Does the Republican determination to undermine President Obama at every turn override the national interest in stopping nuclear proliferation? Three GOP elder statesmen — Brent Scowcroft, James Baker and Henry Kissinger — flanked Obama (11/18) to endorse ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), but that apparently is not enough to move the Republican minority, which can block ratification with 34 votes (and lately Dems can’t get 34 Republican senators to agree on a non-binding resolution that the sky is blue on a sunny day).

Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to George H.W. Bush, noted that this START treaty is not very different from previous ones negotiated and ratified under Republican presidents. “I’ve got to think that it’s the increasingly partisan nature and the desire for the president not to have a foreign policy victory,” he told Politico.com (11/27).

The only Republican senator supporting the treaty is Richard Lugar (Ind.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. His willingness to work with Obama goes against the Prime Directive laid down by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: to deny Obama a second term at all costs. Teabaggers have threatened a primary challenge of Lugar in 2012. Removing him “will be a difficult challenge,” Diane Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Tea Party told the New York Times (11/28). “But we do believe it’s doable, and we think the climate is right for it and we believe it is a must.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who also faces pressure from the right, said it could make a difference if Obama could get former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush to join him in support of START.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has been leading the opposition to the treaty and E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote in the Washington Post (11/29) that Kyl’s effort to block ratification in the lame duck session “is playing Russian roulette with our nation’s interests.”

“If this treaty is not ratified, the only winner will be Vladimir Putin. Is Kyl, who on Meet the Press [11/28] reiterated his desire to delay consideration of the treaty, really willing to risk giving Putin and anti-American forces in Russia a leg up?

“You don’t have to believe me on this. As [neoconservative interventionist Robert Kagan] wrote this month in the Post, defeat of the treaty will ‘strengthen Vladimir Putin,’ who would use its demise ‘to stir more anti-Western nationalism, further weakening an already weak [President Dmitry] Medvedev and anyone else who stands for a more pro-Western approach.’ It’s not my habit to agree with [Pat Buchanan], but he’s right in saying: ‘Killing the treaty would morally disarm those Russians who see their future with the West.’

“And the Financial Times, hardly a left-wing newspaper, noted that Kyl’s core arguments against the treaty are ‘so weak as to call into question Mr. Kyl’s good faith.’ We don’t need more time to consider it; the treaty has been debated for months. And the Obama administration has made a slew of concessions to Kyl to modernize our nuclear program. What, besides the identity of our current president, justifies this obstruction?”

Steve Benen at WashingtonMonthly.com noted (11/29) that Dionne isn’t the only one wondering about this. Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, can’t figure out why his own party would be acting this way, leading him to assume Republican senators are putting “the desire for the president not to have a foreign policy victory” ahead of the nation’s security interests.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, marveling at GOP’s misconduct, said, “I cannot fathom why they are doing what they are doing.” The Post’s Dana Milbank noted (11/21) that Republicans appear to be “trying to weaken Americans’ security,” concluding, “To borrow Bush’s phrase, are Republicans not interested in the security of the American people?” Paul Krugman argued (11/22) that the GOP is blocking ratification “not because of legitimate objections, but simply because it’s an Obama administration initiative; if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it.”

Former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) told the New York Times a challenge of Lugar is a chilling notion. “If Dick Lugar, having served five terms in the US Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”

Danforth, who was first elected the same year as Lugar, added, “I’m glad Lugar’s there and I’m not.”

GOP TRUE BELIEVERS AND APOSTATES. The Republican Party is increasingly resembling a cult in its dogmatic embrace of tax cuts as the economic cure-all despite all evidence to the contrary. Some apostate Republicans are speaking out.

David Stockman, who as director of the Office of Management and Budget under Ronald Reagan was the chief architect of his fiscal policy, criticized today’s GOP for turning Reagan’s legacy into a “theology” of tax cuts. In an interview on CNN (11/28), Stockman said, “I’ll never forgive the Bush administration” for “destroying the last vestige of fiscal responsibility that we had in the Republican Party.” He said the country didn’t need Bush’s 2001 tax cuts and called for higher taxes on upper income levels.

