Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kucinich-Paul '08?

Much is being made of a potential Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Ron Paul (R-TX) bipartisan ticket for the White House, thanks to comments made over the weekend by Congressman Kucinich while campaigning in New Hampshire.

"I'm thinking about Ron Paul" as a running mate, Kucinich told a crowd of about 70, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The antiwar Ohio Congressman says a Kucinich-Paul ticket could unite Republicans and Democrats and "balance the energies in this country."

Now some may think Kucinich is simply trying to get some free press by attaching himself to the growing support for Ron Paul, who has enjoyed a large amount of media attention after he raised more than $4.2 million for his campaign in just 24 hours. But that's not likely the case, as Kucinich and Paul have long worked closely together on issues concerning war and civil liberties, and Paul has said he would likely vote for Kucinich were he himself not running. Back in May I spoke with Kucinich for a piece that I was working on for Ohio Public Radio regarding his anti-war, anti-establishment campaign. During the course of the interview I asked him what he thought of Congressman Paul:
DAVIS: You guys probably disagree on a lot, but you come together a lot when it comes to issues of war and peace. Could you a little bit talk about your relationship with Ron Paul over the past couple years?

KUCINICH: Ron Paul is a great American. I have tremendous respect for him. He has the courage of his convictions, he’s not someone who goes with the crowd. I like him. I admire him.

DAVIS: What do you think about his campaign? He’s kind of almost playing the same role [as you] in the Republican Party, in that he’s the only antiwar candidate on stage.

KUCINICH: I can tell you, Ron Paul -- more often than not -- is right. And he’s somebody who’s a great American.

So what are the chances of a joint Paul and Kucinich ticket happening? Not good. The Paul campaign has already shot down the idea, with spokesman Jesse Benton quoted as saying "there are too many differences on issues such as taxes and spending to think a joint ticket would be possible." And, of course, both Paul and Kucinich have a long way to go in terms of getting their respective party's nomination before they could even considering naming a running mate.

That said, I raised the prospect of a Paul-Kucinich ticket when I interviewed Congressman Paul earlier this year:
DAVIS: Congressman Dennis Kucinich is kind of similar in that he is one of the more vocal antiwar critics on the Democratic side of the debates. I know you guys probably disagree on a load of things, but you’ve come together a lot to work on issues of war and peace. So could you talk about your relationship with Congressman Kucinich over the past couple years, what it’s been like, what you think of him?

PAUL: We’re close friends, and we certainly agree [on the war]. And I think we may end up voting closely all the time on the war issue. Sometimes some of these funding bills are a little bit complex, and even Walter Jones and I will disagree even though we agree on what we’re supposed to be doing, but the interpretation will be a little bit different. But I think Dennis and I usually come down on the same side of it. That is, if you don’t want the war you quit the funding, and that’s our responsibility and it’s not the president’s authority to do what he wants because we have the purse strings, so you have to vote against the spending. So we get along very well on that, and since it’s such a major issue I think I will continue to work with him the best we can. And you know, take some of the liberal welfare spending that Dennis might support more than I. But you know, I’m not hostile toward that. If I can save the money from overseas, put some of it against the deficit, end up with a net reduction in the size of the budget, at the same time stopping a war, I may well be very open to funding some of these programs. Because I’m not out to gut some of these programs that have taught people to be very dependant on the government, like medical care. I mean, that’s not my goal. I’ve never run for office with the goal of slashing [those programs] even though philosophically I don’t think it’s the best way to deliver services and prosperity to poor people.

DAVIS: So can we look forward to a Paul-Kucinich 2008 ticket?

PAUL: Not likely, but I think that Paul and Kucinich will continue to work together and do the kind of work that we’ve been doing for a couple years now.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Triumphant Return of Fiscal Conservatism

The Bush administration has long come under fire from conservatives and liberals alike for its rampant deficit spending. According to a recent report by McClatchy Newspapers, federal spending under President Bush has increased by at least as much, if not more, than it did under Lyndon Johnson.

Now the Bush administration is requesting another $196 billion for the war in Iraq -- a war that could ultimately end up costing taxpayers more than $2 trillion.

But it seems the Bush administration has found a novel way of paying for these expensive military operations while still managing to increase its fiscally conservative credentials: fund the war, just don't pay the soldiers who have to fight it.

