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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Mario Cuomo Was So Very Right—Especially on the Death Penalty

New York Governor Mario Cuomo at the 1984 Democratic National Convention (AP Photo/File)

Mario Cuomo was so very right about so many things.

Cuomo was certainly right in the midst of the dismal Reagan era to reject an oblivious president’s “morning in America” sloganeering and “shining city on a hill” fabulism. And Cuomo did so not do this with the empty language of bipartisanship but rather in a gloriously unapologetic appeal to the 1984 Democratic National Convention that heard the newly elected governor of New York declare:

Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a “Tale of Two Cities” than it is just a “Shining City on a Hill.”

Maybe, maybe, Mr. President, if you visited some more places; maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds; maybe if you went to Lackawanna where thousands of unemployed steel workers wonder why we subsidized foreign steel. Maybe—Maybe, Mr. President, if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and spoke to the homeless there; maybe, Mr. President, if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire or for a missile we couldn’t afford to use.

Maybe—Maybe, Mr. President. But I’m afraid not. Because the truth is, ladies and gentlemen, that this is how we were warned it would be. President Reagan told us from the very beginning that he believed in a kind of social Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. “Government can’t do everything,” we were told, so it should settle for taking care of the strong and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest. Make the rich richer, and what falls from the table will be enough for the middle class and those who are trying desperately to work their way into the middle class.

You know, the Republicans called it “trickle-down” when Hoover tried it. Now they call it “supply side.” But it’s the same shining city for those relative few who are lucky enough to live in its good neighborhoods. But for the people who are excluded, for the people who are locked out, all they can do is stare from a distance at that city’s glimmering towers.

Cuomo was right when he rejected the false morality of a rising religious right and said in his 1984 speech to the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology what too many cautious and confused liberals—and too many responsible conservatives—neglected to say:

I think it’s already apparent that a good part of this Nation understands—if only instinctively—that anything which seems to suggest that God favors a political party or the establishment of a state church, is wrong and dangerous.

Way down deep the American people are afraid of an entangling relationship between formal religions—or whole bodies of religious belief—and government. Apart from constitutional law and religious doctrine, there is a sense that tells us it’s wrong to presume to speak for God or to claim God’s sanction of our particular legislation and His rejection of all other positions. Most of us are offended when we see religion being trivialized by its appearance in political throw-away pamphlets.

The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman.

Cuomo was right, at a time when Catholic politicians were being pressured to impose a narrow morality upon public policy, to anticipate the more generous and inclusive vision of Pope Francis. As Cuomo explained:

In addition to all the weaknesses, dilemmas and temptations that impede every pilgrim’s progress, the Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy—who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims, atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics—bears special responsibility. He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones—sometimes contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control and even to choose abortion.

In fact, Catholic public officials take an oath to preserve the Constitution that guarantees this freedom. And they do so gladly. Not because they love what others do with their freedom, but because they realize that in guaranteeing freedom for all, they guarantee our right to be Catholics: our right to pray, to use the sacraments, to refuse birth control devices, to reject abortion, not to divorce and remarry if we believe it to be wrong.

The Catholic public official lives the political truth most Catholics through most of American history have accepted and insisted on: the truth that to assure our freedom we must allow others the same freedom, even if occasionally it produces conduct by them which we would hold to be sinful.

I protect my right to be a Catholic by preserving your right to believe as a Jew, a Protestant or non-believer, or as anything else you choose.

We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might some day force theirs on us.

Cuomo was right when he rejected the madness of an arms race and the expansion of a military-industrial complex when politicians of both parties neglected the human cost of misplaced priorities. He willed his party to be better, arguing:

We believe as Democrats, that a society as blessed as ours, the most affluent democracy in the world’s history, one that can spend trillions on instruments of destruction, ought to be able to help the middle class in its struggle, ought to be able to find work for all who can do it, room at the table, shelter for the homeless, care for the elderly and infirm, and hope for the destitute. And we proclaim as loudly as we can the utter insanity of nuclear proliferation and the need for a nuclear freeze, if only to affirm the simple truth that peace is better than war because life is better than death.

Cuomo was right to join another liberal lion—the late US Senator Edward Kennedy—in offering a humane and embracing definition of liberalism in the modern era when he announced that:

We believe in only the government we need, but we insist on all the government we need.

We believe in a government that is characterized by fairness and reasonableness, a reasonableness that goes beyond labels, that doesn’t distort or promise to do things that we know we can’t do.

We believe in a government strong enough to use words like “love” and “compassion” and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities.

We believe in encouraging the talented, but we believe that while survival of the fittest may be a good working description of the process of evolution, a government of humans should elevate itself to a higher order.

Cuomo, who died on New Year’s Day at age 82, was the first to admit that he was not always right. He faced criticism for mounting crude campaigns in the early stages of a political journey that took from the streets of Queens to the cusp of presidential politics. He was defeated in races for lieutenant governor of New York, for mayor of New York City, for reelection to a fourth term as governor of New York State. He will always be second-guessed for his “Hamlet on the Hudson” indecision about seeking the presidency in 1988 and 1992, and for rejecting the prospect of nomination to serve on the US Supreme Court.

Yet, in three terms as governor of New York, as a champion of liberalism in the face of what conservatives proclaimed to be the “Reagan revolution,” as a keeper of the New Deal and Fair Deal and Great Society faith in a possibility of a more perfect union, as a thoughtful proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment and of reproductive rights, as an early supporter of research and funding of programs to address the HIV/AIDS crisis, as a sometimes lonely defender of social-welfare programs, as an innovative thinker who recognized that economic development did not have to be at odds with environmental sanity, Mario Cuomo was so frequently right that he came to be understood more as a statesman than a politician.

