Wrong, Wrong and Right on Federal Courts for Terrorism Cases

Gabor Rona

International Legal Director

There are two distinct camps criticizing the use of federal courts to try terrorism suspects after last week’s federal court conviction of former Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Ghailani. Both are wrong.

One camp includes several members of Congress, such as Rep. John Boehner, and says that the outcome shows that military commissions are far superior to federal courts despite the facts:  (1) that Ghailani was convicted in federal court and faces 20 years to life; (2) that military commissions would not likely have admitted the torture-based evidence excluded by the federal court; (3) that military commissions’ powers are limited to war crimes and cannot likely try people for conduct, like Ghailani’s involvement in the 1998 embassy bombing, that pre-dates the US’ war against al Qaeda, or for “conspiracy,” a crime that three US Supreme Court justices have said is not a true war crime; and (4) the entire host of other problems that equate “military commissions” with “dysfunctional, disreputable and dispensable.”

The other, more knowledgeable (or more honest) camp recognizes the flaws of the military commission system, but calls for indefinite detention without trial of any sort.  This is the more pernicious argument, representing a much graver threat to liberty as we know it, as well as to national security. Among this group is Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department. He called the Ghailani verdict “disappointing,” but doesn’t say why. He poses the political nightmare scenario in which a terrorism suspect is found not guilty.

True, that would be a tough situation for the administration. But it’s what we used to call justice. And the administration could diffuse the prospects of that unpleasantness by doing a better job of using such an unlikely eventuality as a teachable moment, underscoring that prisoner abuse is an ineffective intelligence gathering strategy that also undermines our ability to obtain justice.

Also true that the law of armed conflict permits detention without criminal charge. But even though the US is in a war in Afghanistan and Iraq, that does not justify, let alone make wise, detaining any and all terrorism suspects without trial. Ghailani, whose crime occurred 3 years before 9/11, and the war that followed it, is a case in point.

Whether the alternative to tried and true federal trials is the mess that is military commissions, or the mess that is detention of criminal suspects without charge or trial, the effect is to cement, rather than reverse, a growing global sentiment that the United States is retreating from the rule of law. It’s a recruitment tool for our enemies and an impediment to US advocacy for human rights in other countries. But don’t take my word for it. At this week’s NATO Summit in Lisbon, Gen. Petreus (here and here) said the same. It is critical for us to live our values, he said, not only because Americans have fought for generations to protect them, but also because failure to do so will “bite you in the backside.” Whether you’re John Boehner or Jack Goldsmith, it is well to recall that lack of faith in the bedrock principles and institutions of American justice threatens our liberties and our security so much more than any terrorist can.

Human Rights First has conducted research, published in two major reports entitled Pursuit of Justice (here and here) on the experience of federal courts in hundreds of terrorism cases. These reports have received widespread acclaim for their detail, accuracy and successful refutation of criticisms that leveled at the use of federal courts.

Key graphs of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Working Group report on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal

Updates will follow at the bottom

This afternoon, the Pentagon Comprehensive Working Group report was released, and I’m coming up for air after reading through some key graphs. The report surveyed “400,000 active duty and reserve component Service members with an extensive and professionally-developed survey, which prompted 115,052 responses-one of the largest surveys in the history of the U.S. military,” (which includes self-identied gay or lesbian servicemembers), along with 150,000 spouses and other family members, foreign allies, members of Congress, services chiefs, service academy superintendents, and other personnel. Which makes it hard to cast as some minority report.

I think these paragraphs of the report indeed states it best:

The results of the survey are best represented by the answers to three questions:
  • When asked about how having a Service member in their immediate unit who said he or she is gay would affect the unit’s ability to “work together to get the job done,” 70% of Service members predicted it would have a positive, mixed, or no effect.
  • When asked “in your career, have you ever worked in a unit with a co-worker that you believed to be homosexual,” 69% of Service members reported that they had.
  • When asked about the actual experience of serving in a unit with a co-worker who they believed was gay or lesbian, 92% stated that the unit’s “ability to work together” was “very good,” “good,” or “neither good nor poor.”

The latter point is a statistic which is 89% for those in Army combat units and 84% for those in Marine combat units. Additionally, 74% of spouses of military service-members say repeal of DADT would have no impact on their view of whether their husbands or wives should continue to serve.

Other key graphs I think are important to highlight (bolding mine where seen):

The reality is that there are gay men and lesbians already serving in today’s U.S. military, and most Service members recognize this… Anecdotally, we also heard a number of Service members tell us about a leader, co-worker, or fellow Service member they greatly liked, trusted, or admired, who they later learned was gay; and how once that person’s sexual orientation was revealed to them, it made little or no difference to the relationship. Both the survey results and our own engagement of the force convinced us that when Service members had the actual experience of serving with someone they believe to be gay, in general unit performance was not affected negatively by this added dimension.

