Patt Morrison for June 27, 2011

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If nothing else this should tell you that there are members of Congress who are getting serious about cutting the $14+ trillion budget deficit: as deficit negotiations move to the White House and President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner get involved in the high level talks, an unexpected compromise deal is emerging. While everyone assumed that cuts in domestic spending would have to come with increases in revenues—mainly tax increases on the richest Americans and changes in the corporate tax code—some Congressional Republicans are pushing for significant cuts in military spending, going against the conservative archetype of protecting the Pentagon’s budget at all costs. The Pentagon’s overall budget in 2010 was estimated to be a little over $700 billion, when taking Iraq and Afghanistan supplemental spending into account, and all-combined military spending probably exceeds $1 trillion annually; all of which represents a dramatic increase in defense spending, having doubled in the last decade. Republicans believe that selling its constituents on cuts in defense spending rather than tax increases, within a larger deficit-reduction compromise deal, will be much easier. Democrats are expected to continue pushing for changes in the tax code and tax increases on the wealthy but there are many liberal members of Congress who have attacked the bloated Pentagon spending for years. Would you support dramatic decreases in military spending as a way to cut the deficit, or would you rather support the spending with tax increases?
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Same-sex marriage became legal in New York last week after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the controversial marriage equality bill into law, following a narrow vote in the state legislature. Gay couples celebrated the decision with a massive pride parade, while conservatives rebuked the several Republicans who supported the bill, lamenting the new offense to traditional conceptions of marriage. New York succeeded Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire in approving gay marriage through a vote in the state legislature, rather than in the courts. Though the Empire State is the sixth to allow gay marriage, it’s also the third most populous state in the nation, and is widely regarded as the birthplace of the gay and lesbian rights movement. But does the recent legalization there suggest an evolution in public opinion, or was the timing and place for such an issue just right? As gay couples move from New York to other states, similar movements for equal marriage may crop up, but will they have any success? And will California make progress toward allowing same-sex marriage when Prop. 8 goes before the US Supreme Court?
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Five years after the federal government altered the retirement savings landscape, are workers better prepared for retirement? Critics of the retirement and 401 (k) plan reform say no. A controversial provision in the 2006 Pension Protection Act sought to use employees’ inertia to their advantage and “auto-enroll” them in 401 (k) retirement plans to get them to start saving early unless they actively opted out. 82% of employees at companies with auto-enroll programs are enrolled and yet, most people are still woefully behind when it comes to retirement savings. The problem is multi-pronged—auto-enroll programs usually leave out large parts of the existing workforce because they only enlist new workers; and most auto-enroll plans begin with a savings rate of 3%—far too low for most people to reach their retirement goals in time. So how much money should you be aiming to sock away? Whether you’re just starting out on a road to financial independence, saddled with debt or getting ready to retire, Patt and her guest field all your financial questions about saving, or trying to save money.
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Liberals had high hopes for Barack Obama—portrayed by his Republican opponents as an ultra liberal socialist during the 2008 campaign and after his victory, those on the political left were hoping that at least the liberal slander would come true. Latinos were hoping for comprehensive immigration reform, but while the president has made some noise on the issue recently he’s also overseen a dramatic surge in deportations. Anti-war activists were hoping that President Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq would carry over to Afghanistan, but they were disappointed in the troop surge last year and further upset that the president isn’t bringing home more soldiers in quicker fashion from the 10-year old Afghan conflict. Gays and lesbians were hopeful that President Obama would come around on gay marriage—which he hasn’t—but were mildly pleased that he pushed through the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” although it still wasn’t quick enough for their liking. Perhaps most disappointed of all, environmentalists were hoping that President Obama would push through a cap-and-trade bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions and that his administration would get behind a strong EPA; he has failed on both accounts. So for this allegedly bleeding heart socialist of a president, he certainly is having a difficult time pleasing his fellow liberals. There’s a lot of grumbling ahead of 2012 and predictions that the overwhelming wave of enthusiasm that lead President Obama to such a decisive victory in 2008 might not be there for him this time, chiefly because he’s paid so little attention to his base. Are liberals right to feel let down by their president or has Barack Obama always been a centrist at heart? Can President Obama count on his left flank during next year’s election or has he sold them out one too many times?
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In nature, there’s a rigid human sex ratio of 105 boys for every 100 girls, but the invention of amniocentesis and the ultrasound in the 1970s led to massive skewing of these normal proportions, as couples around the world decided to abort their female fetuses. These sex-specific abortions—an estimated 163 million in the last 40 years—have trickled down from societal elites in such places as China and India to the middle and lower classes, creating a nation-wide dearth of girls over time. Though originally seen as a way to obtain more “desirable” offspring, scientists predict the long-term effect of female abortions will cause or exacerbate serious problems: crime rates in areas with “surplus males,” the spread of prostitution and mail-order bride services, as well as the creation of a female underclass. Are efforts to change such birth preferences, which are often deeply ingrained in many cultures, likely to meet with success? And does criticism of parents’ choices to abort their female offspring bolster women’s rights and conditions, or actually run contrary to the pro-choice movement?
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