START Treaty Overcomes Two Republican Amendments

President Obama and Congressional Democrats hope to ratify the START Treaty Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ) negotiated between the U.S. and Russia back in April, before the 111th Congress breaks for the final time. The 112th Congress with its diminished Democratic majority takes their seats in January; their 58-42 majority was reduced to 53-47 in November.

We have addressed this matter frequently here at PoliticusUSA, and with good reason. Republican opponents have made clear their intention to obstruct passage of the Treaty and in this at least, if not their economic policies, they have been true to their word. I wrote originally about this Republican gamesmanship back on November 17. And as Sarah Jones reported on December 4, and both she and Jason Easley reported again on December 16, the Republicans are guilty of holding our national security hostage.

RMuse reported on December 17 about the Republican attempt to use Christmas as an excuse to ignore important matters of national security. They could apparently impeach President Clinton for Jesus’ birthday but not ratify a treaty. This holiday, they tell us, is all about world peace; but apparently not world peace when it’s sponsored by a Democrat.

The many excuses offered read like a Letterman Top 10 list, and are as unconvincing:

1)      We don’t have time because there is too much else to do

2)      We don’t have time because it’s Baby Jesus’ birthday

3)      We don’t have time because it’s too complex for us to understand

4)      We’ll lose our ability to set up a missile defense system

5)      We want tax cuts for the rich first

6)      We have to modernize our nuclear weapons complex first

The Democrats and the White House have taken note of these many absurd excuses and have been pushing all the buttons they can, and have several cogent arguments to offer:

Wednesday, the Senate voted 66-32 to open debate on the treaty. At that time, nine Republicans voted with 55 Democrats and two independents, including Richard Lugar of the Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain. Those 66 votes are one short of what would be needed to ratify the treaty.

The Republicans countered with an attempt to amend the terms of the treaty. An amendment by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., failed on Saturday on a 59-37 vote.

The Russians have made clear that any amendment means the treaty is dead. We’d have to go back to start on START, and negotiate an entirely new treaty, which suits Republican purposes well.

On Sunday, that attempt failed on a 32-60 vote. The amendment was put forward by Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. It would have changed the preamble to the treaty to address the “inter-relationship between non-strategic and strategic offensive arms.

Republicans continue to complain that the preamble would inhibit U.S. development of a missile defense system.

Democrats hope to vote on ratification on Tuesday. Republicans have their hackles up, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed to CNN that “Members are uneasy about it, don’t feel thoroughly familiar with it, and I think we would have been a lot better off to take our time. Rushing it right before Christmas strikes me as trying to jam us. … I think that was not the best way to get the support of people like me.”

Of course, a vote on Tuesday would not be rushing it. The Senators have had all year to look at the treaty. It is not as if it was negotiated yesterday.

Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, isn’t having any of that. He has pointed out that there had already been several delays to give Kyl and the other Republicans an opportunity to have their concerns addressed. “We kept the door open until we finally are at a point where obviously we had to fish or cut bait.”.

Despite Republican opposition by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz, Fox News reports that “Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a supporter of the treaty, said several Republicans will support ratification and he believes the votes are there.”

Senator Evan Bayh missed the vote but according to an aide would provide the needed 67th vote, offering some hope that Republican efforts will be for naught.

It goes not only against the spirit of Reagan, who proposed the original START Treaty, but the advice of the military (who, after all, ought to be the experts in this area) to obstruct passage of this very important treaty and which makes clear that continued Republican opposition is simply a continuation of their two-year-old effort to block everything President Obama tries to do.

At least Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has given up his attempt to have the document read on the floor of the Senate, a process which would take some fifteen hours given the treaty’s 17 pages plus 339 pages of protocol and annexes, a sign that perhaps he realizes he can’t stop the process at this point as he turns his wrath on the $1.1 trillion government spending bill, should it come up. There are always new battles to fight, after all, and new excuses to invent. Life’s busy for a Republican senator these days.

8 responses so far

Republican Extremists Take Aim at Moderation

Nov 29 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, U.S. Senate

The punch thrown at Lugar by Republicans won't be joking

Through most of history, western culture has recognized the value of moderation and the evils of excess. Robert McCluer Calhoon, University of North Carolina, Greensboro recognizes its origins in the Peloponnesian War in the Fifth Century B.C.E. (Political Moderation in America’s First Two Centuries, 2008). The Icelandic Sagas are full, for example, of such lessons, the positive rewards of moderate behavior and the ills that follow from immoderate behavior. In politics, the success of the American political system has been based not on irreconcilable bickering between polar opposites and ideologues but upon the system of give and take, and compromise, embodied by moderate politicians.

Political moderation balances the extremes; it, not rancorous polarization, that makes the world go around.

Harry Clor (On Moderation: Defending an Ancient Virtue in a Modern World, 2008), points out that critics have argued that “moderate” and “extremist” are “phenomena wholly subjective and situation-bound, utterly dependent upon variable opinions or commitments, circumstances and partisan perceptions of circumstances.” People see moderation as weakness. But as Clor argues, a moderate politician “builds consensus and unifies; he or she seeks agreement across partisan lines and speaks to the people in a nonconfrontational, noninflammatory way intended to be unifying.”

It is obvious that moderation has no place in modern Republican discourse, whose rhetoric is based on confrontational and inflammatory statements, the more outrageous the better.

