US officials think senior military officials and contractors in the Bush administration may have stolen more than $50 bln of the $125 bln sent to Iraq for reconstruction shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein, in what could turn out to be “the greatest fraud in US history,” Patrick Cockburn reported in the London Independent (2/16). “In one case, auditors working for the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) discovered that $57.8 mln was sent in ‘pallet upon pallet of hundred-dollar bills’ to the US comptroller for south-central Iraq, Robert J Stein Jr., who had himself photographed standing with the mound of money,” wrote Cockburn. “He is among the few US officials who were in Iraq to be convicted of fraud and money-laundering.” The SIGIR report, released 2/2 and entitled “Hard Lessons,” concludes that the US reconstruction effort in Iraq was a failure, largely because there was no overall strategy behind it, the Washington Post reported (2/2). “Goals shifted from ‘liberation’ and an early military exit to massive, ill-conceived and expensive building projects under the Coalition Provisional Authority of 2003 and 2004. Many of those projects—over budget, poorly executed or, often, barely begun—were abandoned as security worsened.” A bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting ordered by Congress last year is holding public hearings to examine expenditures in Iraq and Afghanistan and propose solutions for “systemic” problems. So far there have been 35 convictions for misuse of government funds during the reconstruction of Iraq, including two major bribery schemes involving $14 mln solicited by US military officers who ran Kuwait-based units contracting for the billions of dollars in supplies sent to Iraq. Officials also are finally looking at information given them by Dale Stoffel, an American arms dealer and contractor who was killed in Iraq in late 2004, the New York Times reported (2/15). “Before he was shot on a road north of Baghdad, Stoffel drew a portrait worthy of a pulp crime novel: tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into pizza boxes and delivered surreptitiously to the American contracting offices in Baghdad, and payoffs made in paper bags that were scattered in ‘dead drops’ around the Green Zone, the nerve center of the United States government’s presence in Iraq, two senior federal officials said,” according to the Times.

REID CLAIMS NO FILIBUSTER POWER. The office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has produced an analysis of filibuster rules that concludes that there is no requirement that a filibustering senator be forced to stand and speak to prevent a bill coming up for a vote. Bob Dove, the Senate parliamentarian from 1966 until 2001, agreed with the analysis, telling Ryan Grim of HuffingtonPost.com (2/23) that without a cloture vote by 60 or more senators, Republicans could obstruct the Senate’s business through endless quorum calls, which requires a roll-call vote and disrupts any other Senate business.

That may be true, but there are ways to skin obstructionist senators if the majority leader and members of his caucus are willing to play hardball and make filibustering senators pay for shutting down the Senate. Republicans forced a record 112 cloture votes in the 110th Congress (2007-08). Dems were successful on 61 of those votes. The last Congress’ filibuster activity was nearly twice as much as the previous record of 61 cloture votes in the 107th Congress (2001-02). Democrats will have 59 votes when Sen.-elect Al Franken (D-Minn.) is seated after former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) exhausts his appeals, but without filibuster reform Dems will need to peel off at least one GOP vote to pass any controversial bill. Look for Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snow (R-Maine) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to remain in negotiating mode throughout this Congress. So far, the majority is 4 for 4 on filibuster votes.

DEMS TARGET DOZEN NAYSAYERS. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted at least a dozen GOP reps who voted against economic recovery and middle-class tax cuts. An example of the automated phone calls says, “Did you know Congressman Thad McCotter voted against President Obama’s economic recovery plan, endorsed by the US Chamber of Commerce? McCotter’s empty rhetoric can’t hide that he voted to raise the AMT tax on 22 million middle class Americans and against the largest tax cut in history. Call McCotter at (phone number) to ask why (or she) he voted to raise taxes on middle class families. Check out RecoveryForAmerica.com to learn more.”

