RNC condemns NSA surveillance

The Hill: The Republican National Committee has formally renounced the “dragnet” surveillance program at the National Security Agency (NSA).

During its winter meeting in Washington, the committee on Friday overwhelmingly approved a measure calling for lawmakers to end the program and create a special committee to investigate domestic surveillance efforts.

The resolution, which declared that “unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights,” among other condemnations, passed the committee on a voice vote with near-unanimous support. Only a small minority of the 168 RNC members dissented.

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The GOP’s woman problem

Frank Rich writes: At the time, back in January in New Hampshire, it didn’t seem like that big a deal, certainly nothing to rival previous debate flash points like “9-9-9” and “Oops!” But in retrospect it may have been one of the more fateful twists of the Republican presidential campaign. The exchange was prompted by George Stephanopoulos, who seemingly out of nowhere asked Mitt Romney if he shared Rick Santorum’s view that “states have the right to ban contraception.” Romney stiffened, as he is wont to do, and took the tone of a men’s club factotum tut-tutting a member for violating the dress code. “George, this is an unusual topic that you’re raising,” he said. “I know of no reason to talk about contraception in this regard.” The partisan audience would soon jeer the moderator for his effrontery.

Afterward, Romney’s spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom accused Stephanopoulos of asking “the oddest question in a debate this year” and of having “a strange obsession with contraception.” It was actually Santorum who had the strange obsession. He had first turned the subject into a cause in October by talking about “the dangers of contraception in this country.” Birth control is “not okay,” he said then. “It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

As we know now, Santorum, flaky though he may sound, is not some outlier in his party or in its presidential field. He was an advance man for a rancorous national brawl about to ambush an unsuspecting America that thought women’s access to birth control had been resolved by the ­Supreme Court almost a half century ago.

The hostilities would break out just weeks after the New Hampshire debate, with the back-to-back controversies of the White House health-care rule on contraceptives and the Komen Foundation’s dumping of Planned Parenthood. Though those two conflicts ended with speedy cease-fires, an emboldened GOP kept fighting. It had women’s sex lives on the brain and would not stop rolling out jaw-dropping sideshows: an all-male panel at a hearing on birth control in the House. A fat-cat Santorum bankroller joking that “gals” could stay out of trouble by putting Bayer aspirin “between their knees.” A Virginia governor endorsing a state bill requiring that an ultrasound “wand” be inserted into the vagina of any woman seeking an abortion.

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How the GOP is resegregating the South

The Nation reports: North Carolina State Senator Eric Mansfield was born in 1964, a year before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote for African-Americans. He grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and moved to North Carolina when he was stationed at Fort Bragg. He became an Army doctor, opening a practice in Fayetteville after leaving the service. Mansfield says he was always “very cynical about politics” but decided to run for office in 2010 after being inspired by Barack Obama’s presidential run.

He ran a grassroots campaign in the Obama mold, easily winning the election with 67 percent of the vote. He represented a compact section of northwest Fayetteville that included Fort Bragg and the most populous areas of the city. It was a socioeconomically diverse district, comprising white and black and rich and poor sections of the city. Though his district had a black voting age population (BVAP) of 45 percent, Mansfield, who is African-American, lives in an old, affluent part of town that he estimates is 90 percent white. Many of his neighbors are also his patients.

But after the 2010 census and North Carolina’s once-per-decade redistricting process—which Republicans control by virtue of winning the state’s General Assembly for the first time since the McKinley administration—Mansfield’s district looks radically different. It resembles a fat squid, its large head in an adjoining rural county with little in common with Mansfield’s previously urban district, and its long tentacles reaching exclusively into the black neighborhoods of Fayetteville. The BVAP has increased from 45 to 51 percent, as white voters were surgically removed from the district and placed in a neighboring Senate district represented by a white Republican whom GOP leaders want to protect in 2012. Mansfield’s own street was divided in half, and he no longer represents most of the people in his neighborhood. His new district spans 350 square miles, roughly the distance from Fayetteville to Atlanta. Thirty-three voting precincts in his district have been divided to accommodate the influx of new black voters. “My district has never elected a nonminority state senator, even though minorities were never more than 45 percent of the vote,” Mansfield says. “I didn’t need the help. I was doing OK.”