And on one issue, above all others, he was the most rigorously and necessarily right of all the prominent political figures of his time.

That issue was the death penalty.

Cuomo was the steadiest high-profile foe of capital punishment in an era when most Republicans and many leading Democrats—including President Bill Clinton and New York City Mayor Ed Koch—supported state-sponsored executions.

Again and again as governor, Cuomo vetoed legislation to establish capital punishment in New York State, explaining when he issued one of those vetoes in 1991 that “The death penalty legitimizes the ultimate act of vengeance in the name of the state, violates fundamental human rights, fuels a mistaken belief by some that justice is being served and demeans those who strive to preserve human life and dignity.”

Long after he left office, Cuomo remained consistently outspoken in his opposition to the death penalty, and it can he argued that this consistency played a role in shifting Democrats and the country as a whole toward a more enlightened view. But even if he had been required to stand alone on the issue, Mario Cuomo would have done so. It was his chosen mission in the realm of politics, and in the realm of moral discourse, to argue for outlawing capital punishment.

“Because the death penalty was so popular during the time I served as governor, I was often asked why I spoke out so forcefully against it although the voters very much favored it,” former Governor Cuomo wrote in 2011. “I tried to explain that I pushed this issue into the center of public dialogue because I believed the stakes went far beyond the death penalty itself. Capital punishment raises important questions about how, as a society, we view human beings. I believed as governor, and I still believe, that the practice and support for capital punishment is corrosive; that it is bad for a democratic citizenry and that it had to be objected to and so I did then, and I do now and will continue to for as long as it and I exist, because I believe we should be better than what we are in our weakest moments.”

Steve Scalise’s Problem Is the Republican Party’s Problem

House Speaker John Boehner with House majority whip Steve Scalise (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

David Duke is vouching for House majority whip Steve Scalise, the Louisiana conservative who is now the third-most-powerful Republican in the US House. As Scalise faces tough questions and criticism following the revelation that he was a presenter at a gathering of the former Klan leader’s European-American Unity and Rights Organization, Duke attests that the congressman is “a fine family man and a good person.”

Duke is even volunteering theories about how Scalise ended up at the 2002 meeting of a reasonably high-profile white supremacist group. The former grand wizard explains that the top Republican was “friendly” with a key campaign strategist for Duke’s gubernatorial and US Senate bids in Louisiana. In fact, Federal Election Commission records reveal that the longtime Duke political aide in question, Kenny Knight, donated $1,000 to the 2008 campaign that saw Scalise make his move from state politics to Congress.

“All I know is that Kenny liked him,” Duke told The Washington Post Tuesday. “He thought Scalise, who remember was just a state representative, was sharp. They’d talk about the Hollywood system, about the war, whatever I was concerned about.” Knight confirms that he invited Scalise to the EURO meeting but suggests that Scalise was oblivious. “Steve was someone who I exchanged ideas with on politics,” explained Knight, who was apparently trying to be helpful when he added, “We wouldn’t talk about race or the Jewish question.”

Perhaps the friendly prodding from Duke and Knight is helping Scalise to focus a bit. The Republican rising star struggled for the better part of two days to get clarity with regard to his appearance at a “white pride” event. Initially, his office tried to keep things vague, suggesting only that it was “likely” Scalise attended. Then, when it became clear he had been not just present but a presenter, Scalise started spinning scenarios that might explain it all away. Though he was a veteran state legislator by 2002, Scalise initially portrayed himself as a confused innocent when it came to accepting invitations. “I didn’t know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group,” he said, while the Post reported that the congressman’s “confidants [are] e-mailing reporters and House members, assuring them that Scalise did not know the implications of his actions in 2002 and describing him as a disorganized and ill-prepared young politician who didn’t pay close attention to invitations.”

Only after more than a day of backlash did Scalise finally admit that he might have erred in speaking to Duke’s allies. “It was a mistake I regret,” he said Tuesday, “and I emphatically oppose the divisive racial and religious views groups like these hold.”

Yet, even as he made his apology, Scalise was playing politics, suggesting that those who have criticized his appearance with white supremacists were doing so “for political gain.”

The victim-of-partisanship gambit was undermined when conservative commentator Erick Erickson asked, “How the hell does somebody show up at a David Duke–organized event in 2002 and claim ignorance?”

Amid all the wrangling, one thing is certain: No matter how Scalise ended up peddling anti-tax and anti-big government dogma to Duke’s allies, the newly minted top Republican (who moved up in the shuffle following former House majority leader Eric Cantor’s primary defeat and resignation) is not being introduced to America in a manner that reinforces the message that the Grand Old Party has evolved into a twenty-first-century political home for all Americans.

Scalise became the fresh face of the Republican Party in 2014, the pick of the House Republican Caucus to play a critical leadership role as the party takes full control of Congress in January, 2015.

His leadership position and the recent revelations about his relatively recent past have combined to get everyone interested in learning more about Steve Scalise, a political careerist with a record.

Unfortunately for Scalise, that record does not respond well to scrutiny.

On Tuesday, it was recalled that the current House majority whip once told the Washington-insider newspaper Roll Call that, while he shared positions with Duke, Scalise thought he was more electable. Back in 1999, Roll Call reported:

Another potential candidate, state Rep. Steve Scalise (R), said he embraces many of the same “conservative” views as Duke, but is far more viable.

“The novelty of David Duke has worn off,” said Scalise. “The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing.”

As a state legislator who did get elected from the same precincts where Duke once ran strong, Scalise voted against legislation to establish protections for victims of hate crimes based on race. He also voted at least twice against recognizing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a state holiday.

