Friday, March 27, 2009

Blue Dogs: GOP Rightwing Hounds in Disguise

Blue Dog Dems
Threaten the
Obama Agenda

By Bernie Horn
Campaign for America's Future

Remember what happened to the President’s stimulus legislation? It was watered down through a series of amendments followed by a painful “deal” with three Republicans whose votes were needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. It is happening again with President Obama’s budget. But this time, Democrats are the ones threatening to ruin the legislation.

Over the past few weeks, many Democrats in Congress—especially in the Senate—have been speaking out and organizing against crucial elements of the Obama budget. They are trying to weaken or eliminate the most progressive initiatives, including his plans for health care for all, energy independence, and a shift of the tax burden from the middle class to the wealthy.

Activists need to speak up now, before it’s too late. Both the House and Senate Budget Committees are expected to vote on their respective budget resolutions late this week, and the budget battle will likely reach the House and Senate floors next week.

Here’s the short version of my appeal. Please go to a web page set up by the Campaign for America’s Future that makes it easy for you to contact “Blue Dog” conservative Democrats in the House and would-be Blue Dogs in the Senate. Tell them we elected Barack Obama to bring change to Washington—they should stop blocking the change we need.

Now, here’s the longer version.

President Obama is doing something unusual. He is trying to win preliminary approval for a sweeping range of reforms by putting them in the FY 2010 budget. As Paul Krugman explains, “President Obama’s new budget represents a huge break, not just with the policies of the past eight years, but with policy trends over the past 30 years.” Robert Reich agrees, saying that through this budget “Obamanomics finally reverses and repudiates the economic philosophy that has dominated America since 1981…It’s revolutionary.”

It’s a gutsy strategy, and one that ought to succeed because Democrats control both the House and Senate. You see, Republicans can’t kill this budget—only Democrats can. The budget resolution operates under special rules, the most important being it’s not subject to filibuster. So the budget can easily pass both the House and Senate without a single Republican vote. In fact, right now it seems unlikely that any Republican will support Obama’s budget.

Unfortunately, the Obama budget is under intense attack from so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats. The Blue Dog Democrats is a caucus of 47 U.S. Representatives who describe themselves as a “Coalition of Conservative Democrats.” Last week, Senator Evan Bayh announced the creation of a similar group of 16 Democratic Senators (including Joe Lieberman).

Members of both groups have staked out positions against key budget provisions—opposing especially Obama’s health, energy, and tax reform initiatives.

Progressive budget priorities are especially threatened in the Senate. Parliamentary rules allow Speaker Pelosi to limit amendments on the House floor. But the Senate battle over amendments could get ugly with the Bayh bloc holding enough votes to slice out progressive programs.

Senator Bayh’s group wants to be considered “moderate,” but their complaints about President Obama’s policies are conservative complaints. The creation of this organization appears to be a project of conservative special interests. And the timing of Bayh’s announcement makes it obvious that the group’s first priority is to attack the parts of President Obama’s budget that conservatives abhor.

It’s time to make the Blue Dogs behave. Please click here, go to the CAF web page, and tell the disloyal Democrats to support Barack Obama’s budget—and stop blocking the change we need.

P.S. about “budget reconciliation” for all you policy wonks:

There is a parliamentary procedure called “budget reconciliation” which is important to the current budget debate. To trigger the reconciliation process, Congress has to include provisions in the Budget Resolution that instruct the appropriations committees to approve specific provisions by a certain date. Those provisions are packaged into a reconciliation bill that is subject to special rules—the most important being that it is not subject to filibuster in the Senate.

Over the years, presidents have used the budget reconciliation process to pass very controversial matters. As the Washington Post explains, “Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both used the tactic to win deficit-reduction packages, while George W. Bush used it to push through his signature tax cuts.”

Progressives want to include language in the Budget Resolution that make President Obama’s health care and energy “cap-and-trade” initiatives subject to the reconciliation process—allowing them to be approved in the Senate by a simple majority vote. In other words, progressives would like the chance to adopt these crucial policies through majority rule—instead of letting a minority of only 41 Senators block them from enactment.

Seems reasonable. But Blue Dogs in the Senate are screaming foul. According to news reports, they have already killed the possibility of making “cap-and-trade” part of the reconciliation process, and they’re not sure about health care. At present, it appears that the House Budget Resolution will include a reconciliation provision on health care but not “cap-and-trade,” and the Senate Resolution will probably include neither. If that happens, the issue of reconciliation will be put off while Congress recesses for two weeks (April 4 to 19) and the matter will be raised again in the House-Senate conference committee. If the final Budget Resolution includes reconciliation language that instructs the appropriations committees to fund health care reform, that up-or-down vote would probably take place in September.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

New Hawks Emerge In Camp Obama

Photo: Karzai and Obama

'Progressive' Think
Tank Tells Obama
to Escalate Afghan War

By Tom Hayden

Huffington Post

The Center for American Progress has positioned itself as a "progressive" Washington think tank, especially suited to channel new thinking and expertise into the Obama administration. It therefore is deeply disappointing that CAP has issued a call for a ten-year war in Afghanistan, including an immediate military escalation, just as President Obama prepares to unveil his Afghanistan/Pakistan policies to the American public and NATO this week.

It is likely that Obama will follow most of CAP's strategic advice, assuming the think tank to be the progressive wing of what's possible within the Beltway.

