Happy Shark Week

 

Did you know? – Sharks are being fished faster than they can reproduce and their numbers are declining – and fast. Some U.S. hammerhead populations have dropped an alarming 98% in recent decades.

If we keep fishing at this rate, soon there will be no more sharks swimming in our waters and Shark Week will be our only chance to see these amazing creatures. (via Oceana)

Shark Week starts today.

The Truth About The Economy – In Less Than 2 min., 15 sec. [Video]

The Tipping Point – 10%

You can fool some of the people some of the time and all of the people if ten percent of them are really convinced of their position

By Will Femia, Fri Jul 29, 2011 8:29 PM EDT, The Maddow Blog
Wait, what?

Well, the story is that “scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.” That’s a pretty bold statement. How the heck could you even test for such a thing?

It turns out, the study, Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities (pdf), used an algorithmic model called a binary agreement model. Not as messy as asking people about their opinions and how strongly they hold them, the idea here is that a person can have opinion A or opinion B. If you interact with someone with the same opinion, you keep your opinion. If you interact once with someone with a different opinion, you hold both opinions. And if you interact a second time with someone of a different opinion, you switch to that opinion.

Here’s the chart from the study that shows how all that works:

In this case, the Bs don’t change their mind; they’re “unshakable.”

So the question is how many unshakable Bs does it take in a group having random interactions to convince all the As? As you might imagine, the study is a whole lot of the maths and not a lot of case studies or anecdotes. If you don’t believe this model reflects real humans, I don’t know how to convince you otherwise. I’m only a social science spectator but it seems plausible that when people interact with others of different opinions they can end up adopting those opinions.

Looking for this at play in the wild after the jump…

Where do we see this dynamic at play in the real world? The researchers cite “the suffragette movement in the early 20th century and the rise of the American civil-rights movement that started shortly after the size of the African-American population crossed the 10% mark” as examples of their 10% tipping point.

Of course, it’s backward to take an example and try to make it fit a study’s conclusion but hey, does the sudden change in public opinion they’re talking about remind you at all of the trajectory of polling on gay marriage? You don’t see it so much in this gallup chart, but check out the trend line on this chart (pdf) from a survey released yesterday, commissioned by a group called Freedom to Marry:

I think we’d have to dig deeper into the “strongly support”/”strongly oppose” numbers to get at the unshakables described in the Rensselaer study, but it’s an impressive demonstration that a tipping point exists at all. The whole subject gives me a new respect for the ability of small groups to break into the mainstream. I wonder if there’d be a way to graph the opinions of the Tea Party. Or if there’s a discernible tipping point in the public opinion of alternative rock in the late 80s/early 90s. Did Lollapalooza 1 mark a 10% tipping point?

Bonus reading: While looking for a free version of the Rensselaer study I found a free book on the subject of minority influence: The social psychology of minority influence (pdf).  /// strangely, this link only seems to work when Google Scholar is the referring URL. It’s the first result here.

Minnesota School District Finds Itself in a ‘Culture War’

Don’t teach, don’t tell?

By Poppy Harlow and Emily Probst, July 29, 2011 4:19 p.m. EDT

Anoka, Minnesota (CNN) — Late at night, long after class is dismissed, middle school teacher Jefferson Fietek logs on for his night shift: answering the texts and Facebook posts of suicidal teens.

Fietek, an adviser for his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance in Anoka, Minnesota, says he gets messages from students contemplating suicide or those with friends in crisis at least once a week.

Some of the distressed kids are gay, others are questioning their sexuality, he said. Fietek’s off-duty interventions may blur the line between teacher and friend, but Fietek, who’s openly gay, said some of these kids have no one else to turn to for support.

“I’m worried and concerned about the kids in my school district who are struggling to navigate in a toxic environment,” explained Fietek, who said talking to CNN could cost him his job as a theater teacher at Anoka Middle School for the Arts in Anoka-Hennepin.

The suburban Minneapolis school district, he said, has a climate where kids “feel they have to lie and cover up who they are.”

“If they’re a kid that’s questioning their identity, that they have to hide that,” he said. “If there’s a girl that’s too masculine and is being harassed about that, or if there’s a boy that’s too feminine, [they’re] just not feeling a collective support.”

Fietek has reason to worry. Studies since the 1990s consistently show gay and lesbian youth have suicide attempt rates at least twice that of their heterosexual peers.

And Fietek has seen more than his share of students hospitalized and even buried.