In 1999, Scalise was one of just three “no” votes on a King holiday measure. Five years later, Scalise was one of just six Louisiana legislators who opposed King holiday legislation, versus 90 who supported it. He did this in 2004, two decades after the federal King holiday was established.

Scalise will continue to take hits for appearing at the European-American Unity and Rights Organization event. Presumably, he will continue to offer his regrets, along with the “disorganized and ill-prepared” excuse. And, presumably, that will continue to be a plausible enough explanation for House Speaker John Boehner—who says Scalise merely made an “error in judgment” —and the rest of Scalise’s House Republican Caucus.

But, no matter what the congressman says about his presentation at an event organized by allies of David Duke, Scalise has more explaining to do.

For instance, the number-three Republican in the House really does need to explain what led him—years after the debate over the King holiday had ended even for dead-enders like Dick Cheney—to continue to vote against broadly supported measures honoring the nation’s most iconic civil rights campaigner.

The Republican Party, which was founded by militant foes of the expansion of slavery, and which played a critical role in advancing the cause of civil rights in the 1950s and the 1960s, has in recent decades been accused—even by some Republicans—of abandoning its historic legacy. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus has focused a good deal of energy and resources on trying to improve the party’s outreach to minority voters; “We’ve got to get this right,” the chairman says of programs and messages directed at African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters.

Prominent national Republicans such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (a potential 2016 presidential candidate) have made a serious effort to address issues of concern to African-American voters. Last year, for instance, Paul made what Talking Points Memo referred to as an “earnest, yet awkward, attempt at minority outreach” when he appeared at Howard University.

It will be hard for Republicans to suggest that they are on the side of the future when, at this point in American history, they have someone in a top leadership position in the House facing questions about his appearance at a white-supremacist event and who opposed the King holiday. If Boehner, Scalise and the rest of the Republican leadership team does not recognize this political reality, it is hard to imagine how the GOP is going to resolve the challenge that Priebus says is essential to its prospects as a national party

“Everyone has a story to tell,” Priebus told the National Association of Black Journalists convention earlier this year, “and it’s up to me and other people in the party to tell our story.”

As a top congressional leader, Steve Scalise is now a central player in that Republican story. For so long as Scalise remains in leadership, it is not just the congressman but his party that has a lot of explaining to do.

Bill de Blasio Is Not the First New York City Mayor to Clash With Police Unions

Police officers turn their backs as Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the funeral of police officer Rafael Ramos (AP Photo/John Minchillo).

The leaflet was meant to highlight anger on the part of police officers with the mayor of New York. It encouraged officers to fill their names in on a document that read, ”I, . . ., a New York City police officer, want all of my family and brother officers who read this to know [that] in the event of my death [the mayor and his police commissioner should] be denied attendance of any memorial service in my honor as their attendance would only bring disgrace to my memory.”

That’s how deep the divisions ran.

Yes, “ran.”

The leaflet mentioned above was distributed in 1997. The mayor in question was Rudolph Giuliani, and The New York Times reported on rank-and-file members of the powerful Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association urging fellow officers to sign the documents. Though the union did not officially sanction the jab at the mayor, its circulation among officers “demonstrates the depths of their discontent,” reported the Times in an article on a contract dispute in which Giuliani was taking a hard line against pay increases.

Today NYPD officers can download a similar document from the PBA website and sign it as one of many protests against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recognition of tensions between minority communities and the NYPD in the aftermath of a grand jury decision not to indict an officer who was videotaped choking Eric Garner shortly before the Staten Island man’s death. Those protests drew national attention Saturday, as officers turned their backs on images of the mayor delivering a eulogy at the funeral service for NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos, who was shot and killed a week earlier along with his partner, Wenjian Liu, in their squad car.

As raw as the tensions are today in New York, it is important to remember that the city’s mayors have frequently clashed with the police union and its leadership. The clashes have been intense, they have been bitter and they have often extended over a number of years. Some mayors who have been at odds with the PBA—like David Dinkins, who established the framework for the current incarnation of the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board—have been narrowly defeated for re-election. And there have already been plenty of attempts to compare Dinkins and de Blasio (a former Dinkins aide). But Dinkins is the exception, not the rule.

For the most part, New York mayors who have clashed with the PBA (going back to epic figures such as Fiorello La Guardia and including long-serving managers such as Robert Wagner Jr.) have survived politically. That may be the most important lesson for Mayor de Blasio to take away from the current conflict—which comes amid broader wrangling over contracts, pensions and reform of the department.

In the same year that the anti-Giuliani leaflet circulated, he was easily re-elected. (The bitterness remained, however. When Giuliani made a bid for the presidency in 2008, PBA President Patrick Lynch declared, “The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association could never support Rudy Giuliani for any elected office.” Lynch complained that “there are simply not enough NYPD police officers to keep this city safe, and it is Giuliani’s fault.”)

And don’t forget about John Lindsay. Elected on a promise to reform the police department, Lindsay appointed former federal judge Lawrence Walsh to head a Law Enforcement Task Force charged with reviewing police operations, appointed a reform-minded new police commissioner and worked closely with the NYPD’s new chief inspector, Sanford Garelik, who talked of “humanizing the department.” In his brilliant book on the era, The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York (Basic Books), Vincent Cannato devotes a full chapter to Lindsay’s conflicts with the PBA, especially a 1966 referendum battle over the development of an earlier version of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Lindsay lost that fight, and clashed continually with the PBA—so much so that the spokesman for the PBA, Norman Frank, prepared to mount a challenge to the mayor’s 1969 re-election bid. Frank stepped aside when more prominent “law-and-order” candidates entered the race. A Republican “law-and-order” candidate, state Senator John Marchi, beat Lindsay in the GOP primary, while another “law-and-order” contender, City Comptroller Mario Procaccino, won the Democratic nod over four more liberal contenders. It seemed for a moment that Lindsay was doomed, yet he and his supporters regrouped, mounting a fall campaign on the Liberal Party line. Uniting reformers from across the partisan spectrum, and with strong support from minority communities, Lindsay easily beat Procaccino and Marchi that November. He did so leading a ticket that included Garelik, who was elected city council president. Among his campaign themes was a reminder that the mayor’s emphasis on dialing down tensions and improving police-community relations had kept New York relatively calm while other cities exploded with riots.