In communications with gay and lesbian current and former Service members, we repeatedly heard a patriotic desire to serve and defend the Nation, subject to the same rules as

everyone else. In the words of one gay Service member, repeal would simply “take a knife out of my back….You have no idea what it is like to have to serve in silence.” Most said they did not

desire special treatment, to use the military for social experimentation, or to advance a social agenda. Some of those separated under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would welcome the opportunity to rejoin the military if permitted. From them, we heard expressed many of the same values that we heard over and over again from Service members at large-love of country, honor, respect, integrity, and service over self. We simply cannot square the reality of these people with the perceptions about “open” service.

Along the way to gender integration, many of our Nation’s military leaders predicted dire consequences for unit cohesion and military effectiveness if women were allowed to serve in large numbers. As with racial integration, this experience has not always been smooth. But, the consensus is the same: the introduction and integration of women into the force has made our military stronger.

The general lesson we take from these transformational experiences in history is that in matters of personnel change within the military, predictions and surveys tend to overestimate negative consequences, and underestimate the U.S. military’s ability to adapt and incorporate within its ranks the diversity that is reflective of American society at large.

This one is particularly interesting:

We support the pre-existing proposals to repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and remove private consensual sodomy between adults as a criminal offense. This change in law is warranted irrespective of whether Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, to resolve any constitutional concerns about the provision in light of Lawrence v. Texas and United States v. Marcum. We also support revising offenses involving sexual conduct or inappropriate relationships to ensure sexual orientation neutral application, consistent with the recommendations of this report. For example, the offense of adultery defined in the Manual for Courts-Martial should be revised to apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual sex that is engaged in by or with a married person

If you’re wondering, given the size of the poll, the margin of error for the service member poll is +/- less than 1%, and “similar” for the spouse survey. So it’s hard to cast the numbers as wildly inaccurate.

The Working Group concluded that “Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low.”

In a press conference announcing the release, Secretary Gates commented:

Now that we have completed this review, I strongly urge the Senate to pass this legislation and send it to the president for signature before the end of this year. It is only a matter of time before the federal courts are drawn once more into the fray, with the very real possibility that this change would be imposed immediately by judicial fiat – by far the most disruptive and damaging scenario I can imagine, and the one most hazardous to military morale, readiness and battlefield performance.

While “judicial fiat” is not the language I would have chosen, Gates is using the threat of a court ruling as an argument for Congress to enact repeal “the right way”. It’s an interesting case that may encourage Senators to support repeal.

Jeh Johnson, a co-chair of the Working Group, also spoke, and noted that the resistance to repeal “is driven by misperceptions and stereotypes.”

The full report can be found here. I will continue updating this post as I keep reading, and let you know of other developments.

And as I wrote this morning, now is a more critical time than ever to call swing Senators and ask friends/family/colleagues to also do so, using the Pentagon report as a tool. A list of swing votes can be found here, and the number is 202-224-3121. We still have work to do.

Updated: An interesting section on page 122 that I think gets at much of the concern and stereotypes not just in the military, but in greater society with respect to gays and lesbians becoming teachers, or the passage of ENDA- and batted down by the Pentagon.

In listening to Service members we found a perceptions gap- between the perception of the gay Service member that people know and work with, and the perception of the stereotypical gay individual that people do not know and have never worked with. When Service members talk about a unit member they believe to be gay or lesbian, their assessment of that individual was based on a complete picture and actual experience, including the Service member’s technical and tactical capabilities and other characteristics that contribute to his or her overall effectiveness as a member of the military and as a colleague.

By contrast, when asked about serving with the imagined gay Service member who is “open” about his or her sexual orientation, that feature becomes the predominant if not sole characteristic of the individual, and stereotypes fill in the rest of the picture. Stereotypes motivated many of the comments we heard. The most prevalent concern expressed is that gay men will behave in a stereotypically effeminate manner, while lesbian women are stereotypically painted in “masculine” terms. We heard widespread perceptions that, if permitted to be open and honest about their sexual orientation, gay Service members would behave as sexual predators and make unwelcome sexual advances on heterosexuals, gay men would adopt feminine behavior and dress, there would be open and notorious displays of affection in the military environment between same-sex couples, and that repeal would lead to an overall erosion of unit cohesion, morale, and good order and discipline.  Based on our review, however, we conclude that these concerns are exaggerated and not consistent with the reported experiences of many Service members.

