February 1st, 2012
07:34 PM ET

Opinions fly after Komen drops Planned Parenthood

Editor's note: This is part of an occasional "Reads You Need" series featuring some of the diverse voices from our site and across the Web on the stories causing ripples throughout the news sphere.

Over the last two days, columnists, advocacy groups and editorial boards have had plenty to say about Tuesday's announcement that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation would stop sending funds to Planned Parenthood for breast exams.

The move by the breast cancer research group came after Congress in September began investigating whether Planned Parenthood, a prominent family planning organization, illegally used federal funds to provide abortions. The Komen foundation has indicated that because it adopted a new policy preventing it from giving money to groups that the government is investigating, it can't continue funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood.

"Grant making decisions are not about politics - our priority is and always will be the women we serve. Making this issue political or leveraging it for fundraising purposes would be a disservice to women," the foundation said on its Facebook page.

Some Planned Parenthood supporters have alleged the move is less about investigation and more about abortion. Anti-abortion advocates around the country had questioned the Komen foundation about its grants for months, prompting the foundation to release a statement last year saying that "Komen funding is used exclusively to provide breast cancer programs."

iReport: 'Women should be in an uproar right now'

Planned Parenthood said funding from the Komen Foundation has largely paid for breast exams at local centers. In the last five years, grants from the group have directly supported 170,000 screenings, comprising about 4% of the total exams performed at Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide, according to the group.

At least one Komen affiliate might keep sending money, and Planned Parenthood says its fundraising has spiked since the national Komen foundation made its announcement.

Here are a few takes from around the country:

Komen attacks abortion rights

The Baltimore Sun's editorial board says Komen's decision puts "women's health at risk by denying breast cancer screening funds to Planned Parenthood on questionable grounds."

"Has Komen adopted an anti-abortion stance, too? Given the obvious political motivations behind the (congressional) investigation, it's hard not to see the decision as announcing that. According to Planned Parenthood, Komen is the first private organization to withdraw funding on the grounds of the congressional investigation. One can only assume that this outcome, if it stands, will motivate Congress to pursue all sorts of investigations against all sorts of controversial organizations.

That has to be greatly upsetting to many people who have participated in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure ... . Quite a few have probably written their share of checks to Planned Parenthood to not only support women's right to choose but basic family planning and cancer-screening services.

...

Breast cancer can strike anyone, including those who avail themselves of contraception. Shame on Komen for succumbing to pressure from anti-abortion groups and risking the health of the very women for whom they claim to advocate."

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Filed under: Abortion • Health • Health Care • Politics • The Reads You Need
The Reads You Need: Extending the payroll tax cut
U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Congress to extend a Social Security payroll tax cut.
December 6th, 2011
04:53 PM ET

The Reads You Need: Extending the payroll tax cut

Editor's note: Each day, we'll bring you some of the diverse voices from our site and across the Web on the stories causing ripples throughout the news sphere.

With the United States’ Social Security payroll tax cut set to expire after December 31, Republicans and Democrats have wrangled over how and whether to extend it.

The payroll tax break, which was enacted last year, cut workers’ Social Security payroll tax rate to 4.2% on the first $106,800 in wages this year, instead of the normal 6.2%. With that cut, people making $50,000 this year will take home an additional $1,000.

Senate Republicans last week proposed extending the cut for one year. They proposed paying for the estimated $120 billion cost by freezing the pay of federal civilian workers for three years, cutting the federal civilian workforce by 10% through attrition, prohibiting millionaires from getting unemployment benefits or food stamps, and requiring millionaires to pay more for Medicare Parts B and D. This plan was defeated.

Senate Democrats proposed not only keeping a cut, but also making it deeper, to 3.1%. That would mean people making $50,000 a year would take home $1,550 more than they would under the normal 6.2% rate. Democrats also wanted to cut employers’ share of the payroll tax from 6.2% to 3.1%, and they wanted to pay for the package with a 3.25% surtax on people making more than $1 million per year.

After that plan was rejected, Senate Democrats this week adjusted their proposal: Cut workers’ payroll tax to 3.1% and keep the employers’ share where it is. To help pay the $180 billion cost, they would impose - for 10 years - a 1.9% surtax on people making more than $1 million annually. They also would, among other things, adopt the GOP proposals to keep millionaires from getting unemployment benefits and food stamps.

Here are a few takes on the issue from commentators and journalists across the country:

Bipartisan silliness on payroll tax cut

CNNMoney's Jeanne Sahadi writes that while the Senate Democrats' move to adopt the GOP's call to crack down on millionaires who get food stamps and unemployment checks looks like bipartisanship, the measures would be virtually meaningless because relatively little money would be saved.

