Category Archives: Ensign

Coffee and the Papers

Oh my, the story concerning Nevada über-lobbyist Harvey Whittemore has all the Big Names — Ensign, Ernaut, Sandoval, Reid, Heller, Berkley — and a flight of campaign donations returned. [full story Las Vegas Sun] Perhaps leading to the conclusion that Hell hath no fury like a business partner scorned?

Someone might want to tell Senator Rubio (R-FL) that he really doesn’t get to have it both ways.  He can’t devote a full paragraph to his family’s flight from Castro’s Cuba [Rubio] in his Congressional biography, which is a little strange since his parents left in 1956* (and then attempted to return, or visited, or something in ’61),  campaign as one who  “always publicly identified with the exile community and has a strong following within it. In a campaign ad last year, he said: “As the son of exiles, I understand what it means to lose the gift of freedom,” [CSM] [WaPo] and then get touchy when Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) calls him out for stonewalling the confirmation of Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador in order to pressure the Obama Administration into changing policy toward Cuba and Nicaragua. [LV Sun]  *Fidel Castro did not take over until February 16, 1959.

The Yucca Mountain Breakdown. Another slip of the tongue from Mark Amodei (R-NV2) “While nobody wants a nuclear landfill in Nevada, we probably ought to at least talk about it,” Amodei said. “Well if that is breaking ranks, then yes I did.” At which point former Nevada Governor Richard Bryan came down upon the freshman representative like a ton of toxic dirt. [full story Nevada News Bureau]  Just asking, but if nobody in Nevada wants it — what is the point of talking about it?

No matter how many Democrats jump on board, the cleverly named CPU Act is a bad idea.   The bottom line is that enactment of this legislation would cut tech workers’ pay and allow employers to cut overtime pay. [More at Economic Policy Institute]

A bankruptcy is a bankruptcy… Governor Romney is having some difficulty in Michigan with the auto bailout rhetoric.  And, then’s there’s Bain in the mix:

“The managed bankruptcies that Romney had in mind in early 2009 for the two car companies pretty clearly were liquidations that would then allow Bain Capital or other venture capital firms to buy small parts of these companies, eliminate union workers, and … I’m not sure.  A weird, incoherent ad his campaign’s been running on the local news broadcasts actually hints at the elimination-of-union-workers thing, while actually advertising that “liberals” got “Obama” to save the auto industry.  Seriously.” [Angry Bear]

Not. So. Fast.  Senator Pat Toomey (R-Club for Growth) was incensed that anyone would believe his taxation plan would require tax increases for those earning less than $200,000 annually.  Except Senator Toomey’s tax plan would require tax increases for those earning less than $200,000 annually.

“The math is irrefutable.  Senator Toomey told O’Brien that, while reducing their deductions and credits, he also would cut tax rates for people below $200,000 so that they would face no net tax increase.  But that can’t be.  If the tax plan is supposed to produce a net increase in revenues, and if it loses revenue from people making over $200,000, then it simply must raise revenue from people making less than $200,000.”  [CBPP]

Financialist Follies.  John Paulson, he of the Hedge Fund Titans who helped create the Wall Street Casino, is worried about a Greek default:

“We believe a Greek payment default could be a greater shock to the system than Lehman’s failure, immediately causing global economies to contract and markets to decline,” the hedge fund said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. The euro is “structurally flawed and will likely eventually unravel,” it said.?  [Bloomberg]

Look carefully at Paulson’s terms.  “Shock to the system” as in a shock to the financial markets.  “Causing global economies to contract” as in investment banks particularly in France and Germany will find themselves in another bind.  “Markets to decline,” at this point Paulson isn’t talking about the market for automobiles, homes, refrigerators, or agricultural products — the only “market” in which he is interested is the Stock Market.

In short, we might want to take a deep breath and contemplate what another self-induced panic by the Wall Street wizards might mean for credit access for American consumers and businesses.   Remember: Those investment banks could have invested in plant expansion, infrastructure projects, manufacturing upgrades, or entrepreneurial enterprises — it was THEIR choice to invest in Greek debt.

Brute Force, that’s how a Citigroup whistle blower described the firm’s attempt to paper over its bad loans. [C&L]

“Instead of reporting the defects to the Federal Housing Administration, the bank saddled the agency with losses by falsely declaring the loans fit for its federal insurance program, according to a complaint filed yesterday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Citigroup agreed to pay $158.3 million to settle the claims, and admitted that it certified loans for FHA backing that didn’t qualify.”  [Bloomberg]

And, how was this accomplished?

“Efforts to quash negative quality-control reports about mortgages continued into 2011, according to the complaint. That January, at a quarterly staff meeting that Hunt said 1,000 people attended, CitiMortgage managers gave a “Star Players Award” to workers who had successfully challenged negative reviews during meetings with quality-assurance workers and others, according to the complaint.”  [Bloomberg]

The press release from the Department of Justice, USAO Southern District of NY is available here for those who want more details. (pdf)

The Urban legend of those Terrible Health Care Costs.  Oops, the facts just don’t fit the narrative.

“In fact, the recent trends are mildly favorable. As J. D. Keinke of the American Enterprise Institute writes today in the Wall Street Journal, the idea of runaway health spending is a “myth” because “new data show that health spending over the past several years has been normalizing toward the rate of general inflation, rather than growing higher and higher, as had been the case almost continuously since the 1970s.” … [EconView]

Faux New tries and fails to get the author of the book on the Obama Administration to fill in the blanks with misinformation.  Find the entertaining and illuminating video here.

WalkerGate gets more interesting as investigators are probing into the possibility of real estate bid rigging in Wisconsin while Scott Walker was Milwaukee County Executive. [BlueCheddar] [MJS 1/25] Walker has asked for two more weeks for reviewing recall petitions. [MJS]  This, while a three judge federal panel excoriated Wisconsin Republican lawmakers and told them:

“…to turn over 84 documents to a group of Democrats in a blistering order that said Republicans had engaged in an “all but shameful” effort to keep its efforts hidden from the public.

The court promptly released the documents that showed, among other things, that Republicans who drew new election maps last year largely orchestrated the public testimony given in support of them.

The three federal judges – two of them appointed by Republicans – were unanimous in their decision. It came after a string of orders against the Republicans and just five days be fore the judges will preside over a trial in Milwaukee to determine whether the maps adhere to the U.S. Constitution. [MJS]

But, the saddest feature of the attacks on Wisconsin citizens and their rights is to be found in this article, including:

“Before Sunday’s sermon in many churches in Milwaukee, ministers and religious leaders will ask those sitting in the pews to pull out their photo identification as a step to make sure that their members can vote in Tuesday’s primary election.” [MJS]

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Filed under Amodei, Berkley, Ensign, Health Care, Heller, labor, Reid, Romney, Sandoval, tax revenue, Taxation, Vote Suppression, Yucca Mountain

Personal and Political, Information, Info-tainment

Politics gets personal:  Not that the Santorum presidential bid is going anywhere, but Mr. Family Values was involved in Nevada’s infamous L’Affair Ensign. [Las Vegas Sun] The Silver State will now have another 11 months of blustering from the potential state senate GOP caucus chair (Sen. Michael – Dangerous Driver – Roberson) who believes that the Democrats have been picking on the Gop’ers. [RGJ]  Nevada potentate, Sheldon Adelson, is bankrolling the Gingrich assault on Willard Mitt Romney, [SlashPolitics] leaving us with an interesting scene in which an ultra-conservative beneficiary of deregulation and financialism is attacking one of the prime proponents of deregulation and financialism. [see more at TPM]

Politics trumps rationality:  Conservatives are cheering the decline in public sector employment shown in the last report from the Department of Labor.  “Maybe, conservatives argue, the economy will improve when more teachers, police officers, and firefighters are unemployed and unable to spend and invest.” [WashMonthly]   There’s a hint here — it is more important to conservatives to shrink government (at all levels) than it is to create jobs.