A string of seven student suicides district-wide in less than two years has stirred public debate over Anoka-Hennepin’s sexual orientation curriculum policy.

Parents and friends say four of those students were either gay, perceived to be gay or questioning their sexuality, and they say, at least two of them were bullied over their sexuality.

The district’s curriculum policy, adopted in 2009, bars teachers from taking a position on homosexuality in the classroom and says such matters are best addressed outside of school. It’s become known as the neutrality policy. Anoka-Hennepin is the only Minnesota school district known to have such a policy.

“It’s a censorship policy,” Fietek said. “It’s censorship. There’s nothing neutral about taking the side of the oppressor.”

Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dennis Carlson says the policy — which has attracted just as many local supporters as it has critics to heated school board meetings — is a reasonable response to a divided community.

“It’s a diverse community,” said Carlson, “and what we’re trying to do, what I’m trying to do as a superintendent is walk down the middle of the road.”

The school district has a separate, comprehensive bullying prohibition policy, and Carlson said there is no link between the suicides and bullying.

“We have no evidence that bullying or harassment took place in any of those cases,” the superintendent said.

Carlson emphasized students need to report bullying, and he acknowledged “gay students in our district struggle with bullying and harassment on a daily basis.”

What started out as community members clashing at school board meetings is now a full-blown culture war over homosexuality.

Advocates of gay rights filed a federal lawsuit last week against the district challenging the neutrality policy.

In response to the lawsuit, the school district said it is “confident” that they are “complying with the law” and that its policies, practices and procedures ensure the safety of students.

And CNN confirmed, the Departments of Justice and Education have an ongoing civil rights investigation into incidents of bullying and harassment in the school district after receiving a complaint.

“The Department is committed to investigating allegations to determine whether there are violations of federal civil rights laws and will use the enforcement tools at our disposal to protect the safety of students,” wrote a Justice Department spokeswoman in an email to CNN.

It’s unclear whether the federal investigation will go beyond investigating the bullying complaint.

The party who filed the complaint to the federal authorities remains confidential due to privacy concerns.

Sam Wolfe, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the advocacy groups behind the federal lawsuit, wrote the district a letter in May, saying the “gag policy” prevented “meaningful” classroom discussion on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

“The policy imposes a stigma on LGBT students as pariahs, not fit to be mentioned within the school community,” Wolfe wrote, “a message that comes across loud and clear both to LGBT students and their peers, and which has grave repercussions for the psychological and emotional development of LGBT students.”

In response to those allegations, the school district wrote a letter to the SPLC, stating the district “strongly disagrees” that there is a link between the harassment of LGBT students and the neutrality policy.

The district’s letter also disputes that the policy prohibits classroom discussion of LGBT issues, and states rather that it prevents teachers from injecting their personal beliefs on homosexuality in the classroom.

Last week, the district asked the advocacy groups to help them develop employee training to support LGBT students but stopped short of meeting their demands to repeal its policy.

“We believe the interests of our students would be better served if we could put our energies and resources into working together to develop materials that directly support students,” said Carlson in a press release.

“Rather than focusing on litigation we would prefer to invest in materials that would provide a positive outcome for students for years to come.”

The school’s neutrality policy has the backing of some parents like Yvette Schue, a district mother of four children, who said a controversial topic like homosexuality should be “handled at home,” and schools should focus on core academics.

“They don’t need to be promoting a particular point of view on [homosexuality],” Schue said.

“Parents have the right to raise their children any way they want to, and the school district doesn’t need to be sitting there saying, ‘Your parents are wrong.'”

“No Compromise, No Surrender” No Longer Appealing

Congress is doing exactly what it was elected to do

By Sean Theriault, July 30, 2011 8:07 a.m. EDT

Austin, Texas (CNN) — In 2005, I published a book called “The Power of the People.” In it, I made the simple argument that, contrary to the opinion of a growing number of political pundits, members of Congress are still — as they have always been — responsive to their constituents.

So, you might ask, why is it that according to Gallup, two-thirds of Americans want our politicians to compromise on the American debt crisis and yet the grand bargain between President Obama and Speaker Boehner seems so elusive? In short, our members of Congress are acting exactly as they were elected to.

In Utah, a three-term senator, Bob Bennett, who was more conservative than the average Republican, lost his renomination effort. Why? Because he had the audacity to introduce a health care reform plan, very much based on his free market orientation, with a Democrat.

