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KSM Decision: Place The Blame Where Blame Is Due

Many in the media, and many more of President Obama’s detractors from the left, are hitting his administration pretty hard today for this reversal. The development is obviously disappointing, but if we’re assigning blame, let’s at least direct at those responsible.

In a major reversal, the Obama administration has decided to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for his role in the attacks of Sept. 11 before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and not in a civilian courtroom.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is expected to announce on Monday afternoon that Mr. Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the attacks, and four other accused conspirators will face charges before a panel of military officers, a law enforcement official said. The Justice Department has scheduled a press conference for 2 p.m. Eastern time.

Mr. Holder, who had wanted to prosecute Mr. Mohammed before a regular civilian court in New York City, changed his mind after Congress imposed a series of restrictions barring the transfer of Guantanamo detainees into the United States, making such a trial impossible for now, the official said.

Even that last sentence is awkward — the Attorney General “changed his mind” after Congress “imposed a series of restrictions”? That’s a bit like saying I changed my mind about getting up after I was tied to my chair.

Holder told reporters this afternoon that his original decision was still the right one, but blamed Congress for “tying our hands.”

He happens to be right. Even today, Holder wants to do the right thing, and so does President Obama. And yet, Gitmo is open today, and KSM will be subjected to a military commission in the near future, not because of an administration that backed down in the face of far-right whining, but because congressional Republicans orchestrated a massive, choreographed freak-out, and scared the bejesus out of congressional Democrats. Together, they limited the White House’s options to, in effect, not having any choice at all.

There’s plenty of room for criticism of the administration, but those slamming Obama for “breaking his word” on this are blaming the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

By: Steve Benen, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, DOJ, GITMO, GOP, Homeland Security, Justice Department, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Media, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A SUCKER’S BET: Are Republicans Really Prepared To “Gamble On Entitlement Reform”?

The effort to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year will be the principal challenge for policymakers over the next few days, but while that work continues, congressional Republicans will also start a massive fight over the next budget.

We’ll have more on this later — sneak preview: the GOP wants to gut entitlements — but as the process gets underway, it’s worth pausing to appreciate the politics here. The Weekly Standard‘s Stephen Hayes has a lengthy new report, arguing that Republicans are prepared to “gamble on entitlement reform,” and the GOP thinks it can win this time.

If there is one thing that political strategists, pollsters, and elected officials of both parties have agreed on for decades, it’s that entitlement reform is a sure political loser. Social Security is the “third rail” — touch it and you die. Suggest changes to Medicaid and you don’t care about the poor. Propose modest reforms to Medicare and you’re the target of a well-funded “Mediscare” campaign that ensures your defeat.

No longer.

“People are getting it that these things are unsustainable,” says Karl Rove. “For so many people, debt is no longer abstract. It’s more concrete. I don’t know if it’s seeing Greece on TV or what. It’s still tough, but it’s not the political loser it used to be.”

Other influential Republicans go further. They believe that getting serious about entitlement reform can be politically advantageous.

“I think it can be a real winner for Republicans if we handle it the right way,” says South Carolina senator Jim DeMint.

The piece goes on to quote all kinds of Republicans, all of whom genuinely seem to believe there’s a public appetite for their entitlement agenda. GOP officials have been too scared to tackle this in earnest before, the theory goes, but bolstered by public support, this time will be different. This time, they say, Americans want entitlement cuts, and Democratic criticisms will fall on deaf ears.

Time will tell, I suppose, but all of the available evidence suggests these folks have no idea what they’re talking about, and are poised to pursue one of the most dramatic examples of political overreach we’ve seen in a very long time.

Republicans can presumably read polls as easily as I can, but let’s focus for a moment on the latest CNN poll, released late last week. Asked, for example, about Medicaid funding, a combined 75% want funding levels to stay the same or go up. For Social Security, 87% of Americans want funding levels to stay the same or go up. For Medicare, 87% want funding levels to stay the same or go up — and most want funding to increase, not stay the same.