“Government employment changed little in December but was down by 280,000 over the year. Job losses in 2011 occurred in local government; state government, excluding education; and the U.S. Postal Service.”  [DoL]

There are those who will argue, illogically, that the decline in government jobs causes an increase in private sector employment.  See! Look! Private sector employment is up because public sector employment is down.  The assertion falls apart when we look at the way we calculate our gross domestic product.

GDP = C + I + G + (X-M)

That would be consumer spending + gross investment + government spending plus (exports minus imports.)  David Leonhardt calls the reduction in public sector employment an “unforced error.”  When we subtract public sector activity from our calculation the gross domestic product is reduced, and the lack of public sector employment becomes a drag on the total economy.  In other words, austerity never produces prosperity.

Politics trumps accuracy:  Bain Capital Management (former CEO Willard Mitt Romney) isn’t in business to be a “Job Creator,” it exists to improve the position of the investors.  “Bain’s modus operandi was to invest in companies, leverage them up with debt, and then sell them off for scrap, allowing Bain’s investors to walk away with huge profits while the companies in which Bain invested wound up in bankruptcy, laying off workers and reneging on benefits.”  [Think Progress]

Then there’s the part about paying taxes:

“Romney gained no personal tax benefit from the legal operations in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. But aides to the Republican presidential hopeful and former colleagues acknowledged that the tax-friendly jurisdictions helped attract billions of additional investment dollars to Romney’s former company, Bain Capital, and thus boosted profits for Romney and his partners.”  [LATimes]

Ergo, it is perfectly OK in Republican circles to note with dismay that people who don’t earn enough in annual wages and salaries to be liable for federal income taxes are “leeches upon the rich.”  However, it is perfectly acceptable to allow capital management firms to use off shore tax havens to protect the rich from their tax liabilities.

The Amen Corner:

“First and foremost, sports-style coverage oversimplifies politics, reducing complex issues to either/or propositions. Binary thinking is fine for the make-believe realm of athletics, where matters are dramatic by design: defined conflict, clear-cut resolution, heroes (your team) and villains (the other guys). Referees and instant replay when necessary.

Politics, on the other hand, is confusing, nuanced and muddled. Today’s ally is tomorrow’s foe; various interest groups have equally legitimate claims and grievances; democratic legislation is the product of soggy compromise, providing not the best solution but rather the one the greatest number of people hate the least. Outright victories are rare. Desultory ties are the norm.”  [Atlantic]

However, this doesn’t prevent the cable news broadcasts from presenting political news as if it were an athletic contest.  So, instead of background information and context concerning the level of the federal debt, we got who was scoring more points with the public.  Instead of contextual analysis and accurate information about the state of health care insurance coverage in the United States, we got poll numbers on the  ‘popularity’ of health care reform.  Instead of perceptive and insightful discussions of foreign policy, we get two pundits talking past one another.  Bill Moyers was right:

“Because market-driven television has failed to provide a true marketplace of ideas it has betrayed the founders’ belief that constitutional freedom of the press would produce an uncensored competition of ideas, opinion, and information, giving Americans the means to think as citizens. What we have instead is a very narrow range of political debate usually between partisans of two parties both deeply corrupted by their complicity with the media and their dependence on big money.”  [Moyers]

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Filed under 2012 election, Adelson, Economy, Ensign, media, Nevada politics, Taxation

>Not So Ensignificant Reports


Every Christian ought to be familiar with this one: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:17-18) Perhaps former C Street member, and former U.S. Senator from Nevada, John Ensign might have wanted to include this in his personal Bible study a bit more often?

Those who already know the outlines of this sordid story won’t find too much new in the recent reporting, but the Las Vegas Sun offers a summary analysis that provides a substantive review.  For those interested in filling in all the blanks the complete report is available here in PDF form.

The full report explains the details of former Senator Ensign’s egregious behavior, the entanglement of money, power, and pride, and the chronology of a swift and dramatic fall.  Every politician comes in for his or her share of questions regarding ethical practices, however what we may learn from Senator Ensign is that money and power are slender reeds upon which to secure success.

Others have provided summations and discussions: Talking Points Memo, Think Progress on the Coburn connection, and “no, the Ensign affair is not like a bad romance novel” Atlantic.

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Filed under Ensign



Ah, it’s amusing to haul out the little graphic for one last publication.  And, there’s plenty of reaction — see Last Laugh, from The Nevada View, in addition to more analysis from Slash/Politics.  Steve Sebelius also points out that Senator Ensign’s resignation may have forestalled the publication of the complete ethics investigation report that’s in the offing.  NVProgressive discusses the One Finger Salute.  The Gleaner says “riddance.”  The Sausage Factory opines we won’t have Ensign to kick around anymore — but, Oh! He was such a convenient and self perpetuating target. The Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus takes a look at the GOP field in CD2.

The Nevada Democratic Party issued this statement: “Nevada State Democratic Party Communications Director Zach Hudson released the following statement on the news that John Ensign is resigning from the U.S. Senate:

“Nevada needs a Senator who is focused on creating jobs and protecting our middle class, not ending Medicare as we know it and giving more tax breaks to the rich, like Dean Heller is trying to do. Democrats remain committed to electing the kind of Junior Senator Nevada deserves – one who puts the interests of middle class Nevadans first.”  [NDP]

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Filed under Ensign, Heller

>Locked and Loaded Republican Family Values


## – Republican Family Values: Now, we know that everything is AOK, because Senator John Ensign (R-NV) says he has repented for his conduct toward his wife and with another man’s wife and cuckolded husband and the unseemly hiring of various and sundry and getting checks cut from the family coffers to cover up the aforementioned cuckolding. DB’s nomination for Line Of The Month: “The question elicited gasps and startled “ohs” from an audience of mostly senior citizens.” [RGJ]  It’s not that forgiveness should be a lost art.