Targeted reps include Judy Biggert (IL-13); Ken Calvert (CA-44); Michael Castle (DE-AL); Charlie Dent (PA-15); Jim Gerlach (PA-06); Mark Kirk (IL-10); Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-09); Dan Lungren (CA-03); Thad McCotter (MI-11); Adam Putnam (FL-12); Dave Reichert (WA-08); Pete Sessions (TX-32).

MORE GOP DEPRESSION REVISIONISM. US Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is running for the Senate, implied that President Obama was trying to make the economy worse with his stimulus package, telling Republicans in Kansas City (2/20), “I guess you can’t be Franklin Roosevelt if you don’t create a depression.” Blunt, a former high school history teacher, ignored the fact that the Great Depression was three years old when FDR took office in 1933. The unemployment rate dropped by 11 points and the gross domestic product increased 52% during Roosevelt’s first term, and editors of the London conservative weekly The Economist in 1937 rated the New Deal “a striking success” before conservatives persuaded Roosevelt to cut back on some of the New Deal programs. The economy then went into another recession.

OBAMA RIDING HIGH. President Obama remained popular among the US public at the end of his first month in office, with 63% of respondents to a Gallup Poll (2/23) approving of his job performance. The drop from 68% approval in January is attributable to a decline in support among Republicans, who dropped from 41% approval to 30% approval in line with partisan criticism of the president’s economic recovery plan. Obama maintained support of Dems, with 89% support, and independents, with 63% support.

A Washington Post/ABC News Poll (2/23) found that 80% said Obama had exceeded their expectations and almost 70% said he was delivering on his promise to bring change to Washington. Only 37% of Republicans approve of the job Obama is doing, but two thirds of independents approve of Obama’s performance, along with more than 90% of Dems. The poll also found that 61% trust Obama more than the GOP when it comes to economic matters, and just 26% side with Republicans in Congress. Obama’s advantage on that question is bigger than Bush I or II or Bill Clinton ever had over the opposition party in dealing with the economy.

After Obama’s speech to Congress (2/24) a CBS snap poll showed the number of people who thought the stimulus would help them increased from 62% before the speech to 79% after the speech.

A CNN poll found that 82% supported the economic plan Obama outlined, while 17% opposed it. Reaction to Obama’s speech was 68% “very positive,” 24% “somewhat positive” and only 8% “negative,” Todd Beeton noted at MyDD.com (2/24).

Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com noted (2/20) that two recent polls show that legalizing marijuana—while still not a mainstream position—is more popular than virtually the entire Republican Party platform. A CBS News/New York Times poll (1/11-15) found that 41% said use of marijuana should be legal. A Rasmussen poll (2/13-14) found that 40% said marijuana should be legalized. Those levels are higher than support for the war in Iraq (39%), privatizing Social Security (36%), opposing investigation of the Bush administration (34%), the Republican Party (31%), Dick Cheney (30%), George W. Bush (24%-34%) and less business regulations (28%), among other GOP positions.

LABOR GETS ALLY IN CABINET. Hilda Solis was confirmed by the Senate as labor secretary on an 80-17 vote (2/24), overcoming the stalling of right wingers and giving President Obama arguably his most progressive Cabinet member and an unabashed ally of organized labor. Daughter of an immigrant father who became a Teamster organizer at a battery recycling factory and an immigrant mother who worked on a factory line, Solis, as a Congress member from the Los Angeles area since 2001, has been a strong advocate of a living wage, environmental protection and the right to organize unions. Jason Rosenbaum noted at TheSeminal.com (2/24), “given her strong progressive bona-fides and her vote in the House for the Employee Free Choice Act, we can safely say that the first battle over passing the Employee Free Choice Act has been won. I think it’s safe to expect strong support for unions and working families from Secretary Solis, and that includes supporting Free Choice.”

GOP OFFICIALS TAKE THE CRAZY TRAIN. Alan Keyes, who was swamped by Obama in the 2004 US Senate race in Illinois, bolstered his reputation for being crazier than an outhouse rat when he told a TV reporter at Hastings, Neb. (2/19) that Barack Obama is a “radical communist” who “is going to destroy this country and we are either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist.” Keyes said Obama is a “usurper” and is not even qualified to be president because he had a Kenyan father, joining the conspiracy theorists who believe Obama is not qualified to be president.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) gave the doubters some credibility when, asked at a community meeting in Cullman, Ala., about Obama’s citizenship, Shelby replied, “Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate.”