That means a long counter-insurgency war ahead, with everything from massive incarcerations and detention to Predator strikes that amass increasing civilian casualties. CAP begins by calling on the president to meet the request of his commander in Afghanistan for another 15,000 troops in addition to the 17,000 Obama already has committed, which would bring the near-term US total to 70,000. To pay for these additional troops, CAP proposes redirecting $25 billion annually from combat in Iraq to Afghanistan. In addition, CAP favors up to $5 billion annually for diplomatic and economic assistance, also from a redirection of Iraq spending.

Even assuming the economic assistance reaches villages instead of corrupt middlemen, CAP's primary emphasis is a military one, sending larger numbers of American troops on a counterinsurgency mission in southern and eastern Afghanistan, as well as the outskirts of Kabul. Make no mistake, the American mission will be to fight, kill and capture, and, is intended to leave NATO allies in secondary training roles. The CAP proposal seems to flesh out the Obama strategy already described in a New York Times January 28 headline, "Aides Say Obama's Afghan Aims Elevate War Over Development." The CAP report calculates that in FY 2009, "the ration of funding for military forces versus non-military international engagement is 18 to 1."

There is no exit strategy contemplated in the CAP proposal, although the president apparently is been asking for one behind the scenes. Nor is there any projected cap on future escalation The CAP timeline, front-loaded with military force, is as fanciful about Afghanistan/Pakistan as the neo-conservatives were towards Iraq in the Nineties:

- in the next 18 months, a combat/counterinsurgency push to prevent Afghanistan from being a "safe haven for terrorist and extremist groups with a global reach"; prevent the destabilization of Pakistan by creating "a stable civilian government committed to working toward the elimination of terrorist safe havens" there.

- In three to five years, create a "viable Afghan economy", curb the poppy trade, promote democracy and human rights, and resolve regional tensions.

- In ten years, build an Afghan state that can defend itself, and "prepare for full military withdrawal."

As a practical matter, all that is certain is that there will be blood. When the problem is a nail, reach for the hammer. But military occupation, particularly a surge of US troops into the Pashtun region in southern Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the surest way to inflame nationalist resistance and greater support for the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai said last December that "the coalition went around Afghan villages, burst into people's homes and has been committing extraditional killings in our country."

A United Nations investigator made the same point in 2008, accusing the CIA and Special Forces "of conducting nighttime raids and killing civilians in Afghanistan with impunity." Pakistan's prime minister said the same years that "if America wants to see itself clean of terrorists, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed."

As a January 2009 report by the Carnegie Endowment concluded, "the only meaningful way to halt the insurgency's momentum is to start withdrawing troops. The presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban."

CAP takes no notice of the torture and detention without human rights protections at Kabul's Bagram prison, now undergoing massive expansion. Obama's team already says his anti-torture executive order does not cover the hundreds detained in Afghanistan, so it is likely that the American forces will launch a massive "preventive incarceration" campaign in the months ahead. CAP's silence on this matter is especially disturbing since the think tank expressed deep concern over the same policies in Iraq.

Many Americans are confused, but it is not necessary to have a West Point or Ivy League degree to understand the heart of the matter. Whether it is the street of LA or the alleys of Kabul, law-and-order always comes first along with promises of jobs and development "later", a later that gradually becomes never. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the levels of suffering are among the most extreme in the world, and from suffering, from having nothing to live for, comes the will to die for a cause.

United Nations recent development data places Afghanistan 173rd out of 178 countries; Pakistan is 136th. According to such estimates, about sixty percent of children in the Pashtun areas are "moderately" or "severely" stunted. In Afghanistan as a whole, such children will be spared miserable lives because the country has the highest infant mortality rate in the world. No more need be said.

As to the threat from al Qaeda, it is understandable that the president would define himself as an aggressive commander-in-chief. But he must wonder if our killing so many civilians and stunting so many children won't result in yet another generation dying to hate us. He must wonder if he is squandering the good will of the world, including the Muslim world, by sending more Americans to kill and die in a quagmire. He must recognize that he is putting his eight-year presidency on the line.

He must wonder too, as he approaches his meetings in Europe, why NATO is occupying countries so far from its base in the mainly-white Western world. It is hard to avoid the hint that the white man's burden is falling on the shoulders of our first African-American president.

The only solution to the Afghanistan/Pakistan quagmires has to be a regional one, as argued forcefully by Tariq Ali in his recent book, as well as by Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid, but NATO is the stranger in the neighborhood. CAP recognizes this critical problem, as does Hillary Clinton who will meet the regional players at the Hague next week. The problem is that NATO, burdened with imperial assumptions, would like China, Russia, and the Central Asian Republics constituting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to be satellite parties to the Western occupation of Afghanistan/Pakistan. But the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, while having serious stakes in quelling instability in the region, calls on the US and NATO to go home.

Can the burden be sustained politically and economically for ten years more? Already Canada and the Netherlands have set timelines for withdrawing their forces, assigned now to the most violent regions of southern Afghanistan. Germany may be the next to balk. And with the American economy in shambles, can anyone envision a war whose costs will exceed one trillion dollars a decade from now? Only the neo-conservatives, if Iraq is any example,, which makes it tragic that CAP has aligned itself with their strategy of the "long war."


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Just What Is a 'Green Job' Anyway?

Green Jobs:
More Than
You Think

By Christopher Weber

In These Times
March 25, 2009 - Until recently, most people had never heard of "green-collar jobs." Yet the phrase is suddenly on policymakers' tongues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has spoken out for such jobs. So has Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Last year, incoming Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis introduced a green-collar bill in the House. Even Republican Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has noted, "the development of green jobs will be one of the biggest changes in our economy since the industrial revolution."