For some reason, Hayes and his allies look at numbers like these and think Republicans will benefit from pushing entitlement cuts. No, seriously, that’s what they think. GOP leaders are not only arguing this, they’re actually counting on it as part of a larger political strategy.

Karl Rove, ostensibly the GOP’s most gifted strategist, believes Americans may be “seeing Greece on TV,” and suddenly find themselves favoring Medicare cuts.

I don’t think he’s kidding.

Hayes noted in his piece, “So have things really changed? We’ll soon find out.”

On this point, we agree.

By: Steve Bensen, Washington Monthly, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Public, Public Opinion, Republicans, Social Security, Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Recall Drive Already Making History

Ever since Wisconsin Dems and labor activists announced late Friday that they had already amassed enough signatures to trigger a recall election against GOP state Senator Dan Kapanke — and filed their petition to make it happen — political observers have been wondering precisely how many signatures activists had gathered. The number could contain clues as to whether the election will actually happen and how much grassroots energy there remains on the ground in the state.

I’ve now been given the precise number by Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski, and it’s eye-opening: In that district, 15,588 signatures are needed to trigger a recall — and activists collected and filed a whopping total of 22,561.

That’s 145 percent of the total required — and Wisconsin election experts tell me it virtually ensures that a recall election will take place despite any challenges to the veracity of signatures.

Because the news of the petition broke late on a Friday, the signficance of it has gone entirely unnoticed. Dems and labor activists in the state collected nearly 23,000 signatures in Kapanke’s districts in 29 days — less than half the 60 alloted — which has tied the record for the fastest collection of signatures for a recall election in recent Wisconsin state history. And unlike in that previous case, recall drives are now simultaneously proceeding against other Republicans.

There have been only two successful recalls of state legislators in Wisconsin history, against former state senators George Petak in 1996 and against Gary George for corruption in 2003. George was subsequently convicted on felony charges. In the first case, the requisite signatures were filed on the last day of the 60-day period, according to Nexis, and in the second it took 29 days. In other words, Dems and labor racked up the signatures required against Kapanke as fast as organizers did against a legislator later convicted of a felony.

Wisconsin experts tell me that the number of signatures is a reliable indicator that grassroots energy on the ground remains strong. “Given how long you have to get the signatures and how quickly they got these, it’s a strong signal that the activation of the pro-recall forces is very high,” Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, tells me. “Kapanke is in the most Democratic leaning district, but completing a third more than rquired in 20-something days is quite a feat for any petition drive.”

Adds his fellow professor Barry Burden: “I would say it’s a near certainty that they have enough signatures to make the recall go forward.”

The question remains whether the drive on display in Kapanke’s district will manifest itself with similarly strong recall signature showings in other districts. But that said, even though the national press has moved on from this story, the energy and staying power of what has been unleashed in Wisconsin continue to surprise.

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Elections, Media, Politics, Unions, Wisconsin | , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Maine Labor History Mural, US Department of Labor: “Put It Up Or Pay Up”

If Maine Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t wish to display a mural depicting the state’s labor history, then the U.S. Department of Labor wants back the federal money used to create it.

The department said Monday that LePage violated the terms of a federal grant that paid for most of the mural’s $60,000 cost when he removed the artwork from state offices last month.

The request for reimbursement came in a letter to state labor officials from Gay Gilbert, administrator of the U.S. Labor Department’s office of unemployment insurance. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

Gilbert’s letter is the latest twist in a growing national dispute over LePage’s decision to remove the 36-foot mural from the state Labor Department headquarters. LePage said it was biased towards organized labor at the expense of his pro-business agenda.

The removal has prompted a federal lawsuit against LePage and two others.

The mural, in place since 2008, depicts scenes that include a paper mill strike in the town of Jay, a strike at a shoe plant in Lewiston, women shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works and former U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, a native of Maine.

Adam Fisher, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Labor, said he did not have any immediate comment on the letter.

LePage’s removal of the mural attracted attention at a time when lawmakers in Wisconsin and other states are considering measures to restrict collective bargaining by public workers. Labor advocates, artists and others say the mural depicts an important part of Maine history and belongs at the state’s Department of Labor office.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said last week that the mural is in storage and awaits transfer to “a suitable venue for public display.” She did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the demand for repayment of federal funds.

The mural was created in large part with a federal grant that provided 63 percent of the cost of art work. Gilbert’s letter said the state must return 63 percent of the current fair market value of the mural, which could now be higher than the $60,000 it cost to create it.

“Alternatively, the state could again display the mural in its headquarters or in another state employment security building,” the letter said.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has not commented publicly on the mural dispute. Her spokesman, Carl Fillicio, said she “has monitored the situation and asked staff to look into it.”

LePage’s decision to remove the mural was prompted by an anonymous letter to the governor’s office — signed by “A Secret Admirer” — that said the mural was propaganda in line with “communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.”

By: Associated Press, Bangor Daily News, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, GOP, Gov Paul LePage, Ideology, Labor, Maine, Politics, Republicans, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Balanced Budget Amendment: The Worst Idea In Washington

Bruce Bartlett takes a look at the Balanced Budget Amendment all 47 Republicans signed their names to and pronounces it “quite possibly the stupidest constitutional amendment I think I have ever seen. It looks like it was drafted by a couple of interns on the back of a napkin.”

I think “stupid” is the wrong word. “Dangerous” is more like it. And maybe “radical.” This isn’t just a Balanced Budget Amendment. It also includes a provision saying that tax increases would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress — so, it includes a provision making it harder to balance the budget — and another saying that total spending couldn’t exceed 18 percent of GDP. No allowances are made for recessions, though allowances are made for wars. Not a single year of the Bush administration would qualify as constitutional under this amendment. Nor would a single year of the Reagan administration. The Clinton administration would’ve had exactly two years in which it wasn’t in violation.

Read that again: Every single Senate Republican has endorsed a constitutional amendment that would’ve made Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy unconstitutional. That’s how far to the right the modern GOP has swung.

But the problem isn’t simply that the proposed amendment is extreme. It’s also unworkable. The baby boomers are retiring and health costs are rising. Unless you have a way to stop one or the other from happening — and no one does — spending as a percentage of GDP is going to have to rise. This proposal doesn’t interrupt those trends. It simply refuses to acknowledge them — or, to be more generous, it rules them unconstitutional. This is the equivalent of trying to keep your kid cute by passing a law saying he’s not allowed to grow up.

Another problem: In a recession, tax revenue plummets and GDP stops growing, but spending has to be sustained, or even increased, to a) give people unemployment insurance and Medicaid and other services they need and b) keep the economy from contracting violently. This amendments includes no provisions for recessions, meaning that when the economy contracted, the government would have to contract as well. That is to say, we’re still not out of one of the deepest recessions in American history, and every Senate Republican has co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to make future recessions worse. It’s just breathtaking.

A world in which this amendment is added to the Constitution is a world in which America effectively becomes California. It’s a world where the procedural impediments to passing budgets and raising revenues are so immense that effective fiscal management is essentially impossible; it’s a world where we can’t make public investments or sustain the safety net; it’s a world where recessions are much worse than they currently are and the government has to do more of its work off-budget through regulation and gimmickry. I would like to say something positive about this proposal, say there’s some silver lining here. But there isn’t. This is economic demagoguery, and nothing more. It’s so unrealistic that it would’ve ruled all but two of the last 30 years unconstitutional, which means it’s so unrealistic that there has not yet been a Republican president who has proven it can be done. And that doesn’t just suggest it can’t be done: It suggests that when Republicans are actually in power and have control of the budget, they know perfectly well that it shouldn’t be done. They’re just pretending otherwise for the moment.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 1, 2011

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Ideologues, Neo-Cons, Politics, Right Wing, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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