in its defense capabilities, including a lack of air power to defend its own skies. They see this as posing a risk, in the absence of U.S. forces, that the political and security gains that have been achieved over the past eight years could unravel.

In remarks to U.S. troops at Camp Marez, Gates said that in his talks with a full range of top Iraqi officials they had indicated an interest in an extended U.S. troop presence.

“We’re open to that,” Gates said. “It obviously would be a presence that’s a fraction of the size that we have here now.”

He mentioned no numbers, but there currently are about 47,000 U.S. troops in the country.

One soldier asked Gates how much longer the U.S. would stay if asked.

“That would be part of any negotiation,” Gates replied.

He said it could be for “a finite period of time” at an agreed number of troops, or it could be a phased drawdown for two or three years beyond 2011.

Or, he said, it could be a long-term U.S. role to advise and assist Iraqi security forces “that just becomes part of the regular military-to-military relationship.” That appeared to be a reference to arrangements such as those that have existed in Japan and Korea for more than 50 years, in which U.S. troops are based there to train with local forces and act as a regional deterrent.

Speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, Secretary Gates said the United States would keep troops in Iraq beyond December 31 if the Iraqi government wanted them, but the Iraqis need to decide "pretty quickly" in order for the Pentagon to accommodate an extension of the final withdrawal date. The takeaway from Secretary Gates' comments is that the Administration is laying the groundwork for a long-term, permanent presence in Iraq akin to our presence in Japan, Korea and Germany.

Certainly, there are segments of the Iraqi population, such as the Kurds in the north, that would welcome a continued American presence in Iraq. On the other hand, there are segments that remain diametrically opposed to any continued US military presence in Iraq. According to Al-Jazeera, Moqtada al Sadr, the prominent Iraqi Shia cleric who recently returned to the country from exile in Iran, has threatened to revive his Mehdi Army and relaunch armed resistance against continued US presence in the country. Al Jazeera correspondent Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said that this time Sadr had not only warned against a continuing US troop presence but also against the contractors who prevent ordinary Iraqis from gainful employment.

Here at home, it is hard to figure how the news of an extended stay in Iraq a la Japan or a la Germany is going to play. Certainly the war hawks like Senator McCain, Senator Graham and Senator Lieberman are bound to be pleased but the move is unlikely to win President Obama any votes in his re-election campaign. In fact, it is likely to further alienate his already rather disenchanted base even if news like this is largely confined to back pages of American journalism.

One more point really needs to be made. Iraq in 2011 is not Japan or Germany 1946 nor is it Korea 1953. Iraq is Iraq, a country that remains a match stick away from going up in flames. While we certainly owe the Iraqis much, having torn their country asunder, the idea that we can garrison the globe ad infinitum is a non-starter.  In this recent budget showdown, Democrats fought for and won a $2 billion cut from the Department of Defense, knocking the military appropriation for the rest of the year down to $513 billion. Meanwhile, the Republicans won over $36 billion cuts to social programs and infrastructure plans. At some point, we on the left must engage in a full throttle defense of domestic priorities and cast aside some of our global ambitions of an empire without end.

A Government Shutdown Averted . . . For Now

The White House and House Republicans reached an agreement late Friday night on a budget deal that would avert a government shutdown. The proposed six-month deal would cut domestic spending and foreign aid by more than $40 billion from the rate of spending at the beginning of this Congress. Behind the closed doors of a special meeting of the Republican Conference, Speaker John Boehner presented the package to his Tea Party caucus as at least an agreement in principle. President Obama, for his part, hailed the deal as "the biggest annual spending cut in history". GOP riders on Title X subsidies and on EPA regulations were deferred.

The House and Senate quickly approved a stopgap measure to keep the government running. The final deal would still require another vote sometime next week.

Politico has more details on what the agreement entails.

President Barack Obama noted late Friday that a last-minute deal to avert a government shutdown happened because "Americans of different beliefs came together ... Both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that. Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed.""

Painful for whom? Certainly not for the wealthy in this country who remain undertaxed even as their wealth accumulates to proportions of gross indecency. No, when it comes to doling out painful austerity measures, these fall disproportionately on the weakest members of society.