But moderation is not betrayal of ideology. The Founding Fathers hammered out a Constitution through compromise. None of the authors of the Constitution got everything they wanted. If the minority would have been unwilling, as are modern Republicans, to compromise, it would never have been ratified. We would still be waiting. Compromise was essential. I will argue here that not only bound up with America’s founding but that it is not moderation that is the enemy of a modern liberal democracy, but extremism.

The Republican Party’s purity standards do not allow for moderation in approaches to America’s problems. The “take no prisoners” approach of Republican victories has morphed into a “scorched earth” leave nothing for the enemy approach in defeat. If they cannot have the country then they will ensure that there is no country left to govern by bringing to a halt any process they disagree with. This goes far beyond filibustering, extending as it does to investigations and inquiries into the behavior of those in power.

It is ironic and troubling that the Republicans accuse the Democrats and President Obama of being extremist ideologues, comparing the president to Hitler and Stalin and the Democrats to Communists and Nazis while themselves evincing all the attributes of these authoritarian political movements.

It is the Republicans, after all, who insist on obedience to ideology, not the Democrats, who embody a far wider range of political views, from moderate to extreme. Finding a moderate Republican these days has become very difficult indeed, and the charge of moderation when laid by the base against a Republican politician is often a kiss of death.

One example of this trend was discussed yesterday in the New York Times: Republican Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana. Lugar is, as the Times reports, “standing against his party on a number of significant issues at a politically dangerous time to do so.” Such a thing is, sadly enough, newsworthy in this day and age, especially with regards a man who has shown himself “A reliable conservative for decades on every issue.”

For his sins (for example, his desire to ratify the START treaty) the Times tells us that,

Mr. Lugar’s recent breaks with his party have stirred the attention of Indiana Tea Party groups, who have him in their sights. “Senator Lugar has been an upstanding citizen representing us in D. C.,” said Diane Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Tea Party. “But over the years, he has become more moderate in his voting.”

The sin of moderation. Who would have thought?

Even Republicans are shocked and disturbed that a stalwart like Lugar could be targeted.

“If Dick Lugar,” said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, “having served five terms in the U.S. 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.”

I am reminded by all this of the French Revolution, which began moderately enough and then became more extreme, to the extent that those who began the revolution became its victims, and moderation the enemy. Even a radical liberal like Thomas Paine found himself arrested, the same Thomas Paine who had defended the French Revolution from conservative Edmund Burke (Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790 ) in his Rights of Man (1791). I am reminded also of the McCarthyism of the very conservative 1950s, or going further back, of the witch-hunts of the 17th and previous centuries.

History offers abundant lessons beyond the few I mention here of the dangers of extremism run amok. No one is safe, not even the current guardians of the cause. Anyone can be denounced. Anyone can instantly find themselves a Canaanite, vomited out of the Holy Land.

Enemies and traitors lurk around every corner and even under your bed. Eager to remain in favor, the extremists outdo each other by being ever more extreme.

Clor argues that “‘you cannot get it all’ from any social arrangements, no matter how well conceived” and he is right. As I argued above, the Constitution itself is evidence of this. “Concessions are made and compromises achieved” in Clor’s words. It is difficult to see today where compromise will come from. President Obama tried in 2008 and in the two years since. Nobody is really surprised at this point by his failure. And it is difficult to see how the United States can survive without it.

The world will not stand still for us while we engage in deadlock, and it will be difficult for President Obama to go forward while the Republican House wants to go backward. But we know things can get worse. We know, however much the stimulus helped, that we are not out of the woods yet. We have only to look to Europe, to Greece, to Ireland, to Iceland, to see what a truly collapsed economy looks like. The Republicans seem to be steering us in that direction and anyone who doesn’t jump on board the bandwagon has betrayed the ideals of the revolution.

A world without moderation is a bleak place to contemplate, and probably a worse place to live, as we are all likely to find out unless a Republican Edward R. Murrow reveals himself and say “Enough is enough.”


6 responses so far

Hillary Clinton Won’t Run for President in 2012

Nov 22 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

The field just narrowed in 2012. While there is literally a plethora of potential Republican candidates, Democrats remain focused on Barack Obama, particularly now that Hilary Clinton has dropped out of the running.

She not only will not run in 2012 (sorry, no Clinton vs. Palin fantasy scenario i.e. strong feminist woman vs. pseudo-feminist quitter) but not in 2016 either. No more running for public office, Hilary told FOX’s Mike Wallace.

“I love what I’m doing,” she said on FOX News Sunday:

“I’ve said it over and over again. And I’m happy to say it on your show as well. I am committed to doing what I can to advance the security, the interests and values of the United States of America. I believe what I’m doing right now is in furtherance of that. And I’m very proud and grateful to be doing it.”

It is difficult to see, with Hilary out of consideration, how any other Democrat could hope to challenge Barack Obama, whose own popularity remains high. And contrary to Republican spin, that Obama is a raving leftist ideologue,  a CNN poll released last week shows that American voters don’t think Obama is too liberal (only 38%) and only 9% think he is not liberal enough. Obviously, he continues to appeal to moderate voters, which is what led to his victory in 2008.

The result is that the Democrats are likely to enter the 2012 elections united behind one candidate – a proven, experienced candidate, while the Republicans are divided by numerous candidates, and more, by the growing gap between Tea Party Palin supporters and mainstream Republicans exemplified by Karl Rove. If people thought things got ugly between Obama and Clinton in 2008, they’ll get an education when Palin and Rove go at it in earnest.