For his part, President Obama has made green-collar jobs a major part of his approach to the economic crisis. On Dec. 6, he said, "We will create millions of jobs by making the single-largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s."

But will these jobs be as plentiful -- and as worker-friendly -- as the new administration and environmentalists would have us believe? And can green businesses really create opportunities for workers given the current economic crisis?

An Economic Shift

Green-collar jobs are already a growing part of the U.S. economy. As demand has risen for clean energy and environmentally responsible manufacturing, workers are turning out everything from hybrid cars to organic cotton underwear.

In most scenarios, a green-collar worker is one who translates new environmental technologies for consumers, designing and manufacturing goods that use fewer materials and less energy than those of just a few years ago. Environmental groups from the Sierra Club to the League of Conservation Voters say these jobs are a victory for the environment and for workers.

"This is a great time for us to ramp up the level of investment in clean energy," says Pete Altman, climate campaign director for the National Resources Defense Council. "Significantly more people can be employed in energy-efficiency retrofits and building wind and solar plants per dollar invested than just buying natural gas or oil or coal."

One of the grandest election promises -- aside from liberating the nation from foreign oil -- was to create a sizeable pool of new jobs. On the campaign trail, Obama offered a plan to create 5 million green-collar jobs over 10 years. He promised to support this initiative with $150 billion from the federal coffers.

During his Dec. 6 address, Obama condensed the proposed timeframe for this green investment to two years. He outlined green jobs and infrastructure improvements as part of his much larger economic stimulus plan intended to jolt the anemic U.S. economy. Up to $100 billion would go to upgrading the nation's infrastructure, with schools, hospitals and communication systems targeted for "green" improvements.

At the same time, more radical visions for the green economy are gaining support. Two progressive think tanks, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Apollo Alliance, have argued for "green recovery" plans -- economic roadmaps that emphasize the key role of green jobs.

CAP commissioned a study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Unveiled in September, "Green Recovery: A Plan to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy" urges investment in retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency; expanding public transit and freight rail; building a cutting-edge electrical grid; and developing wind, solar and biofuel energy. It also notes:

Public and private investment in energy efficiency reduces energy demand and lowers energy costs. … Lowering energy costs for educational buildings eventually means more funds for teachers, books and scholarships. Retrofitting hospitals over time releases money for better patient care.

These improvements will lead to the creation of 2 million jobs in two years, according to the study's authors, Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, James Heintz and Helen Scharber. About half of the jobs would be in construction and manufacturing. The rest would come as suppliers, retail and other industries ramp up behind this growth. All told, the authors estimate that their approach would cost taxpayers about $100 billon over two years.

Several unions, including the AFL-CIO, support an aggressive stimulus like the one proposed by the study.

"I think everybody in the labor movement recognizes that we have to make this economy more sustainable as well as more just," says Ron Blackwell, AFL-CIO chief economist. "The particular challenge is to make the transition to a greener economy in a way that does not impose disproportionate costs on working families."

Blackwell points out that the $150 billion Obama has committed to a green economy is only a first step. Still, he says the precedent is encouraging him: "We need to shift from an economy driven by asset inflation -- equities in the 1990s and housing since 2000 -- to more sustainable, public-led growth to restore the competitiveness of our national economy."

Cleaner, Greener Labor

Labor unions and their workers could benefit by organizing this emerging green workforce.

"A lot of industries that stand to grow and prosper in a green economy are ones that you might not expect," says David Foster, longtime regional director for the United Steelworkers. "A lot of people think of steel as a dirty, un-environmentally friendly industry, but the average wind turbine shaft contains 300 cubic tons of steel."

Foster currently serves as the executive director for the Blue-Green Alliance, a labor-environmental partnership that wants to see quality jobs emerge from green investment. The alliance began with a 2006 pact between the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club. In October, the Communications Workers of America joined the alliance, as did the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"We've been building partnerships between environmental groups and organizations, especially labor, because we have a lot in common," explains the NRDC's Altman. "Some of the toughest problems that we face in the United States can be answered by investing in and building our economy around clean energy sources. That creates the environmental benefits we need to keep our world healthy and clean. These are also energy sources that put more people to work by creating more good-paying jobs than traditional energy sources."

The emphasis on emerging technologies might make it seem that workers trained in the old "brown" economy are in trouble. But that's far from true.

"Virtually all the jobs that will be generated by green investments will be for people doing the kind of work they are already doing," says Robert Pollin, a University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor of economics and lead author of "Green Recovery." "In my view, there is no such thing as ‘green skills' as distinct from the skills most workers already have."

Unions aren't championing green-collar jobs solely out of labor concerns. Foster says they're also moved by environmental values.

Six years after the Steelworkers was founded, it helped launch investigations into the 1948 "Killer Fog" disaster in Donora, Pa., in which toxic fumes from several steel mills became trapped over the town, killing 20 people. By 1955, these investigations led to the passage of the state's Clean Air Act, the first of its kind in the nation.

"Steelworkers have drawn close connections between pollution in the workplace and pollution generally," says Foster.

Where Are the Jobs for Women?

A growing chorus of feminist writers and economists are asking about women's place -- or lack of one -- in the green economy. In a Dec. 9 New York Times op-ed, Linda Hirshman, author of Get to Work: A Call to Arms for Women of the World, wrote that most green-collar job proposals, including Obama's, focus too heavily on construction and engineering trades dominated by men.