Four Republican state legislators in Tennessee also have signed on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit aiming to force Obama to prove he is a US citizen, but as Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com, “the Shelby example is a different magnitude of idiocy. Shelby isn’t just some random yahoo with a right-wing radio talk-show; he’s a four-term United States senator. He’s the ranking member on the Senate Banking Committee, for crying out loud. It’s incumbent on him to be somewhat coherent and conduct himself with at least a little sanity.

“In the broader context, the Republican Party is still unsure how to get back on the road to electoral success after years of failure and defeat. While the party mulls its options, we have a leading House Republican comparing the GOP to the Taliban; a prominent Senate Republican wanting to position the party as “freedom fighters” taking on the “slide toward socialism”; and a leading Senate Republican publicly questioning the President of the United States’ birth certificate.”

Shelby later claimed the Cullman Times misconstrued his comments, but the newspaper stands by its story as “complete and accurate.”

For the record, the Constitution requires that a president be a “natural born Citizen.” Obama was born 8/4/61 in Honolulu, Hawaii, as a “certification of live birth” issued by the Hawaii state Department of Health attests. Some skeptics claim the “certification of live birth” doesn’t count but nonpartisan FactCheck.org inspected the Obama campaign’s copy of the certificate, which was certified by the state registrar of vital statistics and is the standard form used as evidence of birth in court proceedings. It has all the elements the State Department requires to proving citizenship to obtain a US passport, FactCheck.org noted. State officials in Hawaii also have verified that the health department has Obama’s original birth certificate, which shows Obama was born in Honolulu. Also, the Honolulu Advertiser (8/13/61) included in its birth announcements the birth of a son to Mr. and Mrs. Barack Obama of Honolulu on 8/4/61. A lawsuit challenging Obama’s eligibility for the presidency was dismissed by a federal judge in Philadelphia (10/24/08) and the Supreme Court in December refused to hear a similar case. But none of that will convince skeptics who refuse to accept that Barack Hussein Obama was elected president of the United States.

POPULIST CAUCUS FORMS. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) announced the formation of a Populist Caucus. Ryan Grim of HuffingtonPost.com noted 20 founding members, including Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.); Pete DeFazio (D-Ore,); Betty Sutton (D-Ohio); Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa); Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.); Joe Courtney (D-Conn.); Keith Ellison (D-Minn.); Bob Filner (D-Calif.); Phil Hare (D-Ill.); Mazie Hirono (D-Hi.); Hank Johnson (D-Ga.); Steve Kagan (D-Wis.); David Loebsack (D-Iowa); Eric Massa (D-N.Y.); Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.); Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.); Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.); Peter Welch (D-Vt.); and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). Braley is in his second term, as are 13 others of the 20 members, Chris Bowers noted at OpenLeft.com.

Braley told Grim that the caucus will give voice to the populist anger created by the plummeting economy and opaque bank bailout. The caucus’ first major play was advocating for the inclusion of a "Buy American" provision in the stimulus package. Fair trade, healthcare and middle-class tax policy will also dominate the caucus' agenda, said Braley.

GHOULISH BUNNING PREDICTS SUPREME COURT DEATH. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) set a new low for ghoulishness when he predicted (2/21) that US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be dead from pancreatic cancer within nine months, giving Republicans a shot at getting another conservative judge on the Supreme Court. At a Republican dinner in Hardin County, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal (2/22), Bunning said he supports conservative judges “and that’s going to be in place very shortly because Ruth Bader Ginsburg … has cancer ... Bad cancer. The kind that you don’t get better from.” He added, “Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live after (being diagnosed) with pancreatic cancer.”