As per the needed infrastructure projects, well that's just insane as well. Over the past few months, Republican Governors have killed important and vitally needed infrastructure projects in New Jersey, Ohio, and Florida. I'm not sure how to recreate the political conditions that led to the interstate highway system initiated during the Eisenhower Administration, but until the American right obtains an equivalent conviction regarding the urgent need to update the rapidly decaying and outmoded infrastructure across the nation, the country will fall further and further behind in the global economy. And that serves no one.

To be perfectly candid, we have a President who refuses to lead. President Obama sees himself as some Solomonian arbiter who rises above the partisan divide to bridge irreconcilable differences. Pity, for one, that he gets few political dividends for his efforts. To many on the right, he remains some sort of Marxist Kenyan born usurper who is committed to subverting the Constitution - no matter his stance on any issue, there are some who will take the opposite position even if they have to run through harried hula hoops of hypocrisy as Newt Gingrich recently did on Libya - while to much of his base, he remains simply an enigma. What are Barack Obama's values? For what and for whom will he fight? Nearly 27 months into his Presidency, for those on the left these questions remain unanswered. 

If the Democrats won this round in the court of public opinion, which for now it seems that they did if only marginally, they did so because of the leadership coming from the Senate. It was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Patty Murray of Washington who were out in the front battle lines defending the rights of women to adequate health care and the cause of reproductive freedom. Honorable mentions to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter for speaking out on the GOP's war on women.

The Republicans were their own worst enemies but given their base, it is unlikely to hurt them that much, though I suspect the gender gap in next year's election will only grow. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana likely cemented his following among social conservatives. It was Pence who led the charge against Title X subsidies. Surprisingly, Rep. Michelle Bachmann showed signs of sanity being among the first on her side of the aisle to call for a clean bill, free of any controversial riders. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who made a similar plea, however, was ravaged on conservative websites such Free Republic and Red State for merely suggesting such a compromise. Bachmann largely proved immune to attacks, suggesting that she maintains a street cred with Tea Party activists that is the envy of others on the right. One other loser, who is growing more irrelevant by the day, is Sarah Palin. She took to Facebook again with another diatribe against the President and she was unceremoniously ignored. 

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Clashes in Tahir Square. The Egyptian military and police stormed Cairo's Tahir Square to remove protesters who were demanding the trial of former president Hosni Mubarak and the removal of Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as interim head of state in a pre-dawn raid. Al Jazeera reports that at least one person was killed with scores injured. The violence came after a huge protest drew thousands in the square on Friday. Yolande Knell of the BBC filed this report:

This is the latest worrying sign of tensions between the ruling military and supporters of the 25 January revolution who are becoming increasingly impatient with the pace of change.

There is growing anger that remnants of the former government, including the ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his family, have not been charged with corruption. Some blame the former Defence Minister, Field Marshal Tantawi, who is head of the Supreme Military Council. He was very close to Mr Mubarak.

Reports that the army has arrested and tortured demonstrators that have circulated in recent weeks and the fact that military trials continue add to the mistrust.

The armed forces insist they were simply enforcing a curfew when they moved into Tahrir Square overnight and that they are meeting their promises of reforms and justice.

Protests in Syria Leave 37 Dead. A Syrian rights group said on Saturday that state security forces orces killed at least 37 people during Friday's demonstrations in cities across the country. The National Organization for Human Rights said in a statement that 30 people were killed in the southern city of Deraa, the epicenter of protests. Another three people were killed in the central city of Homs and three others in Harasta, a Damascus suburb, as well as one in Douma. This makes Friday the deadliest day since protests erupted against the iron-fisted dynastic rule of Bashir al-Assad three weeks ago. Syrian activists are now calling for daily protests against the regime. More from Haaretz.

