When governments decide to balance their budgets by cutting services to the very young and to the elderly, or by cutting medical care and pension benefits, they are doing more than just saving some money for the current fiscal year and trying to reign in social spending so that they can continue to cut taxes for the rich and increase military spending. They are also bringing about the premature deaths of thousands of people they judge to be a socially useless surplus population unable to produce surplus value for the capitalist economic system. Their deaths are the real savings, as the dead no longer need any services or medical care at all.
I'm not making this up. Science Daily reported that the British Medical Journal has concluded, "Radical cuts to social welfare spending could cause not just economic pain but cost lives." The BMJ article describes the effect of spending cuts in Europe, but it is not too wild to speculate that here in the U.S., where our social safety net has many more and bigger holes in it than in Europe, budget cuts to social and medical services will have even worse consequences for people.
David Stuckler of Oxford University and his team have shown a relation, revealing that the amounts of social spending by governments are "strongly associated" with people's risk of death from heart disease and illnesses linked to alcohol and other like conditions, which Science Daily calls "diseases relating to social circumstances."
The study showed that this association shows up even with health care budgets that have been protected. The science magazine reports that, according to Stuckler, "social welfare spending is as important, if not more so [than health budgets], for population health." It is not hard to figure out what will happen to the poor and elderly if, in the U.S., the big cuts to Medicare go through, along with reductions in social programs.
The Oxford group went over data, which included social programs aimed at families with children, job programs for the unemployed and help for the disabled, from 15 countries collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
We should not be surprised by their findings, namely "that when social spending was high, mortality rates fell, but when they were low, mortality rates rose substantially." They also found out that there were two areas where the state could cut spending without killing off the poor and elderly - areas with no "negative impact on the public's health." Those areas were the military and the prisons. But these are the very areas where they want to increase spending, for which cuts in public welfare have to be made.
The study concludes, "This report reveals that ordinary people may be paying the ultimate price for budget cuts - potentially costing them their lives."
You can be sure that what applies to the Europeans also applies to us, in spades.
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This is a guest note by Salman Al-Rashid, a Master's student at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service and a former intern with the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force.
Against the backdrop of this watershed moment in Arab history, a Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran has emerged. Mistrust and tension between the two states, one predominantly Sunni Muslim and the other predominant Shia, is nothing new. Iran's support for Hezbollah curtailed Saudi Arabia's influence as an arbiter of affairs in the Levante, its support of the Houthi rebellion in Northern Yemen in 2009 unnerved the kingdom's leaders, and its perceived closeness with Iraq and several Gulf states has the Saudis fearing Shiite encirclement. These, among other issues, color the historic rivalry.
The Arab Spring has provided yet another arena for conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The persistence of protests across the region has forced the rivals to make critical decisions based on fears about the other's intentions. As a result, the rivalry has dramatically increased tensions across the region's sectarian politics.
While the Arab Spring holds the promise of socioeconomic improvement and political empowerment for Arabs across the region, it may not reach Saudi Arabian Shiites. King Abdullah has sought to improve the lot of Saudi Shiites and integrate them into society. The new regional Cold War, however, has raised the specter of Iranian intrigue, which could reinvigorate Sunni Saudi prejudices against Shiism and Shiites. This might compel Saudi leadership, ever anxious about Iranian machinations, to abandon King Abdullah's conciliatory posture toward this population after his death.
To begin addressing Shiite grievances, in 2003 then crown prince Abdullah formed the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, which is dedicated to "tackling social, cultural, political, economic and educational problems using dialogue channels." Though the Center's mission statement does not mention "sectarian," the initiative brings together Saudis of different classes, genders, and sects and ultimately seeks to address socioeconomic, gender-based, and sectarian grievances. According to the International Crisis Group, in one dialogue meeting "Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis, and Ismailis discussed rolling back militancy and promoting Islamic pluralism."
The Dialogue is one aspect of Abdullah's liberal agenda that includes social, economic, and political reforms. However, a member of the Saudi Majlis ash-Shura, a consultative political body, suggested that many Saudis believe Abdullah's reform program has "gone too far." Since prejudice against Shiites has historically run deep in Saudi society, might Saudis reject the continuation of Sunni-Shiite dialogue after the king's death and in an era of trumped up Saudi-Iranian and Sunni-Shia tensions?