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When the GOP came to town on a suicide mission

Here is Newt Gingrich and Sheldon Adelson‘s campaign to support Occupy Wall Street! Well, not really. Ostensibly it’s a 30-minute attack ad on Mitt Romney. Beyond needing to know that this as a production by Gingrich’s super PAC, “Winning Our Future,” this video speaks for itself.

More than anything, this is a demonstration of the degree to which the OWS anti-corporate narrative is now at the core of American political discourse.

Do any of the GOP candidates truly believe they can credibly co-opt this message? This seems like a spectacular collision between rampant hubris and profound contempt for the average American.

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Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan and the non-interventionists

Noting the fact that Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan both share the ‘virtue’ of being non-interventionists, Fred Clark starts drilling into the question of whether there really is such a principle as non-interventionism.

I want to look one further step back from this discussion and question the assumption here that “non-interventionism” is a Good Thing.

I don’t think it’s a Good Thing because I don’t think it’s a thing at all. “Non-interventionism” is no more a principle than “interventionism” is. It’s not obvious to me that “never intervene” is a wiser, more sensible, more prudent or more just approach than “always intervene” would be.

It seems to me, rather, to be the sort of crutch one falls back on instead of engaging in the difficult, messy business of an actual principled approach to evaluating any given situation. It allows you to escape having to know or care at all about any particular situation, because you’ve got a one-size-fits-all answer to any and every question.

Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul both happened to be right in opposing the invasion of Iraq, but that had nothing to do with their principled evaluation of that situation. They’re more like my friend in algebra class in high school who always said that X=3. Sometimes X did equal 3, but even when he got the answer right it wasn’t because he understood the question.

“Non-intervention” may sometimes be the better course of action. It usually is. But it may also sometimes be the worse course of action. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spent three years battling against non-interventionists. I think that he and his supporter Dr. Seuss were right and their non-interventionist opponents were wrong.

President Bill Clinton chose to intervene in Bosnia. He chose not to intervene in Rwanda. One of those decisions was justified. The other proved to be a monstrous mistake.

Those same two cases — Bosnia and Rwanda — shaped the perspective of our current secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in response to Gadhafi’s lethal attempt to quash the uprising in Libya. The Obama administration chose the path of intervention in Libya, with an approach that in many ways mirrored NATO’s intervention in Bosnia. It confuses more than it clarifies to label that response as “interventionism” and to declare it indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

I would add one other thought. For those of us who would most likely never consider voting for Ron Paul, the debate about his virtues as a presidential candidate is somewhat redundant. The broader question of greater relevance is whether his presence in the presidential race has had a positive or negative effect. To suggest that the GOP contest would have been better without Paul’s participation, seems to me to be to be a pretty difficult argument to win.

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The excommunication of Ron Paul

Steve Kornacki writes: When you’re running near the top of the polls, it’s inevitable that your opponents will gang up on you. But there’s something different about the nature of the attacks Ron Paul is now facing – and, potentially, about their implications.

In the past few days, three of Paul’s rivals – Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann – have publicly declared that the Texas congressman will not under any circumstances win the GOP nomination. Bachmann called him “dangerous,” while Gingrich said he wasn’t even sure he’d vote for Paul over Barack Obama. Another candidate, Rick Santorum, said there’s no difference between Paul and Obama on foreign policy and that he’d need “a lot of antacid” to stomach voting for Paul. And Jon Huntsman launched a scathing anti-Paul ad in New Hampshire with a simple title: “Unelectable.”