However, it is one thing to forgive moral transgressions on a personal basis, but quite another to believe that an individual so quick to assert his “family values” and equally so fast to act without them should be an appropriate representative in the Senate of the United States.  There’s a very good chance the game is over for Senator Ensign anyway, “So if it’s Heller-Ensign, it’s game over for the incumbent, barring anything cataclysmic befalling the congressman or Ensign hypnotizing the Nevada electorate to believe it was all a case of mistaken identity.” [LVSun]

Senator Ensign isn’t the only GOP pol being reminded of his “family values.” Former House Speaker and perpetual potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich got a question during a speech in Philadelphia about his rendition of family values. From the Department Of Major Understatements, Gingrich responds: “I’ve had a life which, on occasion, has had problems,” he added. “I believe in a forgiving God, and the American people will have to decide whether that’s their primary concern.” [AJC] As a commenter astutely pointed out, children tend to use the passive voice (“My toy got lost.”) when attempting to run for cover.

## – It’s 1892 and the GOP is in control. Tea Party posters on “The Free Republic” are asking RTC (right to carry…guns) followers to show up at an SEIU rally in Georgia. [AJC]  There’s no strike involved here, but this is reminiscent of Henry C. Frick’s hiring of 300 armed Pinkerton agents to break the strike at Homestead, PA in 1892. Or, the use of federal troops to crush the American Railway Union’s Pullman Strike in 1894. Or, the use of the National Guard to break strikes in Colorado mines in 1903. The Bergoff Brothers made a family business out of armed strikebreaking, one memorable moment being the importation of strikebreakers into McKeesport, PA in 1909 from the Bowery neighborhood of New York City. These proclivities got a 21st century echo from another quarter in Indiana.

Indiana Deputy Attorney General Jeff Cox offered his suggestion about what to do with pro-union protesters in his capital, tweeting:  “Use live ammunition RT @MotherJones Sources in Madison say riot police have been ordered to clear protesters from capitol at 2 am #wiunion.” This tweet isn’t the first time Deputy AG Cox has let his commentary run into questionable territory.  [MoJo][TP]

The Koch Brothers, annual revenue $100 billion, estimated net worth approximately $21.5 billion each, [Forbes]  are ratcheting up their efforts on behalf of the astro-turf front group Americans for Prosperity. [TP] The brothers were major funders of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign  The AFP’s agenda is clear: “…his group is already working with activists and state officials in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge them to take similar steps to curtail union benefits or give public employees the power to opt out of unions entirely.” [NYT] Nor have the Koch Brothers and the AFP confined themselves to Wisconsin: “Republican talk of balancing budgets is cover for the real purpose of gutting the political force of middle-class state workers, who are steady supporters of Democrats and pose a threat to a growing conservative agenda.” [NYT] More at the Sausage Factory.

## – Planned Parenthood Support. The Sin City Siren posts notice of a Walk For Choice rally in Las Vegas on February 26th, no actual parading required. There’s good news from Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats have presented a united front to the House Republican bid to cut Title X, and Senate Republican measures that would increase taxes by dis-allowing private insurance plans which cover abortion procedures from the terms of health insurance legislation. [The Hill]  Best Sign Yet in Wisconsin: “If you want a Republican to care about you, remain a fetus.

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Filed under AFP, Ensign, koch brothers, unions

>Coffee and the Papers

>Las Vegas, NV — scene of a recent gun show, and all the attendant interest, increased by the latest incident in which a Congresswoman was critically wounded, a federal judge killed, and innocent bystanders killed and injured by a demented individual with a fragile mind filled with nihilistic BS… And we do love our guns, “In Nevada, the number of firearm background checks increased from 60,000 in 2007 to 94,000 in 2009, an increase of more than 50 percent. The figure dipped, although not much, in 2010.” Why? There are the hunting, target shooting and self protection reasons, and “By most accounts, though, there’s another reason for the spike in gun sales in recent years — what we might call the “Obama effect.”  The FBI recorded a sharp spike in background checks in the latter half of 2008.  The gun rights lobby and the conservative blogosphere sounded an alarm that President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress would curtail gun rights, which sent many consumers scurrying into stores to stock up on guns and ammunition.With time, however, the charge is looking baseless. Neither the Obama administration, nor its allies in Congress, have shown any interest in gun-control legislation, lest it hurt them in moderate states and districts.”    I frankly don’t care how people spend their money, but it would be nice to reside in a state in which the background checks were such that demented individuals with fragile minds filled with nihilistic BS couldn’t secure access to firearms, much less extended clips. [full article here] Update: The Gleaner has more.

Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV3) cast a vote in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act without having a replacement measure at hand, and despite the fact that he “appeared” to agree with major reforms enacted in the ACA . “How they will do that (replace the act) isn’t clear. Some Republican leaders seem to be advocating a return to an alternative comprehensive health care proposal they put up against the Democrats’ bill last year. But Republicans, who begin meetings to draft a replacement this week, haven’t officially endorsed an approach.  Heck, who was unavailable to comment Wednesday, had stressed this month that he wasn’t comfortable casting a repeal vote without a replacement in the works. “I’m very concerned about making sure there’s a replacement in the queue,” he said.” [LVSun]  Evidently he’s not all THAT concerned. Update: See Nevada Progressive, complete with video clips.  Maven discusses the “repeal.”  Will Congress reopen the donut hole for seniors on Part D, or take tax breaks away from small businesses? Sebelius has a quick answer. We might wish to remind ourselves that the Republicans control one-half of one of the three branches of government. Regardless of the impression left by the punditocracy of corporate media.

From The Ralston Flash: (pdf) of a request from the RNSC asking Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller for everything except the Post-It notes from his office. Why? Let’s try because it’s never too early to try to find “opposition research” on a person who might challenge a Republican for Senator John Ensign’s seat in 2012. Ensign is among those cited in the Washington Post  whose retirements could help the Republicans hold on to a seat.

Senator Ensign, for his part was telling business owners in Nevada that it was in their best interest to have the Affordable Care Act repealed. According to Senator Ensign,”...small businesses owners want Congress to repeal the sweeping federal health care bill that was signed into law last year.” [Nevada Appeal]  Why on Earth would small business owners want to repeal legislation that gives them tax breaks? The Small Business Administration explains the ACA implementation will: (1) Include the tax credit, which is effective immediately, can cover up to 35 percent of the premiums a small business pays to cover its workers. In 2014, the rate will increase to 50 percent. (2) Clarifies that a business’s credit will not be reduced because the business also receives a health care tax credit or subsidy from a state. (3) Allows small businesses to receive the credit not only for regular health insurance but also for add-on dental, vision, and other limited-scope health insurance coverage.  (4) Resolves a number of key implementation issues in ways that allow employers to receive the maximum credit available under the law. And (5) could save small business owners in general up to approximately $40 billion by 2019. Continuing to advise people to act against their own best interests doesn’t seem a productive political strategy — unless someone can explain specifically why losing a 50% tax credit is a “good idea.”

Greg Bower has been selected by the Washoe County Commission to replace William Raggio in the Nevada State Senate. “Brower said he would defend local governments if Sandoval tries to shift health care costs or other costs from the state to the counties and cities. Sandoval has said he was considering those options to help balance the budget.” [RGJ]

Elko County is look for economic diversification, especially in terms of manufacturing. “Some of the goals are technology infused, more life-relevant education, increased access to post secondary degrees and industry- recognized credentials, clear career pathways and an awareness of high paying careers in manufacturing.” [EDFP] And, we’re going to do this with budget cuts to educational programs — how?