Bruce Bartlett, senior policy analyst in Reagan’s White House and deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy during the George H.W. Bush administration, wrote for Fiscal Times (11/26) that “A prime reason why we have a budget deficit problem in this country is because Republicans almost universally believe in a nonsensical idea called starve the beast (STB). By this theory, the one and only thing they need to do to be fiscally responsible is to cut taxes. They need not lift a finger to cut spending because it will magically come down, just as a child will reduce her spending if her allowance is cut — the precise analogy used by Ronald Reagan to defend this doctrine in a Feb. 5, 1981, address to the nation.”

George W. Bush, who inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton, pushed for and got a huge tax cut in 2001, Bartlett noted. In 2002 and 2003, Bush demanded still more tax cuts, even as the economy showed no signs of having been stimulated by his previous tax cuts. But while revenues evaporated, spending rose and deficits ballooned. “Insofar as the Bush administration was a test of STB, the evidence clearly shows not only that the theory doesn’t work at all, but is in fact perverse,” Bartlett wrote.

PROGRESSIVE GROUPS PROPOSE DEFICIT REDUCTIONS. Our Fiscal Security, a partnership of progressive policy organizations Demos, the Economic Policy Institute and the Century Foundation, unveiled a deficit reduction plan calling for revenue increases and keeping an “expansionary” fiscal policy until unemployment is below 6%, AmericanIndependent.com reported (11/29).

The report (at ourfiscalsecurity.org) calls for making the tax code more progressive. Some measures include: Letting the Bush tax cuts lapse for top earners, reinstating the estate tax for married couples over $4 mln, a cap-and-trade energy policy, capping itemized deductions at 15%, modifying charitable giving and mortgage interest tax benefits, taxing dividends as income, raising the gas tax and instituting a tax on banks with assets over $50 bln. On the other hand, the report also calls for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable and extending the Making Work Pay Tax Credit.

The plan adopts the Sustainable Defense Task Force recommendations, headed by Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Tex.). It also calls for investments in public education, health care, infrastructure and public transit.

Jan Schakowsky, a Chicago congresswoman and member of the White House’s catfood commission, proposes to reduce the deficit by $441 bln in 2015. Slightly more than a third of Schakowsky’s proposed deficit reduction would come from new revenue (mostly tax changes hitting the wealthy and corporations but also from cap-and-trade carbon emission controls), 30% from ending or reforming tax expenditures (again, mainly benefiting rich taxpayers), a quarter from defense cuts, and 9% from mandatory programs (like offering a public option for health insurance and requiring Medicare to bargain over drug prices), David Moberg wrote at InTheseTimes.com (11/29). Though Social Security does not contribute to the deficit, Schakowsky plans to secure future payouts without benefit cuts by increasing how much the wealthy pay into the retirement program.

Schakowsky also proposed $200 billion worth of economic stimulus, including extension of unemployment insurance and additional aid to states to help them keep teachers and public service employees on the job.

CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS BILLIONS. A billion people face losing their homes in the next 90 years because of failures to agree on curbs on carbon emissions, a special report on climate change found. Up to three billion people could lose access to clean water supplies because global temperatures cannot now be stopped from rising by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). “The main message is that the closer we get to a four-degree rise, the harder it will be to deal with the consequences,” said Dr Mark New, a climate expert at Oxford University, who organized a recent conference entitled “Four Degrees and Beyond” on behalf of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the London Observer reported (11/28). The papers, published to coincide with the Cancún climate talks (11/29), assumed that even if global carbon emissions were curbed in the future, it would be insufficient to limit global temperature rises to 2 degrees C this century — the maximum rise agreed by politicians as acceptable.

As sea levels rise, tidal flooding is increasingly disrupting life along the East Coast of the US, but Leslie Kaufman reported in the New York Times (11/25) that Norfolk, Va., situated just west of the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and bordered on three sides by water, is worse off. Norfolk was built on filled-in marsh and as that fill settles and compacts, it has experienced the highest relative increase in sea level on the East Coast — 14.5 inches since 1930, according to the Sewells Point naval station. The city is spending $1.25 mln on the raising a street in the Larchmont neighborhood by 18 inches and the city is considering “retreat” zones if the sea continues to rise. The city also has hired a Dutch firm to evaluate options like inflatable dams and storm-surge floodgates at entrances to waterways.

