Friday, April 24, 2009

Think Progress The Progress Report_April 24, 2009

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April 24, 2009

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers

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Obstructing Progress

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that in the next five weeks until Memorial Day recess, the Senate will "tackle a hefty legislative agenda that includes bills to rein in predatory practices in the housing and credit card industries and a reform of government procurement." Looking back on what Congress has accomplished since the beginning of the year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, "The three pillars of the president's budget -- education, energy and health care -- have already been advanced down the field to a significant extent in the first three months." The optimistic tone of the Democratic leaders in Congress, however, is not shared by their counterparts in the Republican Party. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said in a press conference yesterday that, in the last four months, "it's become clear to him [Obama] that the idea of bipartisanship 'was a ruse.'" However, the seeming absence of bipartisanship isn't a result of the Obama administration's lack of trying. Congressional Republicans have done little but delay key executive branch nominees and attempt to block key legislation, all the while failing to offer any alternative ideas of their own.

DELAYING NOMINEES: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objected to a motion to begin debate on the nominations of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) as Secretary of Health and Human Services, David Hayes for deputy secretary of the Interior Department, and Thomas Strickland for assistant secretary for fish and wildlife at Interior. Regarding Sebelius, McConnell said he objected because members of his caucus had not yet had time to consider her candidacy properly. However, the real reason is that a select few in the Republican caucus are attempting to delay her appointment -- at the insistence of right-wing social conservative groups -- because of her commitment to pro-choice women's health policies. The delay is reminiscent of what transpired after Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill's nomination, when a small group of Republican senators -- including John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Sam Brownback (KS) -- announced their opposition, claiming Hill "lacks experience in the Middle East." As the National Security Network's Max Bergmann pointed out, they really took issue with his desire to avoid bombing North Korea. Further, the only substantive result of delaying Hill was to hinder the Obama administration's ability to effectively and efficiently make progress in Iraq. Indeed, Gen. David Petraeus was reportedly "frustrated by the delay." A similar chain of events is likely to play out with Sebelius, Dawn Johnsen, Harold Koh, and many other key nominees. The goal in holding up Obama nominees, it should be clear by now, is not to find better qualified nominees or answer substantive concerns. Rather, it appears to be part of an attempt on the part of Republicans in Congress to "obstruct and delay" the implementation of the legislative agenda the American people voted for last November.

BLOCKING THE PROGRESSIVE AGENDA: Since January, Congress has expanded access to health care for low-income children through the passage of SCHIP Expansion, laid the ground work for economic recovery with the passage of Obama's Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and passed a budget resolution that demonstrated the Obama administration's intention to push for real progressive changes in the tax code, the health care system, and environmental regulation. On health care in particular, congressional Republicans have worked hard to register their opposition to reform. As the Wonk Room's Igor Volsky explained yesterday, "Key Republicans voted against the popular SCHIP legislation, eight Republican senators (including health care heavy weights Grassley and Hatch) voted [in committee] against Gov. Kathleen Sebelius's nomination to head the Department of Health and Human Services, misrepresented the intent of health information the stimulus, and have already taken the public option off the table." But both the Senate and House leadership are serious about making health care reform happen this year. Due to obstructionism, however, they may now have to implement health care reform through the budget reconciliation process, which would allow the reform measures to be "protected from filibusters and passed by a simple majority vote." Republicans used reconciliation to pass the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, key provisions of their signature legislative agenda in 1994, the Contract with America, and on many other occasions in the last 30 years. Now, however, the Republicans have developed a bit of "political amnesia" and are calling the use of reconciliation the "Chicago approach to governing" and "a declaration of war." Further, they are plotting retaliatory parliamentary tactics -- including refusing to attend committee hearings and demanding that the text of bills, often hundreds of pages long, be read aloud -- that would "grind the Senate to a virtual halt." Yesterday, however, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) conceded that Democrats have the "right" to pass health care reform using the reconciliation process.

FAILING TO PROVIDE AN ALTERNATIVE: While Republicans have worked hard at saying "no," they have repeatedly failed to offer realistic alternative proposals. Several days after presenting his budget proposal, Obama pointed out during a prime-time press conference that congressional Republicans were failing to offer concrete alternatives to his budget. In response, Boehner hurriedly assembled a news conference to introduce their alternative "budget." "Here it is, Mr. President," Boehner declared, brandishing a glossy 19-page document in his hand. The only problem was that Boehner's budget didn't contain any numbers. When Republicans finally offered a detailed plan on, ironically, April Fool's Day, it did not appear to make any more economic sense than the brochure of recycled ideas they released the week before. Indeed, despite the growing recession, the plan called for a five-year spending freeze which, as the Wonk Room's Pat Garofalo explained, would "negate the stimulus, while betting economic recovery will occur thanks to an abundance of supply-side tax cuts." This trend appears likely to continue. Indeed, in a week dominated by congressional hearings on energy and health care, Boehner mentioned each issue only once yesterday in his press conference -- and that was to tell reporters that House Republicans still have no alternative health care plan and no alternative energy and environment plan. "Our health care solutions group is continuing to do their work. Our energy solutions group continues to do its work." Still, he insisted that "you'll continue to see us try to be the party of better solutions."