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Filed under Ensign, Gun Issues, Health Care, Nevada economy

>Ensign’s Fatal Fatalism: Mental Health, Gun Laws, and the Tucson Tragedy

>Senator John Ensign (R-NV): “Let me be very clear: Gun laws were not the reason that a socially isolated individual, an anarchist, chose to open fire on an elected official, her constituents and a federal judge. And changing the gun laws will not prevent such a tragedy in the future.” [WaPo] [via LVSun] If there is any difference between this comment and the tired saw that ‘Guns don’t kill people…’ I fail to see it. I also fail to see any logic beyond the sound bite.

Who Are We Talking About? 

First, we’re probably not speaking about a “socially isolated individual” or an “anarchist” in this instance. It’s far more likely that we are discussing the tragic actions taken by a seriously mentally ill person. If there are any applicable analogies to be made, then the actions of Cho Seung-Hui, at Virginia Tech University in April 2007 are as close as we’ll likely come. [NYT] The seriously disturbed young man killed 32 people on campus, and then himself.  The tragedy was amplified by the fact that in 2005 the student had been adjudged a “danger to self and others,” and should not have been allowed to purchase a firearm under relevant Federal statutes. [NYT] However, as of 2007 only 22 states submitted information regarding mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Virginia was among that 22 and did submit mental health records, but variations in the federal and state statutes meant that Virginia reported only those who were “involuntarily admitted” (to a mental health facility) or who had been determined to be “mentally incapacitated.” Perhaps what we need to consider is a proposal to add those who have been found by the courts to be in need of “involuntary evaluation and treatment,” to the criteria for those to whom firearms access is restricted, especially since the focus in the public and the mental health professional community is that out-patient treatment is to be preferred over in-patient residential care whenever possible.

Dispensing With The Straw Men and Hyperbolic Hypotheticals

The argument that restricting access to firearms purchases will unnecessarily burden veterans of our Armed Forces is specious.  It has been contended that restricting the purchase of firearms for those determined to be suffering from such conditions as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will preclude veterans from securing fire arms, a violation of their rights and perhaps even an insult to their service. [LVRJ] However, there is evidence that those suffering from PTSD, especially those contemplating suicide, should not be allowed easy access to firearms. In late January, 2009, the United States Army reported the highest suicide rate since it began tracking the statistics 28 years earlier. [Time]  The incidence of suicide among veterans of all wars is estimated by the Veterans Administration as approximately 6,500 per year. [ChiTrib] While we might generalize that all veterans should be allowed gun ownership, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to make it easier for veterans with thoughts of suicide to purchase the implements of their own destruction. We do know that suicide accounts for the third largest proportion of deaths in those under 24 years of age (13%), ranking behind accidents and homicide. [CDC pdf] It would be well if we could reduce this percentage by taking steps to insure our younger veterans are less likely to be included in these statistics.

Another argument set forth from gun advocates is that the “stigma” of a PTSD diagnosis combined with the notion that firearm ownership will be restricted will cause veterans to avoid seeking treatment. This contention assumes that our military cannot competently deal with the mental health issues of its membership, and that the Veterans Administration cannot adequately restore the mental health of those it serves in its treatment programs. The opponents of any restrictions appear to be contending that once a restriction is is place it will forever be applicable, and that the military and VA will be unsuccessful in their outreach efforts to assist active duty and veteran populations toward the conclusion that PTSD and other “disorders” are “stigmatizing.”

The fact seems to be that the military has launched several innovative treatment programs for assisting those suffering from PTSD and related issues. Fort Bliss initiated a “Warrior Transition Unit,” [S&S] The Real Warriors program  “combats the stigma associated with seeking psychological health care and treatment and encourages service members to increase their awareness and use of these resources.”  As in many cases, the military may well be ahead of the civilian side when it comes to organizing resources involved in the delivery of mental health services. The Real Warriors program has 6 components which might easily be replicated in civilian life: (1) The Center for Deployment Psychology “trains military and civilian psychologists as well as other mental health professionals to provide high quality deployment-related behavioral health services to military personnel and their families.” (2) The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress “provides knowledge, leadership and applications for preparing for, responding to and recovering from the consequences of disaster and trauma. CSTS advances knowledge, health care and preparedness through education, research, consultation and training.” (3) The Deployment Health Clinical Center “improves deployment-related health by providing assistance and medical advocacy to military personnel and families. DHCC provides assessment of post-deployment physical symptoms, specialized care programs for traumatic stress conditions, deployment healthcare and education and clinical and deployment health services research.” (4) The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center “serves active duty military, their dependents and veterans with TBI through state-of-the-art medical care, innovative clinical research initiatives and educational programs. DVBIC conducts clinical research that defines optimal care and treatment for individuals with TBI.”
(5) The National Center for Telehealth and Technology “leverages technology to increase access to care for all DoD beneficiaries regardless of location or mobility. T2 coordinates telehealth services to educate, prevent, screen, assess and treat PH concerns and TBI. It trains providers on prevention and treatment approaches using technology.” And, (6) The National Intrepid Center of Excellence “will conduct research, test new protocols and provide comprehensive training, education and ongoing telehealth follow-up care. It will be dedicated to advanced research, diagnosis and treatment planning for military personnel and their caregivers dealing with PH and TBI issues. Completion is anticipated in early 2010.” [more information]

These efforts aren’t part of any token campaign to assuage those alarmed by the record suicide levels. All branches of our military have endorsed the programs and have made materials available online for anyone interested in assisting active duty personnel or veterans who may need help.  “In addition, DCoE established the DCoE Outreach Center, a 24/7 call center staffed by health resource consultants to provide confidential answers, tools, tips and resources about psychological health and traumatic brain injury. The Outreach Center can be reached toll-free at 866-966-1020 or via e-mail at”  Once more, the armed forces appear to have organized a total program which outclasses civilian efforts in terms of mental health outreach and treatment services.  Our politicians would do well to look at the models established by the Department of Defense before dismissing out of hand their potential for ‘de-stigmatizing’ mental health issues and organizing appropriate treatment programs.

Another popular sound bite against any form of restriction on firearm or ammunition procurement is the old “we don’t outlaw spoons because people get fat.” [CBS] True. However, we do put caloric totals on food packaging. We do require food manufacturers to put nutritional content labels on food products. And, we do encourage people to get more active, and to reduce their intake of foods that aren’t healthy in large quantities. Mothers have been doing this for years…”no dessert until you eat your vegetables.”   The argument appears to be a variation on the general statement “guns don’t kill people.”  However, when one pulls the trigger death is often the result: The CDC explains in a 2007 report:

Suicides accounted for the highest rate of violent death (11.5 per 100,000 population), followed by homicide/legal intervention deaths (6.1 per 100,000 population) . Deaths of undetermined intent and unintentional firearm deaths occurred at lower rates (2.7 and 0.1 per 100,000 population, respectively). Of all violent deaths that occurred in 2005 in the 16 states, 48.9% were committed with firearms; poisoning accounted for 18.2% and hanging/strangulation/asphyxiation for 12.2% (rates: 10.0, 3.7, and 2.5 per 100,000 population, respectively); rates for other methods were lower . Firearms were used in 55.0% of violent deaths of males. The most common methods used in violent deaths of females were poisoning (32.9%) and firearms (29.2%).”