I cannot think of another thing better calculated to make Democrats salivate and Republicans wince, than Hilary Clinton removing herself from the equation. And Barack Obama has two years to unite Democrats and re-attract those voters he lost in 2010.

One response so far

What do the Midterms Mean to Congressional Women?

Nov 12 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Sarah Palin’s Mama Grizzlies were extinctified in the recent midterms (can I use that expression, Sarah? I made it up myself!).

What the heck happened to all those Republican women? Those strong-hearted Mama Grizzlies like Angle and O’Donnell and Fiorina? Women didn’t do so well. Women got elected, sure, but there will be no more women in Congress as a result of those elections than there were before.

CNN reports some basic facts about women in American government, and they’re sobering:

  • Record number of new GOP faces in Congress in 2011 will be women
  • Overall number of women in Congress will not increase, however
  • Women make up 17 percent of Congress
  • U.S. ranks 90th in the world when it comes to number of women in national legislatures.

“In fact,” CNN goes on to reveal, “this election year will mark the first time in nearly three decades that women have not increased their ranks in Congress.” There is something that must be pointed out, however, with regards to America’s ranking in the world: other countries have quotas that ensure enough women serve.

Still, 17 percent is not too impressive and it doesn’t sound like we took step forward, which is no surprise considering we’re talking about a Republican victory.

Before you start saying the Democrats are afraid of strong Republican women, think about this:

Sure, 113 GOP women challenged incumbents compared to 80 Democrats but the Democrats had a 46 percent success rate compared to only 28 for the Republicans. And Democrat women still far outnumber Republican women in Congress.

Sarah Palin can try to co-opt feminism for her own non-feminist purposes but the numbers don’t lie.

And leadership roles? Fuhgeddaboudit!

The Democrats had a female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. She will likely remain minority leader.

Three women, all Democrats, will be losing their committee chairs:

  • Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) Chair, House Rules Committee;
  • Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) Chair, Small Business Committee, and
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) Chair, House Ethics Committee.

If you’re keeping track, that’s three Democratic women out of leadership positions, four if you count Pelosi. CNN reports that only one woman is likely to assume a committee chair position:

The only woman expected to take over a House committee is [Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen, who is likely to become chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The new Republican Speaker of the House is a male. And not one single member of his leadership team is a woman. All men. Boehner’s Boys they’re already calling them. Crazy Michele Bachman tried to break into that Good Old Boys club but failed. She dropped out of the running on Wednesday.

The highest ranked Republican woman will be ranked fifth from the top, counting the Speaker. This will be Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who it is believed will retain her vice chair of the House GOP Conference.

I guess Republicans don’t mind women in the House, they just want them in the kitchen.

So what is it with Republicans and women? You can say in defense of the GOP that there are too few Republican women with seniority to assume leadership roles but whose fault is that? It’s not the fault of Democrats that there have been few GOP women; after all, we elect plenty of our own. The blame points squarely where it belongs: at the GOP Good Old Boys club.

The accusation of misogyny has been laid before their door already, and it’s still on the table. The recent elections featured many female Republican candidates but few were elected and none of them were given leadership roles. This doesn’t sound like a female-friendly bunch.

And let’s face it, where the general elections were concerned and Democrats played a part, you can’t pretend that Angle, O’Donnell and Fiorina were candidates who could be or should be taken seriously. It was a joke, right? Had to be. It wasn’t sexism that defeated the Three Amigas but “stupidism,” the tendency of voters to reject outrageously, catastrophically incompetent candidates.

I mean it was a joke, right? Tell me it was a joke.

But Republicans have a difficult time coming to grips with their racism and they have a difficult time coming to grips with their misogyny. They like to throw both back at liberals and make the claim that liberals are racists and misogynists but the facts just don’t bear this out. The GOP is its own worst enemy, so anti-everything that it’s created a tent too small for anyone but a few rich white men and their sycophants.

Why a woman would even want to join this group is beyond me but to each his own. The point is that the Republicans are not interested in advancing a feminist agenda; they don’t believe in feminism because deep down in their heart of hearts they don’t believe women are as good as men. Look at the bimbos in push-up bras they line up to sell their propaganda on FOX News. If they took women seriously, you wouldn’t be seeing that.

But they don’t, and I think that says it all.

12 responses so far

Democrats Arrogantly Overestimated the Intelligence of the American Voter

Nov 04 2010 Published by under Featured News

This was the typical 2010 American voter

The loss of the House of Representatives by Democrats this election will be analyzed to death, and there is certainly enough blame to go around regardless which group is critiqued. A great portion of the blame can be attributed to corporate infusion of cash to Republican and Tea Party candidates. However, Democrats and President Obama must accept that they too, own their fair share of blame for overestimating the intelligence of the American voter.

One thing is clear; the Obama Administration and Democrats passed laws and programs that are beneficial for all Americans. It doesn’t matter which political philosophy one may espouse; lower taxes, health-care, banking reforms, and consumer protections benefit individuals and the country in general. But by not explicitly telling Americans what, why, and how the laws are beneficial, conservatives were able to control the narrative and define Democrat’s programs as abhorrent and hazardous to America.