The perceptions gap we note here is also reflected in the survey data. The data reveals that Service members who are currently serving with someone they believe to be gay or lesbian are less likely to perceive a negative impact of repeal on the key elements of unit task and social cohesion, and unit effectiveness. Conversely, those who have believe they have never served with someone who is gay or lesbian are more likely to perceive a negative impact. Likewise, of Service members who believe they have in their career served in a unit with a co-worker who is gay or lesbian, 92% stated that the unit’s “ability to work together” was “very good,” “good,” or “neither good nor poor.”

Thus, our view is that the negative perceptions and predictions of serving alongside a gay Service member are refuted by the considerable track record of actual experiences where Service members did exactly that.

Update 2: This section on pages 126-27 make up especially critical talking points against one of the lead anti-repeal arguments, that being “now is not the time”:

Change During a Time of War

Our assessment also took account of the fact that the Nation is at war on several fronts, and for a period of over nine years, the U.S. military has been fully engaged, and has faced the stress and demands of frequent and lengthy deployments. When it comes to a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, many ask: why now?

The question “why now?” is not for us, but for the President, the Secretary of Defense, and Congress, informed by the military advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The question we answer here is “can we now?” We considered the question carefully and conclude that repeal can be implemented now, provided it is done in a manner that minimizes the burden on leaders in deployed areas. Our recommended implementation plan does just that, and it is discussed more fully in the accompanying support plan for implementation.

The primary concern is for the added requirement that will be created by the training and education associated with repeal. We are cognizant of these concerns, but note that during this period, the Services have undertaken education and training in deployed areas on a number of important personnel matters. These education and training initiatives have included increased emphasis on sexual assault prevention and response, suicide prevention, and training to detect indications of behavioral health problems.

The conduct of these programs in deployed areas indicates that training and education associated with a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can be accommodated. We assess this to be the case, in large part because our recommendations in this report involve a minimalist approach to changes in policies, plus education and training that reiterates existing policies in a sexual orientation-neutral manner.

It is also the case that the results of the survey indicate, though this is a time of war, a solid majority of Service members believe that repeal will have positive, mixed, or no effect. Most of those surveyed joined our military after September 11, 2001, and have known nothing but a military at war.

We are also informed by past experience. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, in the period immediately following World War II, during the Korean War and the beginning of the Cold War, our military took on the task of racial integration, in advance of the rest of society. And, at the time, the change implicated far larger numbers of Service members: African Americans in the Army then numbered 700,000 of a total force of over 8 million, and the opposition to racial integration was far greater than today’s resistance to repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The process of racial integration was slow and presented many challenges, but history shows that there were no differences in combat effectiveness in the Korean War between integrated and all-white segregated units.

1 in 10 Americans are on Unemployment

1 in 10 Americans are on Unemployment – that is a staggering fact, one that affects our fellow LGBT brothers and sisters at a high rate.  With the push for DADT repeal, I hope you will also take a second to demand that Congress extend Unemployment Benefits to the millions of Americans who are out of work.

As someone who has been on unemployment before, I can personally vouch that if it were not for the support of the Unemployment I received, I would have likely lost my home and my healthcare coverage.  This can be devastating for our communities; devastating to neighbors who are dependent on medications, friends struggling to keep their homes, or family-members faced with a life threatening illness.

We all know someone who is looking for work right now, the job market is slow and even tougher for a minority. For many of us we want to be working, we want to be contributing our fair share but sometimes we are over-looked for openings because we happen to be trans or openly Gay.  We have a small window to push Congress into action and extend this crucial lifeline to tens or hundreds of thousands of our community members.

Americans for Democratic Action has launched an aggressive petition to force Congress to act now.  While Congress debates tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, our community members are struggling to find work, are losing their homes and are being forced to choose between crucial medications and going hungry.  

I hope you will take two seconds out of your day to sign this petition and urge your friends to do the same – this maybe a lifeline to one of your friends or even yourself, and it will only be extended in the lame duck session if we act together.

Sign the petition right now  at – http://bit.ly/ib93ap

Help expand the reach, Donate your facebook and twitter today with this link to tell all your friends.

Demand Congress help the 1 in 10 Americans on unemployment NOW – http://bit.ly/ib93ap  – #p2 #lgbt

– Andy Szekeres

Extended unemployment benefits run out today. Senators call for 1-year extension

Extended unemployment benefits are about to run out today.  If al Qaeda really wanted to hit America where it hurts, this is what they’d do.  But there’s no need, since the GOP is poised to do it for them.

A letter from 29 senators to Harry Reid and Max Baucus, says, in part:

“We understand the fiscal concerns that arise when debating a continuation of unemployment insurance programs.  However, a broad spectrum of economists has stated that these benefits have a significant stimulative effect and a greater impact on gross domestic product than most other federal programs. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute has stated that an extension of federally funded extended benefits would increase gross domestic product by 0.7 percent and save or create the full-time equivalent of 723,000 jobs.  A U.S. Department of Labor report, commissioned during the Bush Administration, has found that unemployment  benefits during the most recent recession saved 1.6 million jobs per quarter, lowered the unemployment rate by 1.2 percentage points, and reduced the decline in gross domestic product by 18.3 percent.  Based on this information, now is not the time to end federally funded unemployment benefits.