SUPREME COURT TO JUDGE PUBLIC FINANCING. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a Republican-backed challenge to an Arizona law that provides public financing for candidates who agree to limit their fundraising in state elections, Bloomberg News reported (11/29). The court will review the 12-year-old Arizona system, which ties the funds participating candidates receive to the amount of money raised by or spent on behalf of their opponents. Several other states use similar trigger mechanisms, according to the lawmakers challenging the measure. The Arizona challengers, including state Rep. John McComish (R), who was elected to the state Senate in November, say the system violates the First Amendment rights of candidates who don’t seek public funds. They point to a 2008 Supreme Court decision voiding a federal law that freed opponents of self-financed candidates from the usual campaign contribution limits. The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Arizona system in May, overturning a trial judge’s decision. The panel said the effect on free-speech rights was minimal. But the Supreme Court in June ordered a freeze on Arizona’s public financing matching funds system, pending the further appeal.

INSURERS PAID CHAMBER $86M TO FIGHT HEALTH REFORM. Health insurers funneled $86.2 mln through the US Chamber of Commerce for its campaign to oppose health care reform, Bloomberg News reported (11/17). The money went to the Chamber through an intermediary, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which was the leading industry group opposing reform, a source told Bloomberg.

Tax records required the Chamber to report it received $86.2 mln from a single source but it was not required to identify the organization.

The spending on the Chamber exceeded the insurer group’s entire budget from a year earlier and accounted for 40% of the Chamber’s $214.6 mln in 2009 expenditures. By funneling the money through the Chamber, insurers were able to remain at the table negotiating with Democrats while still getting the bill criticized. “It enables you to have it both ways,” Trevor Potter, the head of the political activity practice at Washington law firm Caplin & Drysdale, told Bloomsberg.

CORKER TO VW: DON’T LET UNION IN. US Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he has told Volkswagen officials that he thinks it would be “highly detrimental” to the German manufacturer if the United Auto Workers organizes its new Chattanooga assembly plant. “I certainly shared with [VW] I couldn’t see how there was any possibility it could be a benefit to them to enter into a contract with UAW,” Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (11/28).

UAW President Bob King said the union’s recent dealings with GM and Chrysler are “proving that business, labor and government can all work together [and] create jobs in the United States which we need desperately.”

Guenther Scherelis, Volkswagen Group of America Inc.’s general manager of communication, declined to address Corker’s specific comments. “At Volkswagen Chattanooga, the employees will decide for themselves about their representation,” he told the paper. VW’s Chattanooga plant will employ as many as 2,500 workers starting early next year.

Volkswagen’s parent company, Volkswagen AG, is unionized and under German law has a policy of “co-determination” that ensures union representation on the Wolfsburg-based company’s supervisory board of directors, the newspaper noted.

Dante Atkins noted at DailyKos.com (11/30) that when Corker opposed the rescue of GM, he had this to say in March 2009 about the interference of the government in the decisions of private automakers: “This administration has decided they know better than our courts and our free-market process how to deal with these companies. ... This is a major power grab.”

In September, Corker was booed by workers when he tried to take credit for the reopening of a GM plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., that resulted from the federal bailout. A UAW official made clear from the stage that the union still remembered which politicians had voted to rescue Wall Street but opposed an auto industry bailout.

GOP WAR ON WORKERS CONTINUES. Republicans continue their war on economic recovery. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the likely new Appropriations chairman, proposed rescinding the $12 bln in unspent stimulus money when Republicans take control of the House in January, TheHill.com reported (11/24). Democrats argue that budget cuts should come only after the economic recovery has taken hold.

While the GOP repeatedly downplayed the impact of President Obama’s recovery plan, causing voters to view it as ineffective, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the stimulus package put as many as 3.6 mln people to work or kept them on the job between July and September.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also boosted national output by between 1.4% and 4.1% during that period. CBO’s estimates have consistently shown that the $814 bln package of tax cuts, state aid, construction spending and enhanced safety-net provisions has blunted the impact of the worst US recession since the 1930s, Reuters noted. The unemployment rate, currently at 9.6%, would have been between 10.4% and 11.6% without the Recovery Act, CBO reported.