The kingdom's education system provides helpful clues. Prior to Abdullah, textbooks contained material that discussed Shiites in a negative manner. The Guardian's Christopher Wilcke maintains that Saudi schoolbooks professed that Shiites are non-Muslim infidels. A 2006 Freedom House report on Saudi education confirms Wilcke's findings. Alluding to Shiites and other Sunni sects, textbooks condemned those who interpret the Qur'an differently as "polytheists." Though these reports are quite illuminating, it's important to keep in mind that textbooks did not directly attack Shiites and that these conclusions are subject to debate.
Abdullah's National Dialogue has emphasized the need to rid the Saudi curriculum of such intolerant material. Participants at the third annual National Dialogue meeting discussed efforts to "cultivate the spirit of tolerance and moderation" among members of the younger generation through curriculum reform. In terms of concrete action, King Abdullah reshuffled the education ministry's leadership in 2009 in order to accelerate key changes to the standard school curriculum, such as portraying Islam as a more accommodating religion in textbooks.
While many Saudis may have discarded some of the sectarian prejudices to which they were exposed in older textbooks, the kingdom's less-tolerant clerics can revitalize negative characterizations of Shiites in the wake of the intensified Saudi-Iran rivalry. The House of Saud has a contract with the conservative clerical establishment; as long as the al-Sauds uphold a rigid version of Shariah, clerics consider them legitimate custodians of the two holy mosques. In many ways, Saudi leadership is beholden to these clerics, many of whom sponsor an exclusivist social contract that embraces Sunnis and rejects Shiites.
The National Dialogue embodies Abdullah's courage in the face of some members of the religious establishment. Key questions remain. Is the dialogue's survival intimately linked to Abdullah himself? Do other senior princes agree with this aspect of his reform project? Is promoting a spirit of religious tolerance becoming institutionalized in general in Saudi society?
Abdullah's successor may shelve the dialogue not because of his own personal views but because of internal pressure to confront the sectarian threat that Iran poses; Saudi Arabia's Shiites will inevitably suffer if such an attitude grips Riyadh.
The emerging Cold War with Iran will only strengthen the influence of Saudi's less tolerant clerics and perhaps reinforce anti-Shiite prejudices; in turn, the manipulation of the debate on Shiites might pressure Saudi leaders to neglect the Shiite question. The kingdom's religious leaders can mine a long historical narrative of (alleged) Iranian intrigue to influence Saudi rulers. In the 1980s Ayatollah Khomeini sent Shiites to protest at the Hajj in Mecca in an attempt to undermine the House of Saud's Islamic credentials. And many now believe Iran is fueling Shiite agitations in Bahrain.
Many Saudi rulers suspected that Iranian meddling led to unrest in the tiny island-kingdom, and the Saudis obliged when Bahrain appealed to the GCC for help controlling protest. This paranoid, sectarian argument tantalizes American leaders. After his meeting with senior Saudi officials in April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates claimed that Iran might have contributed to the destabilized situation in Bahrain and elsewhere in the Middle East. If American officials continue to express anxiety about Iranian machinations, they will implicitly encourage Saudi rulers' tendency to view every development beyond and within their borders through a sectarian lens.
Moreover, Saudi leaders understandably have trouble separating what they perceive as Shiite activity in Bahrain from Shiite agitations in their own Eastern province, where a majority of Saudi Shiites reside. In fact, protests have occurred in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province simultaneously in the past. Recently, Shiites protested in the Eastern Province in response to the Bahraini government's demolition of Shiite mosques; thus, the connection between events in Bahrain and the Eastern Province seems crystal clear to Saudi leaders, who ultimately fear Iranian meddling in their own back yard.
This being the case, Saudi leaders may project their alarmed, sectarian, Iran-based view of Bahraini unrest on any calls for improvement amongst Shias in the Eastern Province. Since the argument that "Iran is causing trouble again" resonates in Washington, the US might remain passive if the Saudis claim that Iran has a hand in any potential unrest in the Eastern Province and condone any suppression of Shiite demands for improvement or change.