Conservatives like to pretend that all this unemployment is due to a sudden wave of laziness among workers.  Or, alternatively, it’s because marginal taxes on millionaires has created “uncertainty”, though how that’s supposed to affect job creation they never bother to spell out.  But the reality is quite simple: This is the worst recession since the Great Depression, and employment gains in recoveries after recessions have grown increasingly slow over time.

From the Real World Economics Review blog last week, “USA long-term unemployment: 5 graphs”, here are two in particular.

First, just how bad this recession is in comparative terms, and how weak and delayed the recovery is:

Second, just how sharply long-term unemployment has spiked:

This is not a question of economic policy.  

This is a question of economic policy vs. pure sadism.

DADT state of play, November 30th

Riffing off my colleague Chris Bowers’ titles, I’ll be doing updates on DADT repeal as we ramp up this week and next towards a vote on repeal in the U.S. Senate.

Here’s where we stand:

  • First, an overview of the next several days. Today at 1 PM EST 2:15 PM the Comprehensive Review Working Group will release its report on repealing DADT. In what has long been considered by many, including myself, to be an obstacle to repeal, the report may actually become a boost to our side, as numerous Senators, including repeal opponent Jim Webb, have said they will take the report very seriously in weighing whether or not to support repeal, and an early leak showed an overwhelming majority (70%) believe allowing servicemembers to join and serve openly will have positive, mixed or no effects. I was just on a press call with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, whose executive director Aubrey Sarvis said he believes the report will be “one of the best tools that repeal advocates can use in the lame duck session.” I’ll be reading and summarizing the report here when it comes out.
  • On Thursday morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the report. Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen will testify, along with the co-chairs of the Comprehensive Review Working Group, Jeh Johnson and and General Carter Ham. On Friday, the rest of the Joint Chiefs will appear to testify before the same committee. This lineup will include General Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant, who has publicly discouraged DADT repeal (and later been rebuked by Admiral Mullen). Other members of the JCS may also weigh in, in a way that is not helpful. If Thursday’s lineup is very pro-repeal, Friday’s may be opposite.
  • There is no date certain yet, but Sen. Reid announced he will bring up the defense authorization bill with DADT repeal attached. Critical is a different amendment process this time, as the procedure last time gave Republicans excuses to block a vote on proceeding. As Sen. Lieberman noted in his pre-Thanksgiving press conference, he believes 60 votes or more exist, but a “fair and open amendment process” is critical.

    What that means exactly remains to be seen. On the SLDN call, I asked Aubrey about an amendment to strip repeal. He told me Sen. Reid indicated that Sen. McCain will get his amendment to strip repeal, and told me, “I do not believe that Sen. McCain can get 51 votes to strip the repeal provision.” Whether that amendment is sufficient remains to be seen. A well-placed source working on repeal tells me Reid’s office, at this point, isn’t willing to allow even 10 amendments, purely because of time considerations and because it’s viewed that the ultimate cloture motion on the bill may very well fail. According to the source, several Republican Senators are under heavy pressure in their caucus to vote against repeal, and at least push for amendments on the bill. If 10 or more amendments and requisite debate time (30 minutes or more) aren’t allowed, then we could very well end up with the same vote count as that taken before the election.

    On the SLDN call, I asked Aubrey if he agreed with the source on the importance of at least ten amendments with at least 30 minutes of consideration, or whether he believes allowing the McCain amendment would be “sufficient” to get votes to proceed. Aubrey told me:

    I think the Majority Leader has to allow for a number of amendments on each side. I think discussions are underway for what that would look like- is it 10 amendments, is it 20, and is it for 30 minutes each. Most people think that would be fair in the limited time left in this session. But yes, I think there has to be amendments allowed on each side. Five won’t cut it. And yes, there’s probably even more pressure now coming from the Republican caucus, coming from Sen. McConnell for his caucus to view this as a caucus issue and to maintain discipline to not allow anything to happen in the lame duck. Fortunately, I think there are several Republican Senators who will not go along with that. But yes, it’s important.

    So, it is critical that Sen. Reid allow for a process that enables pro-repeal votes to be cast.