HUMAN RIGHTS – MINERALS USED IN EVERYDAY ELECTRONIC DEVICES FUEL WORLD'S DEADLIEST CONFLICT: Today, the Enough Project published a paper highlighting the link between violence in eastern Congo -- the deadliest conflict in over 50 years -- and Western electronics corporations. Specifically, electronics companies are utilizing mined minerals as components of the equipment they sell -- such as cell phones, computer screens, and other common devices. Enough and the Grassroots Reconciliation Group are calling on the companies to publicly demonstrate they are not using minerals that fuel and finance the war. "It is no accident that the majority of the violence in eastern Congo has been carried out in areas rich with minerals. Conflict minerals remain a key source of financing for some of the most reprehensible armed groups in the world," John Norris, Enough's executive director, explained. "Bringing transparency to the consumer electronics supply chain is an essential first step if we want to transform Congo's mineral resources from a curse into an engine of growth for millions of people who remain trapped by both violence and poverty." Enough has also kicked off a consumer-led initiative through the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign to compel the 21 largest electronic companies in the United States to ensure that their products are conflict-free. "As consumers and global citizens, we have a critical role to play in demanding that companies and governments exercise leverage over the supply chain," says Enough Co-Founder John Prendergast.

CIVIL RIGHTS -- U.S. ATTORNEY UNDER BUSH APPROVED WARRANTLESS CELL PHONE TRACKING: While serving as a U.S. attorney during the Bush administration, Christopher Christie tracked the whereabouts of citizens through their cell phones without warrants. The ACLU obtained the documents detailing the spying program from the Justice Department in an ongoing lawsuit over cell phone tracking. While the documents reveal 79 such cases on or after Sept. 12, 2001, they do not specify how many of the applications were made during Christie's tenure. Christie served as U.S. attorney from Jan. 17, 2002 through November 2008. The new revelations about the cell phone tracking program under Christie is yet another example of the warrantless spying programs authorized under the Bush administration. Previous programs approved without a court order or warrant have included the secret program to monitor radiation levels at over 100 Muslim sites and the National Security Agency spying program on the phone and e-mail communications of thousands of people inside the U.S.

RADICAL RIGHT -- REP. SHIMKUS SAYS CAPPING CO2 IS A GREATER 'ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY' THAN 9/11: Yesterday, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) described President Obama's energy plan as "the largest assault on democracy and freedom in this country that I've ever experienced." Speaking at a hearing for the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy and Security Act -- which if passed, will introduce stricter regulations on greenhouse gas emissions in order to build a clean energy economy -- Shimkus made his intense fear of the legislation clear, saying, "I've lived through some tough times in Congress -- impeachment, two wars, terrorist attacks. I fear this more than all of the above activities that have happened." Shimkus's comments, however, are not the first nonsensical remarks he has made about environmental policy. Earlier this year, the congressman asserted that there is no need for a cap-and-trade system to limit CO2 emissions both because CO2 is "plant food" and because carbon emissions were much lower "in the age of the dinosaurs," therefore yielding a "theological debate that this is a carbon-starved planet, not too much carbon." He has also claimed that global warming is not an issue since "the earth will end only when God declares its time to be over."


In the debate over whether to release the Office of Legal Counsel torture memos, President Obama faced "one of the sharpest policy divides of his young administration." On one side was Obama's top counterterrorism adviser and CIA director Leon Panetta; on the other was Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen, White House counsel Gregory Craig, Attorney General Eric Holder, and DNI Dennis Blair.

Since President Obama indicated that he would be open to an investigation into the Bush administration's authorization of torture, pressure has mounted for a full inquiry. However, the White House and Democratic leadership in the Senate signaled yesterday that "they would block for now any effort" to establish an independent inquiry into the matter.

Last night, the Obama administration agreed to "release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses" at U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan under the Bush administration. This marks the first time photos from prisons other than Abu Ghraib will be made public. A "substantial number" of photographs are set to be released by May 28.

According to a "previously undisclosed Iraqi government tally" obtained by the Associated Press, at least "87,215 Iraqis have been killed in violence since 2005." Yesterday, at least "80 people died and 120 others were injured" in three suicide bombings in Iraq.

Congressional Democrats are preparing to "deliver a big gift to President Obama on his 100th day in office: a fiscal 2010 budget resolution that makes room for his top domestic policy priorities." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that "budget negotiators could complete work on a final plan by Monday, clearing a path for House and Senate passage by the middle of next week."

In late 2005, then-attorney general Alberto Gonzales told then-CIA director Porter Goss "to hold off on briefing lawmakers about the conversation" between Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) and an Israeli intelligence official. "One reason Mr. Gonzales intervened...was to protect Ms. Harman because they saw her as a valuable administration ally in urging The New York Times not to publish" its 2005 article about warrantless wiretapping.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen said in an interview to be broadcast today that he is "extremely concerned" about the Taliban moving closer to Pakistan's capital of Islamabad. "We're certainly moving closer to the tipping point" where Pakistan could be overtaken by Islamic extremists, he said. Mullen added that he feels "events continue to move in the wrong direction" in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"The Obama administration is preparing to admit into the United States as many as seven Chinese Muslims who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay in the first release of any of the detainees into this country." But the Homeland Security Department has already "registered concerns about the plan."

And finally: Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are annoying Meghan McCain. Yesterday, McCain guest-hosted ABC's "The View" and offered some blunt talk for Rove and Cheney, two of the most prominent critics of the Obama administration. "It's very unprecedented for someone like Karl Rove or Dick Cheney to be criticizing the president," McCain said. "My big criticism is just, you had your eight years, go away."

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The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation yesterday to extend federal hate crimes law to cover offenses based on sexual orientation.


CALIFORNIA: "California became the first state in the nation Thursday to mandate carbon-based reductions in transportation fuels."

MASSACHUSETTS: Landlords are seeking a ban on smoking in homes.

MISSOURI: Gov. Jay Nixon (D) issues "an executive order requiring state agencies under his direction to reduce their energy consumption by at least 2 percent a year for the next decade."


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"Everything that was done in this [torture] program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training."
-- Vice President Cheney's daughter, Liz Cheney, 4/23/09, justifying the Bush administration's authorization of torture


"Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime."
-- Office of Legal Counsel memo authorizing torture, 5/30/05 | contact us | donate | unsubscribe | archives

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