This is a worrisome possibility for Saudi Arabia's Shiites, who have discarded their old anti-regime disposition and reaffirmed their loyalty to the House of Saud. One can only hope that Saudi Arabia's senior princes will continue Abdullah's virtuous project and embrace this population.
-- Salman Al-Rashid
Maine has a great voting tradition. The state has a history of making that sacred right very accessible. For 38 years that has included same-day registration. But, this year, GOPers took over both house of the legislature -- and there's a nutjob teabagger serving as Governor. Access to voting is an anathema to GOPers, so they voted to end that practice. But, Maine also has a people's veto. A coalition of groups are gathering signatures to put the same-day voting ban on the ballot:
Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill Tuesday to repeal Maine's 38-year-old law allowing same-day voter registration. Before the end of the day, a coalition led by the League of Women Voters of Maine filed paperwork with the Secretary of State's Office to launch a people's veto campaign.I really hope this makes gets on the ballot. The campaign's website is www.protectmainevotes.com
"We feel that we want to preserve voting rights in Maine," said Barbara McDade, president of the league. "For 38 years, people have been able to register to vote on the day that they vote. This puts up a barrier to people, and so we want to repeal that."
Joining McDade was Bob Talbot, representing the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine NAACP, and Evert Fowle III of the MCLU.
CONTRIBUTE & SUPPORT TAYLOR Thanks to so many of you who gave this past week. Believe me, if I didn’t have to I wouldn’t run these fundraisers. I love this work and you help make it possible. The truth is that people don’t give[...]
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The CBO proves the only reason America should have a deficit problem is if Conservatives want one.
The Congressional Budget Office just released the latest edition of its long-term budget outlook (pdf), and it shows the same thing as always: If Congress lets the Bush tax cuts expire or offsets their extension, implements the Affordable Care Act as scheduled and makes or offset the Medicare cuts prescribed by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act ? which CBO calls the ?extended baseline scenario? ? the national debt will be totally manageable. If Congress passes laws extending the Bush tax cuts without offsetting the cost, repealing the Affordable Care Act and its cost controls and protecting doctors from Medicare cuts without making up the savings elsewhere ? the ?alternative fiscal scenario? ? the national debt will be totally out of control:
Or, if Politicians want a deficit they will get one. We can now say to the Villagers that if you guys want to have a serious and adult conversation about our deficit then tax increases for the rich are off the table and all the talk deficit fearmongering for months has been total garbage.
In other words there is no long term debt crisis unless the politicians decide to create one. Everything's already in place to keep it perfectly under control. So why are we talking about it?
I don't think there's any better evidence that this deficit fever is nothing more than a disaster capitalist boondoggle. The wealthy elites and their nihilist ideologue allies in both parties are flogging this debt crisis in order to enact favorable legislation and fill out their long term wish list. That they are doing it under a Democratic administration just makes it sweeter.
The Guardian has broken the news that Pottermore, the top-secret J.K. Rowling project that’s been percolating on the internet for days, is a game folks can play online that will lead them to prizes, including wizard’s wands, in the real world (though a possibility remains that it’s a marketing campaign for another product). I have to admit, if this is the case, I’m sort of disappointed.
I don’t really want any more Harry Potter novels. The story is completed, and I want to see what J.K. Rowling’s going to do next with her fairly prodigious world-building talents. But if she can’t just let the universe go, I was hoping that Rowling would follow in George Lucas’s steps and announce Harry Potter Expanded Universe in the vein of the Star Wars novels and games. Obviously, works would have to be vetted, licensed, and to observe a strict central continuity (if Star Wars’ continuity index is the Holocron, I wonder what they would call one for the Potterverse?). This kind of arrangement would provide a release valve for the demand for more Potter-related content, which is considerable, while leaving Rowling free to do other things. She could give all of her licensing profits to Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. And she could pretty much walk away.
Whatever J.K. Rowling’s going to do next is going to be hugely successful, no matter its quality. That’s a tremendously rare position for an author to be in. The Harry Potter books are not masterpieces of prose, and they can be morally simplistic (though certainly less so in the later novels), but Rowling did an impressive job of using fiction to advocate for her central ideals of equality, human and non-human rights and dignity, and opposition to torture. If she can fashion another international hit on those themes, she’d do a lot of good even as she makes a lot of money.