"It is possible that you could, without employing a single female, build your way out of this economic crisis if you spent a humongous amount of money on really energy-efficient things like railroads," Hirshman says. "But by concentrating so hard on this macho attitude toward environmental pollution, you would miss an opportunity to solve two problems at once" -- that is, global warming and gender inequality.

Hirshman points out that Obama, in his December address, compared his building program to President Eisenhower's 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act, a parallel that she says dismays her. "I think Barack Obama and his staff have been watching too many episodes of ‘Bob the Builder,' with their determination to build roads and bridges," she says. "Roads and bridges are what got us into this climate pickle in the first place."

Hirshman says innovative ways exist for women to enter the green-collar workforce in large numbers. "Nine percent of the construction workers in the United States are female, a very tiny number. If you exclude the secretaries, it's 3 percent." An affirmative action program for all federally funded construction projects could dramatically boost this number, she says.

Women workers could also spearhead efforts to retrofit the nation's buildings, Hirshman argues. Given the experience of many women as teachers and communicators, they are ideally suited, she says, to serve as "green counselors," working with homeowners and landlords to weatherize homes for greater energy efficiency. "You wouldn't have to have apprenticeship in the construction trades or a degree in engineering or any of the things that are current barriers to women."

Ensuring "Green-Collar" Jobs Are Good Jobs

Greg Norton, a retired union steelworker in Dundee, Ill., says he worries about "the long-term prospect of keeping [green] jobs in the United States. The same forces in the marketplace that have managed to destabilize the housing industry can just as easily export any new ‘green' manufacturing jobs to wherever they find most profitable for themselves."

Others like Laura Owen, a labor economist at DePaul University, find hope in the promised federal investment. "The question I would ask is whether the technological knowledge for outsourcing green technology exists in all other countries," she says. "Encouraging production on a larger scale through government assistance can help reduce costs and give the new firms advantages over future competitors."

However, current trade agreements pose a significant barrier to any federal invesment in green jobs. According to consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, a stimulus package that provides funds, tax breaks or loan guarantees to green businesses could run askew of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules banning such subsidies.

Thus, trade reform is critical to building the green economy. Obama has indicated he wants trade rules renegotiated in favor of green businesses. He wrote to the Oregon Fair Trade Coalition last May, "I will take all the necessary and appropriate steps to ensure that policies designed to reduce global warming pollution are not constrained by trade agreements."

What those "appropriate steps" entail remains to be seen, but the United States will have to incorporate environmental standards to a much greater degree than the WTO does. Under current law, corporations can elude emission standards by setting up their dirtier operations overseas -- nullifying green jobs in the process. To address this problem, in December 2007, Obama pledged to the Iowa Fair Trade Campaign to have "binding environmental standards" added to trade agreements, "so that companies from one country cannot gain an economic advantage by destroying the environment."

As for wages, the best way to ensure that all green-collar positions pay a living wage, according to Pollin, is to push for a low unemployment rate of 4 percent or less. "Historically, those circumstances have forced wage increases and better conditions for low-wage workers," he says. "Beyond that, we need the traditional institutions -- decent minimum wages and union bargaining power -- to make sure the employment expansion generates decent jobs, not poverty-level jobs."

Van Jones, founder and president of the advocacy group Green for All, argues that the new economy must address social and economic injustices. In his book, The Green-Collar Economy, Jones writes that green jobs can uplift marginalized workers:

The green economy should not just be about reclaiming thrown-away stuff. It should be about reclaiming thrown-away communities. … Formerly incarcerated people deserve a second shot at life -- and all obstacles to their being able to find that second chance in the green sector should be removed. Also, our urban youth deserve the opportunity to be part of something promising. Across this nation, let's honor the cry of youth in Oakland, Calif., for "green jobs, not jails."

Activists and local politicians are now building training programs so that low-income workers, people of color and immigrants can access green-collar jobs.

In New York, Sustainable South Bronx runs a program that teaches participants how to install green roofs, clean toxic spills and restore rivers. Of the 128 low-income workers who have completed the program, 85 percent currently have jobs. In California, Women's Action to Gain Economic Security has helped low-income immigrant women build four successful green housecleaning cooperatives that employ hundreds. And in Chicago, Growing Home has trained 100 formerly incarcerated, homeless or addicted individuals in organic farming. Sixty-five program graduates are now employed, and 90 have found permanent housing.

In 2008, similar training programs opened in Los Angeles, Newark and Oakland. Obama has also pledged to expand federal job-training programs to include green skills.

But for all its promise, the green economy offers no guarantees of justice for workers. Campaigns to raise wages, to improve benefits and to unify labor will remain as important in the green future as they are in the present.

© 2009 In These Times All rights reserved.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

High Speed Rail as Depression Buster

Wisconsin wants
Obama to foot
$519 million for
110-mph train

By Larry Sandler and Patrick Marley
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

March 20, 2009 - State officials are seeking federal stimulus money to pay the full $519 million cost of a proposed 110-mph Milwaukee-to-Madison passenger train line, not just part of it, Gov. Jim Doyle says.

If the grant is approved, trains could be running as soon as late 2012 or early 2013, cutting the travel time between Wisconsin's two largest cities to 1 hour, 7 minutes, officials say. That's about 20 minutes faster than the same trip by automobile, depending on traffic.

Service would start with six daily round trips, connecting Milwaukee's downtown Amtrak-Greyhound station with a new station at Madison's Dane County Regional Airport, with additional stops in Brookfield, Oconomowoc and Watertown.