In South Carolina, Rep. Bob Inglis, a conservative Republican and 12-year incumbent, also lost in the primary. Why? Because he thought it was more important to vote in favor of a bailout package, endorsed by the leaders of his party and a president from his party, than to cast a principled — and silly, I might add — vote that would have sent the global economy into meltdown.

These scenarios played out time and again in Republican primaries in 2010. When all was said and done, 129 tea party candidates for the House, all marching to the mantra to never compromise, were on the ballot in the general election in November.

The general election brought us race after race in which these tea party candidates were running against moderate Democrats, the so-called “Blue Dogs.” Some of these Blue Dogs fought against Obama’s health care plan. Others fought against cap-and-trade environmental legislation. In fighting these plans, the Blue Dogs frequently made them more moderate.

It didn’t matter how hard they fought these plans or that they voted against them because, in November, their constituents voted them out of office. Why? Simply for being Democrats. And because of those decisions in November, the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives now has 60 members — 60 automatic votes against any type of compromise to preserve the full faith and credit of the United States.

The problem with our deficit crisis today is that the message the voters sent — and that the winning candidates heard — was “never compromise, never surrender.” We may need such a mentality on the battlefield, but we cannot have such a mentality in politics. Politics, after all, is the art of compromise.

Our Constitution was a document forged in compromise: compromise among 13 states, each with different preferences and different backgrounds. They forged compromise because they knew the problems they faced were greater than the differences between them.

Regrettably, pragmatic problem solving was not the choice voters made in the Republican primaries or the general election in 2010. And, now, we are all living with it. Elections, indeed, have consequences and we are now bearing the consequences of the decisions made by the electorate in district after district and state after state nine months ago.

It appears as though the mantra of “no compromise, no surrender” has less appeal for Americans today than it did in November. Or, perhaps it was the one-third of Americans today who oppose any compromise to keep the United States solvent who voted in November, while too many of the other two-thirds stayed home because they didn’t think their vote mattered.

Regardless of why “no compromise, no surrender” was more popular nine months ago than it is today, you cannot blame this Washington mess on the members of Congress. They are doing exactly what they were elected to do. I suspect that if Sen. Bennett and Rep. Inglis were around, they would be sitting at the table forging compromise.

Regrettably, they lost to “never compromise and never back down” candidates, who, along with their ilk, are now holding the rest of us hostage.

Hopefully, we will learn from our mistakes.

“Teachers should have salaries starting at $60,000 and the opportunity to make up to $150,000 based on performance.”

Arne Duncan Boosts Merit Pay At Teaching Conference

Arne Duncan
First Posted: 7/29/11 03:45 PM ET Updated: 7/29/11 06:49 PM ET The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Teachers should have salaries starting at $60,000 and the opportunity to make up to $150,000 based on performance, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told educators at the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards conference on Friday.

“The field of teaching is poised for change,” Duncan said. “Many bright and committed young people are attracted to teaching, but surveys show they are reluctant to enter the field for the long-haul. They see it as low-paying and low-prestige.”

In his speech, Duncan alluded to a new federal performance pay boost, but provided few details on where funding for it would come from or how it would work. When a teacher pressed him for the nitty-gritty on what he would do differently from here on out, Duncan responded by saying, “We’re trying to start a national conversation.”

Currently, the federal government supports teacher merit pay through the Teacher Incentive Fund, a grant program that pays for districts to develop performance-pay plans.

“I just fundamentally believe that the incentives are all wrong — not just the money but the prestige and the career opportunities,” Duncan said. He also called for more teacher accountability and autonomy, and said that “it makes no sense to isolate education or poverty.”

Some policymakers are seeking ways to increase discipline in a field they say has long existed without robust evaluations. They are also trying to professionalize teaching, altering the pay scale’s low starting salary and mostly-guaranteed large pension, aspects they say do little to incentivize increasing student learning.

Critics of merit pay have said that monetary incentives don’t inspire good teaching. The concept has gotten flak recently after the Atlanta cheating scandal, in which an investigation concluded that a pressurized environment that stressed score gains as components of a pay scale led teachers and principals to change students’ test answers from wrong to right.

New York City just dropped its merit pay scheme after a study commissioned by the New York City Department of Education showed the program on its own did little to boost student achievement. The study speculated that the high pressures surrounding teaching and testing — before merit pay was even introduced — might explain why introducing the new incentives did not change outcomes very much.