As Pittsburgh television station KDKA reports:
The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

One of them is Jordan Fox, a young soldier from the South Hills.

He finds solace in the hundreds of boxes he loads onto a truck in Carnegie. In each box is a care package that will be sent to a man or woman serving in Iraq. It was in his name Operation Pittsburgh Pride was started.

Fox was seriously injured when a roadside bomb blew up his vehicle. He was knocked unconscious. His back was injured and lost all vision in his right eye.

A few months later Fox was sent home. His injuries prohibited him from fulfilling three months of his commitment. A few days ago, he received a letter from the military demanding nearly $3,000 of his signing bonus back.

"I tried to do my best and serve my country. I was unfortunately hurt in the process. Now they're telling me they want their money back," he explained.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Human Rights Concerns Surround U.S.-backed "Plan Mexico"

On Wednesday the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the "Merida Initiative," a $1.4 billion anti-drug aid package that would aid Mexico's war on drugs. 40% of the aid would go to Mexico's military and law enforcement, which has drawn the criticism of human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

My piece describing the Merida Initiative and the criticism it has drawn was published by Inter Press Service earlier today -- read it here.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Senator Webb warns against attack on Iran

Senator Jim Webb sent a letter to President Bush today stressing that the Administration does not have the legal authority to attack Iran without congressional approval. Webb spent the past few days urging his Senate colleagues to sign on to the letter -- in the end 29 did, none of them Republicans. Surprisingly, neither Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) nor Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) signed on, despite their criticism of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for voting for the provocative Kyl-Lieberman resolution calling for Iran's Revolutionary Guard to be listed as a "terrorist organization." In contrast to both Biden and Obama, and in a sign that she has felt the heat over her vote on the Kyl-Lieberman resolution, Clinton signed on to the letter.

As Jonathan Schwarz notes over at Mother Jones, though it has no legal significance, the letter threatens to increase the political costs of a unilateral attack on Iran. The fact that at least 30 members of the Senate are publicly stating that no attack can occur without their consent may weigh on the Bush administration, even if they believe they have the legal authority to attack anyway. As Schwarz says, in the end all wars are ultimately decided less by legality than they are by politics.

Here is the full text of the letter:
Dear President Bush:

We are writing to express serious concerns with the provocative statements and actions stemming from your administration with respect to possible U.S. military action in Iran. These comments are counterproductive and undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy.

We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran. This includes the Senate vote on September 26, 2007 on an amendment to the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. This amendment, expressing the sense of the Senate on Iran, and the recent designation of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, should in no way be interpreted as a predicate for the use of military force in Iran.

We stand ready to work with your administration to address the challenges presented by Iran in a manner that safeguards our security interests and promotes a regional diplomatic solution, but we wish to emphasize that offensive military action should not be taken against Iran without the express consent of Congress.

Signed by: Akaka, Baucus, Boxer, Brown, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Casey, Clinton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Feinstein, Harkin, Johnson, Kerry, Klobuchar, Kohl, Leahy, McCaskill, Mikulski, Murray, Reed, Rockefeller, Sanders, Stabenow, Tester, Webb, Whitehouse, Wyden.

UPDATE: Sam Stein at the Huffington Post received responses from the offices of Senator Biden and Senator Obama as to why they did not add their names to the letter:
"Senator Obama admires Senator Webb and his sincere and tireless efforts on this issue. But it will take more than a letter to prevent this administration from using the language contained within the Kyl-Lieberman resolution to justify military action in Iran. This requires a legislative answer and Senator Obama intends to propose one."
"Sen. Biden voted against the amendment urging the designation of the Iranian Rev. Guard as a terrorist group. He strongly opposed it because he believed it could be used by this President to justify military action against Iran. He has also made clear many times his view that the President lacks the authority to use force against Iran absent authorization from Congress. He didn't need to clarify that position - he's been clear from the start," said Biden spokesperson Elizabeth Alexander.

Neither response seems all that convincing. While Obama's office is probably correct in saying it'll take more than a letter to counteract the Kyl-Lieberman resolution (which Obama neglected to vote on), it doesn't follow that signing a letter opposing an attack on Iran somehow precludes him from introducing binding legislation. As for Biden's claim that he didn't need to clarify his position -- why not? Certainly signing a letter clarifying it again couldn't hurt, could it?