On the food stamp issue, she writes:

"This provision would disqualify anyone from collecting food stamps if they receive 'income or assets with a fair market value of at least $1,000,000.'

          "Who can disagree with that?

"But realistically, how many millionaires would be affected?

"According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program, the answer is 'zero.' So by extension, that would mean precisely zip would be saved by prohibiting those nonexistent millionaires from collecting food stamp payments.

"Oh, there was one case earlier this year.

"The press in Michigan reported on a food stamp recipient who had won the lottery but was continuing to collect benefits anyway because technically he was still eligible under the rules. He is no longer collecting benefits. And states were asked to develop ways to make sure that doesn't happen again, according to the USDA."

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The Reads You Need: Newt Gingrich rises in the polls, but which Newt and why?
December 5th, 2011
01:00 PM ET

The Reads You Need: Newt Gingrich rises in the polls, but which Newt and why?

Editor's note: Each day, we'll bring you some of the diverse voices from our site and across the Web on the stories causing ripples throughout the news sphere.

As Newt Gingrich surges in the race for the GOP nomination, some are asking how he went from being a not-a-chance candidate to a top-of-the-polls contender.

Those thinking of throwing their support behind Gingrich, certainly have a lot to judge him on, from his reformer, bipartisan approach as House leader to what some call the "New Newt." Analysts quip about which Newt is going to show up at the next event, as the horse-race for the GOP nomination trots along.

The question is becoming more important as Gingrich pulls ahead in many polls, including in the key state of Iowa. So, today, we'll take a look at what some news outlets and commentators are saying about Gingrich's bubbling to the top of the heap, whether they think he can maintain his surge and what role his past might play in his future.

Dowd: 'Out of Africa and into Iowa'

Maureen Dowd, writing for the New York Times, has had plenty to say about Gingrich lately. In her latest piece about the former House speaker, she harped on some of his strange comments and inconsistencies which led her to describe him as "an animal with ever-changing stripes."

"Newt Gingrich’s mind is in love with itself.

It has persuaded itself that it is brilliant when it is merely promiscuous. This is not a serious mind. Gingrich is not, to put it mildly, a systematic thinker.

His mind is a jumble, an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. He plays air guitar with ideas, producing air ideas. He ejaculates concepts, notions and theories that are as inconsistent as his behavior.

He didn’t get whiplash being a serial adulterer while impeaching another serial adulterer, a lobbyist for Freddie Mac while attacking Freddie Mac, a self-professed fiscal conservative with a whopping Tiffany’s credit line, and an anti-Communist Army brat who supported the Vietnam War but dodged it.

'Part of the question I had to ask myself,' he said in a 1985 Wall Street Journal piece about war wimps, 'was what difference I would have made.'

 Newt swims easily in a sea of duality and byzantine ideas that don’t add up."

Read the full column.

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November 28th, 2011
10:07 AM ET

The Reads You Need: The relationship between the U.S., Pakistan

Editor's note: Each day, we'll bring you some of the diverse voices from our site and across the Web on the stories causing ripples throughout the news sphere.

Tensions among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States jumped a notch Monday, with Pakistan's prime minister warning there would be "no more business as usual" with Washington after NATO aircraft killed two dozen Pakistan troops.

The Pakistani Taliban urged Pakistan to respond in kind to the airstrike, which NATO called a "tragic unintended" event. The Pakistani military insisted Monday it had not fired first in the incident, and it said it had told NATO its aircraft were firing on friendly troops. Meanwhile, a top adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned that Afghanistan and Pakistan could be on a path to conflict.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in an exclusive interview with CNN Monday that Pakistan was re-evaluating its relationship with the United States.

The relationship between the two countries is a tense but important one to examine. So, today, we'll take a look at what some news outlets and commentators are saying about the future of the relationship and what steps the two countries may have to take to stabilize the increasingly murky and sometimes difficult relationship.

In fog of war, rift widens between U.S. and Pakistan

The New York Times' Steven Lee Myers offers an analysis that looks at the NATO airstrike and how the reactions from both countries reflect "a fundamental truth" about how both are working to secure Afghanistan's borders. Myers says that truth is "tactics of war can easily undercut the broader strategy that leaders of both countries say they share."

"There is no doubt relations are on a knife-edge.

But the apology from Nato and the US will eventually come. Why? Because with American forces pulling out of Afghanistan, Pakistan's role will only become more important. Its roads still supply 49 per cent of the food, fuel and equipment needed by international forces in land-locked Afghanistan.

Both countries need each other more than they like to mention – particularly to their own people.