The health care debate is an example of voters not understanding simple concepts like a public option or end of life counseling. Conservatives defined end of life counseling as “death panels,” and if Democrats had simply called it a living will, there would not have been such a negative connotation. President Obama should have addressed the nation and explained all of those concepts, and if he had done so early, Fox News and Tea Party leaders would not have defined those terms.

It is the same with banking reforms and credit card legislation that protect consumers from predatory lenders and unfair charges. By waiting for conservatives to label and define the issues, the conservatives’ lies misinformed gullible voters. There is no doubt that conservatives lie and use fear to promote skepticism for laws that help individuals, but Democrats assumed (wrongly) that voters were inquisitive enough to discern the value of legislation for themselves.

Tea Party groups railed on Obama and Democrats for raising taxes, regardless that 95% of Americans got a tax cut in 2009.  Many people who depend on Social Security and Medicare voted for candidates who want to privatize or eliminate those important social programs. The reason is that Americans don’t understand what privatize means, and don’t comprehend that those are social programs or they would not protest that Obama is pushing Socialism on America.

Giving tax cuts to the wealthiest 2% of Americans should only have support from the wealthiest Americans, but conservatives redefined those cuts as increases and voters reacted accordingly. The Democrats and Obama should realize that many Americans are like children. Just telling them something is good doesn’t work without telling what and why it’s good. There are unemployed Americans who support outsourcing jobs because Fox News and conservatives fooled them into thinking that if outsourcing is good for corporations, it’s good for America.

Hopefully this midterm election has taught Democrats that Americans, although basically good people, are naïve and gullible. How many protests does one have to observe to see poor people protesting against unemployment benefits and social programs before realizing that like children, they need to be educated?

Democrats must do a better job at educating the public, and stop being arrogant. They presume that if they say something is good for America, voters will go along with their plans. Even though the legislation is good, Democrats have to start early education and not assume that just because they say something is good, voters will understand the particulars.

Republicans taking the House is demoralizing, but it is worse that good Americans believe Republican’s lies because Democrats did not explain the bills early and often. Hopefully Democrats learned their lesson and will assume that many voters are what they are; little children who are lazy and will not think for themselves without a little prodding and information. Democrats are intelligent, but assuming that all voters are capable of thinking for themselves is a serious error in judgment.

Democrats have 2 years to educate voters, and if they don’t, they can expect the same results in 2012 that they experienced this week. They can be sure that conservatives are prepared with more lies and misinformation to feed the American people, and they started yesterday.

Democrats are already at a disadvantage if they continue overestimating the intelligence of voters because stupid people like Sarah Palin do understand the American people and are spreading lies that Democrats can mitigate if they drop the arrogant assumption that just because they say something is good for Americans, voters will believe them. In a perfect world they wouldn’t have to go to such lengths for votes, but America is anything but perfect these days.

21 responses so far

Analyzing What November 2nd Means

We’ve all seen the graphs, the raw voter data. But what does it all mean beyond Republicans up and Democrats down? I have been wondering about this myself, and on the advice of a Canadian friend, I turned to the conservative (by Canadian standards) National Post. In a wonderfully titled article, “What the #!%*?: The U.S. mid-term elections?” the National Post’s Peter Goodspeed asks and answers some very important questions about the midterms.

It is a useful and interesting analysis of the disastrous turnaround in the American political landscape and helpful for being a view from the outside looking in.

Mr. Goodspeed makes some interesting points (my comments in italics):

  • “Democrats have been driven from office in…every one of the 11 states of the old Confederacy.” We knew there was something to the waving of Confederate flags at those Tea Party rallies.
  • “This is the third election in a row in which U.S. voters kicked out the party in power.” (the others being 2006 and 2008). This was not unexpected. Voters have short memories. As Paul Krugman has predicted, the Republicans will probably be out on their backsides in 2012.
  • “Exit polls show the Democrats lost the votes of women, middle-income workers, whites, seniors and independent voters.” Most important was the loss of the independent voters who put Obama in office in the first place. This is ironic as most of these people voted against their own interests the other day. They will likely regret it before too long. Evan Bayh has some ideas about what the Democrats can do to recover in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
  • “Voters are disenchanted with both parties… When Marco Rubio, Florida’s Republican senator-elect, took his victory bow, he made a point of warning his party to be cautious. “We make a great mistake, if we believe that tonight, these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party,” he said. “What they are is a second chance — a second chance for Republicans to be what they said they were going to be, not so long ago.” Rubio is right. This is neither a sweeping indictment of the Democratic Party nor a sweeping embrace of the Republican. The voters blamed the most handy target – the party currently in power. For an analysis of Rubio, see the New York Times bio.
  • “Democrats lost a generation of powerful centrist leaders.” I find this interesting given that Obama governed as a centrist. Is this yet another slap against centrist politics, diktat vs. compromise?
  • The Tea Party shouldn’t celebrate. Not only are they not popular with “Wall Street Republicans” but “According to the CBS television network’s exit polls, 58% of Tea Party supporters identify themselves as Republican, 33%  as independent, and 9% as Democrats. However, 80% are white, 55% are male and 56% are aged 50 and older. Not exactly a growing demographic.” No, indeed. The Tea Party is neither a grass-roots nor a populist movement. It has a very narrow focus and a very narrow support base and it really offers nothing new or dramatic outside of new levels of hate and bigotry. And “Tea Party candidates” have already demonstrated a willingness to compromise their principles to get elected. The lesson of Scott Brown should not be lost on anyone.
  • “Obama still has a veto and can scrap any Republican legislation.” So true. No doubt he will have cause to use it. We might note the importance too of continued Democratic control of the Senate.
  • “It’s unlikely [Obama will] have a chance to advance his domestic agenda. “ This does seem unlikely. He will be struggling to maintain the changes he brought about from 2006-08.
  • Obama may be vulnerable in 2012, particularly if he “concedes too much to the Republicans.” This will clearly be a problem as many of us felt Obama has already done this, catering too much to Republican concerns despite ongoing evidence that the Republicans had no interest in joining the Democrats in governing the nation.
  • The events of 1952 (and its aftermath) provide precedent for what took place on November 2 and this suggests that Republican gains will be ephemeral, at least in the short term.