Years later, in an essay on Lindsay’s mayoralty, author (and one-time assistant budget director for New York) Charles R. Morris observed that, while Lindsay’s reforms were “hard for cops to swallow,” the fact remained that “on any fair judgment, the strategy mostly worked. New York City had multiple dangerous flare-ups, but they never degenerated into the all-out police-ghetto warfare, with the shocking death tolls, that were seen in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Newark.”

“Lindsay’s success in calming New York drew wide attention, especially by contrast with the police-against-the-radicals free-for-all during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention,” continued Morris. “For a brief period, Lindsay was ‘America’s Mayor,’ and other mayors began consciously to pattern their policies after his. Over the next decade or so, the New York police tactics became standard practice in almost all major cities.”

New York is different from the city it was in the late 1960s, just as it is different from the city it was in the 1990s. The media landscape has changed, as has the political landscape. And de Blasio is different in many ways from his predecessors. But that does not mean that this mayor cannot, or will not, learn the lessons of the past and apply them in the future.

In his eulogy for Officer Ramos, Mayor de Blasio preached a gospel of reconciliation that sought to reduce the current animosity, describing how police officers “help make a place that otherwise would be torn with strife a place of peace.” The mayoral olive branch was not accepted Saturday, just as previous efforts by previous mayors to ease tensions with the PBA have hit rough spots. This is a part of the story of big-city policing and politics. But it is not the whole story. The whole story tells us that it is possible for a strong mayor to get through hard times that include clashes with a strong police union, to propose and implement reforms that the mayor, many police officers and most citizens know to be necessary, and to survive politically. This is the historical reality, as opposed to the media-frenzy spin of the moment. And it is this reality that Mayor de Blasio would do well to keep in mind through the weeks and months to come.

Dickens Was Right: the Real War on Christmas Is the War on the Poor

British actor Albert Finney as Scrooge (AP Photo/Staff/Dear).

These are Dickensian times, when charity is rationed by politicians and pundits callously dismiss the poor as a burden best forced by hunger to grab at bootstraps and pull themselves upward.

Charles Dickens wrote of such times in 1843.

But surely he would have recognized 2014, a year that began with the Congress of the wealthiest nation in the world locked in debate over cutting funds for nutrition programs that serve those who are in need. The cuts were approved and, as the year progressed, so there came the announcements that tens of thousands of Americans would no longer have access to food stamps.

Food stamp cuts in a land of plenty are just one measure of the cruelty of the moment. There are also the threats to cut benefits for the long-term unemployed and to restrict access to welfare programs, which come even as Congress delivers another holiday-season “wish list” to the banking behemoths that have figured out how to crash economies and still profit.

Dickens captured the essence of our absurd times more than a century and a half ago with his imagining of a visit by two gentlemen, “liberals” we will call them, to a certain conservative businessman:

“Scrooge and Marley’s, I believe,” said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. “Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”

“Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years,” Scrooge replied. “He died seven years ago, this very night.”

“We have no doubt his liberality is well-represented by his surviving partner,” said the gentleman, presenting his credentials. It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word “liberality,” Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when want is keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned— they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides— excuse me— I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned.

So Dickens began A Christmas Carol, a book very much in keeping with the radical tenor of a time when the world was coming to recognize the truth that poverty and desolation need not be accepted by civil society— or civilized people. The language employed by Scrooge was not a Dickensian creation. Rather, Dickens engaged in a sort of reporting on the political platforms and statements of those who opposed the burgeoning movements for reform and revolution that were sweeping through Europe as the author composed his ghost tale.

Ultimately an optimist, Dickens imagined that spirited prodding from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future would change Scrooge— just as there are those today who imagine that a bit more enlightenment might cause even the most predictable plutocrat to reconsider his disdain for the unemployed, the underemployed and the never employed.

In Scrooge’s case, a little otherworldly pressure did the trick.

After his unsettling Christmas Eve, the formerly conservative businessman hastened into the streets of London and rather too quickly for his own comfort approached one of the two liberals:

“My dear sir,” said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands. “How do you do. I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry Christmas to you, sir!”

“Mr. Scrooge?”

“Yes,” said Scrooge. “That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you. Allow me to ask your pardon. And will you have the goodness”— here Scrooge whispered in his ear.

“Lord bless me!” cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. “My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?”

“If you please,” said Scrooge. “Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favor?”

Dickens tells us Scrooge was frightened into such humanity, But also that he was filled with delight as he prepared to open his wallet in order to “make idle people merry.”

The poor were suddenly the miser’s business.

And, notes Dickens: “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” Indeed, “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

So it is in this season, as it was in the winter of 1843. The debate goes on, in much the same language Dickens heard more than a century and a half ago. The poor are still with us, as are the Scrooges. We’d best bless them all, with hopes that one day we will, all of us, keep Christmas well.

Thank Postal Workers by Fighting to Save the Postal Service

USPS van

(Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Postal workers, mail handlers, letter carriers and rural carriers will process and deliver more than 15.5 billion packages, letters, and parcels this holiday season. It’s intense, demanding, long-hours, late-night and weekend work that keeps the promise of a robust national Postal Service outlined in Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

There is something profoundly wrong—not to mention profoundly absurd—about the notion that any federal official would abandon that promise and the workers who keep it.