More Protests, More Deaths in Yemen. More clashes erupted in Yemen especially in the flashpoint city of Taez. Agence France Press reports that thousands of protesters massed in Al-Hurriya (Liberty) Square in Taez, south of Sanaa, calling for those behind the deadly shooting of protesters to be held to account and for President Saleh to go. As many as 100,000 people marched. Medics said Yemeni security forces shot dead four protesters and wounded 116 in the flashpoint city in clashes that erupted on Friday and carried on into the next morning. On the regional scene, Yemen recalled its ambassador to Qatar, state news agency Saba announced, after a call from the Gulf state for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

A Dry March Leaves Fear of a Drought in Southern Britain. Southern England and Wales have had their driest March since 1961, with each area having only a quarter of the expected rainfall. The driest region, East Anglia, had only 15 per cent of its normal precipitation in its driest March since 1929, and the second-driest since records began in 1910. Water UK, the umbrella body for the water companies in England and Wales, says there is "currently no concern about water supplies, but we are keeping an eye on things after what was a very dry March". Britain last rationed water in 1976. More from The Independent.

Elections in Djibouti. Djibouti's president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, garnered 80.58 percent of votes cast in the country's elections on Friday, according to provisional results out today. The result would give him a third term in power in the small strategically located Red Sea state, where the opposition initially boycotted the ballot and tried to start Egyptian-style protests in February. The interior Minister, Yacin Elmi Bouh, said that Guelleh's rival, Mohamed Warsama, got 19.42 percent of votes cast in the election, which had a 69.68 percent turnout, according to Reuters. Just over 152,000 people are registered to vote in the small Red Sea state which has the only US military base in Africa and the largest French army camp on the continent. There are approximately 2,200 US troops stationed in Djibouti and the Pentagon hopes to locate the headquarters of AFRICOM there. Human Rights Watch said that the US-funded Democracy International election monitoring organisation was expelled from Djibouti in March. The government said the body had failed to maintain its neutrality in the run-up to the vote.

Bombs Mar Nigeria's Legislative Elections. Nigerians finally went to vote in most areas in the twice-delayed National Assembly elections on Saturday, but the exercise was marred by bombings and violence in at least three states. In one incident, up to 25 people were reportedly killed. Bombings were reported in the northern states of Bauchi, Kaduna and Niger, areas where Christian-Muslim tensions have long simmered. A full round on Nigeria's elections from All Africa.

More Atrocities Reported in the Côte d'Ivoire. Ivoirians who have fled across the border to Liberia have reported incidents of rape, sexual abuse and murder to NGOs and human rights groups working in Grand Geddeh and Nimba counties. Children in villages in Liberia's Nimba County have told field workers at NGO Equip that they were forced to watch as their mothers were raped and then killed. In several cases, the children themselves were then sexually assaulted. A woman told Equip staff she was forced to watch while armed men raped her four-year-old daughter. Most attacks have taken place outside villages as people tried to flee, or at checkpoints, refugees said. Refugees say sexual assaults have been committed by both armed supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and of Alassane Ouattara, as well as militia members at checkpoints, and to a lesser extent, opportunists who have preyed on refugees' vulnerability. Last week, at least 800 people were reportedly killed in inter-communal violence in the western part of the country, as rival forces continue to battle for Abidjan, the country's largest city and commercial capital. There are new reports that hundreds more have been killed in fighting on the outskirts of Abidjan. Gbagbo, who disputed Ouattara’s internationally recognized victory in the Nov. 28 presidential election, remains in a bunker with his family and senior aides but has used a lull in the fighting to mount a counter-offensive against the Republican Army of Alassane Ouattara. According to the BBC, Gbagbo forces launched two mortars and a rocket at the residence of the French ambassador in Abidjan yesterday prompting French helicopter gunships to respond.

The Right's Next Target: AARP

Over the past year and half, we have seen the right demonize and go after groups like ACORN, the NAACP, National Public Radio, public-sector labor unions and in the current budget resolution debate Planned Parenthood. Now three GOP Congressmen have set their sights on another venerable institution, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Via Politico:

In a letter sent to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman Friday, Reps. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Charles Boustany (R-La.) say a recent congressional probe “gave rise to a number of serious concerns regarding AARP’s organizational structure and activities, and it raised questions about whether AARP continues to qualify as a tax-exempt organization under Internal Revenue Service Code (IRC) 501(c)4.”