I think many of these points are valid and bear further investigation and discussion. Clearly the next two years will be rocky not only for the administration and for Democrats, but for the country as a whole. The Republicans are far from united. The Tea Party is a divisive force and who knows, we may see some of those Old School “Wall Street” Republicans reaching across the aisle in exasperation. Two years of gridlock is unconscionable and it is difficult to see how, if Obama could be hurt in 2012, the Republicans could not also be if they spend the next two years bringing government to a complete halt.

Of course, there is more to it than this. We are mired in a war seemingly without end. The Republicans have attempted to assign blame for Bush’s Afghanistan War to Obama, and they have even tried to present 9/11 as somehow being Obama’s fault; the same goes for the economic crash of ’08, which took place while Bush was in the White House. Other important issues are corporate money and foreign money and the ways in which these impact American democracy. Republicans, who despise the already existing Constitutional amendments, are unlikely to support an amendment to correct the Supreme Court’s heinous betrayal. And the war on the First Amendment will no doubt gain strength.

There will no doubt be collateral damage from this election. If the election was about the economy, there will also be attacks, as I noted above on the First Amendment, but also on women’s reproductive rights, LGBT rights and environmental regulation, to name just a few. What is essential is somehow keeping our government and our country going for two years until we can correct the mistakes of November 2nd, when it is to be hoped voters will wake up to what they wrought.

11 responses so far

A Lack of Choices in Indiana

Oct 26 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Sink-Burris, Ellsworth, and Coats

(Post-Bayh Indiana, 10.26.10) The contest between worst and next to worst in Indiana continued last night in Vincennes, Indiana, as Dan Coats (Republican) and Brad Ellsworth (Democrat) engaged in their third and final debate.  The men had engaged in two previous encounters, October 10 in Indianapolis and October 22 in Fort Wayne. Libertarian Rebecca Sink-Burris, who also participated, failed to provide a viable third voice.

The third debate offered nothing new for anxious Indiana voters but we should examine where this OK Corral-style debate leaves Hoosier Democrats.

The economy, no surprise, was the main bone of contention between the two men. Coats, of course, defended NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement he voted for when a U.S. Senator in the halcyon days of the ‘90s. Ellsworth said the pact was a failure and that it cost Indiana 50,000 jobs.  In their first debate, Ellsworth accused Coats of wanting to ship American jobs overseas.

Coats retorted that “The worst thing this country can do is enter into a trade war.” Foreign trade, he says, is good for Indiana and that one-in-five Hoosiers have jobs because of exports.  Coats asserts, in what is hardly a surprising riposte, that the true enemy – the real enemy of a healthy Hoosier economy – is corporate taxes.

Sink-Burris agrees. She helpfully offered the opinion that lowering taxes would make the situation better for American companies. We now know where to file her opinion.

I’d like to ask Coats and Sink-Burris if they are aware that 60% of US companies pay no income taxes. I do, you do, but 60% of U.S. companies do not.

But Republican spin is that corporate taxes are bad. Libertarians agree. Don’t let facts get in the way, either of you. Where have you been since Reagan? Trickle down doesn’t trickle down. It trickles up – into corporate pockets.

Government regulation is also the enemy, Coats says. And of course, he had to take a shot at healthcare reform too.

Never mind that unregulated capitalism brought us the Great Depression and the Crash of ’08 which two years later continues to dominate world headlines. Yeah, those regulations must be bad, Dan.

And healthcare? You don’t want healthy workers? Because I’m sure if we’re all sick and dying the economy will get along just fine. It’s hard to see a healthy citizenry as a threat to the economy.

Sink-Burris seems to have lived her life in a bubble. She thinks the best way to reduce healthcare costs is to allow the industry to be unregulated by the government.  Of course, we know what happens then: they don’t cover anything because they don’t have to.  There is a big difference between cutting red tape and giving corporations carte blanche to rob and kill Americans. Sink-Burris seems unaware of it.

In their first debate, Coats said to Ellsworth, “You passed massive spending programs and you turn around to Hoosiers and you say ‘Now you’ve got to pay for them,’ when they have resisted these programs from the very start.” Coats forgets that Indiana voted for Obama in ’08 on a ticket of giving us healthcare.

Ellsworth correctly pointed out that Coat’s lobbying firm was up to its neck in the bailout, that it represented companies that benefited from both stimulus funds and healthcare reform.  So when Coats says “we” he should be clear who he is talking about. Clearly, he cannot be talking about himself, unless he is somehow not also his lobbying firm, which would be a neat trick.