At the same time, service on Amtrak's Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line would increase from the current seven daily round trips to 10, with all of the Madison-to-Milwaukee trains continuing to Chicago. If Chicago wins its bid for the 2016 Olympics, the trains would provide a link between the main Olympic sites and the cycling venues in Madison.

But even without the Olympics, authorities expect the Milwaukee-to-Madison trains to carry 1.08 million riders a year within a couple years after service starts, said Randy Wade, the state's passenger rail chief. Hiawatha ridership jumped 24% last year, to 766,167.

Republicans have been critical of the possibility that the state would have to pick up part of the operating costs of the new train line, regardless of how much the federal government pays to establish the route. Early plans predicted fares would cover all operating costs within a few years after service started. But Wade backed away from that projection, saying only that operating costs remained under study.

The Milwaukee-to-Madison route is part of the Wisconsin-led Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a nine-state effort to connect cities throughout America's heartland with fast, frequent passenger trains. But the plans drawn up in the mid to late 1990s were moving slowly until the stimulus package appropriated $8 billion for high-speed rail nationwide.

Now Doyle and Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi are enthusiastic about the route's prospects.

Previously, the state had planned to apply for $137 million to upgrade tracks on just a portion of the route, from Milwaukee to Watertown, and to build a freight rail bypass to improve passenger service on the Hiawatha line.

But that was when state officials thought the stimulus bill would include a little more than $1 billion for high-speed rail. After they saw that figure had soared to $8 billion in the final deal, they set their sights higher.

With so much money available from the federal government, Doyle said, Wisconsin has a good chance of getting money to upgrade tracks all the way to Madison. Stimulus money also may be available for preliminary work on the next stage of the line, which would go to St. Paul.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself, because we're going to have to apply for this money, but Wisconsin is particularly well-situated," Doyle said. "We are one of the few states in the country - and I think we're talking about no more than two or three states - that actually have so-called shovel-ready projects ready to go, meaning design work is done, right-of-way is there and environmental permits have been met, have been issued."

Outside the Midwest, 10 other regions are competing for high-speed rail dollars. But Busalacchi said he expected the Milwaukee-to-Madison project to benefit from the backing of Democratic U.S. Reps. David Obey (D-Wausau) and Jim Oberstar of Minnesota. In the House, Obey is chairman of the Appropriations Committee and Oberstar is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Doyle, a major backer of President Barack Obama during the campaign, was among the governors who advised Obama on how to shape the stimulus. And Doyle has said he talked to Obey repeatedly, sometimes several times a day, while the legislation was being drafted.

Future plans call for high-speed rail on three other Wisconsin routes, including:

Madison to St. Paul: The Wisconsin portion of this segment would cost $456 million. Intermediate stops for the six daily round trips would include Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Tomah, La Crosse and the Minnesota cities of Winona and Red Wing.

Milwaukee to Green Bay: This route would cost $421 million. Trains would run seven daily round trips, with intermediate stops on Milwaukee's northwest side and in West Bend, Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Neenah, in the Appleton area.

Milwaukee to Chicago: Upgrading the Wisconsin portion of the current Hiawatha route to 110-mph service would cost $419 million, serving the existing stations downtown, at Mitchell International Airport and in Sturtevant and Glenview, Ill. Once that's done, service would jump to 17 round trips daily, with seven trains continuing to Green Bay and 10 continuing to Madison, with six of the Madison-bound trains continuing to St. Paul.

Even before the full upgrade, the freight rail bypass would allow Milwaukee-to-Chicago service to increase to eight round trips daily. That part of the cost is included in the $519 million Madison-to-Milwaukee price tag. Also, the federal government and Canadian Pacific Railway are splitting the $10 million cost of track improvements this year on the Milwaukee-to-Chicago route.

For the long-term plan to work, neighboring states must compete successfully for their share of the federal rail money, Doyle said.

"I hope that you'll see a broader Midwest effort made here, because ultimately the vision is a Midwest rail linkage through Chicago by which you could go to St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland (and) Minneapolis through Milwaukee and Madison," Doyle said.

Technically, the Midwestern trains wouldn't meet the international standard for high-speed rail, which is closer to 220 mph, well above even the 150 mph top speed of America's fastest train, Amtrak's Acela line in the northeast, said Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. Leaders of the Midwestern effort have said 110 mph service would be more affordable than true high-speed rail.

Stimulus in state To read more of the Journal Sentinel's coverage of the federal stimulus package and how Wisconsin will spend its share, go to

Find this article at:


Monday, March 9, 2009

GOP Right Seeding Armed Anti-Obama Revolt

GOP Right Recycling
Anti-Clinton Smear
Tactics on Obama

By Robert Parry
Consortium News

March 9, 2009 - The official history of what happened during Bill Clinton's difficult first two years -- which ended in a sweeping Republican congressional victory in 1994 -- focuses on the GOP's united resistance to his economic plan and Hillary Clinton's failed health care reform. But there was a darker side to the political damage inflicted on the early Clinton administration.

Republicans and their right-wing allies disseminated what -- in a covert operation -- would be called "black propaganda." Some exaggerated minor scandals, like the Travel Office firings and Clinton's Whitewater real-estate deal, while other key figures on the Right, such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell, spread ugly conspiracy rumors linking Clinton to "mysterious deaths" and cocaine smuggling.

Sometimes, these multiplying "Clinton scandals" built on themselves with the help of their constant repetition in both the right-wing and mainstream news media. For instance, overheated accusations about some personnel changes at the White House Travel Office pushed deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster into a deep depression.