ThinkProgress.org noted that Bunning’s preduction “may be a bit off.” Ginsburg’s doctors have found that her cancer has not spread, a small tumor on the 75-year-old justice’s pancreas has turned out to be benign, and “All lymph nodes proved negative for cancer, and no metastasis was found,” her doctors said in a statement. Ginsburg returned to work 2/23 at the Supreme Court, as the court resumed hearing oral arguments and she attended President Obama’s speech to Congress 2/24. Bunning apologized for the remarks.

D.C. MOVES TOWARD REPRESENTATION. The Senate voted 62-34 for cloture on the DC House Voting Rights Act (HR 157/S 160), which would give D.C. residents a vote in Congress for the first time. (D.C. now has a non-voting delegate, like other territories.) The bill would increase the House to 437 members, giving D.C. one rep in the House, who likely will be a Democrat. The other rep would go to Utah, which likely will send a Republican, so there would be no net change in partisan majority. The bill likely would be challenged in the courts, since the Constitution says, “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.” Defenders of the bill, including Republican former Solicitor General Ken Starr, argue that Congress has the authority to treat D.C. as a state and may confer representation on the federal district.

GOP GOVS SHUN STIMULUS MONEY. Southern Republican ideologues such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said they don’t want Obama’s stinking money.

Jindal said he would reject $100 mln in unemployment assistance from the federal recovery package, claiming it would lead to higher taxes on businesses, but ThinkProgress.org noted that his decision ensured that at least 25,000 unemployed Louisiana residents would not be eligible for unemployment insurance.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) noted on *Countdown* with Keith Olbermann that when Jindal was a congressman, he voted twice for unemployment assistance when people lost their jobs as a result of hurricanes, “but [he’s] not willing to take that assistance when his constituents are out of a job and out of a home as a result of this economic crisis. I’m not sure what the difference is. A crisis is a crisis.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) responded to Jindal’s decision by quipping, “You just tell them that anyone that doesn’t want to take the money: I’m ready to take their money and rebuild California.”

MINORITY RIGHTS IN CALIFORNIA. The recent California budget debacle shows the danger of legislating by initiative and referendum. Under the law, a simple majority vote can change the state Constitution, which is how right wingers pushed through initiatives requiring a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the Assembly to pass a budget. California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi (D) told Todd Beeton of MyDD.com he supports a change to reduce the supermajority to pass a budget to 55%, but he would keep the two-thirds requirement to raise taxes. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, speaking on Hardball with Chris Matthews (2/24), noted the irony that it takes a two-thirds majority to pass a budget in California but only a simple majority of voters to take away constitutional rights.

FAUX POPULISM ATTACKS MORTGAGE PLAN. The floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is an unlikely place for a “populist” speech such as as Rick Santelli’s rant against President Obama’s effort to assist subprime homebuyers who are at risk of foreclosure.

When Rasmussen asked if the government was rewarding bad behavior when it provides subsidies to those who are most at risk of losing their homes, 55% said yes. But when the Washington Post asked if they would support the federal government’s use of $75 billion to provide refinancing assistance to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, more than 60% supported the plan.

Kevin Drum of MotherJones.com said the results aren’t necessarily contradictory. “It could well be that some people think Obama’s plan is likely to reward bad behavior in some cases but they support the plan anyway,” he wrote. Drum added that the real question is, How many people will support Obama’s mortgage plan (or other hot issues, such as national healthcare) *after* conservatives have spent months airing their talking points against it?

OLD PEOPLE COST TOO MUCH? The National Review’s Mark Hemingway has an interesting perspective on health care reform, Alex Koppelman noted at Salon.com (2/24). During President Obama’s address to Congress, Hemingway commented at the conservative magazine’s blog, “Why do Democrats push preventative health care as a cost savings measure at every turn? If you want to save the healthcare system money, drop dead of a heart attack at 50. Living to 88 on the other hand—that’s expensive.”

Koppelman noted, “Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to catch on as a political argument.”

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2009

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2009 The Progressive Populist.