  • Various reports are circulating that Sen. Ben Nelson is now a swing vote and/or waiting to see the Pentagon report. I just checked in over the phone with the same senior official in his office who broke the news to me a few months ago that Sen. Nelson would vote aye in committee, and he confirmed Sen. Nelson is a solid pro-repeal vote on this issue- on the motion to proceed, on a potential amendment to strip repeal out of the defense authorization bill, and on every other scenario I presented.
  • Speaking of the magic 60 vote threshold, here’s where we stand. Lieberman named Collins and Lugar as aye votes. Collins voted aye in committee, and it’s widely believed Lugar is a potential get. The same day of the Lieberman et al press conference, as I wrote here, Murkowski and Ensign were reported as aye votes, although Murkowski later backpedaled on that, as did Ensign. Sen. Kirk, who replaced pro-repeal Sen. Burris, is also a no, as appears Sen. Pryor, who appears to have been taken over by a right-wing fundie pod person.

    On the private side, several people close to the lobbying process tell me Lincoln will be fine, as will Webb, who voted with us before the election to proceed on the bill with repeal language included, although he is currently opposed to repeal itself, but making signals that he will remain open-minded pending the report. On the swing side, Collins (who voted aye in committee but no on proceeding before the election) is very gettable, as is Snowe, Lugar, and Voinovich. Less gettable but possible are also Murkowski, Ensign, Gregg, Kirk, and Bond. I asked Aubrey this morning to confirm this list, which he did. There are conflicting reports from various people on whether Scott Brown is possible. And of course, this may all change after the report comes out, and I will report on new movement.

  • On that kind of movement, and the Obama Administration’s involvement, Sen. Collins has requested a one-on-one meeting with Secretary Gates to discuss the report. Hopefully she’ll get it, and the Administration will use Gates and all available other tools to move Senators.
  • Today is actually the anniversary of President Clinton signing this into law.
  • Lady Gaga jumps back into the fray.

  • What you can do: (1) Pass on Lady Gaga’s message with a personal ask to call Senators (2) Call Senators who are listed as swing votes above, and urge family/friends/colleagues who are constituents to do so. This really is the most critical time period. The main Capitol Hill switchboard is 202-224-3121. Please call and urge others to do so.

Weekly Audit: A Progressive Deficit Fix?

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The co-chairs of the 18-member deficit commission issued a preliminary presentation two weeks ago that favored tax breaks for the wealthy and left open the possibility of deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other social programs. But there’s still time for the commission to radically reshape its message before it issues its final report.

Jan’s plan

That’s exactly what progressive Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is trying to bring about. Schakowsky is a member of the commission and she has an alternative, progressive plan to rein in the deficit, as David Moberg reports for Working in These Times:

It would not go into effect until 2015 or after unemployment subsides,  and it provides for $200 billion of job-creating investments during the  next two years, in addition to reducing the deficit by $441 billion in  2015, nearly double Obama’s target. Slightly more than a third of  Schakowsky’s proposed deficit reduction would come from new revenue  (mostly tax changes hitting the wealthy and corporations but also from  cap-and-trade carbon emission controls), 30 percent from ending or  reforming tax expenditures (again, mainly benefiting rich taxpayers), a  quarter from defense cuts, and 9 percent from mandatory programs (like  offering a public option for health insurance and requiring Medicare to  bargain over drug prices). Though Social Security does not contribute to  the deficit, Schakowsky plans to secure future payouts without benefit  cuts by increasing how much the wealthy pay into the retirement program.

A public option for health insurance would keep rising health care costs in check because insurers would have to compete with non-profit, government-administered insurance. Instead of cutting Social Security benefits for the needy, Schakowsky would simply eliminate the arbitrary payroll tax ceiling on high earners. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it?

A coalition of progressive groups calling itself Our Fiscal Security unveiled its own alternative proposal for cutting the deficit on Monday, Luke Johnson reports for the Colorado Independent. Key planks of the platform include repealing the Bush tax cuts, reinstating the estate tax for married couples with assets greater than $4 million, and capping itemized deductions at 15%. Coalition members include Demos, the Century Foundation, and the Economic Policy Foundation.

Generation Recession

Young adults have the highest unemployment rate of any demographic. At the National Radio Project, Rina Palta examines the impact of joblessness on the nation’s 80 million “Millennials.” (Audio) Palta talks to young people who are weathering their first layoffs mere weeks or months after landing their first professional jobs.

Mark Kirk: Tax Cuts for the Rich “No Matter What”

The day before 2.5 million Americans stand to lose their unemployment benefits, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) went on TV to insist that unemployment insurance is misguided and that the government must cut taxes for the rich “no matter what,” Julianne Escobedo Shepherd reports in AlterNet.

Oddly enough, Kirk fancies himself a moderate by Republican standards, according to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly. Kirk believes that extending unemployment insurance would “just add to the deficit.” In fact, as Benen notes, extending unemployment benefits would be a very efficient way to infuse billions of dollars into the economy. Unemployed people will spend their extended benefits on food, gas, rent, and other necessities. That money doesn’t just disappear into the ether, it feeds local businesses, who in turn keep other Americans working.