There?s a fight brewing over federal government re-structuring that may have enormous implications for our ability to monitor climate and more efficiently deploy tax payer dollars. But is the ?debate? just thinly-veiled opposition to climate science?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the organization responsible for weather forecasting, gathering data on climate patterns and monitoring the health of the marine environment, is proposing a management shift to bring climate-related science and services under one umbrella to more efficiently meet growing demand for data from the military, insurance companies, farmers and utilities.
NOAA administrators say that they?re getting an overwhelming number of requests for climate data, and the authority to re-structure the organization would allow them to more efficiently meet demand and allow the military and the private sector respond in their own way.
?Our core climate science, information, and service activities are distributed across multiple line offices and therein inhibit our ability to efficiently target and deploy our resources and efforts,? explained NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco at a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing today.
Also testifying at the hearing, the Navy?s Deputy Oceanographer Robert Winokur said the proposed service would help with ?resource allocation and management? while also ?facilitating data that we would need for national security.?
Sounds like a commonsense budget-neutral measure to improve data distribution and make government more efficient, right?
Not according to some House Republicans who strongly oppose the measure, claiming that NOAA started the re-structuring without Congressional authority, making it ?illegal.? NOAA?s Lubchenco re-iterated this morning that nothing had changed within NOAA, and that the structural changes wouldn?t happen without approval from Congress.
Many of the objections around NOAA?s authority seem to come from members of Congress that are ideologically opposed to recognizing or addressing climate change. Some of the loudest objections for NOAA?s proposed service came from committee members who have openly criticized climate science.
Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA), who in 2009 called climate change ?one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated out of the scientific community? lashed out at the idea of a comprehensive climate service, labeling it a ?politically-motivated propaganda office? that would engage in ?policy advocacy.?
Congressman Randy Hultgren (R-IL), who in 2009 proclaimed ?things like Cap-n-Trade really bug me because it?s government intrusion with very sketchy science,? has also opposed the climate service, saying today that ?it must be concluded that this is a political decision, not a scientific one.?
And Representative Andy Harris (R-MD), who has called cap and trade a ?job killing? ?energy tax,? used the hearing to lambast NOAA for putting out a web-based magazine on climate issues, saying ?normally when you think of science, you don?t think of magazines.? (Except, of course, Scientific American, Popular Science, Wired, New Scientist, and dozens more.) But Rep. Harris believes that a magazine giving the pop-version of climate science is ?absolutely atrocious.?
Lubchenco countered the claims that NOAA was engaged in political behavior by explaining that a climate service is just that: a data service.
?Our proposed service has nothing to do with cap and trade. It?s not regulatory. It?s designed to give accurate information to industry so they can in turn use that information to make good decisions.?
In addition, she explained that a comprehensive one-stop-shop service would give ?greater transparency about where tax payer dollars are going? and allow Congress to better monitor how funds are being used.
With all the huffing and puffing about government efficiency on Capitol Hill these days, it would seem a proactive approach to restructuring such an important service would be an attractive solution. Evidently not when the word ?climate? is involved.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that “at least 73,000 people were initially displaced throughout central and eastern localities of the Southern Kordofan state as a result of fighting.” Southern Sudan will become an independent state on July 9, and fighting has escalated along the ill-defined border as both northern and southern Sudan have yet to work out how to manage the oil industry or divide debt.
With a little over a month to go until the U.S. hits the drop dead date on the debt ceiling, negotiations led by Vice President Biden are heating up, but one Tea Party congressman has little faith in his party’s leadership. On World Net Daily’s radio show yesterday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said he worried about his party’s leadership “caving” the way they did last year, saying negotiations led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have not gone “very well, at all”:
I?m very concerned that our House leadership will do what was done on the CR and end up caving, and we end up instead of having $100 billion in savings we have $352 million. [?] So I’m very concerned. I like John Boehner, I like Mitch McConnell, but with them leading, our negotiations have not been able to do very well, at all.
Via Advancing Transgender Equality: Though Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature is not likely to pass any pro-LGBT bills, Pennsylvanians are taking equality into their own hands. Yesterday, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s City Council unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Mayor John Callahan is expected to sign the bill soon, meaning Bethlehem will no longer be the largest city in Pennsylvania without the protections.