Yet that is precisely what is happening. Even as United States Postal Service employees get the job done, with a better track record of care and efficiency than private competitors, the postal service itself is under attack. Pressured by extreme demands from Congress and hamstrung by outdated restrictions on how it can operate, the USPS faces financial challenges that are real—but those challenges can be addressed with relative ease. Unfortunately, instead of taking steps to ease the burden it created (with a 2006 requirement that the service prefund retiree benefits for the next 75 years), Congress ignored the issue. The House and Senate passed a “CROmnibus” spending bill packed with giveaways to Wall Street, big banks and big corporations and then quit town.

Congress failed to take what the unions representing postal workers identify as the most necessary immediate step to aid the postal service: initiation of “a one-year moratorium on a reduction in service standards and plant closings.” Congress also failed to reach an agreement on a stand-alone postal bill.

Now, argue American Postal Workers Union leaders, “The situation is urgent because the lower service standards are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 5. In addition to disrupting the lives of thousands of postal employees whose work assignments will be changed, the reduction in service standards will slow mail throughout the country and virtually eliminate overnight delivery of first-class mail. It also will set the stage for the closure of 82 mail processing plants.”

That’s a view shared by other major unions that have been working with APWU—the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association—to save the postal service. The unions have won strong support from community groups across the country, from national groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and from responsible members of Congress—51 senators and 178 representatives have backed a moratorium on closures and cuts.

Yet Congress continues to fail Americans who rely on the service and the communities that will be rocked by the planned closures.

“It’s an outrage,” says APWU president Mark Dimondstein. “Eight years after Congress ginned up a fake financial crisis for the Postal Service, its members still refuse to take even the smallest steps to prevent a major hit on this great national treasure.”

The fight is not done, however.

The Postal Service still has genuine advocates in Congress—led by Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, John Tester, D-Montana and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and House members Pete DeFazio, D-Oregon, and Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin—who are fighting to prevent closures and cuts. When Congress returns in January, it could still intervene. And the USPS could, and should, delay devastating assaults on the USPS infrastructure and on the workers who maintain it.

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“We strongly urge the USPS to delay implementation of any mail processing consolidations until feasibility studies are completed and there has been adequate time for public comment and consideration of those comments,” a bipartisan group of senators wrote in a December 1 letter to Postal Service officials. “Completed feasibility studies should include service standard impacts worksheets based on the revised service standards expected to be published on January 5, 2015. There is no reason that the USPS cannot delay its consolidations to provide time for the public to see and comment on the service standard worksheets. It is only fair to allow the process to unfold in this way, and the USPS gains little by deciding to continue the consolidation process on its current, arbitrary timeline.”

The senators are right.

The United States Postal Service is an American treasure that we should all appreciate this holiday season.

For Americans who hope to appreciate the service next holiday season, however, now is the time to thank postal workers by fighting to save the Postal Service.

 

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Postal workers, mail handlers, letter carriers and rural carriers will process and deliver more than 15.5 billion packages, letters, and parcels this holiday season. It’s intense, demanding, long-hours, late-night and weekend work that keeps the promise of a robust national Postal Service outlined in Article 1 of the United States Constitution.

There is something profoundly wrong—not to mention profoundly absurd—about the notion that any federal official would abandon that promise and the workers who keep it.

Yet, that is precisely what is happening. Even as United States Postal Service employees get the job done, with a better track record of care and efficiency than private competitors, the postal service itself is under attack. Pressured by extreme demands from Congress and hamstrung by outdated restrictions on how it can operate, the USPS faces financial challenges that are real—but those challenges can be addressed with relative ease. Unfortunately, instead of taking steps to ease the burden it created (with a 2006 requirement that the service prefund retiree benefits for the next 75 years), Congress ignored the issue. The House and Senate passed a “CROmnibus” spending bill packed with giveaways to Wall Street, big banks and big corporations and then quit town.

Congress failed to take what the unions representing postal workers identify as the most necessary immediate step to aid the postal service: initiation of “a one-year moratorium on a reduction in service standards and plant closings.” Congress also failed to reach an agreement on a stand-alone postal bill.

Now, argue American Postal Workers Union leaders, “The situation is urgent because the lower service standards are scheduled to take effect on Jan. 5. In addition to disrupting the lives of thousands of postal employees whose work assignments will be changed, the reduction in service standards will slow mail throughout the country and virtually eliminate overnight delivery of first-class mail. It also will set the stage for the closure of 82 mail processing plants.”

That’s a view shared by other major unions that have been working with APWU—the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association—to save the postal service. The unions have won strong support from community groups across the country, from national groups such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and from responsible members of Congress—fifty-one senators and 178 representatives have backed a moratorium on closures and cuts.

Yet Congress continues to fail Americans who rely on the service and the communities that will be rocked by the planned closures.

“It’s an outrage,” says APWU president Mark Dimondstein. “Eight years after Congress ginned up a fake financial crisis for the Postal Service, its members still refuse to take even the smallest steps to prevent a major hit on this great national treasure.”

The fight is not done, however.

The Postal Service still has genuine advocates in Congress—led by Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, John Tester, D-Montana and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and House members Pete DeFazio, D-Oregon, and Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin—who are fighting to prevent closures and cuts. When Congress returns in January, it could still intervene. And the USPS could, and should, delay devastating assaults on the USPS infrastructure and on the workers who maintain it.