Then, on July 30, 1993, a distraught Foster went to Fort Marcy Park along the Potomac River and shot himself. The Right quickly transformed the tragedy into a new front in the anti-Clinton psychological warfare, with Foster's death giving rise to a cottage industry for conspiracy theorists and a new way to raise doubts about Clinton.

Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, among others, popularized the notion that Foster may have been killed elsewhere, with his body then transported to Fort Marcy Park. Repeated official investigations confirmed the obvious facts of Foster's suicide but could not quell the conspiracy rumors. [For the fullest account of the Foster case, see Dan Moldea's A Washington Tragedy.]

The "mystery" around Foster's death also bolstered the "mysterious deaths" list, which mostly contained names of people who had only tangential connections to Clinton. The effectiveness of the list was the sheer volume of the names, creating the illusion that Clinton must be a murderer even though there was no real evidence implicating Clinton in any of the deaths.

As the list was blast-faxed far and wide, one of my right-wing sources called me up about the list and said, "even if only a few of these are real, that's one helluva story." I responded that if the President of the United States had murdered just one person that would be "one helluva story," but that there was no evidence that Clinton was behind any of the deaths.

Other dark Clinton "mysteries" were spread through videos, like "The Clinton Chronicles" that Falwell hawked on his "Old-Time Gospel Hour" television show. Plus, salacious tales about the personal lives of the Clintons were popularized via right-wing magazines, such as the American Spectator, and the rapidly expanding world of right-wing talk radio.

The Right also generated broader conspiracy theories about "black helicopters" threatening patriotic Americans with a United Nations takeover. The paranoia fed the rise of a "militia movement" of angry white men who dressed up in fatigues and went into the woods for paramilitary training.

By fall 1994, Clinton's stumbling performance in office and the public doubts created by the black propaganda opened the way for a stunning Republican victory. Recognizing the influence of talk radio in spreading the Clinton smears, House Republicans made Rush Limbaugh an honorary member of the GOP caucus.

However, the forces that the anti-Clinton psy-war campaign set in motion had unintended consequences. In the months after the Republicans gained control of Congress, one pro-militia extremist, Timothy McVeigh, took the madness to the next step and blew up the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people. [See's "The Clinton Coup d'Etat?"]

Reprising the Smears

Now, 16 years since the start of Clinton's presidency, the Republicans and their right-wing allies are again on the outside of Washington power and are back studying the lessons of 1993-94. Only a month into Obama's presidency, there are some striking similarities in the two historical moments.

In both cases, the Democrats inherited recessions and huge budget deficits from Republican presidents named Bush. In both cases, congressional Republicans rallied against the economic package of the new President hoping to strangle the young Democratic administrations in their cradles.

And, as congressional Republicans worked on a more overt political level, their media allies and other operatives were getting busy at subterranean depths, reviving attack lines from the campaigns to sow doubts about the two Democratic presidents -- and trying to whip up the right-wing base into a near revolutionary fervor.

So far at least, the Republicans are experiencing less success against Barack Obama than they did against Bill Clinton. According to opinion polls, Obama remains widely popular with an American public that favors his more activist agenda for reviving the American economy and confronting systemic problems like energy, health care and education.

Though Republicans scored points inside the Beltway with their opposition to Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill -- and their complaints that Obama "failed" in his bipartisan outreach to them -- the GOP tactics appear to have backfired with the American people.

Gauging public opinion one month into Obama's presidency, polls found that most Americans faulted the Republicans for rebuffing Obama's gestures of bipartisanship, and a New York Times/CBS News poll discovered that a majority said Obama "should pursue the priorities he campaigned on … rather than seek middle ground with Republicans."

But the Republicans seem incapable of coming up with any other strategy than to seek Obama's destruction, much as they torpedoed Clinton. The three moderate Republican senators who supported the stimulus package – Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter -- were widely denounced by the right-wing media as "traitors."

Indeed, the Republican Party arguably has become captive to the angry right-wing media that the GOP conservatives did so much to help create in the late 1970s, after the Vietnam War defeat and Richard Nixon's Watergate debacle.

This Right-Wing Machine proved useful in protecting Ronald Reagan during the Iran-Contra scandal; undermining Clinton in the 1990s; dirtying up Al Gore in 2000; and wrapping George W. Bush in the protective garb of a full-scale cult of personality after 9/11.

But the machine wore down in its defense of Bush's multitude of disasters and ultimately could not generate enough suspicions about Obama to elect John McCain. Still, it remains a potent force in the country and particularly among the Republican "base."

It is also a machine that can run only on the high-octane fuel of anger and hate. If it tried to down-shift to a more responsible approach to politics, it would stall out, losing its core audience of angry white men who feel deeply aggrieved by their loss of status.

In turn, Republican leaders can't disown the right-wing media infrastructure that has advanced their interests for so long. In the first month of Obama's presidency, the congressional Republicans fell in line behind Rush Limbaugh's openly declared desire for Obama to fail.

Now, the Republicans may see little choice but to bet on the ability of their Right-Wing Machine to continue spreading doubts and hysteria about Obama.

More books and DVDs can be expected soon, recycling the 2008 campaign's rumor-mongering on Obama -- that he wasn't born in the United States, that he's a secret Muslim, that he's in league with 1960s radical Bill Ayers, etc.

Rumbling Insurrection

Much like the Clinton-era militia movement's fear of "black helicopters," there already are rumblings about the need for an armed uprising to thwart Obama's alleged "communist" agenda.

Ironically, right-wingers who defended George W. Bush when he mounted a radical assault on the Constitution -- seeking to establish an imperial presidency while eliminating habeas corpus and other key freedoms -- are suddenly seeing threats to the Constitution from Obama.