The Republican Party line is that the rich need tax cuts because they create jobs. If tax cuts for the rich created jobs, we should already have a full employment economy. As the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, taxes for the rich are at all time lows and unemployment is at historic highs. It is crazy to assume that allowing these tax cuts to continue will magically produce jobs that have yet to materialize, or even bring back the jobs that have disappeared since the Bush tax cuts went into effect.

Ireland’s Billion Dollar Bailout

Over the weekend, the  world’s financial institutions agreed to spend $90 billion to bail out  Ireland. Tim Fernholz of TAPPED worries that this sum is too small to bring Ireland back from the brink of its sovereign debt crisis. He  argues that the world financial community is making the same mistake it  made in the 1990s when it forced debtor nations into fiscal austerity  without forcing creditor nations to restructure their loans on more  sustainable terms.

Once again, bondholders are being spared while  Irish taxpayers are being expected to shoulder the heaviest burdens. The  economic argument for saving the bondholders is that a bond is an  ironclad promise, and that if you start expecting bondholders to accept  less than 100% of what was promised to them (no matter how ill-advised  they were to take that promise), the entire system will fall apart. It’s  ironic that the promises that governments make to their citizens are  endlessly renegotiable while bond deals are ironclad. Worldwide,  citizens outnumber bondholders. Having citizens lose faith in their  government seems far more dangerous than expecting bondholders to take a haircut.

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Progressive think tank alliance produces shocking new budget proposal: GROW the economy!

Demos, The Century Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute, in a joint venture, Our Fiscal Security, have just released a new report, “Investing in America’s Economy: A Budget Blueprint for Economic Recovery and Fiscal Responsibility.”  (I’ll have more later today about a second progressive proposal, which in part builds on this report.) Not only does it focus on the immediate crisis and the need for economic recovery in the short term, it is also focused on long-term economic growth for the economy as a whole as a key consideration in shaping a long-term sustainable budget policy. (Now, why didn’t Obama think of that?) The press release explains:

The Blueprint takes a very different approach from other prominent proposals, specifically prioritizing a strong economic recovery because widespread job creation and robust economic growth are essential to successful deficit reduction.

The plan will produce the following short- and long-term results:

  • Substantial and sustained increased funding for job creation and investments, especially in the near term;
  • A budget path that significantly improves the 10-year budget outlook;
  • A transition from a primary deficit to a primary surplus in 2018, and sustainable debt levels by the end of the decade;
  • An improvement in the long-term path for public debt, stabilizing debt as a share of the economy beyond 2025;
  • A solid footing for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for the long term; and
  • A modernized tax code that raises adequate revenue fairly and efficiently.

The Blueprint‘s budget path boosts funding for near-term job creation, achieves lower deficits in the medium-term and balances the primary federal budget in less than a decade. It does so with the recognition that boosting-rather than cutting-spending on national priorities, including infrastructure, transportation, technology and education, is critical to American prosperity. Unlike the other plans, the Blueprint provides a path to do more than cut the deficit; it has as its overarching goal the creation of a stronger middle class and a fundamentally more robust American economy.

Last night, Heather McGhee, Director of the Washington office of Demos, appeared on Countdown to talk about the plan:

The introduction to the report explains:

We believe that a sound fiscal path must follow some basic guidelines:
    1. Jobs first. Jobs and economic growth are essential to our capacity to reduce deficits, and there should be no across-the-board spending reductions until the economy fully recovers. In fact, efforts to spur job creation today will put us on a better economic path and create a solid revenue base. We believe there should be no consideration of overall spending reductions until unemployment has fallen to 6% and remained at or below that level for six months (Irons 2010a).

    2. Stabilize debt. Over the long term, national debt as a share of the economy should be stabilized and eventually brought onto a downward trajectory.

    3. Build on economy-boosting investments. We must build and maintain initiatives that directly support long-term job and economic growth. Failing to invest adequately in these efforts – or sacrificing them to short-term deficit reduction – would be a dereliction of sound public management.

    4. Target revenue increases. Revenue increases should come primarily from those who have benefited most from the economic gains of the last few decades.

    5. No cost shifting. Debt reduction must be weighed against other economic priorities. Policies that simply shift costs from the federal government to individuals and families may improve the government’s balance sheet but would worsen the condition of many Americans, leaving the overall economy no better off.

Putting our nation on a path of broad prosperity will require generating new jobs, investing in key areas, modernizing and restoring our revenue base, and greatly increasing the cost efficiency of the health care system. Achieving these goals, however, will require an informed and engaged public to help set national priorities.