There were the usual accusations of hypocrisy. Coats, typical of Republicans these days, is trying to present himself as an “outsider” – the old Maverick Gambit that was such a colossal failure for McCain and the one embraced by such Tea Party favorites as Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle.

Ellsworth wasn’t letting this one slide. He has pointed out that Coats had spent 30 years in Washington and he only four. We might mention too that Republicans have been in control of government for eight of the past ten years, and twenty of the past thirty (Reagan ‘81-89, Bush Sr. ‘89-93, and Bush Jr. ‘01-09). Republicans are hardly outsiders to government. Reagan spending doomed Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. spending is dooming America. We wish Republicans were government outsiders.

Ellsworth’s narrative is that Coats is a lobbyist, and he is. A lobbyist cannot be an outsider, and can certainly not be considered a much-needed breath of fresh air. The conflict of interest issue is one that must be faced squarely, and Coats must somehow prove to Indiana voters that it is not an issue. How he can do this, I don’t know, because it is an issue.

On the immigration issue there was not much to set the candidates apart. Sink-Burris says illegal immigrants should not be allowed to become U.S. citizens; Ellsworth didn’t really answer the question; and despite a vote for amnesty 26 years ago, Coats says “Since then, I’ve had about 12 or 15 votes that oppose amnesty, and I oppose amnesty now.”

Sadly, both candidates are on record as stating that marriage should be defined as being between one man and one woman. Both oppose abortion rights. Sink-Burris has proven herself out of her depth. She says sending her to Washington will shake things up but it appears she needs to be shaken up first, because she strikes me as completely irrelevant.  For Democrats, this is a case of bad and worse. Ellsworth, while hardly the ideal liberal or progressive candidate, assumes the role of the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, that is the best we can hope for.

A poll released Monday by WISH-TV in Indianapolis doesn’t offer much hope for Hoosier Democrats. It shows Coats favored by 53 percent and Ellsworth by 35 percent, with Sink-Burris at 5 percent. The Rasmussen Report dated October 24th shows the breakdown to be 52/34. Evan Bayh was not a liberal’s dream, but the sad truth is that the grass is not always greener.

3 responses so far

The GOP Wants a Return to the Gilded Age. Do You?

Oct 16 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

The Gilded Age

During the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, there was a great deal of money to be made. A class of men known as tycoons became insanely wealthy and a sharp divide grew between the haves and have-nots in American society. In an age that embraced ideas of social Darwinism, the rich came to believe that they deserved to be rich, that by the act of being rich they were better than everyone else; not only in the sense that wealth made them better but in that being better made them wealthy. Those who were poor, under- or un-employed or starving on the streets deserved their lot in life. They were poor because they were inferior.

The Gilded Age was the starting point of the Progressive movement in America, and is it any surprise? It was a time when women had no rights, blacks had no rights, workers had no rights, an age when children were worked to death in horrible conditions, and adults too. The common people had no remedy, no retirement, no health insurance, no laws to protect them from the awful conditions of their lives, lives made more brutal by the rapacity of the rich tycoons who literally lorded it over them from mansions that still inspire awe today.

In his book, Age of Betrayal, Atlantic senior editor Jack Beatty presents this dark side of the Gilded Age. As The Atlantic says of his book,

The industrialization of the country, which brought so much wealth to so few, left most of the rest struggling to get by as wage laborers, working for someone else in the factory or on the farm. And wealth influenced and co-opted the government at all levels, through unregulated campaign contributions, vote buying, and similar machinations.

It’s not a pretty picture. Beatty emphasizes “the grinding poverty, the bloody racial hatred, the violent labor strikes, and the corrupt politics that also characterize that era.” The similarities to our own age are clear: “once again a yawning gap has opened between rich and poor, and political influence is available for the taking by anyone willing and able to pay.”

This is the world the complete lack of regulation created. This is the world Republicans would have us return to.

It was in the wake of this era that businesses came together at the invitation of President Taft and created the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The government used to work closely with the corporations. You might say the corporations owned the government. The corporations liked it this way. They made money, they got rich, and the government helped them do it, allegedly in the interest of the United States.

Beatty points out the William Jennings Bryan changed all that.

Breaking with the sterile anti-statism of his party, Bryan said that government should be active on behalf of the people. That’s the turn in the Democratic party. Essentially, Wilson, FDR, Truman, and the rest followed where Bryan led. Government should act to protect the people against private power, through anti-trust. It should act with old-age pensions, and with workers’ compensation, and the like. Bryan is often rendered as a backward-looking pastoralist. But in fact, he began modern politics, because he introduced the populist impulse into the Democratic party—the idea that government should support the people.

The corporations didn’t like this. They never did. It was about them, they said. They somehow inserted themselves into the Founding documents as “We the Corporations” and now the Supreme Court has even ruled that like us, corporations are people. It is now legal to buy elections; it is even legal to do it with foreign money. The corporations fought tooth and nail against the progressive movement and they are fighting still, and they seem to be turning the tables on us.

Unregulated capitalism gave us the evils of the Gilded Age. Unregulated capitalism gave us the crash of 2008 that has left not just America, but much of the world, reeling. This is the Republican promise: more rape of America and of the American people so that a few rich people can get richer, so that corporations can ignore regulation or even by the votes to have it cast aside, so that they can do whatever they want to whomever they want to get richer. Be damned to the planet and to the people who live on it. Answerable to no one, they will foist a new Gilded Age upon us.