The obvious conclusion is that firearms kill, and that if they are put into the hands of unstable, violent, or suicidal people the results are likely to be tragic. There is one popular way to deal with this truism. Ignore it. The argument runs, “unstable, violent, and suicidal” people will get guns if they want them, therefore we cannot restrict the “rights” of stable, non-violent, and non-suicidal individuals in order to deal with their opposites. This is fatalism at its finest — what is true of the past, must of necessity, be true of the future. If any argument were to be considered antithetical to the American Ideal, this is it. That it is true that in the past we hanged witches, doesn’t mean that we are destined to hang witches forever, “since what is true of the past must be true of the future.”  Read in one light, this argument is an admission of failure.  We cannot seek to prevent, nor can we seek to ameliorate, any negative factors in our lives, because the Fates have already determined our condition.  The obvious extrapolation of this argument would be to have a society in which we still deny women the vote, continue to dump raw sewage into our waterways, revert to the days in which an 8th grade education was the norm, and dispense with advances in bio-technology — because we’re all going to die anyway.

Senator Ensign’s fatalism is showing…”And changing the gun laws will not prevent such a tragedy in the future.”  If the standard is that enacting legislation to restrict the sale of guns, or extended clips, must prevent 100% of the potential tragedies 100% of the time, then no legislation would be any improvement at all. However, establishing an artificially and unreasonably high standard doesn’t obviate the need for legislation to diminish the possibilities for negative outcomes. We didn’t enact the Clean Water Act in order to absolutely prevent the accidental discharge of pollutants in our drinking water in the aftermath of a major flood. We didn’t enact our statutes against fraud and financial scams in order to prevent 100% of the potential criminals from committing 100% of the possible frauds and scams. If Americans are truly an exceptional people then we are so because of our commitment to the possibilities of perfecting our society, not because we espoused a fatalistic view of our impotence in the face of seemingly intractable issues.

What’s Possible?

It is not inconceivable that we could alleviate some of our potential tragedies by standardizing the reporting of those with debilitating mental disorders to clearinghouse agencies. We could do this not only to more rationally determine who should be allowed to purchase guns and accessories, but also to protect the retailers of these products. Who wants the opprobrium attached to being the store that sold the gun? The clips? The ammunition used in Tucson? Or, at Virginia Tech?  We may want to consider, in light of the preference for out-patient treatment, that all those who have been referred to treatment be at least temporarily restricted from the purchase of firearms and accessories that increase firepower.

We can, and quite likely should, allocate more resources for identifying, evaluating, and treating the mentally ill among us. If we are to continue to support the concept that out-patient treatment is preferable to residential forms for most cases, then how can we best support, supervise, and provide appropriate treatment and housing for the mentally ill citizens in our states and localities?

What should NOT be possible is the continuing fatalism expressed by Senator Ensign that in the face of tragic circumstances we should wring our hands, pray for the victims, and excuse ourselves from any further consideration of the complicated issues involved in this subject. 
Additional Information and Sources:
For more information on the Department of Defense “Real Warrior Program,” and links to resources for veterans.
For CDC information on suicides, violence, and youth violence.
For FBI statistics link here.The Bureau of Justice Statistics has additional reports.
For more information on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System see FBI link.  For current standards for those prohibited from gun sales. (scroll down) Including: “A person adjudicated mental defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution or incompetent to handle own affairs, including dispositions to criminal charges of found not guilty by reason of insanity or found incompetent to stand trial.”
For a compilation of gun restriction laws in the United States. (Jrank.Org)

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>The Record Says It All

>The State of Nevada sent its two allotted Senators to the congressional upper chamber, and their voting records during the 111th Congress show much about their orientations and values. The initial and sharpest contrast lies in the fact that one, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was in charge of legislating and advancing bills through the Senate, while the other, Senator Ensign was a willing hand in a record number of filibusters. In the last two years the majority had to break an all time record of filibusters. [TPM] Senator Ensign was among the top eight Republicans who could be counted on to sustain filibusters — on just about everything — voting to sustain filibusters on approximately 84% of the legislation brought to the Senate floor. [Filib]

There is one thing a filibuster tells us: Those who filibuster a bill or a nomination know they don’t have a majority of votes on their side, and he or she who votes to sustain a filibuster doesn’t believe the nomination or bill should get an “up or down vote.” This is a legislative tool which ought to be handled with some caution. Use it as a cudgel, as the Republican leadership did in the 111th Congress, and the party wielding it has less credibility when it charges that the opposition won’t allow an “up or down” vote on legislation or confirmations it wants in the future. Evidently, Senate Minority Leader McConnell was completely willing to play the Obstructionist Card early and often in the 111th, and Senator Ensign was pleased to help continue the game. In the 110th and 111th sessions of Congress Republicans filibustered a record 275 bills and nominations. [Sen] This led to 203 cloture votes, and cloture was invoked (the filibuster was broken) 124 times. [Sen]

H.R. 2847: Sets The Table

On February 2, 2010 among the initial votes in the U.S. Senate’s 111th session, H.R. 2847; Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act was filibustered. The filibuster was broken on a 62-30 vote, with Senator John Ensign voting to sustain the filibuster. [rc 23] H.R. 2847 also illustrates the priorities demonstrated by Senators Reid and Ensign. While Reid voted to end the filibuster and bring the bill to a vote, Senate Minority Leader McConnell and a willing Senator Ensign wanted to kill it. Why?

H.R. 2847 provided for tax exemptions, specifically “1) exempt for-profit and nonprofit employers, including public institutions of higher education, from social security and railroad retirement taxes in 2010 (except for the first calendar quarter of such year) for new employees who are hired after February 3, 2010, and before January 1, 2011, and who certify that they have not worked more than 40 hours during the last 60 days; and (2) allow an increase in the general business tax credit for the retention of such employees for at least one year at specified wage levels.”  In other words, there were tax exemption for those businesses which agreed to hire those who were among the  long term unemployed. Republican rhetoric would have us believe that their party supports the notion that small businesses should be given tax incentives to create employment — yet here we have Republicans opposing a vote on a provision of a bill to do precisely that.

H.R. 2847 also incorporated infrastructure projects, in Subtitle C, infrastructure spending does two economically helpful things: It puts money into the accounts of local contractors who hire labor to complete the projects; and, it provides the skeletal elements necessary to encourage commerce and industry. Yet, the GOP, with Senator Ensign’s assistance, wanted no “up or down” vote on this element. Again, why?

The answer came in Title V of the bill. “Title V: Offset Provisions – Subtitle A: Foreign Account Tax Compliance – Part I: Increased Disclosure of Beneficial Owners – (Sec. 501) Amends the Internal Revenue Code to revise and add reporting and other requirements relating to income from assets held abroad, including by: (1) requiring foreign financial and nonfinancial institutions to withhold 30% of payments made to such institutions by U.S. individuals unless such institutions agree to disclose the identity of such individuals and report on their bank transactions; and (2) denying a tax deduction for interest on non-registered bonds issued outside the United States.   The bill required closing tax loopholes for multi-national firms and interests.