A 40-page report recently released by the trio of lawmakers accuses AARP of refusing to provide information about its practices.

“In addition … the attached report raises concerns regarding various issues including the organization’s substantial revenues, limited charity work, and generous executive compensation,” they write. “The AARP Foundation has enjoyed increased taxpayer funding, including at least $18 million in ‘stimulus’ funding and a total of $314 million in federal grants from taxpayers between 2008 and 2010. At the same time, AARP, Inc.’s charitable contributions have flat-lined or in some cases decreased.”

In the letter, the lawmakers ask Shulman to investigate eight separate questions involving the legitimacy of AARP’s tax-exempt status. Federal tax law requires non-profits to meet a complex set of criteria to qualify for an exemption from taxes.

The attacks on the AARP are already prevalent on right-wing blogs such as Andrew Breitbart's Big Government and Erick Erickson's Red State. The AARP, of course, was one of the more vocal proponents of health care reform. That shouldn't be a surprise given that they are an advocacy group on behalf of constituency for whom affordable health care ranks as a top priority. But since the AARP took positions against the radicalism of the GOP, the right-wing playbook dictates that they must be destroyed.

A Bridge Too Far

After the meeting at White House sponsored by President Obama in an attempt to prevent the shutdown of the US government last night, Senate Majority Reid said that the agreement had been reached on every issue except a GOP plan to defund Planned Parenthood.

"The only thing left was women's health," Reid said. "That's a bridge too far," he said. "I am really concerned that this government is going to shutdown" over this issue.

"In the presence of the President of the United States, we went through those they -- the Republicans -- felt were most important," Reid added. "We went through them one by one. They were all resolved -- except the rider dealing with Planned Parenthood."

Just to be clear, the Republicans, now a fully owned subsidiary of the Christian Right, are prepared to shut down the US Government over funding an organization that provides subsidized health care ranging from cancer prevention to birth control.  Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check notes the implications:

The Pence amendment, from which the rider originated, would cut off preventive health care for millions of women who need it the most by preventing Planned Parenthood health centers from providing birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, annual exams, and other preventive care to millions of women whose health care is covered by Medicaid and other public health coverage programs. Planned Parenthood serves three million people served in their health centers each year, and two million of those participate in some federal health program.

More than 90 percent of the health care provided by Planned Parenthood is preventive. Every year, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses carry out nearly one million screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams. Planned Parenthood health centers also provide affordable birth control to nearly 2.5 million patients, and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV testing for women and men.  The funding that PPFA receives from the federal government goes toward this basic care, and accounts for roughly one-third of Planned Parenthood’s $1 billion annual budget. These funds come from local, state and federal sources, but 90 percent come from Medicaid and other federal sources. Federal funds pay only for cancer screenings, birth control, family planning visits, annual exams, testing for HIV and other STIs, and other basic care.

Moreover, 73 percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are in rural or medically underserved areas. Planned Parenthood provides primary and preventive health care to many who otherwise would have nowhere to turn. According to the Guttmacher Institute, six in ten patients who receive care at a family planning health center like Planned Parenthood consider it their main source of health care. 

Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told a summit of women's rights activists she believes Republicans are engaged in a war on women and women's rights.

"There is actually a war on women," Rep. Pelosi told the several hundred activists attending the Women Money Power Summit sponsored by the Feminist Majority Foundation. "Abortion is one issue but contraception and family planning and birth control are opposed by this crowd too. Understand what is at risk here," Pelosi said, referring to proposals promoted by the Tea Party controlled Republican caucus in the House.

There's more...

Inside the Fukushima Evacuation Zone

A Japanese journalist, Tetsuo Jimbo, ventured through the Fukushima nuclear reactor evacuation zone last week filing the above video report. The video is in Japanese with English subtitles.

On March 12th, the Japanese government issued a mandatory evacuation for the residents living within a 20 kilometer radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that was hobbled by the devastating tsunami that followed the powerful 9.0 earthquake that struck the northeastern part of Honshu. The video captures a surreal scene of towns largely devoid of life apart from dogs abandoned by their owners.

Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Oil Prices Soar. Oil price in London trading soared to fresh two and half year highs driven by fresh fighting in Libya and uncertainty in Nigeria. North Sea Brent crude was up 0.8 percent settling at 123.17 US dollars a barrel. In New York, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the US benchmark, was up 1 percent at 111.28 US dollars. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last night issued a warning that the widening gap between demand and supply could push prices even higher. IMF adviser Thomas Helbling said: "The recent trend increase in oil prices suggests that the global oil market has entered a period of increased scarcity."

European Central Bank Raises Key Interest Rate. For the first time since the financial crisis of 2008, the European Central Bank raised interest rates by a quarter point to 1.25 percent on Thursday. Preliminary figures suggest that the inflation rate within the euro zone has already reached 2.6 percent, 0.6 percent higher than the declared ECB goal of 2 percent or less. Thursday's step is also aimed at reining in speculation fuelled by supplies of cheap money. Market analysts are predicting the increase will be the first in a series and that interest rates could reach 1.75 percent by the end of the year. More from Der Spiegel.

China's Energy Policy Threads a Fine Line in the Middle East. Peter Lee of the Asia Times looks at China's initiatives in the wake of Arab unrest. Lee notes that "China has no credibility as a democratic reformer or clout as a military power in the Middle East; it seems to be trying to carve out a role for itself as a regional facilitator, one with good relations with all the key players, from Egypt to Israel to Saudi Arabia to Iran." With US-Saudi relations are now strained, China believes that it may have an opening to become a bigger player in Mid-East geopolitics however Beijing may find it increasingly difficult to placate Tehran, its biggest Mid-East energy supplier, as it moves to court Riyadh.

US Expels Ecuadorian Ambassador. The United States is expelling Ecuador's Ambassador in retaliation for the Andean nation's decision to declare US Ambassador Heather Hodges a persona non grata after remarks she made about police corruption were made public by Wikileaks. In addition, the US has cancelled upcoming talks scheduled for June between Washington and Quito. More from the Financial Times.

Korean Producer Price Growth at 28 Month High. Korea's Producer prices rose at the fastest pace in 28 months, putting greater pressure on the Bank of Korea (BOK) to raise interest rates. The producer price index increased 7.3 percent in March from a year earlier, up from a 6.6 percent rise in February, representing the sharpest gain since the 7.8-percent elevation in November 2008, according to the central bank Friday. The BOK is struggling to contain consumer prices that have been rising significantly faster than the government's 3 percent target. The full story in the Korea Times.

Cuban Dissidents Reach Madrid. Thirty-seven former political prisoners and 208 of their relatives landed at Madrid's Barajas airport on Friday. These latest arrivals are the last of a group of political prisoners whose release was negotiated last year among the Cuban and Spanish governments and the Cuban Catholic Church. All told, 115 political prisoners have been released by Cuba and exiled to Spain. The latest group includes Cuban dissident Orlando Fundora, who was arrested in 2003 among a well-known group of 75 dissidents. More from CNN International.

These United States

A compendium of news worthy events from around the country.

Delaware Senate Passes a Civil Union Bill. The Delaware Senate by 13 to 6 with 2 abstentions passed the Diamond State's first civil unions bill. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, with about two dozen co-sponsors, would grant same-sex couples the same legal protections and responsibilities as married couples. The bill now heads to the House. If the bill were to become law, Delaware would become the eighth state to recognize same-sex civil unions. More from Delaware Online.

In Florida, Rick Scott's Approval Rating Sinking Fast. According to the latest Quinnipiac University survey of 1,499 registered Florida voters, 48 percent of Floridians disapprove of Governor Rick Scott's performance — more than double the level measured in a February poll. Only 35 percent gave the Republican newcomer a favorable rating, exactly what it was more than a month ago. The full story in the Miami Herald.