This is not a run of the mill pile-on. Paul’s foes aren’t simply telling Republicans that he’s not the best choice to be their nominee; they’re telling Republicans that he’s unfit to call himself one of them – that he’s an imposter who isn’t due even the most basic courtesy (“Oh sure, if he ends up being the nominee I’ll be with him…”) that major candidates for the nomination are typically afforded.

It’s an attitude that’s also being encouraged by some of the GOP’s most powerful opinion-shaping forces. Rush Limbaugh has been disdainful of Paul throughout the campaign, with his guest host this week – Mark Steyn – keeping up the campaign. Fox News, whose primetime hosts have alternated between ignoring and savaging Paul, has been treating him like a pariah since the last campaign, when Paul was denied a seat at a critical pre-New Hampshire debate. And the New Hampshire Union Leader, which boasts one of the country’s most influential conservative editorial pages, branded Paul “truly dangerous” on Thursday.

The roots of this anti-Paul alarmism go deeper than the racist newsletters that were sent out under Paul’s name in the early 1990s and that have attracted new attention in the past week. Sure, the newsletters (and Paul’s shifting explanations for them over the years) would help make him an unelectable GOP nominee, but rest assured the same intraparty voices would be railing against him with the same adamance even if they’d never emerged.

The reason has to do with Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy and his unapologetic mockery of the “clash of civilizations” ethos that has defined the post-Cold War GOP. Today’s Republican Party is dominated by Christian conservatives (44 percent of participants in the 2008 primaries identified themselves as evangelicals) and neoconservatives, who are united in their commitment to an unwavering alliance between the United States and Israel, confrontation with Iran, and a significant American presence in the Middle East. Paul’s warnings about “blowback” directly threaten this consensus.

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Legends of the fail

Paul Krugman writes: This is the way the euro ends — not with a bang but with bunga bunga. Not long ago, European leaders were insisting that Greece could and should stay on the euro while paying its debts in full. Now, with Italy falling off a cliff, it’s hard to see how the euro can survive at all.

But what’s the meaning of the eurodebacle? As always happens when disaster strikes, there’s a rush by ideologues to claim that the disaster vindicates their views. So it’s time to start debunking.

First things first: The attempt to create a common European currency was one of those ideas that cut across the usual ideological lines. It was cheered on by American right-wingers, who saw it as the next best thing to a revived gold standard, and by Britain’s left, which saw it as a big step toward a social-democratic Europe. But it was opposed by British conservatives, who also saw it as a step toward a social-democratic Europe. And it was questioned by American liberals, who worried — rightly, I’d say (but then I would, wouldn’t I?) — about what would happen if countries couldn’t use monetary and fiscal policy to fight recessions.

So now that the euro project is on the rocks, what lessons should we draw?

I’ve been hearing two claims, both false: that Europe’s woes reflect the failure of welfare states in general, and that Europe’s crisis makes the case for immediate fiscal austerity in the United States.

The assertion that Europe’s crisis proves that the welfare state doesn’t work comes from many Republicans. For example, Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of taking his inspiration from European “socialist democrats” and asserted that “Europe isn’t working in Europe.” The idea, presumably, is that the crisis countries are in trouble because they’re groaning under the burden of high government spending. But the facts say otherwise.

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New York Times discovers Netanyahu has friends in Congress

“House Republicans Discover a Growing Bond With Netanyahu” says the headline in the New York Times.

Discover? This isn’t exactly news. What the headline should say (and I know I’m fantasizing about an imaginary New York Times whose headlines don’t pull any punches) is: “House GOP trusts Netanyahu more than Obama.”

The report does acknowledge: “Unbending support for Israel has long been a bipartisan fact of American politics, but Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity in Congress now runs deeper than ever.” Or, as Pat Buchanan would put it, Capitol Hill is still Israeli occupied territory.