Part II: Under Reporting With Respect to Foreign Assets – (Sec. 511) Requires any individual who holds more than $50,000 in a depository or custodial account maintained by a foreign financial institution to report on any such account. (Sec. 512) Imposes an enhanced tax penalty for underpayments attributable to undisclosed foreign financial assets.  (Sec. 513) Extends the limitation period for assessment of underpayments with respect to assets held outside the United States.Part III: Other Disclosure Provisions – (Sec. 521) Requires U.S. shareholders of a passive foreign investment company to file annual informational returns. Part V: Substitute Dividends and Dividend Equivalent Payments Received by Foreign Persons Treated as Dividends – (Sec. 541) Treats a dividend equivalent payment as a dividend from a source within the United States for purposes of taxation of income from foreign sources and tax withholding rules applicable to foreign persons.”  The bill required the reporting of income held in foreign bank accounts.

The bottom line was clear, and still is, that the Republican obstruction of the bill required believing that it was more important to protect the interests of the investor class, the economic elites, than it was to promote employment, give small businesses tax credits and other incentives for hiring, and to promote infrastructure development and maintenance upon which domestic commerce depends. This was a pattern to be repeated in future legislative battles in the U.S. Senate.

When H.R. 2847 came up for a final vote on February 24, 2010, Senator Ensign was among only 28 members of the U.S. Senate to vote against it. [rc 25]  Senator Reid voted in favor of the bill.

Who Gets The Money

Another early demonstration of whose economic interests were to be protected came during attempts at extending unemployment benefit insurance. H.R. 4213 came to a vote on the Senate floor on March 10, 2010. [rc 48] We know that for every dollar expended in unemployment insurance benefits $1.61 is returned into the U.S. economy. [Zandi/CBPP] We know we have an economy 2/3rds of which depends on consumer spending. Therefore, it is abundantly rational to conclude that the extension of unemployment benefits will contribute to consumer spending. Contributions to consumer spending increase demand. Further, if we are concerned with the health of small businesses, then the extension of unemployment benefits will allow unemployed consumers to shop at their local establishments. However, these economic elements have to surpass the Mythology of Unemployment so long embraced by the Republican Party.

The first myth is that the unemployed are lazy individuals who would rather collect benefits than work.  This requires the true believer to ignore the fact that there are between 4.5 and 4.8 workers for every available job in this country. [EPI]  One might be as industrious as the proverbial bee, but so are about 4 other people, so approximately 3 people will remain unemployed because there is simply no job available for them.

The second myth requires believing that unemployment benefits somehow pay more than a person could earn in a lower paying job, and that an unemployed individual can earn more by staying home than by accepting any employment available. Those to adopt this myth have to ignore the provisions established for eligibility for unemployment benefits in Nevada, and elsewhere, wherein a person must accept any employment or lose eligibility. [DETR pdf] There is an unfortunate confusion in some Republican minds that unemployment benefits are a form of welfare payment. The two are not synonymous, not by a long shot.

However, there was another fly in the ointment for Republicans, “Some Members may be concerned that H.R. 4213 would include a $24.6 billion tax hike on investment partnerships at a time when unemployment stands at 10 percent.  Tax increases on investment could discourage the entrepreneurial risk-taking that is crucial to economic growth and job creation.  Some Members may also believe that a permanent tax increase should not be used to offset temporary tax relief.” [GOP]  (emphasis added)  How one might connect a possible tax increase on “investment partnerships” and unemployment in the construction and manufacturing sectors requires a leap in the logic. One would have to believe that fund managers and other investment institutions were going to be generating jobs by investing in sectors with high unemployment. This is a leap of faith as opposed to a leap of logic, because we know from their own reporting that “investment” in capital for manufacturing  etc. did not increase during periods of low taxation. [TGM]

Once again, it was more important for the Republicans to protect the interests of “investment partnerships” than to extend unemployment insurance benefits which would produce $1.61 for every dollar expended in economic stimulation. When the final vote was taken on H.R. 4213 Senator Ensign voted against it, Senator Reid in favor. [rc 215]  By the lights of Senator Ensign, it was evidently more important to protect those “investment partnerships” — even if they were not investing capital in construction or manufacturing firms — than to encourage spending by recipients of unemployment benefit insurance in their local grocery and clothing stores. There were more contrasts to come.

Health For The Insurance Companies Or The Public?

The conflict between the interests of average Americans and the interests of corporations was nowhere more obvious than during the debate over H.R. 4872, the Health Care reform bill. The corporate lobby was considerable: “A Center for Public Integrity analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms shows that more than 1,750 companies and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists — eight for each member of Congress — to influence health reform bills in 2009.” And, “Among industries, 207 hospitals lined up to lobby, followed by 105 insurance companies and 85 manufacturing companies.” [CPI] The self styled “Coalition to Protect Patient’s Rights” was found to be a “grassroots” front group for the DCI lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. [TP] Corporate funded groups like Freedom Works, and Americans For Prosperity (Koch Brothers) joined the fray in opposition to health care reform. [AlNet]

At its core, the debate was about whether or not insurance corporations could continue to (1) abuse rescission clauses to deny claims made by policyholders after they were ill or injured; (2) monopolize insurance markets in various regions of the country; (3) deny coverage based on “pre-existing” conditions even if the condition was an infant’s congenital defect; and (4) take more than 15% of premium revenues in overhead costs. The last item, which was one of the least publicized was one of the most contentious.

The bill passed in the U.S. Senate on a 56-43 vote on March 25, 2010. Senator John Ensign sided with the insurance corporations, and their desire to take more than 15% of all premium revenues for overhead (advertising and administrative) expenses. He voted against the bill. Senator Reid voted in favor of the bill. [rc 105]

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Who, indeed, were going to watch for indiscretions, incompetence, and ineptitude in the financial sector?  The credit crisis of 2008 did not spring full blown from anyone’s imagination, it was the product of “excessive exuberance,” a failure to address realities in the market, black swans included. By the end of the meltdown there was not a single major investment bank left standing on Wall Street. S. 3217 addressed these issues. Yet, the fund managers, investment branches of bank holding companies, and hedge funds fought any and all attempts to restrain their activities and monitor the value of their “creative” derivatives. S. 3217 provided for a process by which major financial institutions could dissolve without creating major chaos in the financial markets (no more “too big to fail”), required the collection of “systemic risk” data from banking institutions, and established a Consumer Financial Protection bureau within the Federal Reserve system. It also provided a mechanism by which derivate trading might be better regulated. The Republicans filibustered the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Reid filed a cloture motion to bring this bill to a vote on the Senate floor on April 26, 2010. The Republicans succeeded in sustaining their filibuster on a 57-41 vote. [rc 124] Senator John Ensign voted to sustain the GOP filibuster of the bill; Senator Reid voted to bring the bill to a vote. The next day Senator Reid tried again to bring the bill up for a vote, and again the Republicans sought to sustain their filibuster. The cloture motion failed on April 27, 2010 on the same vote count — 57 to 41, with Senator Ensign still voting to sustain the filibuster. [rc 126]  There was a third try to bring the bill to a vote on April 28, 2010 — and again the Republicans filibustered on behalf of corporate interests who had little sympathy for any regulatory reform of their industry. Cloture failed 56-41, with Senator Ensign again voting to sustain the GOP filibuster. [rc 127]