In Pakistan, the attack has given a weak – but broadly pro-US – government the chance to bolster its nationalist credentials and reassure its public that it is no stooge of Washington. Ministers will shout and scream, and express their outrage. Then, having placated the rabble-rousing opposition leaders, quieted the Islamist marchers and burnished their nationalist colours, they will accept an apology and go back to taking the American dollars.

So too the military. It is the generals who control Afghan policy and it is they who ultimately will decide what comes next. In public they may decry the CIA's drones programme, but they could stop it tomorrow if they wished. Just like the government they are much closer to Washington than they would ever care to admit.

These tensions mean the relationship between the US and Pakistan is in a constant state of crisis. It staggers from one misunderstanding to the next. But that is roughly what passes for normal in this part of the world: this is not the end.

And the dead soldiers, having served their purpose, will be forgotten, mourned only by their families – just as if they had been killed by a militant suicide bomber."

Read the full story here.

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The Reads You Need: Protests in Egypt
Thousands gathered in Cairo's Tahrir square on Thursday, the sixth straight day of protests against Egypt's military leaders.
November 24th, 2011
05:17 PM ET

The Reads You Need: Protests in Egypt

Editor's note: Each day, we'll bring you some of the diverse voices from our site and across the Web on the stories causing ripples throughout the news sphere.

[Updated at 8:51 a.m. ET Friday] Cairo has seen days of protests and violence as demonstrators voice opposition to what they perceive as Egypt's too-slow transition from military rule. Parliamentary elections are due to begin Monday - part of a long electoral process that may lead to a presidential election months from now - but demonstrators have been upset with the transition's pace and are demanding that the military rulers step down.

A military council took charge of Egypt after protesters ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February. The military promised that eventually a civilian government would be elected and take over. But demonstrators say they are concerned that the military, which would continue to be Egypt's top authority until a president is in place, wants to keep a grip on the country. Many also have voiced anger about a proposed constitutional principle that would shield the military's budget from scrutiny by civilian powers.

Relative calm prevailed Thursday over Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protesters have been since Saturday, but Friday brought more plans for street activity. And clashes in the country between demonstrators and security forces killed 38 people by Wednesday, including 33 in Cairo; another 3,250 were wounded, the country's health ministry said.

Today, we'll take a look at what some commentators are saying about Egypt's future, the United States' leverage in the region, and why, if history is any lesson, a slow transition from military rule shouldn't be a surprise.

Why Egypt needs a second revolution

Emad El-Din Shahin, associate professor of religion, conflict and peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, says that since it took control of the post-Mubarak transition, the military "has been following a three-sided strategy to contain and even frustrate the persistent demands for handing over power to a civilian authority and establishing an effective democratic system."

"To many protesters, what Egypt is witnessing is "phase two" of the January revolution. One cannot ignore the striking similarities between the two phases, particularly the snail-paced responses of the military council and Mubarak and the unjustifiable use of force against unarmed civilians.

...

The military council also repeats another fatal mistake by responding too late with too little, leading protesters to raise the ceiling of their demands. What started as protests calling for protecting democracy and a timetable for transferring power under the management of the military council has become firm demands for ending the rule of the council and the military generals.

Despite this revolutionary situation, and perhaps because of it, Egypt has great hopes in transitioning to democracy. Several steps need to be taken.

The military council needs to bring to justice those responsible for the death and injury of peaceful protesters, including the immediate dismissal of the minister of interior and his aides. A new national salvation government has to be formed of credible public figures to manage the transitional process - writing a new constitution, restoring order and reviving the country's economy.

Read the full story here.

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November 16th, 2011
02:07 PM ET

The Reads You Need: Strife-torn Syria

Editor's note: Each day, we'll be bringing you some of the diverse voices from our site and across the Web on the stories causing ripples throughout the news sphere.

Syria has faced a chorus of criticism over its eight-month crackdown on opposition protesters that has left at least 3,500 people dead, according to sources reporting to the U.N.

The calls from other key players in the region for the regime to step down, as well as the Arab League's suspension of the nation from the alliance, have put Syria at the top of the list of countries dealing with the possibility of civil war in the wake of unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain.

Syria's regime is showing no indication that it will soften its position, leaving many people asking whether President Bashar al-Assad is open to any outside influence.

Today we're taking a look at the reads you need to dig a little bit deeper into the situation in Syria, a look at why the Arab League has gotten involved and where the country falls in comparison to the rest of the region dealing with the Arab Spring.

Inside Syria's economic implosion

Stephen Starr, a freelance journalist writing for Foreign Policy magazine, says Syria's economy is suffering because of the protest crackdowns and subsequent sanctions against the country, especially tourism. But the business community, which Starr says has long had a good relationship with the regime, isn't exactly ready to challenge Assad.