When the Obama administration wanted to be certain that Congress would not block $50 million in new aid to the Palestinian Authority last month, it turned to a singularly influential lobbyist: Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

At the request of the American Embassy and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Netanyahu urged dozens of members of Congress visiting Israel last month not to object to the aid, according to Congressional and diplomatic officials. Mr. Netanyahu’s intervention with Congress underscored an extraordinary intersection of American diplomacy and domestic politics, the result of an ever-tightening relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party that now controls the House.

On Tuesday, one of President Obama’s potential rivals in 2012, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, delivered a speech in New York criticizing Mr. Obama’s stance toward Israel as “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.” Mr. Perry said that he would be a guest soon of Danny Danon, the hard-right deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.

The relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party has significantly complicated the administration’s diplomatic efforts to avert a confrontation at the United Nations this week over the Palestinian bid for full membership as a state, limiting President Obama’s ability to exert pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to make concessions that could restart negotiations with the Palestinians.

One of the members of Congress who attended the meeting with Mr. Netanyahu in August, Representative Michael G. Grimm of New York, a Republican, said that it was carefully explained to the delegation that the money would be used for training Palestinian police officers who work closely with the Israeli government.

Mr. Grimm said he felt more comfortable receiving the explanation from the prime minister than from Obama administration officials.

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Rick Perry, the Likudnik

Haaretz reports:

Except for the fact that the proceedings were held in English, an Israeli attending Texas Governor Rick Perry’s “press conference” at the W Hotel in midtown Manhattan Tuesday morning might be excused for imagining that he was in the middle of a pep rally for one of Israel’s right-wing politicians, and a hard-liner at that.

Flanked by two of the Knesset’s most hard-core peace process pooh-poohers, the Likud’s Danny Danon and Shas’ Nissim Ze’ev, and enthusiastically encouraged by an organized band of Orthodox Jewish cheerleaders, Perry adopted the rhetoric of Israel’s radical right lock, stock and barrel, repeating the word “appeasement” in all its inflections, in order to hammer home a not-too-subtle association between President Obama’s Middle East peace policies in 2011 and Neville Chamberlain Munich capitulations in 1938.

Against the backdrop of the upcoming drama at the UN, Perry castigated Obama’s “arrogant” attitude towards Israel, dismissed negotiations based on the 1967 borders, issued the obligatory pledge to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, dismissed most of the Palestinians as schemers or terrorists or both and garnished, with Danon smiling contentedly at his side, with an unprecedented carte blanche for Israel to build in the settlements as much as it pleases.

Perry, obviously, harbors no hope of securing even a single vote from the 2 million strong Arab-American community, which will come as welcome news for Obama, who is increasingly and rather ironically being viewed by Arab voters as “too pro-Israel”. Furthermore, by surrounding himself with staunch Israeli right-wingers and no less zealous Orthodox figures from New York, Perry may also be signaling that, at least in the upcoming Republican primaries, he does not expect to get many votes from less conservative and more mainstream Jewish supporters, who are in any case uncomfortable with the Texas governor’s evangelical enthusiasm.

Ever since the sensational victory of Republican Bob Turner in New York’s traditionally democratic and heavily-Jewish Ninth Congressional District last week, the issue of the Jewish vote and of the candidates’ attitudes towards Israel has featured prominently in the media discourse.

Yesterday’s no-holds-barred bashing of Obama by the Republican frontrunner – endorsed, as it was, by members of Israel’s ruling coalition – is a clear sign that the injection of Israel and the importation of its divisive internal conflicts into the upcoming American election campaign may run dangerously deeper than most mainstream Jewish leaders had feared.

Though the winners and losers are still hard to predict at this early stage, it seems safe to assume that after the votes are cast come November 2012, both the spirit of political bipartisanship as well as the already–fraying unity of the American Jewish community in support of Israel will be counted as the clear-cut casualties.

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Bachmann regrets the fall of Arab dictators

National Journal reports:

Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann on Friday decried the “Arab Spring” that has toppled three dictators and given rise to pro-democracy protests across the Middle East for promoting the “rise of radical elements” across the region.