Fox News, in particular, has been floating the idea of armed rebellion. On Feb. 20 -- the one-month anniversary of Obama's inauguration -- Glenn Beck hosted a special program called "War Room" that "war-gamed" various scenarios including the overthrow of an oppressive U.S. government when "bubba" militias rise up and gain the support of the American military.

The segment featured former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Major Tim Strong, and Gerald Celente, a prognosticator who began pitching the idea of an armed rebellion on Fox News shortly after Obama's election last November.

"This is going to be violent," said Celente, founder of Trends Research Institute. "People can't afford it [taxes] anymore. The cities are going to look like Dodge City. They're going to be uncontrollable. You're going to have gangs in control. Motorcycle marauders. You're not going to have enough police or federales -- just like Mexico -- to control the situation."

Beck envisioned the uprising -- theoretically set in 2014 -- starting "because people have been so disenfranchised" leading to a "bubba effect" touched off by federal agents from the ATF or FBI arresting some rancher in Texas or Arizona who has taken the law into his own hands in defending his property.

"That's totally possible," ex-Sgt. Strong said. "You've got people who are going to do the right thing to truly protect the interests of the United States, to include their own. … Your second and third orders of effect are going to be your bubbas hunkering down and being anti-government."

Beck, who was a longtime fixture on CNN's Headline News before moving to Fox, then expanded on the justification for the bubba uprising against a federal government that was "coming in and disenfranchising people over and over and over again -- and having the people say please listen to us."

According to Beck, these oppressed Americans "know the Constitution. They know the writings of the Founders and they feel that the government -- or they will in this scenario and I think we're on this road -- the government has betrayed the Constitution. So they will see themselves as people who are standing up for the Constitution."

Beck then turned to ex-CIA officer Scheuer and asked, "So how do you defuse this, Michael, or how long even do we have before this becomes a crazy real scenario?"

"I don't think you'd want to defuse it, Glenn," Scheuer responded. "The Second Amendment is … at base not about hunting or about a militia, but about resisting tyranny. The Founders were very concerned about allowing individual citizens weaponry to defend themselves as a last resort against a tyrannical government."

As the discussion edged toward advocacy of violent revolution, Beck sought to reel it back in a bit.

"Don't get me wrong," the host said. "I am against the government. And I think they've just been horrible. I do think they are betraying the principles of our Founders every day they're in office. But I have to tell you this scenario scares the living daylights out of me because it is shaking nitroglycerine."

Beck then got back to the point: "Do the soldiers come in and do they round up people or do they fight with the people for the Constitution? What does the Army, what does the military do?"

Scheuer answered: "I don't think the military is ever going to shoot on the American people, sir. I think the military -- of all people -- read the Constitution every year, right through."

Beck then suggested that Obama's stimulus package might lead to this back-door federal tyranny.

"We just had in our stimulus package a way for if your governor says no to the money, the legislature can go around the governor and go right to the Feds," Beck said. "It's this kind of thing that would make the federal government say, ‘You know what? We can call up the National Guard. We don't need your governor to do it.'"

Such insurrectionist musings on Fox News are not likely to be taken seriously by most people. Indeed, many Americans may find it amusing that Fox has developed a heartfelt concern about disenfranchising voters after its enthusiastic embrace of Bush's undemocratic "election" in 2000 or that Fox now feels a sudden reverence for the Constitution after eight years of defending Bush as he trampled it.

But this sort of Fox chatter runs the risk of feeding the well-nursed grievances of angry white "bubbas" and possibly inspiring a new Timothy McVeigh.

More significantly, today's Republican leaders -- finding themselves with little new to offer -- appear to have turned to the well-worn pages of this earlier GOP playbook to choose the same game plan that set the nation on a dangerous and destructive course 16 years ago, a course that only now, finally, may be playing out.

[Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at © 2009 Consortium News All rights reserved.
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Monday, March 2, 2009

Afghan-Pak Conflict Rising as Main Problem

Photo: Obama at Camp LeJeune

Partial Peace, Looming War

By Tom Hayden
The Nation

March 1, 2009 - President Obama has surprised the national security establishment, and not a few in the peace movement, with his Friday commitment to pull all American troops out of Iraq by 2011.

The Washington Post's Thomas Ricks predicted in his recent authoritative history, The Gamble, that Obama would keep 25,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraq as a "residual" force indefinitely. Ricks reports that generals like David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno were expecting at least that many troops, and predicts that the fighting will continue for decades.

Obama's announced new policy must shock Ricks and the military leaders he extensively interviewed. Obama's official stance comes after many months of appearing to support the notion of residual forces, which many in the peace movement correctly believed could lead to low-visibility counterinsurgency and a permanent military occupation. Obama said nothing to dissuade the critics until Friday's speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In debates within the Obama camp, only John Podesta, transition adviser and head of the Center for American Progress (CAP) was publicly advocating that all troops, including trainers and advisers, be withdrawn within one year.

Ricks' book is wrong on another related matter, the role of the antiwar movement in this process. Ricks celebrates Petraeus for having pacified Iraq in the face of considerable Democratic doubt, and for winning the political war at home in 2007-2008. Petraeus's stated goal was to speed up the Iraqi clock (the surge) while slowing down the American one (the electoral calendar). Ricks says he pulled it off. After Petraeus's appearance before Congress in September 2007, Rick says, domestic criticism faded away. News coverage of Iraq sharply declined, as networks began to withdraw from Iraq. The March 2008 antiwar demonstrations were "tiny," he writes, with fewer than 1,000 in Washington and 500 in San Francisco.