JURY: DeLAY GUILTY OF MONEY LAUNDERING. After hearing three weeks of testimony and deliberating for three days, a jury in state district court in Austin, Texas, found former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay guilty on felony counts of money laundering and conspiracy (11/24) as part of a scheme to funnel corporate money to his selected legislative candidates, in violation of a century-old Texas law. He faces up to 99 years in prison.

DeLay’s national fundraising combine poured more than $1 mln into the 2002 election that won a Republican majority in the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction. The following year the Legislature redrew the state’s congressional districts — which had already been redistricted in 2001 — to minimize electoral chances of Democrats.

At dispute was $190,000 raised from corporate sources and sent by DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority PAC to the Republican National State Elections Committee in Washington, D.C. Seven non-corporate checks totaling $190,000 were then sent to Texas Republican candidates.

DeLay, a.k.a. “The Hammer,” remained free on bond. He was scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Pat Priest, a retired judge from San Antonio, on Dec. 20, but the Austin American-Statesman reported (11/30) that sentencing was expected to be delayed until January because of attorneys’ schedule conflicts.

“I still maintain that I’m innocent, and that the criminalization of politics undermines our very system,” DeLay said as he left the courtroom, according to Lou Dubose at TexasObserver.org. “It is what it is,” DeLay said of the verdict. “And maybe we can get it before people that understand the law.”

The Hammer still has friends in Washington, where the Post editorialized, “Mr. DeLay’s conduct was wrong. It was typical of his no-holds-barred approach to political combat. But when Mr. DeLay, following the conviction, assailed ‘the criminalization of politics,’ he had a fair point.”

Markos Moulitsas noted at DailyKos.com that the Post did not have similar outrage over the criminalization of politics in the 1990s, when DeLay was a leader in the push to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying about an incident with an intern in 1998. After his acquittal by the Senate in February 1999, he was still charged with contempt of court. “You see? Judges have to act when Democrats break the law!” Kos wrote. “When Republicans do so, why pass the fainting salts! It’s nothing more than criminalizing politics!”

COMCAST ‘TOLL’ RAISES NET NEUTRALITY FEAR. Comcast hasn’t taken over NBC Universal yet, but it is raising fears that it will be able to bully other broadband providers. Level 3 Communications, the networking company that delivers streaming video to Netflix users, says Comcast is demanding a “recurring fee” for the transmission of such videos to its subscribers. After a few days of negotiating, Level 3 paid the fee, ensuring uninterrupted service for Netflix subscribers, Kyle VanHemert reported at Gizmodo.com. But Thomas Stortz, Level 3’s chief legal officer, said (11/29): “Level 3 believes Comcast’s current position violates the spirit and letter of the FCC’s proposed Internet Policy principles and other regulations and statutes, as well as Comcast’s previous public statements about favoring an open Internet.”

Comcast claims that their “toll” has nothing to do with Netflix or video traffic in general but rather with the amount of traffic Level 3 is pushing off onto Comcast’s network. The dispute highlighted the growing importance of Internet video delivery — an area that some people say needs to be monitored more closely by regulators. Net neutrality, which posits that Internet traffic should be free of any interference from network operators like Comcast, is thought to be on the December agenda of the Federal Communications Commission, Brian Stelter reported at the Media Decoder blog at NYTimes.com (11/29).

Comcast’s imminent acquisition of NBC Universal is in the final stages of review by the FCC and the Justice Department. The FCC is considering attaching a condition to the merger that would aim to keep Comcast’s Internet network open to competitors, according to public filings this month. Stelter noted. In theory, without government action, Comcast could speed up streams of NBC programs and slow down streams of its rivals’ programs.

There is no known case of Comcast ever slowing the traffic to one of its direct competitors, but it did delay some peer-to-peer file traffic in a much-litigated case several years ago, Stelter noted. Comcast says it supports an open Internet — but also says that it needs to be able to manage its expensive and still-evolving networks, which are essentially on- and off-ramps to the Internet.