In a speech to about 400 Republicans gathered for the state party’s fall convention here, the three-term Minnesota congresswoman blamed President Obama for “the hostilities of the Arab spring” and expressed regret that “we saw (Egyptian) President (Hosni) Mubarak fall while President Obama sat on his hands.”

She got her biggest applause line of the evening when she accused Obama of asking Israel to return to its “indefensible” pre-1967 borders. Obama in May said a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the borders — with land swaps –before the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and its Arab neighbors, a position that angered some in Israel and Israel’s conservative supporters in the U.S.

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The GOP war on voting

Ari Berman writes:

As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots. “What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century,” says Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.

Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP’s effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.

All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia – cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures – Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic – including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.

Taken together, such measures could significantly dampen the Democratic turnout next year – perhaps enough to shift the outcome in favor of the GOP. “One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time,” Bill Clinton told a group of student activists in July. “Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate” – a reference to the dominance of the Tea Party last year, compared to the millions of students and minorities who turned out for Obama. “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.”

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Meet New York City’s terror-linked political kingmaker

Max Blumenthal writes:

Bob Turner, the Republican candidate campaigning to replace disgraced Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, picked up a crucial endorsement last week when Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind threw his support to him. Hikind is the former leader of the the Jewish Defense League (JDL), which the FBI lists as a terror organization. He was also a confidant of the fanatical Israeli settler leader Meir Kahane, who called for the “slaughter” of Palestinians. Under Kahane’s direction, Hikind operated a front group with the JDL cadre Victor Vancier (aka Chaim Ben Pesach), who served 10 years in prison for carrying out numerous firebomb attacks on innocent people, and openly contemplated killing the renowned Palestinian professor Edward Said. According to journalists Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman, “Hikind had been suspected [by the FBI] of similar activities” including a string of six bombings against Arab-American targets across the United States.

Hikind once told the journalist Robert I. Friedman that he supported a Jewish terrorist underground that assassinates Nazis. “If it is a group that is made up of people who are intelligent professionals and their goal is to execute those clearly responsible for killing tens of thousands, then I would have no trouble with that,” Hikind said. Hikind added that he also favored the assassination of Arab-American supporters of the PLO. The JDL was widely suspected of killing Arab-American Anti-Discrimination committee western regional director Alex Odeh in 1985, though the FBI was never able to apprehend the likely perpetrators. In 2001, JDL leaders Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel were arrested for conspiring to blow up a Los Angeles-area mosque and assassinate Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who is of Lebanese descent.

Hikind’s terrorist links were never raised by Bob Turner’s Democratic opponent, David Weprin. Instead, Weprin joined Turner in the pro-Israel competition that has become a hallmark of American political campaigns, attacking President Barack Obama’s policy towards Israel as “outrageous.”

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Rick Perry, friend of Israel, on a mission from God, calls for Ben Bernanke to be lynched

Think Progress:

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who entered the presidential campaign on Saturday, appeared to suggest a violent response would be warranted should Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke “print more money” between now and the election. Speaking just now in Iowa, Perry said, “If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.” Treason is a capital offense.

The economist, Nouriel Roubini, tweeted: “The mind of Rick Perry (his sick words on Bernanke) is not much different from that of the Norway mass murdered. Loaded words cause violence”

Meanwhile, Ron Kampeas reports:

To some conservative Jews, Texas Gov. Rick Perry would make an excellent presidential candidate. He’s been to Israel more than any other candidate in the field and has said he loves it. And Perry creates jobs.

But other Jewish conservatives seeking the anti-Obama candidate look at the three-term governor and see something arresting: He believes he’s on a mission from God.

Perry has nonplussed longtime Jewish supporters by claiming that he has been “called” to the presidency and by hosting a prayer rally this month that appealed to Jesus to save America.

Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s Right Turn columnist and a bellwether of Jewish conservatism, took liberals to task on her blog for treating the event as “a spectacle” — it was borne of deeply considered worries about the country’s parlous state, she said — but Rubin also expressed caveats about the rally.

“His words at the event were restrained but not ecumenical,” she wrote. “And his use of public office to promote the Christian event was, to me, inappropriate. The event, while scheduled last December, is still reflective of the man who would be president. Would he do this in the Oval Office? Does he not understand how many Americans might be offended? Is he lacking advice from a non-Texan perspective?”

Fred Zeidman, an influential Houston lawyer who has known Perry for decades and has hosted him at his home, said that “None of us remember him being quite as devout as he seems to be now, but we wouldn’t necessarily have known.”

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We’ve been warned: the system is ready to blow

From Britain, Larry Elliott writes:

For the past two centuries and more, life in Britain has been governed by a simple concept: tomorrow will be better than today. Black August has given us a glimpse of a dystopia, one in which the financial markets buckle and the cities burn. Like Scrooge, we have been shown what might be to come unless we change our ways.

There were glimmers of hope amid last week’s despair. Neighbourhoods rallied round in the face of the looting. The Muslim community in Birmingham showed incredible dignity after three young men were mown down by a car and killed during the riots. It was chastening to see consumerism laid bare. We have seen the future and we know it sucks. All of which is cause for cautious optimism – provided the right lessons are drawn.

Lesson number one is that the financial and social causes are linked. Lesson number two is that what links the City banker and the looter is the lack of restraint, the absence of boundaries to bad behaviour. Lesson number three is that we ignore this at our peril.

From Washington, Steven Pearlstein writes:

Another great week for Corporate America!

The economy is flatlining. Global financial markets are in turmoil. Your stock price is down about 15 percent in three weeks. Your customers have lost all confidence in the economy. Your employees, at least the American ones, are cynical and demoralized. Your government is paralyzed.

Want to know who is to blame, Mr. Big Shot Chief Executive? Just look in the mirror because the culprit is staring you in the face.

J’accuse, dude. J’accuse.

You helped create the monsters that are rampaging through the political and economic countryside, wreaking havoc and sucking the lifeblood out of the global economy.

Did you see this week’s cartoon cover of the New Yorker? That’s you in top hat and tails sipping champagne in the lifeboat as the Titanic is sinking. Problem is, nobody thinks it’s a joke anymore.

Did you presume we wouldn’t notice that you’ve been missing in action? I can’t say I was surprised. If you’d insisted on trotting out those old canards again, blaming everything on high taxes, unions, regulatory uncertainty and the lack of free-trade treaties, you would have lost whatever shred of credibility you have left.

My own bill of particulars begins right here in Washington, where over the past decade you financed and supported the growth of a radical right-wing cabal that has now taken over the Republican Party and repeatedly made a hostage of the U.S. government.

When it started out all you really wanted was to push back against a few meddlesome regulators or shave a point or two off your tax rate, but you were concerned it would look like special-interest rent-seeking. So when the Washington lobbyists came up with the clever idea of launching a campaign against over-regulation and over-taxation, you threw in some money, backed some candidates and financed a few lawsuits.

The more successful it was, however, the more you put in — hundreds of millions of the shareholders’ dollars, laundered through once-respected organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, phoney front organizations with innocent-sounding names such as Americans for a Sound Economy, and a burgeoning network of Republican PACs and financing vehicles. And thanks to your clever lawyers and a Supreme Court majority that is intent on removing all checks to corporate power, it’s perfectly legal.

And from Omaha, Nebraska, Warren Buffett writes:

Our leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

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How the GOP and America’s Arab allies support slavery

Time magazine reports:

Three days before the congressional elections last fall, Hillary Rodham Clinton stood halfway around the world, pledging to young victims of human trafficking at Cambodia’s s Siem Reap Center that they would continue to enjoy the support of the U.S. State Department, which then provided some $336,000 to the shelter. The acclaimed center, situated near the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat, was an oasis of peace for some 50 survivors who, before they were rescued or escaped, had endured slavery in brothels, where they were forced to have sex with as many as 30 men a day. At the shelter, they received counseling, studied hairdressing, learned to sew, and otherwise worked to rebuild their lives and reclaim their humanity. In the evening, they did aerobics together.