By May 20, 2010 the cloture motions were moot in the U.S. Senate, and the bill was folded into H.R. 4173 (the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act) The Senate commenced on the bill “to promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end “too big to fail”, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices,..” on that date, by a 59-39 vote, once again with Senator Ensign opposing the bill. [rc 162]

Final passage was secured on July 15, 2010 when the Senate voted 60-38 in favor of the bill, once again Senator Ensign voted against the creation of a Consumer Protection agency, against the regulation of the derivative markets, against the provisions to collect data on the viability of banking operations, and against the provisions to wind down banks (formerly too big to fail) in the bankruptcy process. [rc 206]  Nothing could have been more apparent than the attempts by the Senate Republicans to allow the financial sector to continue to indulge in those practices that had gotten them into trouble in the first place. Under the GOP plan, the industry was supposed to voluntarily regulate itself. Under the Democratic proposal the government was to “trust but verify” that financial institutions weren’t up to the same unproductive, but highly profitable, practices that caused the credit crisis in the first instance.

Small Business Big Business?

Few pieces of legislation more clearly illustrate the differentiation between those supporting large corporations from those supporting small business than H.R. 5297, the Small Business Lending Fund Act.  The bill was relatively simple, as federal legislation is written. There would be established a fund under the direction of the U.S. Treasury to be used to support smaller banks and lending institutions which would, in turn, loan money to small businesses. Republicans in the House of Representatives promptly labeled the bill “TARP III,” [GOP] although the bill did not call for the purchase of any “troubled assets,” it merely made funds available to small banks and lending institutions on the promise that the funding would be channeled to small businesses seeking loans. Republicans said, “While Republicans share the goal of helping small businesses prosper and generate the kinds of job opportunities that are sorely lacking in this economy, Republicans do not believe that the solution to the economic distress on Main Street is to establish new bail-out authorities funded by taxpayers.” [RepClk] There was no bail-out in the bill, for anyone — except perhaps small businesses seeking to get loans for their operations, or for possible expansion. There were also some $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses. [FRW

With funding available for small businesses (for which Republicans delight in expounding their support), and with $12 billion in tax cuts for truly small businesses, what’s not to love about H.R 5297? Why couldn’t the bill break a GOP filibuster in late July? Why the red herring argument about “TARP” when the bill contained absolutely no provisions for acquiring troubled assets from major banks? 

The White House couldn’t explain the opposition: “The jobs bill that is stalled in Congress would completely eliminate taxes on key investments in small businesses.  It would allow small business owners to write off more expenses.  And it would make it easier for community banks to do more lending to small businesses, while allowing small firms to take out larger SBA loans with fewer fees, which countless entrepreneurs have told me would make a big difference in their companies.  I’d also like to point out this legislation is fully paid for and will not add one single dime to our deficit.”  So, what was the problem? 

Investment fund CEO’s and managers inveighed against the bill in generalities. “Bailouts don’t work.” Or, the bill was a “redistribution of wealth,” or what the economy needs are fewer taxes and even less regulation,” [BizCap] but no-one addressed how small businesses were supposed to secure lines of credit while major banks figured out how to value the toxic mess in their books. Perhaps we can take a hint from the American Bankers Association publication.

GOOD NEWS (said the ABA)…Senator Mark Udall’s (D-CO) amendment to expand credit union business lending will not be taken up when the Senate considers the small business lending bill (H.R. 5297). Great work bankers! Your opposition has made it clear that there would be a fight over the amendment that could jeopardize the passage of the bill.”  What the bankers were afraid of was the provision to exclude the major banks from participating (very profitably) from the programs, and they were (and are) afraid of competition from credit unions and other smaller financial institutions. They said as much
The credit unions have not given up on trying to expand their member business lending authority and will be pushing legislation next year. Make sure that your Members of Congress in the House and Senate know that the opposition to this bad public policy has not gone away.”  Evidently, it’s bad public policy to support community banks and credit unions.

The bill to “create the Small Business Lending Fund Program to direct the Secretary of the Treasury to make capital investments in eligible institutions in order to increase the availability of credit for small businesses, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide tax incentives for small business job creation, and for other purposes” came to the Senate floor on June 29, 2010, and was passed on a 66-33 vote. Senator Harry Reid voted in favor of it; Senator Ensign voted “No.” [rc 202]

In short, a vote in favor of H.R. 5297 was one in favor of smaller banks, and in favor of increasing lending to smaller businesses.  It supported community banks and local businesses. A vote against H.R. 5297 was purely ideological, without much substance to the rhetoric beyond the same cliches popular among the radical right wing of the Republican Party; and, in essence a sop to the major lending institutions who don’t care for any public policy encouraging community banks and credit unions.

The Sum of the Sums

The two Nevada Senators in the 111th session of the Congress of the United States had the same opportunities to demonstrate their support for legislation which would advance the interests of average Americans (in and out of the work force), to enact bills with the greatest impact to insure economic stimulation, to support legislation aimed at the protection of consumers, and to support small businesses. One, Senator Reid, did — the other, Senator Ensign, did not.

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>START Treaty Non-Starters: Ensign’s Excuses For Voting No On Ratification

>Only 26 members of the United States Senate voted “no” to the ratification of the START Treaty, and Senator John Ensign (R-NV) was one of them. [roll call 298] The ratification was approved 71-26. Senator Ensign’s statement?This lame duck session was not the time to debate this important treaty,” said Ensign.  “A treaty of this magnitude that impacts our nation’s ability to defend ourselves in the face of a nuclear attack absolutely required more review, discussion, and debate.  Unfortunately, the majority party decided that this wasn’t the case.  In that we were forced to vote on this measure under very short time constraints, the serious flaws in this treaty were not addressed.

Non-Starter One: We Need More Time

Where has Senator Ensign been? The START Treaty was finalized on April 8, 2010. “There was no time to debate? — Since April 8th? Last April 8th!  Representatives of the Pentagon testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 16, 2010. The junior Nevada Senator could have watched the video any time since then. The Foreign Relations Committee took testimony on the Treaty again on July 15, 2010. Again, had Senator Ensign been interested he could have watched video of that session as well. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a closed session on the classified portions of the Treaty on July 14, 2010. Previously, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a “Benefits and Risks” hearing concerning the Treaty on June 24, 2010. Also on June 24, 2010, the Foreign Relations Committee took testimony on the “Inspections” portion of the Treaty.  Senator Ensign must have missed all of this? But, wait — there’s more.