Arkansas Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Gay Adoptions. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s opinion that a recently passed law that would prohibit unmarried, cohabitating couples from adopting or fostering children is unconstitutional. The court ruled that the law, which was targeted at gay and lesbian families, needlessly violated their right to privacy. As Arkansas Justice Robert Brown maintained, under the ban such couples “must choose either to lead a life of private, sexual intimacy with a partner without the opportunity to adopt or foster children or forego sexual cohabitation and, thereby, attain eligibility to adopt or foster.” More from Fox 16 News.

Surreal California Budget Proposals. The Los Angeles Times termed the budget cuts proposals under discussion in the Golden State as "surreal."

Cut teachers' pay by 5%. Close a public university or two. Fire the entire state workforce.

Those were among the proposals bandied about by state lawmakers in a budget hearing Thursday that at times had a touch of the surreal. 

A $15 billion budget shortfall remains to be fixed, and the Senate Budget Committee hearing was the first held since talks for a referendum on taxes between Gov. Jerry Brown and Republicans collapsed late last month. 

Democrats made it clear they saw this and upcoming hearings as an opportunity to rally public support for raising taxes without GOP backing. They talked about how low state spending is today by historic measures -- spending per personal income is the lowest in four decades -- and how firing every state worker would not close the gap. 

Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) asked about shuttering a UC or CSU campus in the state to preserve some of the state’s flagship schools, such as UC Berkeley in her district. "Do you have a viable economy if you don't have a first-class higher education system?" she asked.

Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) asked about cutting teachers' pay by 5%, admitting the question was politically "like lighting a fuse on a rocket."

Partisan squabbling punctuated the hearing, and no consensus emerged.

Surging Oil Prices Brings Huge Surplus in Alaska. With more than $11 billion already in its savings accounts, Alaska is projecting a new $3.4 billion surplus because of soaring oil prices. The debate now turns to what to do with all the money. Stateline looks at the enviable fiscal position up in the Last Frontier.

Bishop E.W. Jackson Seeks GOP Nod in Virginia Senate Race. Bishop E.W. Jackson, the head of STAND for America (Staying True to America’s National Destiny), is filing paperwork to run for the Virginia Senate seat being vacated by Senator Jim Webb.  Bishop Jackson will face former Senator George Allen and at least one other Tea Party-backed candidate. Right Wing Watch has more on Bishop E.W. Jackson.

Senator Reid: "The Issue is Ideology, Not Numbers"

A solemn and crestfallen Harry Reid took to the Senate floor today to express his dismay at what now looms as inevitable, a government shutdown.

"The numbers are basically there but I am not near as optimistic—and that’s an understatement—as I was 11 hours ago,” said the Senate Majority Leader from Nevada in an eloquent yet understated Senate floor speech on Thursday morning. On the chances of a government shutdown, Reid said, “It looks like it’s headed in that direction.”

If the numbers are there, then what is preventing a deal that would avert a costly and unnecessary disruption of government services? Well according to Senator Reid, Republicans tied to the Tea Party movement are insisting on attaching riders targeting abortion and clean air regulations that should be dealt with in regular legislation.

"It's not realistic to shut down the government on a debate dealing with abortion," Reid went on to say. "It's not fair to the American people."

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly writes:

Republicans want to cut off Planned Parenthood and gut the Clean Air Act, but instead of pursuing legislation to achieve their goals, they're insisting that this be part of the budget. Democrats can't go along with this nonsense, and John Boehner is too weak a Speaker to tell his caucus to act like grown-ups, so the entire process is unraveling.

This has led to talk about the GOP shutting down the government over abortion, but even that's not quite right -- Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from using public funds to terminate pregnancies, and has been for many years. What we're talking about here is Republicans shutting down the government over access to contraception and family planning services.

This is the basis for the GOP hostage strategy.

One is simply dumbstruck at the radicalism of today's GOP and I cannot help but to ask how can the country endure in the face of an ever-widening cultural and ideological chasm? The worldview to which much of the GOP subscribes is one that we as a nation thought we had long put behind us but they want to repeal the twentieth century and they don't mind destroying the country in the process. If that doesn't worry and anger you, then nothing will.


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