On Monday afternoon, some eight months after that visit, as she unveiled the State Department’s 11th annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report to a packed room in the department’s ornate Benjamin Franklin Room, Clinton only hinted that the result of the congressional elections had left the long-term value of her pledge to the survivors in doubt. “Even in these tight economic times, we need to find ways to do better,” Clinton told the overflow crowd.

Clinton’s confidence belied the fact that in April, Congress slashed the grant-making capacity of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. When the Republicans won the House last November, the office’s $21.2 million annual budget to fight the war on slavery was already microscopic. At the time, it was barely equal to the U.S. government’s daily budget to fight the war on drugs. For fiscal year 2012, Congress sliced away nearly a quarter of those antislavery funds, as part of its broader $8 billion State Department budget cuts.

Brian Whitaker writes:

Efforts to combat human rights abuses are easily undermined by politics. Often – and with good reason – the US and other western countries are accused of highlighting abuses by their enemies while turning a blind eye to similar abuses by their friends.

One way of pushing political considerations into the background is to look at the problem comparatively, by considering where each country stands in relation to others. That is what the US state department has been doing for 11 years now, with its global reports on human trafficking.

The result, as seen in the latest report issued on Monday, is a robust critique, which places some of the staunchest US allies – Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – in the same rotten boat as long-time foes such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

“Trafficking in persons” covers various forms of exploitation including, in the words of the international Palermo protocol, “sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.

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U.S. Libya mission exposes divisions in Congress and within GOP

The New York Times reports:

It is a familiar pattern in a government of checks and balances: members of Congress almost instinctively criticize the foreign adventures of a president from the opposite party.

But the current imbroglio in Congress over the American involvement in Libya exposes a deep and unusual foreign policy schism within the Republican Party, driven in large part by a Tea Party-infused House whose members are more fiscally conservative, particularly constitutionalist, less internationalist and, in many cases, too young to have been politically influenced by the cold war that informed the more established members of the party.

The divisions came to the fore on Tuesday when Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, introduced a measure with Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, to offer President Obama official Congressional authorization for the Libyan operation.

The legislation is an effort to blunt a series of House measures expected to seek to cut off financing for the operations in Libya as early as Thursday.

In introducing it, Mr. McCain chastised House Republicans for seeking to end the Libya mission. “Is this the time for Americans to tell all of these different audiences that our heart is not in this,” Mr. McCain said, “that we have neither the will nor the capability to see this mission through, that we will abandon our closest friends and allies on a whim? These are questions every member of Congress needs to think about long and hard, especially my Republican colleagues.”

House members of both parties and various political stripes seemed undaunted. Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, a Democrat of Ohio, will offer an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill to deny money for operations in Libya, as will Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a Republican freshman.

Meanwhile, AFP reports:

Italy on Wednesday called for an immediate halt to hostilities in Libya to allow humanitarian aid to reach the population in the strife-torn country, while NATO defended the credibility of its air war after a bomb misfired killing civilians.

On the diplomatic front, China said it recognises Libya’s opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) as an “important dialogue partner.”

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini warned on Tuesday that NATO’s credibility was “at risk” following the civilian casualties, and urged it to ensure it was not providing ammunition to Kadhafi’s propaganda war.

Frattini followed up his comments in a speech on Wednesday to the lower house of parliament in Rome.

“With regard to NATO, it is fair to ask for increasingly detailed information on results as well as precise guidelines on the dramatic errors involving civilians,” he said.

The comments came after NATO admitted a bomb misfired in Tripoli at the weekend, killing nine people according to Moamer Kadhafi’s regime.

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