“We tried doing this,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who initially signed onto New York’s merit pay trial run. “From the [New York] study, simply saying we’re going to pay people based upon kids’ test scores does not work to move student achievement. … At end of the day, what works is for teachers to see their kids succeed and for them to have the tools and conditions that they need.”

Tim Daly, president of The New Teacher Project, says merit pay is a way to retain the best teachers, more than a plan for changing the effectiveness of individual teachers. He added that OECD research shows that the only way a country can afford to dramatically increase teacher pay is by shifting its priorities — perhaps away from class size.

“We’ve hired more and more staff members but we haven’t raised compensation,” Daly said. “The way you would do what the [education] secretary is talking about is to say, ‘We’re going to place a priority on hiring teachers at the top of the professional scale.'”

Duncan addressed costs only by saying that a merit-pay scheme would involve redirecting existing funds.

“Given the current political climate with the nation wrestling with debt and deficits — I am sure some people will immediately say that we can’t afford it without even looking at how to redirect the money we are already spending — and mis-spending,” Duncan said.

While Duncan’s stress on merit pay is nothing new, NBPTS, which rigorously evaluates teachers for board certification, has been involved in the conversation, Daly said.

Though teachers unions are traditionally painted as opponents to merit pay and defenders of the status quo, the American Federation of Teachers has supported several locally-based merit-pay experiments, while saying in its official materials that “it is not abandoning the traditional salary schedule.” The National Education Association recently updated its language on merit pay, though officials say the switch simply represents new phrasing — not a policy shift.

Weingarten told The Huffington Post she was glad to hear Duncan articulate the need to professionalize teaching, an imperative she herself stressed at a recent speech.

“I’m gratified that Secretary Duncan is talking about teaching as a profession, and not as a momentary spectator sport or service project,” Weingarten told The Huffington Post. “I’m also gratified that he’s talking about things like attrition, which is the most important teacher-quality issue both from the standpoint of education and the standpoint of cost. I’m also glad that he’s talking about major changes not only in the way we prepare teachers but how we support and treat them at a school district level.”

Weingarten said she was most concerned with seeing the speech turned into action. “The test is, to take a speech like this to places like Wisconsin and Tennessee and Ohio, into the foundations and the reformers and create a bully pulpit or use it to create a climate that enables this to happen,” she said. “This was great rhetoric, but the issue is more than the rhetoric.”

Duncan called for a revolution like the one that changed the standards and prestige of the medical profession.

“You are not just saving lives like doctors, but you’re also creating lives,” he said.

Some teachers said Duncan’s words fell on deaf ears. Geri Cvetic, a media specialist at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, Md., said she heard no specifics.

“He didn’t really answer questions about his ideas,” Cvetic said. “He’s not really addressing a problem. He’s not talking about what’s happening in our schools.”

Mary-Dean Barringer, a California teacher on the NBPTS board, said she was happy to be included in the conversation.

“[Duncan] said in five different ways that he wants to transform the teaching profession,” she said. “Here we have the secretary of education creating a common platform where a lot of warring platforms can stand.”

“I hope he does this more when he’s not talking to family,” she added.

Cvetic said she wanted justice in pay but not a bonus schedule.

“We want to be treated professionally,” Cvetic said. “We don’t want these little carrots, because behind the carrots is always the stick. We want to be treated like we have a brain.”

HRC Hits The Road

Human Rights Campaign To Launch LGBT Bus Tour Through States That Ban Gay Marriage

Gay Marriage Doma Civil Rights
DAVID CRARY   07/25/11 05:06 PM ET   AP

As hundreds of jubilant gay couples became newlyweds in New York over the weekend, their well-wishers included many far-flung gays wistfully aware that their own states may never willingly allow same-sex marriage.

“The victories in other states are always a little bittersweet,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Georgia. His state is one of 30 that have adopted constitutional amendments aimed at limiting marriage to one-man, one-woman unions.

In a few of those states – California, Oregon and Colorado, for example – activists hold out hope of repealing the bans. That outcome seems improbable, though, in many heartland and Southern states, and gay-rights leaders there are looking at more modest short-term goals.

They’ll soon get a boost from a leading national gay-rights group, the Human Rights Campaign. It plans to launch a bus tour, starting Aug. 12 in Salt Lake City and ending Oct. 30 in Orlando, Fla., which will carry it through 11 states that ban gay marriage.