Ricks is partly right. Democratic party leaders and big donors pulled back from the issue of Iraq after Petraeus's testimony, and after a MoveOn advertisement accusing the general of betrayal. The resulting crisis in the DC hub of antiwar advocates was never resolved, but the grassroots peace bloc in the Democratic primaries mushroomed anyway, giving Obama a needed edge in Iowa and a string of wins against Hillary Clinton.

When there was a choice between supporting Barack Obama and attending rallies organized by various Maoists, Trotskyists and neo-anarchists opposed to Obama and electoral politics, the grassroots peace movement headed for the precincts by the thousands. What appeared to Ricks to be a failed antiwar rally in Washington was only evidence that the movement was moving on, becoming a voting force in and around the Obama campaign.

That turned out to be the right strategy for the peace movement when John McCain was defeated in November, but many continued to wonder--with good reason--whether Obama was promising nothing more than partial peace under a new form of military occupation. Now it is clear that somewhere along the way Obama became persuaded that it made little sense to leave 50,000 troops in Iraq when the Pentagon couldn't win with 150,000, the American economy was collapsing and his hands were full in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Iraq the situation remains unpredictable. A brutal nationalist and authoritarian state, with sectarian police and thousands of detainees, looms as the result of a seven-year war. Under Odierno's command, according to Ricks, tens of thousands of military-aged Sunni males (called MAMs) were held in preventive detention. Bob Woodward's recent book goes further, crediting a top-secret US program of extrajudicial killings for imposing a peace of the dead in Baghdad. The Sunni insurgency decided in 2007 that an alliance with the Americans would thwart their Al Qaeda rivals while providing protection against the Shi'a majority. They were right, and 100,000 of the so-called Sons of Iraq were paid $20 million per month not to shoot at Americans. On the other hand, the Shi'a who already were installed in power by the Americans had no reason to fight their sponsors, especially when even the militias loyal to Moktada al-Sadr chose to take a political path to power, at least for the moment. The Iranians will be pleased to see the US troops depart on any schedule, and enjoy good relations with whichever Shi'a party prevails in Iraq. The festering Kurdish crisis could boil over, but is localized. Things could change, but most Iraqis have an interest in seeing the Americans implement the "withdrawal agreement." Who knows, they may even throw flowers to the retreating troops instead of shoes.

The greater danger from Iraq for Obama may lie at home politically if Republicans and the generals, echoed by the mainstream media, protest Obama's withdrawal plan as naïve or worse. In Ricks's analysis, Obama would not want to risk a confrontation with the military early in his presidency:

"Like Clinton, Obama would also face the prospect of a de facto alliance between the military and congressional Republicans to stop him from making any major changes. "

Since Ricks was wrong about Obama's fortitude, he may be wrong on the danger of a backlash as well. The American people are in no mood for a "forever war" in Iraq, whatever the malcontents believe in Washington think tanks.

That leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan, both in flames. In those places, the politics are reversed, with Obama having promised to defeat Al Qaeda by using Predators in Pakistan and more ground troops in Afghanistan. So far he is keeping his campaign pledges, while still proceeding cautiously in developing an overall plan. Neither the neoconservatives nor the generals are fully happy with Obama's early approach, which they see as pointed towards a diplomatic settlement instead of "winning" militarily. On this point, Secretary Gates seems to have the president's back, repeatedly warning that no military solution is possible.

Nevertheless, Obama is beginning an escalation with 17,000 troops bringing the American total in Afghanistan to over 50,000. Except for its political rationale, this is a puzzling military gesture. By comparison:

• In South Vietnam, the US deployed 500,000 troops on a battlefield of 67,000 square miles containing 19 million people

•n Iraq, we deployed 160,000 troops on a battlefield of 168,745 square miles, with 26 million people

•n Afghanistan, Obama plans to deploy some 60,000 US troops on a battlefield of 250,001 sqare miles with 30 million people

• And in Pakistan he has 100 special ops on the ground, with $400 million allocated for 85,000 tribal paramilitaries.

The geography and demographics are staggering. Obama cannot possibly be considering a military solution while deploying fewer American troops on larger and larger battlefields. It is hard to imagine that he plans a Vietnam-style escalation either. At the current rate of Afghanistan spending, the costs will reach over $1 trillion by the end of Obama's first term, while he risks his presidency on economic recovery.

Until a brave few in Congress begin to catch up, the critics of Afghanistan policy will have to launch a passionate and substantive debate over the "long war" ahead, oppose the 17,000 new troops as simply 17,000 more targets for the Taliban, sketch in the content of a diplomatic settlement and propose an exit strategy. The first arena for debate, recalling the 1965 Vietnam teach-ins on campuses, will be the blogosphere. The second will be Congressional hearings, with critics at the table. And the third phase is likely to be direct dialogue and engagement in the 2010 elections, district by district. At this point, however, the movement will have to engage MoveOn and many liberal Democrats who are mired in the lingering belief that Afghanistan is the "good war." (We might ask, what does that make Pakistan?)

There are still more battlefields in the long war. Obama will have to be persuaded to say no to an Israeli strike on Iran while he tries to engage Tehran on stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ultimately, Obama will also find ways to increase support for Palestinian aspirations, as the most effective approach to lessening Arab and Islamic support for jihad. It's a long way down the road, but his choices of George Mitchell as an envoy along with Charles Freeman to a high intelligence post are the most progressive and independent Middle East appointments in a generation.


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