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“We strongly urge the USPS to delay implementation of any mail processing consolidations until feasibility studies are completed and there has been adequate time for public comment and consideration of those comments,” a bipartisan group of senators wrote in a December 1 letter to Postal Service officials. “Completed feasibility studies should include service standard impacts worksheets based on the revised service standards expected to be published on January 5, 2015. There is no reason that the USPS cannot delay its consolidations to provide time for the public to see and comment on the service standard worksheets. It is only fair to allow the process to unfold in this way, and the USPS gains little by deciding to continue the consolidation process on its current, arbitrary timeline.”

The senators are right.

The United States Postal Service is an American treasure that we should all appreciate this holiday season.

For Americans who hope to appreciate the service next holiday season, however, now is the time to thank postal workers by fighting to save the Postal Service.

 

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What Bernie Sanders and Dwight Eisenhower Have in Common

Senator Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Dwight Eisenhower was right when he warned at the close of his presidency about the development of an American military-industrial complex, as most everyone in the United States and around the world is now well aware.

Eisenhower was also right when he warned at the opening of his presidency about the danger posed by the bloating of military budgets.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” the newly inaugurated commander-in-chief told the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in April 1953.

“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people,” Eisenhower explained, as a president who also happened to be a retired general. “This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

The cross of iron has grown a good deal heavier with the passage of time, as a United States Congress that argues about whether the country can afford to pay for Food Stamps and nutrition programs just approved a Department of Defense bill that authorizes $585 billion in Pentagon spending for the 2015 fiscal year. If history is any indication, the actual spending total will turn out to be a good deal more than that once all the supplemental appropriations have been added.

“The United States spends more on its military in absolute terms than any other nation on earth,” notes Germany’s Deutsche Welle. “In 2013, the US spent $640 billion on defense, followed by China with $188 billion and Russia with $88 billion, according to figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.”

The US spending tends to be approved with very little of the questioning that Eisenhower encouraged. In the House the vote to approve the latest Pentagon plan was 300-119. In the Senate, it was an even more lopsided 85-11.

And a number of the latest “no” votes came from Republicans—such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz—who were griping about a provision that designated new national parks and wilderness areas,

But Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders cast a “no” vote on what might reasonably be described as “Eisenhower principles.”

“I am voting no because I have very serious concerns about our nation’s bloated military budget and the misplaced national priorities this bill reflects,” explained Sanders. “At a time when our national debt is more than $18 trillion and we spend nearly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, the time is long overdue to end the waste and financial mismanagement that have plagued the Pentagon for years.”

Sanders, who is set to take over as the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, is making an argument for cracking down on budgeting abuses that the Pentagon that liberals and conservatives ought to be able to respect.

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“The situation is so absurd that the military is unable to even account for how it spends all of its money,” says the senator. “The non-partisan watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, said ‘serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense made its financial statements un-auditable.’ ”

That does not make Sanders anti-defense. It makes him a senator who is willing to call out waste, fraud and abuse—and to apply the standards that Eisenhower proposed.

“I support a strong defense system for our country and a robust National Guard and Reserve that can meet our domestic and foreign challenges,” argues Sanders. “At a time when the country is struggling with huge unmet needs, however, it is unacceptable that the Defense Department continues to waste massive amounts of money.”

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VIDEO: Elizabeth Warren Blasts Citigroup From the Senate Floor

(AP Images)

Elizabeth Warren delivered a “Cross of Gold” speech for the twenty-first century as the Senate wrangled over the $1.1 trillion “Cromnibus” spending bill that keeps the government open in return for putting taxpayers on the hook for the next bailout of the nation’s biggest and most irresponsible banks.

While the Senate ultimately said “yes,” it is Warren’s loud “no” that can and should serve as an echo of the past in the future;

“The American people are disgusted by Wall Street bailouts,” thundered the senator from Massachusetts, who spoke with bluntness rarely heard on the Senate floor—or in modern American politics.

Ripping Citigroup by name for its practicesand for its influence on Democratic administrations and the Democratic Party—and by extension addressing all of the banking behemoths that have whined about even the mild regulations contained in the Dodd-Frank legislation enacted after the Wall Street meltdown of 2008—Warren announced: “I agree with you Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect. It should have broken you into pieces!”

Warren’s words were not enough to prevent passage of the combined Continuing Resolution and omnibus spending bill that Washington dubbed “Cromnibus.” After the House narrowly approved it Thursday night, the Senate on Saturday gave a 56-40 authorization to the measure that guts bank regulations in a way Warren says will “let derivatives traders on Wall Street gamble with taxpayer money and get bailed out by the government when their risky bets threaten to blow up our financial system.”

But the measure of a Cross of Gold speech is never made in the moment.

The original Cross of Gold speech by William Jennings Bryan at the Democratic National Convention of 1896 secured the party’s nomination for the Nebraska populist who upset the political calculus of his day by arguing that the party must stand against economic elites and declare, “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” But Bryan’s words did not win him the presidency in that year’s campaign or in the succeeding campaigns of 1900 and 1908.

Bryan’s accomplishment was the transformation of a Democratic Party that had been in the service of the elites into a populist force that gave the United States a new politics. That new politics turned even Republicans—like Bryan’s 1900 foe Teddy Roosevelt—into trust-busting regulators. And out of that new politics would eventually come an economically- and societally transforming New Deal.

This is the big ticket.

This is what really matters.

One speech is never enough. One candidate is never enough. Before real change comes, politics must matter—clearly and unequivocally for all Americans. And before politics can matter, parties must define themselves as more than mere treasuries for corporate campaign donations.

Warren’s speech has already renewed speculation about the prospect that she might reconsider her decision to refuse a run for the presidency in 2016. If she were to run, it is not unreasonable to suggest that she could scramble every expectation. In these times, when change comes dramatically faster than in the past—for worse and for better—perhaps she could win the nomination. Perhaps she could win the presidency; against most of the potential Republican nominees in 2016, she would be widely recognized as the voice of reason.

But what matters most for the future is that prospect of the broader transformation of a party and a politics. That is what we remember William Jennings Bryan for today—when we forget so many other Democratic and Republican nominees of the ancient electoral past. Only by remaking parties and politics does it become possible for a president, any president, to remake government policies.

Principles, passion, populist fury when it is called for: this is what sets the stage for real change. And this is what Warren was offering Democrats and American when stormed the Senate to declare,

Enough is enough.

Enough is enough with Wall Street insiders getting key position after key position and the kind of cronyism that we have seen in the executive branch. Enough is enough with Citigroup passing 11th hour deregulatory provisions that nobody takes ownership over but everybody will come to regret. Enough is enough.

Washington already works really well for the billionaires and the big corporations and the lawyers and the lobbyists.

But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citigroup bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail out Citi just six years ago?

We were sent here to fight for those families. It is time, it is past time, for Washington to start working for them!

DC Voted to Legalize Marijuana. Congress Should Not Overrule It.

Marijuana store

Marijuana retail store in Colorado (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

There is every good reason for members of Congress to vote against the continuing resolution that has evolved into a $1.1 trillion, nine-month omnibus spending bill—“Cromnibus” is Washington-speak.

As it currently stands, the measure includes a rewrite of rules for derivatives trading that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren says “would let derivatives traders on Wall Street gamble with taxpayer money and get bailed out by the government when their risky bets threaten to blow up our financial system.”

It includes another provision that rewrites campaign-finance rules so radically that Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer says would, if enacted, be “the most destructive and corrupting campaign-finance provisions ever enacted by Congress.”

It reworks pension rules in a way that Teamsters President James Hoffa says could “slash the pensions of thousands of retirees who worked years for a pension that they thought would provide them financial security in their retirement years.”

But even if this measure did not include that fiercely wrongheaded provisions, it would still deserve a “no” vote because of its direct assault on democracy.

In November, the District of Columbia voters chose by a 70-30 margin to permit marijuana to be consumed and grown in Washington.

That was hardly a radical move. The proposal had broad support from legalization advocates, criminal-justice reformers and local officials. And, of course, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have all backed similar measures.

Unfortunately, because the District of Columbia is not a state, and because some members of Congress are determined to oversee it with all the flexibility of King George III’s oversight of the colonies, the omnibus bill will, if passed, overrule the will of the people of Washington.

A provision added the hastily cobbled together and minimally debated measure would, according to The Washington Post, “[prohibit] the District from using any of its own funds or federal funds to enact or implement drug laws that are weaker than federal ones, which still classify marijuana in the most dangerous class.”

In other words, because of congressional meddling, the voters of the District of Columbia could be denied the ability to govern their own affairs in a way that voters in every state are allowed to do.

This is, as The New York Times notes, an example of “the ‘plantation’ oversight powers long exploited by Congress to checkmate home rule in Washington.”

The District of Columbia should be a state. If it was, Congress could not meddle quite so crudely as it has with local democracy.

But, until that statehood step is taken, responsible members of Congress must recognize and respect that an omnibus spending bill that overrules the will of the people of America’s capital city is entirely unacceptable.

This is not a local issue.

This is an American democracy issue with national consequences—especially at a time when so many popular initiatives are being threatened with pre-emption by right-wing and corporate interests operating at the state and national levels.

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DC council member David Grosso and other local officials are precisely right to urge Americans to tell their representatives to take a stand for democracy and refuse to back an omnibus bill that thwarts the will of DC voters.

“Members of Congress of both parties are willing to sell us down the river to get some of their priorities through,” says Grosso. “Hopefully, people will stand up this time and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

 

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Why Dick Cheney Is Wrong About the CIA Torture Memos

Dick Cheney

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Senate Intelligence Committee had to release details on its multi-year investigation into how, under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the Central Intelligence Agency employed tactics that the world understands as torture. A decision to sit on the findings of what the 500-plus-page summary of the report begins by describing as a “brutal” and “flawed” program that was “in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values” would have put senators who are elected to serve and advance the public interest at odds with a basic American premise: the idea that a government acting in the name of the American people must regularly seek and obtain their informed consent.

This premise does not deny the necessity of action in an emergency. Nor does it require consultation so constant or picayune that all flexibility would be lost. But it does expect that officials can and shall be honest with the American people about long-term initiatives, about accepted tactics and about the values that guide this country as it engages domestically and internationally. In particular, it expects frankness and cooperation in interactions with the Congress that the people elect to check and balance the executive branch.

The Bush-Cheney administration did more than simply abandon this premise.

As Arizona Senator John McCain said, in defending the release of the report, the CIA interrogation program as it operated during the Bush-Cheney years "stained our national honor, did much harm, and little practical good."

With Cheney taking the lead, the former administration aggressively and repeatedly rejected the principles of transparency and accountability that are essential to maintaining not just national honor but meaningful democracy. And the assault continues, as Cheney, in particular, maintains the pattern of denial and defense that characterized his tenure as the most powerful—and secretive—vice president in American history.

Without reading the Senate Intelligence Committee’s lengthy summary, or the broader 6,000-page study that has not been made public because of what’s been described as “a prolonged tussle between the CIA and the committee over how much of the material should be classified,” Cheney was already attacking it. With his typical combination of bombastic aggression and refusal to face the facts—especially when those facts reveal the extent to which his own statements have been untrue—Cheney on the eve of the summary’s release decried the study as “a bunch of hooey.”

Cheney rejects what CNN describes as “the central conclusion” of the study: “that CIA employees exceeded the guidelines set by Justice Department memos that authorized the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and that the agency misrepresented to Congress and the White House what it was doing.”

“The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program,” claims Cheney, choosing, as he did throughout his vice presidency, to dismiss actual information in favor of a personal narrative where he is always right.

Doubling down in defense of what can only be described as “Cheneyism,” the former vice president is justifying waterboarding and other tactics as “absolutely, totally justified” and claiming that those who engaged in tactics that have long been identified as torture “ought to be decorated, not criticized.”

Presumably, Cheney includes himself on a longer list of those deserving decoration, as he boldly declares, “If I had to do it over again, I would do it.”

It is this overarching arrogance that has consistently put Cheney at odds with American ideals and American values regarding transparency and accountability. Even with the passage of time, even in the face of carefully gathered and carefully examined facts that suggest his own past statements were not just wrong but deliberately deceptive, the former vice president will not accept, let alone respect, any questioning of his absolute authority.

When he left office in January, 2009, Cheney’s approval rating was just 13 percent.

Now Cheney expects his fellow Republicans to embrace not just his sweeping rejection of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s majority report, but to his broader approach. Some are already following the former vice president’s lead—despite the irony of having complained so loudly (and sometimes appropriately) about a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the Obama administration. They are wrong to do so.

It needs to be understood, by people of all partisanships, that Cheney really is the outlier here. As difficult and challenging as a moment like this may be for Republicans and for some Democrats, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill is correct when she says, “This is a gut-check moment for our democracy.”

“The world knows we tortured,” explains McCaskill. “But does the world know yet that we’ll hold up our values and hold our government accountable?”

Going back to his days in the Nixon White House, and certainly during his time as the Reagan administration’s chief defender during the Iran/Contra inquiry, Cheney has rejected accountability and transparency. Indeed, he has for so long been so over-the-top in this regard that the opposite of the set of values mentioned by McCaskill is best understood as “Cheneyism.”

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There are Republicans who have rejected “Cheneyism”— not least McCain, who on Tuesday, announced "the truth is a hard pill to swallow (but) the American people are entitled to it."

More Republicans need to step up in defense of transparency and accountability, recognizing the wisdom of the Republican leader who best explained the necessity of transparency and accountability.

It was not a liberal Democrat, but rather a retired general, Dwight Eisenhower, who counseled the American people to always remember that “only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

 

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Bogus Bipartisanship: Congress Cooperates in the Service of Corporations

US Capitol

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The problem with bipartisanship as it is currently understood is that, for the most part, cooperation in Congress serves the elites that already are living large thanks to federal tax policies that redistribute wealth upward.

That was certainly the case this week, when the US House voted 378-46 for the so-called “Tax Increase Prevention Act.”

Hailed by politicians and pundits as an example of Congress coming together to get something done, the measure—which still must be considered by a somewhat skeptical Senate—is better understood as a glaring example of what it wrong with Washington.

“There are a lot of things that Congress didn’t get done in the last two years,” explains Congressman Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat who cast one of the lonely “no” voters in the House. “The fact that this was a priority of this leadership at this point shows just how broken this Congress is.”

The measure seeks to extend many of the most absurd tax breaks enjoyed by multinational corporations in a way that Congressman Keith Ellison says “gives away too much to big business, while doing little to help working families make ends meet.”

“The bill is full of deficit-financed corporate giveaways that won’t stimulate the economy or help working Americans,” notes Ellison, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “The bill retroactively restores the bonus depreciation tax break, which doesn’t increase economic growth because it helps companies pay for equipment they’ve already purchased. It also costs $1.49 billion. The active financing exemption allows companies to keep a huge amount of profits overseas and costs $5 billion. The bill also provides tax breaks for motorsports tracks such as NASCAR ($33 million) and racehorses ($45 million).”

The “bonus depreciation” merits special attention.

Georgetown University law professor David A. Super refers to that particular corporate tax break as a “license to steal”—because it “allows a business to pretend that its buildings and equipment wear out far faster than they actually do.”

“As economic stimulus, bonus depreciation does not work. Studies of a similar measure enacted to combat the 2001 recession found that only a tiny minority of businesses even considered the new tax benefit as an important factor in making investment decisions,” explains Super. Yet, he adds, “The cost [of bonus depreciation is] staggering: nearly $300 billion over the next decade, more than three times what we spend on nutrition supplements for pregnant women, infants and young children. That would wipe out roughly one-third of the deficit reduction from higher tax collections from the wealthy as a result of last year’s ’fiscal cliff’ deal.”

Only the most sold-out, corporate-hack Republican could back such a fundamentally flawed scheme, right?

Think again.

Of the 378 “yes” votes for the House measure, 202 did come from John Boehner’s Republicans. But the remaining 176 “yes” votes came from Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats.

Of the forty-six “no” votes, twenty-sixwere cast by Republicans—some libertarian-leaning foes of crony capitalism, others trickle-down zealots who would do even more for corporations and mega-rich CEOs. The twenty Democrats who opposed the measure pretty much make up the caucus of House members who actually get that something is very wrong with an economic calculus that says the richest individuals and corporations in America should be first in line for government assistance.

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Compromise-prone Democrats tried to argue that they had to back the measure because it extended some programs that benefit working Americans. However, Pocan explains, “almost all of the significant tax extenders were going to corporations, not to working people. And they were retroactive. You couldn’t even argue that they would create jobs—except in the last two weeks of the year.”

Ellison’s assessment was that “the bad clearly outweighs the good in this bill.”

“The bill passed [December 3] does little for working families, but lots for corporations already booking big profits,” added Ellison. “Too many Americans are working in jobs that don’t sustain their families. Nearly 75% of the tax breaks in the package will make their struggle to attain the American Dream even tougher.”

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