Stops along the way are planned in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia and Alabama – all with no statewide recognition of same-sex relationships and no state nondiscrimination laws protecting gays.

“We’re going into the belly of the beast,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communications.

Activists on the bus tour will be hosting forums and workshops, offering advice on how gay communities can empower themselves politically even on conservative turf, notably through local ordinances and initiatives.

Even as New York became the sixth and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage, gay and transgender people in many places “continue to face tremendous obstacles,” said the campaign’s president, Joe Solmonese.

“The bus tour intends to draw attention to these challenges and ensure that this rising tide lifts all boats,” he said.

The tour will start from the Salt Lake City Pride Center, which provides advocacy and support services for gays across Utah.

Two years ago, Salt Lake became the first city in the state to offer housing and employment protections for gays and lesbians; it also has a “mutual commitment registry” that offers some local recognition to same-sex couples. Both measures exemplify goals that activists believe could be achievable in many communities in conservative states.

“We recognize that same-sex marriage may not be right around the corner,” said the Pride Center’s spokeswoman, Marina Gomberg. “But we see different areas where we can change our state and have changed our state.”

As for the news out of New York, Gomberg said, “It’s a boost of energy for me. A success in New York feels like a success here, because as a nation we’re making progress toward equality and acceptance.”

Conservative leaders in some of the states on the bus tour route expressed doubt that the advent of gay marriage in New York would have impact on their home turf.

“I don’t believe it’s a shot across the bow,” said Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council. “I would say it’s an indication of how out of step New York is with the rest of the country.”

Any push for gay marriage in Arkansas would face a difficult time with either major party. Gov. Mike Beebe, a popular Democrat who won re-election last year, recently told a gay-rights group that he can’t see himself supporting same-sex marriage or civil unions.

With six states now recognizing same-sex marriage, there will be increasing pressure on Congress and the courts to dismantle the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to married gay couples. Even some conservatives believe the eventual endgame will be some move by Congress or the Supreme Court to require all states, including those with constitutional bans, to recognize such couples.

Such a prediction comes from Texas Gov. Rick Perry – who fought hard for a state amendment banning gay marriage – in his book, “Fed Up: Our Fight to Save America From Washington.”

“Gay marriage will soon be the policy of the United States, irrespective of federalism, the Constitution, or the wish of the American people,” he writes.

Kerry Messer of the conservative Missouri Family Network said only a federal court ruling could force his state to reverse a ban-gay-marriage amendment approved with 70 percent support in 2004.

“The attitudes haven’t changed since then,” Messer said. “If anything, I think they maybe have swung a little closer to the traditional marriage idea.”

The bus tour will end in Florida, a swing state in presidential elections but with a heavily Republican legislature that shows little interest in advancing gay rights. In 2008, an amendment banning gay marriage passed with 62 percent support.

Nonetheless, the state has a vibrant gay community and several of its cities have established domestic-partnership registries on a local basis.

Brian Winfield, communications director for the gay-rights group Equality Florida, said he and his longtime partner, Kim Byrd, are considering getting married in New York this winter, then returning to Florida even though their union wouldn’t be recognized there.

“Florida is moving in the direction of equality,” Winfield said. “We’ve been able to carve out some victories in a very difficult environment.”

As a prelude to the bus tour, the Human Rights Campaign conducted a national survey on Americans’ attitudes on gay-rights issues. The lead pollster, Anna Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, said she was struck by the finding that acceptance of gays was virtually as high in the South as in other regions, even though Southern legislatures oppose gay rights.

“The elected officials tend to be more conservative than voters,” she said. “But what I think you’ll see is a diminishing of this issue as a wedge in electoral politics … It becomes something you don’t talk about.”

Recently released U.S. Census data shows that the number of same-sex couple households is surging across the country, including in the conservative states on the bus tour route. In Georgia, for example, the number of same-sex households increased from 19,288 in 2000 to 29,844 in 2010.

So far, that trend has not been reflected by passage of gay-rights measures in the legislature. However, Graham, of Equality Georgia, is hopeful that might change as more gay families surface in Atlanta’s northern suburbs and other areas that produce many of the state’s political leaders.

For now, Graham sees little chance of repealing the state constitution’s ban on gay marriage.

“However,” he said, “there’s going to come a point where Georgia’s efforts to attract new business will run up against the discriminatory laws that we have here.”