US Chamber of Commerce: A Monument to the Gilded Age

And the Chamber of Commerce would ease their way. Look at some of the backward-looking stances taken by that body:

  • Pro-Social Security Reform
  • Pro-Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Drilling
  • Pro-Offshore Oil Drilling
  • Pro-Nuclear Power
  • Against taxation increase on businesses
  • Against many union-supported polices

These are all stances that should chill the heart of any American who believes in equality and in the rights of the common people. These are all policies that serve the rich and the rich alone, that serve to widen the gap between rich and poor and to consolidate power (and government) in the hands of a few.

And Glen Beck is the Chamber’s big supporter. According to Media Matters,

This week, Fox News host Glenn Beck joined News Corp. as a major backer of the Chamber of Commerce: Beck’s call for donations to the Chamber on the October 14 edition of his radio show earned him on-air praise from the group’s top brass and drove so much traffic to the Chamber’s contribution website that it crashed.

Apparently an adherent of the view that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” so-called populist warrior Beck implored his audience to fork over their hard-earned cash to corporate darling Chamber of Commerce, “just because the Obama administration hates them.”

The Gilded Age was a pretty awful time unless you were that top 1% of the population. Things were great for them. They could legally rape the rest of us – and they did. And they want to again. And the Republicans want to enable them. The Party of Big Business, they want to re-introduce us to the world our forefathers knew, a world where our betters could use us into the grave to line their pockets. They get their Golden Parachutes; we don’t even get a retirement.

That’s the world they want. Is it the world you want?

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Obama Administration Takes Aim at Defense Spending Overruns

Oct 15 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, White House

The bloated U.S. defense budget has been a topic of discussion and debate for some time. The Bush era invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan stretched the U.S. military to its limits and even with the Iraq war now officially ended U.S. commitments overseas remain high.

The U.S. military has been transitioning from it’s Cold War-era  order of battle to one better suited to fighting  “asymmetrical” wars. Not only does old equipment have to be replaced, but new weapons systems have to be developed and deployed. All this is expensive. Some very expensive systems don’t make the grade and we only find out after the fact.

Humvee with IED damage

American Humvees  (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle aka Hummers) had to be upgraded to protect them from an unanticipated threat, IEDs (improvised explosive devices – in short, roadside bombs), and a whole new class of vehicle was developed and deployed that sported better armor – MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected).

MRAP during testing

Republicans claimed that as president Obama would naively gut the U.S. military. That has not happened, just as Obama has not taken anyone’s guns away or raised taxes on everyone. This was typical – and remains typical – Republican hyperbole. In fact, as USA Today reports,

The budget calls for $205.5 billion in war costs for Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year and a half, including $75.5 billion more this year and $130 billion for fiscal 2010. Those costs are included in the overall budget for the first time. The budget includes a 4% increase to $533.7 billion for the Defense Department.

Not a gutting – far from it – an increase. We can ask ourselves whether the spending is justified. It’s a legitimate question after all, whatever Republican rhetoric says about it. Few, I think, would argue that the military must have the equipment it needs to fulfill its mission, and right now that mission is the suppression of Taliban activity in Afghanistan and the support of a friendly, democratic regime in Iraq. But there is more to the story of developing and deploying new weapons systems than meets the eye.

President Eisenhower warned America of the dangers posed by the military industrial complex, a threat that has proved very real. There is money to be made, not only by contractors and subcontractors but by lobbyists and politicians. Most of these activities do not take place in the public eye; few people realize how much money is wasted in partisan battles over contracts but also through incompetence, waste, and dishonesty.

Defense Talk, the Global Defense & Military Portal, reports that,

Over the last few days, word got out that defense industry giant Lockheed Martin has lost government approval for its cost and schedule tracking systems on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and F-16 programs. The Pentagon has said problems with Lockheed’s system are part of the reason there have been 80 percent cost overruns in the estimated $382 billion Joint Strike Fighter program.

What people need to understand is the way in which contracts are awarded. Companies try to underbid each other to win the contract. Once awarded, the company will begin to develop the system or component. Sometimes, the company puts a great deal of time and effort (not to mention money) into the project only to have the government tell them that they have changed it. Sometimes what has already been done is made in part or in whole irrelevant. Sometimes, the engineers have to go back to the drawing board and start again. And of course, the changes lead to increased expenses. It is wrong to always assign blame to the contractor.

But in this case, as Defense Talk says,

A spigot of defense spending opened up after 9/11, yet for years, there has been dismal oversight of contractors handling hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts for weapons and other goods and services. In the last few years, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has embarked upon numerous initiatives to control the often spiraling growth in the cost of weapons programs. Increased pressure on defense contractors is part of the effort to turn “fat into muscle.”

“The action against Lockheed for its deficient tracking system has to be viewed in context of this overall effort.”

The tracking system is known in the industry as the Earned Value Management System, or EVMS. EVMS is supposed to help companies manage large, complicated projects and measure performance against a baseline. Lockheed’s EVMS was deemed deficient in 19 of 32 areas in a November 2007 report by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), which was made public by POGO in 2008. The report concluded that Lockheed does “not provide the requisite definition and discipline to properly plan and control complex, multibillion dollar weapon systems acquisition programs.”