"A Quran sits atop a 4-foot Sony speaker in Wissam's modern Damascus office. It is 9 a.m., and Wissam, a stout 30-something businessman, seems flustered. He arrived a little late for this interview, wiping beads of sweat off his forehead before sitting down next to a cabinet, where books authored by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett peek out. Wissam's company owns the import rights for Sony products in Syria, but he's unlikely to sell many speakers or flat-screen televisions in the near future.

"Business activity has recovered slightly, but it is still down about 40 percent" since March, when the protests began, he said. "I think companies can survive another six or maybe even 12 months, but beyond that it will be impossible."

Wissam, like others in his position, is trapped. He recognizes the regime's actions have damaged the country's businesses, but feels powerless to do anything about it. "They feel they are under siege, and they won't be moved," he said, referring to the authorities.

Syrian business leaders, with much to lose and deeply fearful of the regime's security apparatus, are unlikely to join the country's ongoing revolt anytime soon. Even the businessmen interviewed for this article blanched upon seeing their remarks about the dismal state of the Syrian economy in print, quickly requesting anonymity to express themselves freely. The government's rose-tinted pronouncements about the condition of Syrian finances aside, there is no doubt that the country's economy is in dire straits."

Read the full story here.

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The Reads You Need: The raid on Occupy Wall Street
Occupy Wall Street protesters fight with police as they attempt to clear out Zucotti Park on Tuesday morning.
November 15th, 2011
12:31 PM ET

The Reads You Need: The raid on Occupy Wall Street

Editor's note: Each day we'll be trying to bring you some of the diverse voices from our site and around the web about the stories causing ripples throughout the news sphere.

You'd be hard pressed to find a subject that elicits more opinions than the Occupy Wall Street movement. We've seen everyone - and their mother - opine on the movement and its members. What should they do? Why isn't there a leader? What is success?

For the most part they've been nebulous conversations about vague ideas.  Commentators have said that the time will come when a decision has to be made about how Occupy should move forward. At its heart it remains a movement of ideas. And those ideas evolve. But as concerns about public health and acts of violence taking place at some of the "home bases" for the Occupy protests mount, more attention has focused on where the movement might go next.

That question has grown more complex since Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced police would oust protesters from camping in New York's Zucotti Park. A similar raid took place in Oakland, California, on Monday when police moved in to the Occupy encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza near City Hall. The situation in New York intensified after Occupy protesters were able to secure a temporary order allowing the group to return to Zuccotti Park - just hours after scores of police in riot gear forced them out.

So here's a look at the 5 reads you need on the Occupy movement right now:

Did Bloomberg do Occupy Wall Street a favor?

Ezra Klein, writing for the Washington Post, asks whether, in the long run, Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have helped moved the Occupy agenda forward as winter approaches.

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The Reads You Need: Penn State scandal
Penn State cheerleaders collect money and pass out anti-child abuse signs on campus.
November 14th, 2011
12:37 PM ET

The Reads You Need: Penn State scandal

Editor's note: Each day we'll be trying to bring you some of the diverse voices from our site and around the web about the stories causing ripples throughout the news sphere.

The Penn State scandal continues to hold its grasp on the news cycle this week after a large spotlight was shone on the school on Saturday during their first game without Joe Paterno at the helm.

A moment of silence was held before the game in honor of the alleged victims. Current and former players from Penn State and Nebraska locked arms amid thunderous applause from more than 100,000 fans - many of them wearing blue, to focus attention on child abuse - in attendance.

But there's still much to know about this story and many opinion's on how it will progress, how it has already been handled and what the most important issues about the case are.

So here's a look at the 5 reads you need on the Penn State scandal:

Prosecutors: Coach went from mentor to predator

CNN's Wayne Drash examines the timeline of what was happening on the field during the height of Sandusky's career and juxtaposes it with how the now-known scandal was unfolding at the time.

"The Penn State players scooped up their defensive coordinator and hoisted him on their shoulders. It was his final game, a crowning victory in the Alamo Bowl, a perfect ending for the coach's 32-year career.

One player said it seemed like "a Hollywood script."

It was December 1999, and Jerry Sandusky had announced his retirement before the start of the season. It was unexpected: the guy who'd spent three decades on the sidelines with legendary coach Joe Paterno wasn't even going to another team. Just 55 at the time, Sandusky had long been expected to replace Joe Pa.

But he was simply quitting.

Sandusky's career was deviating from the widely accepted script. And now, it appears, the Hollywood ending may have been just that - fiction. And possibly a façade that covered dark, sordid secrets."

Read the full story.

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