Pell Grants Are A Point of Contention for GOP

Conservatives angry over Pell Grant funding in Boehner debt bill

By Alexander Bolton – 07/28/11 06:13 PM ET The Hill

House conservatives who have stalled legislation to raise the national debt limit are angry that it includes $17 billion in supplemental spending for Pell Grants, which some compare to welfare.

Legislation crafted by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise the debt limit by $900 billion would directly appropriate $9 billion for Pell Grants in 2012 and another $8 billion in 2013.
This has shocked some conservative House freshmen who say they were elected to cut spending, not increase it. Some House Republicans think of it as being akin to welfare.
“I really don’t understand why we’re increasing spending in a bill supposed to be cutting spending,” said Rep. Andy Harris, a freshman Republican from Maryland. “It was negotiated without the input of a lot of members.”

Harris has indicated to The Baltimore Sun that he will vote no.

House Republican leaders say they included concessions to Democrats in efforts to forge a compromise that could pass both chambers.

“This is a compromise piece of legislation that was negotiated between the Speaker and the bipartisan leadership in the Senate,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters Thursday afternoon.

One major concession is the establishment of a select joint committee to assemble another deficit-reduction package later in the 112th Congress.

“The joint select committee is something that came from the Democrats. We don’t have all the cuts we like in this bill but we’re willing to compromise,” Cantor said.

The inclusion of the extra money for Pell Grants could cost Republican votes.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) has compared Pell Grants to “welfare”.

“So you can go to college on Pell Grants — maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century,” Rehberg told Blog Talk Radio in April. “You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.”

Rehberg has not said how he will vote on Boehner’s bill.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who has not revealed his position, said the Pell Grants have “been part of the discussion” among conservatives who are debating whether to support the bill.House GOP leaders postponed a vote on the plan Thursday evening because of opposition within their conference.

Funding Pell Grants has been a top priority for President Obama. In his 2012 budget blueprint, the president sought to preserve the maximum grant at nearly $5,550 a year.

Recession Dipping Into A Depression?

29 July 2011 Last updated at 10:57 ET BBC News

US economy: GDP growth much weaker than thought

US economic growth is much weaker than first thought, government figures show.

The economy grew at an annualised rate of 1.3% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said. Economists had forecast growth of 1.8%.

And in a surprise move, first-quarter growth was revised down sharply from 1.9% to 0.4%.

There is also much uncertainty at the moment as to how the current row about the US debt crisis will affect its economic recovery.

If Congress does not raise the debt limit by 2 August, the US government could face funding shortfalls that it cannot meet by extra borrowing.

President Barack Obama urged Democrats and Republicans in the Senate “to find common ground” on a plan to address the debt crisis.

“There are plenty of ways out of this mess. But we are almost out of time.

“If we don’t come to an agreement, we could lose our country’s triple A credit rating,” he said. “That is inexcusable.”

“On a day when we’ve already been reminded how delicate the economy is, we can end [this crisis] ourselves.”

US markets opened lower, with the Dow Jones, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all falling 1% in early trade.

European markets, which were already in negative territory, saw further falls after the figures were released.

‘Shocking’

After the revision, the US growth figures now correspond to a quarterly increase of just 0.1% in the first three months of 2011, followed by a 0.3% rise in the second quarter.

Economists had expected steady growth in the second quarter, now that supply constraints from Japan after the earthquake and tsunami are easing.

The main reason for the lower-than-expected second-quarter figure was that consumer spending virtually ground to a halt, growing by just 0.1%, compared with 2.1% growth in the first quarter.

The large downward revision to the first quarter’s growth figure was made as a result of lower capital investment and higher imports than first thought, and adjusting how seasonal factors are taken into account.

In addition, growth for the fourth quarter of 2010 was revised down from 3.1% to 2.3%, indicating that the economy had already started slowing before the end of last year.

Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management, said the figures were “shocking”.

“Clearly this is evidence of a mid-cycle slowdown. The only question now is do we see a pick-up in the second half and so far the economic data to date doesn’t suggest that.

“You might have some analysts come out and talk recession, talk about a double dip. Right now none of the forecasts even come close to that but this is weak data.”

Worse recession

The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis makes annual revisions to its GDP estimates every July, incorporating more complete and detailed data.

It now says that the US recession of 2007-2009 was more severe than previously reported, with the economy shrinking by 5.1% over that period, rather than 4.1%.

But it also says that growth in 2010 was a bit stronger than it had first estimated.

It now puts 2010 growth at 3%, up from the previous 2.9%.