This report puts forth a blueprint that invests in America and creates jobs now, while putting the federal budget on a long-term sustainable path. We document the hard choices that need to be made and suggest specific policies that will yield lower deficits and a sustainable debt while preserving essential initiatives and investments

Some key charts showing the projected impact of this plan compared to alternatives.  First, the superior medium-term debt stabilization, despite–or rather, beacause of increased short-term deficits because of stimulus spending:

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Next, the long-term superiority of the plan, which is more than doubled by the inclusion of its health-care cost reductions:

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And finally, the increased long-term benefits due to enhanced economic growth:

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You’ve really got to wonder why Obama and the Democrats haven’t been framing the issue like this from day one.  Cutting the budget is a conservative frame.  In their worldview, the government only takes money away from the private sector, that’s it. So cutting government automatically grows the economy, no need to think about it anymore.  In the real world, that’s completely ridiculous.  It’s no accident that America’s high-tax states are the wealthiest and healthiest states overall, while the low-tax states are concentrated in the still-impoverished heart of the old Confederacy.  Taxes are the key to paying for public investment that makes private wealth-creation possible.  This is what reality loooks like, and it’s what a progressive view of the economy looks like.  So framing the economic challenge we face in these terms should be a no-brainer.

Why is Obama still thinking like a Reagan Republican?  WHy isn’t he thinking like this?

Congressmember Bob Filner: Confronting racist Tea Party violence on election night

Yesterday morning, I heard an interview with San Diego Congressmember Bob Filner on a local Pacifica radio program. Filner talked briefly about the violent confrontation that he and some supporters experienced at the hands of his opponent, Nick

A budget for America’s future

Earlier this morning I did a diary about the new report, “Investing in America’s Economy: A Budget Blueprint for Economic Recovery and Fiscal Responsibility,” from Our Fiscal Security, a joint venture of Demos, The Century Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute. In it, I noted, “I’ll have more later today about a second progressive proposal, which in part builds on this report.”  Well, here it is.

This second proposal is  the “Report And Recommendations Of The Citizens’ Commission On Jobs, Deficits And America’s Economic Future”, organized out of the Institute for America’s Future.    I participated in a press teleconference this morning and I’ve looked at the report, and the two reports are far more similar than they are different.  In fact, when asked about the differences in the teleconference, the response was a laundry list of similarities, before any relatively small difference were brought up.  It’s not that surprising, really, given that the Citizen’s Commission main includes a note saying:

Our deliberations were also informed by recent work by the Economic Policy Institute, especially their report, “America’s Economy: A Budget Blueprint for Economic Recovery and Fiscal Responsibility,” published by Demos, EPI and The Century Foundation on November 29, 2010.

One might say that the primary difference is the kind of organizations involved and what they are up to,which also results in some differences in framing their messages. Our Fiscal Security is an alliance of three think tanks. The Citizen’s Commission is a broader array of organizations involved in activism, with a large membership and active involvement at the community level across the nation, especially through the union movement, which was represented at the teleconference by Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America.

“Working Americans have had it with the austerity model,” Cohen said. “The austerity model has lead to the worst incomes disparity in our history.” He went on to note that other countries–whether developed or developing (he specifically cited Germany and Brazil)–were taking a very different approach. He said it was a “fallacy that we’re all consumers” in terms of our main identity, instead, he said that for most Americans, “their main identity is as workers,” meaning that a share of future prosperity they help to create is more significant to them than the promise of cheaper goods and penny-ante tax cuts. “We’re encouraged by the report, and we’re committed to it’s implementation,” he concluded.

Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and president of PolicyLink, put it bluntly, “We can’t slash our way to prosperity,”

Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s future fleshed her statement out by comparing our current situation with the last time we had such a high debt-to-GDP ratio. Higher, in fact: the aftermath of WWII.  We didn’t worry or focus on the deficit then, he pointed out.  We worried about rebuilding the American economy on a peace-time footing. We paid for converting factories from military to civilian production. We paid for the GI Bill, and for the explosion of home-ownership in newly-built suburbs. We even paid to help rebuild Europe via the Marshall Plan.  And it’s that same sort of focus on bravely building the future, and growing the economy,. rather than cowering in fear and slashing the budget that makes the Citizen’s Commission report, “consistent with the American way,” he explained.  The report itself drew a contrasting historical parallel–the premature budget-slashing of 1937 that lead to a renewed recession which was only finally overcome through the massive military spending of WWII.

And Robert Kuttner warned that the failure to recognize the need for growth gave rise a false balance argument. Interviewers typically “assume the paramount problem is deficit,” he said, so they ask, “Why can’t Democrats cut spending and Republicans raise taxes?”–a “solution” that would do nothing to solve the problem of an economy mired in long-term underperformance.