The Defense Department presented its views on the START Treaty on June 16, 2010, with four presentations in downloadable testimony. The negotiators of the START Treaty testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 15, 2010, and video is available. The Foreign Relations Committee took testimony and discussion on the security and arms control issues in the treaty on June 10, 2010. There is video available for that session as well. The Foreign Relations Committee held a closed session on June 8, 2010 with Rose Gotemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance, and Edward L. Warner III, the Secretary of Defense Representative for Post-START Negotiations. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 25, 2010 concerning the START Treaty, for which testimony can be downloaded. Former Secretary of State James Baker presented his testimony, for which video is posted, concerning the START Treaty on May 19, 2010.  Senator Ensign, at least by his statement, didn’t get any information from these sessions?

Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen offered their testimony on the START Treaty to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 18, 2010, and video is available for review concerning that session. Perhaps there was no one from Senator Ensign’s staff available to gather information from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? Maybe he could have obtained information from the hearings conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee?

The Senate Armed Services Committee took testimony from Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Energy Chu, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen on June 17, 2010, and the testimony is available online. The Armed Services Committee took testimony and discussion from Andrew Gibb, National Intelligence Council, concerning the START Treaty on July 14, 2010. The next day, July 15, 2010, the Armed Services Committee heard testimony from the Los Alamos and Livermore laboratories, the Sandia National Laboratory, and the JASON Defense Advisory Group in a closed session. On July 20, 2010 the Armed Services Committee heard from the Department of Defense, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the U.S. Strategic Command regarding START. The Armed Services Committee held yet another hearing on the START Treaty on July 27th, for which records are archived. There were two Armed Services Committee hearings on July 29, 2010. The first took testimony from the Department of Defense, and the Strategic Command, while the second heard from the State Department and the Department of Defense in open session.

On August 5, 2010, the Armed Services Committee met to “To receive a briefing on Russian force structure in support of the New START Treaty.” The Armed Services Committee met once more on November 17th to “To receive a briefing on the net assessment of Russian and U.S. strategic forces in support of the New START.”  In order to accept Senator Ensign’s objection that the Senate had no time to consider this treaty, one would have to believe that a treaty would have to have more than 13 hearings and would have to be voted favorably out of more than the two major committees of jurisdiction. Further, we would have to believe that nine months isn’t long enough for Senate Republicans to study any bill or treaty.

Senator Ensign got his buzz words inserted, “lame duck,” and “more review, discussion, and debate” BUT does he really believe that the U.S. Senate must have more time than the average gestation period of an average human birth before making a decision on a single piece of legislation?  First, this assertion would be an insult to any congressional staff — that it was incapable of reviewing, reporting, and digesting information for any member of the U.S. Senate on a single measure in nine months. Secondly, if it isn’t a staff problem, then what member of the U.S. Senate is so slow that he or she would require nine months to receive and consider a bill?

  Non-Starter Two: It Isn’t Perfect

My vote against New START centered on the missile defense implications of this treaty, the inadequate verification provisions, failure to include tactical nuclear weapons or rail-based launchers, and the fact that this treaty hands over the Senate’s advice and consent authority to a Bilateral Consultative Commission, which will enjoy broad and vague power.  Simply put, New START, as it is currently drafted, is not in the best interest of the American people or the future of our country.”

We need to remember at this point that the Department of State, the Strategic Command, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and other defense related institutions have supported the START Treaty in whole or in part. So, who says it’s “inadequate?” As could be expected, opposition to the verification terms comes directly from the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C. Those who comprise the New START Working Group for the Foundation include a former Republican National Committee intern and a former staffer for former Idaho Senator Steve Symms. Another source of criticism for the START Treaty is the ever-irascible former U.N Representative John Bolton. [NYT] One would hardly expect the militaristic hard-right to support any arms reduction treaties, and START would be no exception. Senator Ensign is thus aligning himself with the ultra-conservative Heritage group, John Bolton, and John Yoo.

Secondly, we need to recall that START concerns strategic weapons, not tactical ones. START II, the Reagan version, was titled the “Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.”  It doesn’t seem fair to attack a treaty for not including a topic which was never part of the discussion in the first place. Should we address the need to regulate the production and security of tactical weaponry? Perhaps, but START is neither the time nor the place to do so.

As for the START Treaty handing over senatorial powers of advice and consent, this canard was thoroughly debunked by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). The misunderstanding of the treaty provisions is predicated on a misreading of the Treaty by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in Senator Lugar’s words: “Governor Romney offers additional treaty misreadings and myths that have been refuted explicitly in Congressional hearings. The Bilateral Consultative Commission has no power to “amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense,” as he contends. In fact, the Commission cannot change anything in treaty text or make changes that “affect substantive rights or obligations under this Treaty.” He asserts that missiles on rail cars constitute a loophole in the Treaty. But the last Russian rail-based missiles were deactivated in 2008.” (emphasis added)

So, we have Senator John Ensign (R-NV) and 26 others took their cues from ultra-right wing think tank commentaries, and the perambulations of the likes of John Bolton and John Yoo, in addition to adopting the outdated information and misreadings of former governor Mitch Romney. Perhaps it was easier than plowing through the information and presentations in 13 Senate committee hearings? 

Senator Ensign, by his lights was “forced to vote” under “short time constraints” — which lasted for nine whole months — on a treaty which addresses strategic (not tactical) weapon systems, and which does NOT give any bilateral commission any authority to make text or other substantive changes.  It seems that there would never be enough time for the Nevada junior Senator to grasp much more than Senator Jim DeMint’s talking points?

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>Ensign Voted To Sustain Filibuster of START Treaty Ratification

>Former President Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) and 27 other members of the U.S. Senate, all Republicans, voted to sustain the filibuster of the START Treaty, finalized back on April 8, 2010. [roll call vote 292] The Baltimore Sun captured the hypocrisy of those who laud the late President and then disparage one of the key accomplishments of his administration. Reagan said of the Treaty: “For the first time in history, the language of “arms control” was replaced by “arms reduction” — in this case, the complete elimination of an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles. Of course, this required a dramatic shift in thinking, and it took conventional wisdom some time to catch up. Reaction, to say the least, was mixed. To some the zero option was impossibly visionary and unrealistic; to others merely a propaganda ploy. Well, with patience, determination and commitment, we’ve made this impossible vision a reality.”   Thus much for the 2010 Republicans calling the Treaty “unrealistic, and impossible.”

There’s something untoward about contemporary Republicans who seem willing to trash one of the signature accomplishments of the Reagan Administration, the move from arms control to arms reduction, in order to score a political “win” against a Democratic administration. This is, indeed, exemplary of a political clique willing to take any position, no matter how untenable, no matter how hypocritical, to “defeat” the President’s foreign policy agenda.

The Treaty will be ratified. However, not without the Senate Republicans attempting to water it down, and to make it more difficult to “trust but verify.” Senators Kyl (R-AZ), Wicker (R-MS), and Ensign (R-NV) offered amendments in an attempt to micro-manage the terms of the agreement. All were rejected. [USSen] *(votes 293-297)

There are obviously some Senate Republicans lacking ” patience, determination, and commitment.” Senator Ensign is among that number.

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