GOP JUDGES ASK SENS. TO STOP OBSTRUCTING OBAMA’S JUDGES. Seven Republican-appointed federal judges co-signed a letter warning of the consequences of the GOP’s systematic obstruction of President Obama’s judges. The letter from the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, which includes Republican appointees Alex Kozinski, Ralph Beistline, Vaughn Walker, Irma Gonzales, Frances Marie Tydingco-Gatewood, Richard Frank Cebull and Lonny Ray Suko, explains that the courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant. Only 41 judges have been confirmed during Obama’s presidency and 23 nominees are awaiting confirmation, but apparently were being blocked, including 16 who were reported by the Judiciary Committee unanimously.

DEMS LOSE SOCIAL SECURITY TRUST. More people trust Republicans to handle Social Security than trust Democrats, an election-eve poll showed. The poll of 1,200 likely voters by Lake Research Partners, conducted 10/31-11/2 for Strengthen Social Security, a progressive coalition seeking to preserve the retirement program, showed that 31% said Republicans will better handle Social Security, 28% trusted Dems on Social Security and 34% said they’re both the same. The same poll found Republicans were more trusted than Obama on Social Security, 33% to 26%. But 82% of respondents opposed cuts to Social Security to reduce the deficit, 67% opposed cuts to make the program solvent in the long term and 69% opposed raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 years — all Republican proposals.

“I guess this is a natural reaction to being bombarded for two years with propaganda about Obama’s death panels and then Democrats and the president lead the charge to ‘reform’ Social Security,” Digby noted at digbysblog.blogspot.com (11/21). “Apparently, this has led a fair number of people to conclude that it’s the oppositional Republicans who are standing up for them. At the very least, the vast majority have decided that Democrats are no longer the defenders of Social Security they have been for 60 years.”

SENATOR BLOCKS WEBSITE BLACKLIST. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has put a hold on a bill that would allow the attorney general to shut down domestic websites suspected of hosting materials that infringe on copyrights. The bill also would allow the Justice Department, through court orders, to order US ISPs to redirect customer traffic away from infringing foreign websites, PCWorld.com reported (11/19). The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act was moving quickly through the Senate, having passed out of the Judiciary Committee 19-0 (11/18), and was headed to the floor before Wyden put a hold on it. Supporters of the bill say it’s needed to rampant combat copyright and trademark infringement online. But opponents of the legislation say it amounts to censorship. Even websites with infringing materials have content that’s protected by free-speech rights, opponents have said. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation This said the bill would allow the attorney general to censor sites even when no court has found they have infringed copyright or any other law.

Existing law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), allows copyright holders to remove their copyrighted content from a website without actually taking down the whole site, Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (11/23).

INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING ADVANCES. Election 2010 was a remarkable one for the instant runoff voting form of ranked choice voting (RCV), Rob Richie reported.

As reported in the New York Times, RCV’s first use in Oakland, Calif., was a major factor in the first-ever election of an Asian-American woman to be mayor of a major American city. Heavily outspent, Jean Quan trailed by 9% in first choices. She surged into the lead in the ranked-choice tally, however, thanks to the fact that she had reached out effectively to more Oakland voters than her top opponent. RCV also changed first-round outcomes in nearby San Leandro and San Francisco and avoided a runoff in Berkeley. See fairvote.org .

Maine’s largest city, Portland, adopted RCV for its mayoral elections starting in 2011, and its controversial race for governor was won with less than 50% for the 6th time in its last 7 such elections — a non-majority outcome also reflected in more than a dozen races for the US Senate and state governorships nationally. The Portland Press Herald suggests its time for a new politics, with RCV being featured as what could contribute to such a change.

In another state with a string of non-majority statewide election winners, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune also backed RCV.

Finally, more than 1.9 million voters in North Carolina cast RCV ballots in the nation’s first-ever statewide general election with RCV, as 13 candidates ran for an opening on the state Court of Appeals. The vote was still being tallied Nov. 30, but leading state papers are calling for extending instant runoff voting to more elections.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2010


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