The report’s executive summary presents a clear vision of how it differs from other proposals out there:

This commission has two major priorities. The first is to assure that the U.S. economy recovers fully and returns to a fast track of growth. This is the right way to reduce the current high deficit. The second is longterm public investment in sustainable growth, ensuring a healthy economy that can generate adequate revenue for needed public services. We have outlined three key principles that any plan for growth and deficit reduction must follow:

  • Grow the economy. Don’t kill growth and jobs in the name of deficit reduction.
  • Target what truly drives deficits. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.
  • Invest in future sustainable growth while balancing our national accounts.

These are not just moral imperatives. They are economic prerequisites for successful deficit reduction.

This also translated into a three-pronged approach in terms of time-frames that Borosage explained in the teleconrence:

First: Invest $500 billion per year on growth for two years.  A targetted front-end stimulus is key to getting the economy back to near full employment as quickly as possible–which will also serve to slash the immediate deficits, as tax revenues rebound.

Second:, Once growth gets going, continue with sustained, paid-for investments on the order of $400-$450 billion in eductuine, training, and infrastructure for future growth, particularly  green energy, at the same time cutting unproductive spending, most notably in the military, where we spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined..

Third: Long-term, target what drives the long-term projected deficit–primarily systemic health care costs–don’t “fix what isn’t broken,” Borosage said.  What we face is “not an entitlement problem,” it’s “a healthcare cost problem,” which can be solved without slashing, much less dismantling Medicare, by improving the entire American healthcare system.

One distintive feature of the report’s proposals is the revenue sources it looks to, which include financial speculkation taxes, a surcharge on top earners, taxing capital gains and dividends as normal income, cap and trade or a carbon tax, increasing the motor fuels tax, and others.  The logic of these taxes is to tax those who most afford to pay, those who have benefitted disproporationately in the past and not paid their fair share, and to help move us in the direction of a sustainable green economy, which will also reduce costs due to global warming that are not yet even considered in other plans. Here are the details:

2. New Revenues – For Deficit Reduction, Fairness, and Investing in the Future.
Increase overall tax revenues with a set of reforms that end excessive benefits for the wealthy, protect the middle class, add jobs, promote growth, and ensure tax fairness. We propose a set of revenue increases and other tax changes that would raise approximately $500 billion in 2015, while protecting the financial security of all Americans. Proposals are listed below with estimated 2015 costs and savings.
End Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
Revenues: Already included in Obama budget projections.
Financial Speculation Tax. A tax on financial transactions of 0.25-0.50 percent on all transactions would have two benefits. It would reduce the speculation that led to the last recession and contributed to the current deficit, and it could raise an estimated $130 billion a year.
Revenues: $130 billion.
Establish a Surcharge on Top Earners. Revenues: $53.2 billion.
Tax capital gains and dividends as normal income. Revenues: $88.5 billion.
Cap Use of Itemized Deductions at 15 percent and Expand Charitable Giving Credit.
Objectives: Revenues for deficit reduction, job creation and investment; support additional charity giving.
Revenues: $87.9 billion.
Additional proposals regarding corporate income and dividends. Revenues: $112 billion.
Enact an Estate Tax with a Progressive Schedule of Marginal Tax Rates (per Sanders/Whitehouse bill).
Revenues: $4.5 billion.
Establish a Cap and Trade or Carbon Tax. Revenues: $52 billion.
Repeal tax subsidy for mergers and acquisitions. Revenues: $5 billion.
Increase the Motor Fuels Tax.
Additional Objectives: Decreased use of fossil fuels. Revenues: $33 billion
Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Objectives: Help working families escape poverty, increase spending to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
Cost: $1.6 billion.
Make the Child Tax Credit Fully Refundable. Cost: $4.2 billion
Permanently Extend the Making Work Pay Tax Credit.
Objectives: Tax savings for 96 percent of households, stimulating the economy through purchase of goods and services.
Cost: $36 billion.
Total Net Revenue Increases: $524.3 billion

This is just the beginning of what those involved see as a prolonged struggle, a struggle to reshape the future of America.

Heads Up! Social Security/”deficit reduction.” Panel discussion in NYC, ACTION ALERT nationwide

Action Alert: Social Security call-in tomorrow on the flip!

But first, for those of you in the NYC area, a chance to hear directly from some of America’s most knowledgeable thinkers:

Join the Roosevelt Institute on

December 2nd, from 8-11am

at NYC’s Harvard Club 27 West 44th St.

for a panel discussion of the Bipartisan Deficit Commission Report, the future of the U.S. Economy, and the prospects for policy change in the wake of the midterm elections.

The conversation will be framed by the release of three new Roosevelt Institute White Papers:


Democracy in Peril: The American Turnout Problem and the Path to Plutocracy

Walter Dean Burnham


A World Upside Down: Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession

Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson