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“Domestic And International Obstructionist’s”: Senate GOP Kills United Nations Disabilities Treaty

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) made a rare Senate appearance this morning, sitting in a wheelchair just off the floor so that members would have to see him as they entered the chamber. Why? Because they were poised to vote on ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and Dole hoped to send a message.

It didn’t work. The Senate killed the treaty this afternoon, with a final vote of 61 to 38, which seems like a lopsided majority, but which fell short of the two-thirds necessary for ratification. Eight Republicans broke ranks and joined Democrats in support of the treaty, but the clear majority of the Senate GOP voted to block it.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, for those who’ve forgotten, is a human rights treaty negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration, which has been ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

But most Senate Republicans saw it as a threat to American “sovereignty,” even though the treaty wouldn’t have required the United States to change its laws. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty with bipartisan support in July, Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) explained the proposal simply “raises the [international] standard to our level without requiring us to go further.”

In other words, we wouldn’t actually have to do anything except say we like the treaty — and then wait for other signatories around the world to catch up to the United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act.

The treaty was endorsed by Dole, John McCain, and Dick Lugar, among other prominent Republican figures, but it didn’t matter. The GOP’s right-wing base, led in part by Rick Santorum, raised hysterical fears about the treaty, and most Senate Republicans took their cues from the party’s activists, not the party’s elder statesmen.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 4, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Human Rights, United Nations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Centrisim Is Style And Tone”: There’s Absolutely No Reason For The GOP (Or Anyone) To Listen To Jon Huntsman

Former Utah governor, U.S. ambassador to China and failed presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has been making the media rounds recently, sitting down with the Huffington Post and CNN, sharing his big ideas about How to Save the Republican Party From Itself.*

Before we get into those ideas, and their merit, something should be made very clear: It doesn’t matter what Jon Huntsman thinks, at all. Conservatives should feel no obligation to listen to him, because he has no constituency in the Republican Party — no allies, supporters or acolytes. Liberals shouldn’t listen to him because for all his “the GOP must remake itself in my image” talk, he always conveniently forgets to mention that he’s precisely as conservative — on all the same issues — as Mitt Romney is. (Or as Mitt Romney became, as the case may be.) His “centrism” is entirely a matter of style and tone.

For the current budget showdown, he proposes … “entitlement reform,” along with a rhetorical openness to the possibility of maybe allowing the top marginal tax rate to rise, which is what makes him a big pinko now, apparently:

“You will have to have some compromise built in, and perhaps even on the marginal rates going up for a certain income category. My going-in position would be: Let’s work on phasing out all the deductions and loopholes. There is a trillion dollars there. Let’s see where that leaves us and move forward before you start willy-nilly raising taxes.”

Is this appreciably to the left of Mitt Romney’s position?

Jon Huntsman supported the Ryan Plan. During the campaign, Huntsman proposed what was probably the single most regressive, pro-rich tax plan of any Republican candidate. He called for the elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit — which benefits poor people — along with the abolition of all taxes on capital gains and dividends, which would amount to a massive redistribution of wealth from poor and working people to rich people. This is the guy we’re looking to for serious soul-searching about how the Republicans can make themselves appeal to Americans outside the conservative bubble?

Huntsman’s actual prescription for the party is to make it more palatable to … Northeastern Elites. He wants to drop the “crazy talk” in order to focus more on the hardcore economic conservatism. Sure, he’s not going to be a Norquistian fanatic on the top marginal tax rate, but his plan is still austerity for most. The thing is, that sort of conservatism doesn’t appeal to anyone without money. Race-baiting, immigrant-hating, and war-mongering nationalism are what make the GOP’s economic agenda marketable to the masses. The best-case scenario for a Huntsman-led Republican Party is that they pick off some Dem-supporting “socially liberal” rich people in Maryland and Manhattan and maybe Silicon Valley. Enough to harm Democratic fundraising, but not to win national elections.

Since the end of the Reagan era we’ve essentially had two parties that pursue an economic agenda designed to benefit the rich people, as the poor survive on subsistence benefits and the middle class find themselves joining the poor. The rich people each party represents are generally in different (though often overlapping) industries and sectors — entertainment and finance for Democrats, energy and finance for Republicans — but they are the wealthiest all the same. The differentiating factor was that one party also supported welfare state policies that benefited the very poor and the other party also supported “social issues” that appealed to the religious white middle class. A party that did the opposite of Huntsman’s prescription — one that combined real economic populism with conservative religious appeals, as many pre-civil rights Democrats and populists once did — would almost certainly be much more popular than the current Republican Party. (The enduring popularity of Mike Huckabee, who used to frequently adopt the rhetoric of an economic populist, is evidence enough.) There’s a huge “soak the rich and burn the banks down” constituency out there, and the Democrats — who are terrified of soaking the rich — currently win it largely by default.

Unfortunately for the GOP (but probably fortunately for us secular social liberals), as Josh Barro pointed out last week, the money guys are going to push the “more secular but still pro-rich” brand makeover. And the money people have been in charge for so long that they’ve remade most of the Moral Majority people in their image.

Jon Huntsman, though, is not the man to save the party. Nor is his brother in rebranding hucksterism Bobby Jindal, unless he stops talking like a Rhodes scholar and starts acting more like the Kingfish.

*It bears mentioning that at no point does the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein disclose that his interviewee is the father of a fairly prominent Huffington Post employee.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, December 3, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Life Is Not A James Bond Movie”: Bob Costas Was Right To Denounce Gun Violence

There is a manufactured debate over whether Bob Costas should lose his job for questioning the “gun culture” Costas suggested was responsible for the deaths of an NFL player and his girlfriend. That’s not a real issue; Costas isn’t a news anchor. He’s a sportscaster and commentator, and weighs in all the time on the athletic performances of players and teams. Failing to talk about the role of a firearm in the tragedy would have been a glaring omission.

Had Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher been responsible for only one death—that of Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and mother of their now-orphaned three-month-old daughter—the conversation might now be about domestic violence. It might be about whether aggressive sports competitions foster aggressive action in other arenas. It might have brought more attention to the problem of violence against women in general.

But Belcher turned a horrible crime into an even more horrible tragedy. He went to the Chief’s practice facility, admitted the murder, thanked his coach and general manager, and then—with the coach and GM watching—shot himself in the head.

It is impossible not to have a conversation about guns, given the circumstances. Belcher might have been able to harm, even kill, Perkins without a gun. He would not have committed suicide in front of two people if he had not had a firearm.

Many people like to believe that if we all had guns, such tragedies would not occur. The theory is that if someone breaks out a weapon—at a Virginia campus, a Colorado movie theater, or a home—the would-be victim could fight back, evenly armed. It’s easy to acquire that delusion when one watches action movies. Many of us would like to believe we would respond that quickly and calculatingly in the event of an armed assault. In real life, things do not happen that way.

In 1999, I was covering the civil conflict in Kosovo, where danger came from several camps—the Kosovo Liberation Army, the police, the paramilitary, the Serb soldiers, and the most dangerous of all—drunk civilians with guns. One day, two radio reporters, a translator, and I were headed back to the provincial capital of Pristina. We saw, up a hill to our left, that a village was being burned down. Foolishly, we drove toward it to see what was happening. Halfway up the hill, I heard a loud and quick series of click-clicks, as Serb paramilitary surrounded our car and pointed machine guns at us.

It took about 20 seconds even to realize what was happening—and this was not in a movie theater or campus; this was in a war zone where such developments are not completely unexpected. My friends put up their hands. I, incomprehensively, lowered my head, protecting it with my hands (did I imagine that would stop the bullet? I have no idea—it was an automatic reaction). They dragged us out of the car, held guns to our heads, and finally let us go, after a long negotiation and a realization on their part that we were just four hapless, unarmed journalists.

People have asked me if I wasn’t sorry I didn’t have a gun. I am not. Had we been armed, we would have been killed for sure, as we would have been seen as combatants. But more importantly, we would never have been able to respond quickly enough to stop any attack. Life is not a James Bond movie. With the exception of trained police and soldiers, none of us is going to be able to respond quickly and accurately enough to stop someone from shooting a gun.

The murder-suicide is a wrenching tragedy, and it should indeed engender all sorts of conversations about domestic violence and the head injuries which can affect football payers’ behavior. But refusing to talk about the role of firearms in the deaths of two young people is another tragedy. And it would create more.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 4, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Slow Death March”: The NFL And The Republican Party Are Sinking

Did you know in medical circles there’s talk the NFL will only last another 15 years or so?

The medical evidence linking professional football’s furious, jarring hits to the head and brain injury is that strong and overwhelming. Later in life, it all catches up to a guy, who succumbs to being a shell of himself. For wives, it’s incredibly painful to witness their strong and mighty men become lost and weak, day by day, weeks giving way to months and years, relentlessly. Like a slow death march.

The NFL is so rich and powerful it’s hard to imagine that happening, isn’t it? With all the stadiums they made cities build for them, their dominance over network television schedules, their carefully cultivated rivalries, their gleaming Super Bowl half-time shows, their spiffy uniforms and grumpy coaches—how do we go on without all that? The NFL has so much control over American lives, aspirations, and social mixing that it is practically a shadow government.

The NFL has faced litigation over brain injuries and is bracing for many more lawsuits as its first generation of former players reach old age.

But some say a tipping point will emerge, a consensus that an entire swath of football players—past and present—will almost certainly deal with brain damage. And all the NFL’s lavish compensations will not be enough lucre to prod players to keep playing the game as it is now played: brutally. The whole sport is a gaming of war, after all. Organized violence is what we collectively come to see.

These experts think the NFL will be suddenly forced to switch to a game like soccer. I’d love to see that, but I can’t fathom the NFL buckling to sweet reason so soon. Football is so much part of the Americana male archetype. Soccer is so lightweight, literally.

Well, guess what. Political observers are saying the same thing about the walking-wounded Republican Party. They say the game it’s playing is moribund. The party Lincoln joined when it was young is foundering, according to the Washington pundits, not all of them Democratic observers. The 2012 election showed that the party has white men squarely on its side, but the electorate is not all white men anymore.

Meanwhile, the party lost the Latino vote, the black vote, and of course, the women’s vote after its visceral attack on reproductive rights. Who did they think would vote for their ticket other than well-off white men? The quintessentially privileged candidate, Mitt Romney, could not connect across class and lines of life experience. And he really was the best the party had. Think of how Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum—anyone else in the primary—would have been an international disgrace. They need new fresh faces.

The Republicans seem to be at a loss for new ideas as well. Cutting Medicare is as popular as a skunk about a garden party. They should have more garden parties and fewer skunks—do I need to name them? They are all there on camera every day, looking dour and angry that the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans are going to see their Bush-era tax cuts expire. Too bad!

The NFL and the GOP: what a plight. I feel so sorry for them. But let’s say it clear here. They deserve to have their game and party sink into the mud if they can’t freshen up.

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 4, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Politics, Sports | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Just A Matter Of Math”: President Obama Rejects John Boehner’s “Out Of Balance” Fiscal Cliff Proposal

Sitting down for his first interview since the election, President Barack Obama remained optimistic about reaching a deal on the fiscal cliff, but not before rejecting House Speaker John Boehner’s “out of balance” proposal.

Obama reiterated the need for a balanced approach, dispelling the notion that he was driven by politics—“It’s not me being stubborn, not me be partisan; it’s just a matter of math,” Obama told Bloomberg News’ Julianna Goldman. The full interview can be viewed here.

The president said he was “prepared to make some tough decisions on this issue,” and allowed that he would not get “100 percent” of his demands, but stated that he would not “agree to a plan in which we have some revenue that is vague and potentially comes out of the pockets of middle-class families in exchange for some very specific and tough entitlement cuts that would affect seniors or other folks who are vulnerable.”

Speaker Boehner’s proposal yesterday called for slashing $600 billion in federal health care programs—driven partly by increasing the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67—$200 billion in savings by modifying how the government calculates inflation estimates for increasing Medicare and Social Security benefits, and extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

Obama restated the need for increasing top tax rates, while maintaining current rates for those making less than $250,000. “We’re going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up, and we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it,” he said. The Republican plan proposed generating new revenue by closing special-interest loopholes and deductions while lowering rates. But Obama soon rejected that approach. “If you do not raise enough revenue by closing loopholes and deductions, it’s going to be the middle-class families that make up the difference,” the president said. “And that would be bad for business.”


By: Axel Tonconogy, The National Memo, December 4, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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