And “Lockheed isn’t the only contractor with problems.”

Companies that fail to adhere to expectations will suffer in future contract negotiations:

Although Lockheed has made progress since 2007, the Pentagon apparently decided Lockheed wasn’t acting fast enough. It’s still not totally clear what’s going to happen to Lockheed—at a minimum it will have to disclose its EVMS is not approved when it bids for government contracts.

“The decertification this week was “really a slap in the face to Lockheed.”

What’s at stake for taxpayers? “The Pentagon noted Lockheed’s deficient EVMS system this June when it issued a report on the staggering cost overruns in the Joint Strike Fighter program, which the report estimates will cost $382 billion—an 80 percent increase in the program’s initial projected cost.”

What’s at stake for the people doing the fighting is potentially much-needed weapons systems upgrades being denied them through defense spending wastage like this. The Bush administration did not believe in oversight and it applied it nowhere – to the environment, to Wall Street, or to defense spending.

The military deserves better, and so do the American people. Fortunately, the Republican plundering expedition came to an end in 2008 and we have a Democratic administration in place that is doing something about it.

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Some Thoughts on America’s Shame

Someday, future Americans will look back on the end of the 21st century’s first decade and feel shame, and perhaps a sense of wonder that such an advanced nation, one of the most free to have ever existed, could be home to such petty prejudice and superstition, that rights we once held thought defined us could be so easily and thoughtlessly trampled.

Just as we look back with shame on our treatment of the African Americans brought to these shores and kept in a state of slavery, future Americans will look back with shame on the treatment meted out to our first African American president, not because of his education or qualifications, but because of the color of his skin.

Thomas Jefferson, though he owned slaves, knew that slavery was wrong; he thought of it as a social contagion that was harmful to all, slave and free. He fully expected slavery to come to an end and took legislative steps to begin the process. He knew that extreme measures in his own day would lead to the fragile new union’s collapse if not outright war. It came to war anyway, of course, and over 600,000 dead and a president with the courage to say “enough.”

The road to true freedom for blacks in America did not come all at once, or even with the Emancipation Proclamation. The process has been long and hard and many battles for civil rights had to be fought and won before racism would yield. But racism did not die and is not dead yet, and some, myself included, were shocked when Obama was elected by the degree of racism still existing in this country, by the waving of Confederate flags under which slavery flourished and was defended.

Everyone is equal, the Founding Fathers said. We all have the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But there are those today who disregard the utopian dreams of the Founding Fathers, people to whom egalitarianism extends only to those like themselves, of the same skin color, or the same religion, or the same political leanings. They live in a land of absolutes, where you are one of the chosen – or one of the damned.

We have seen the reactionary forces of this group of people displayed in all its unsavory rhetoric since Barack Obama announced that he would run for President of the United States. He has been accused of being a “Kenyan anti-colonialist” and a “Muslim” and of not even being an American citizen. Conservatives have danced to “Barack the Magic Negro” and refuse even to call him by his real name while they share pictures of the White House surrounded by a watermelon patch, and then play dumb when called out.

They have even accused the Democrats, those who put Barack Obama in office as the first black president of the United States, of racism and keeping black people down. If by holding them down they mean electing them to the highest office in the land, then I suppose they are right, but that is a strange use of the English language, stranger even then Sarah Palin’s unintentional non sequiturs.

Then there is the belief that the word Muslim is in some sense an insult. Barack Obama is not a Muslim, but according to the Constitution, it would make no difference if he was. The United States was founded on the idea of the separation of church and state, that there would be no state religion to sap our hard-won liberties, and the Constitution (Article 6, Section 3) ensures that there will be no religious test for office. The office-holders religious views are, according to the Constitution, completely irrelevant.

Someday, future Americans will look back and shake their heads sadly, wondering how such low arguments could not only be tolerated but bandied about on a major network and in major print newspapers, that a whole political party could operate on the assumption that the Constitution is irrelevant, for irrelevant it must be if what it says can be so easily disregarded.

Most of us may not expect something as free and open-minded as Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future to come to fruition, but we like to think we were further along than we turned out to be; we like to believe there is some hope yet that we may prove ourselves worthy of the founding documents’ lofty words, that liberty is not only for a few, but for all equally, that even if it could not become true all at once with the signing of a pen, that it would be true someday, that it was meant to be true some day.

That such levels of racism and bigotry could exist in the 21st century is a mark of shame for those alive today. We are not who we were supposed to be, ladies and gentlemen, and we share a responsibility in not having created and nurtured the society that we should have created. We have made advances, but not enough. There are still those who expect the wrath of God to befall us for our sins, or who assign natural disasters to God’s wrath, or who would deprive those they don’t approve of, of their allegedly inalienable rights.

You have no rights because you are black; you have no rights because you are a woman; you have no rights because you are gay; you have no rights because you are an atheist; you have no rights because you are a Muslim; you have no rights because you support what the Founding Fathers promised us: liberty and individual human rights – for all.

The forces of exclusion bring shame on all Americans. And the rest of us will bear that shame if we let them triumph, if we let the great experiment begun in 1776 expire because we do not have the courage to stand up and give a shout for what is right, and to shout down what is wrong. Someday Americans will look back in shame on this era, but it is within our power to bring that era to an end, if only we will do what is right in three weeks, and again in two years, and again in every election that follows.

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