In the USA...
January 1, 2013Tax Deal’s Passage Ends Latest Standoff
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
WASHINGTON — Ending a climactic fiscal showdown in the final hours of the 112th Congress, the House late Tuesday passed and sent to President Obama legislation to avert big income tax increases on most Americans and prevent large cuts in spending for the Pentagon and other government programs.
The measure, brought to the House floor less than 24 hours after its passage in the Senate, was approved 257 to 167, with 85 Republicans joining 172 Democrats in voting to allow income taxes to rise for the first time in two decades, in this case for the highest-earning Americans. Voting no were 151 Republicans and 16 Democrats.
The bill was expected to be signed quickly by Mr. Obama, who won re-election on a promise to increase taxes on the wealthy.
Mr. Obama strode into the White House briefing room shortly after the vote, less to hail the end of the fiscal crisis than to lay out a marker for the next one. “The one thing that I think, hopefully, the new year will focus on,” he said, “is seeing if we can put a package like this together with a little bit less drama, a little less brinkmanship, and not scare the heck out of folks quite as much.”
In approving the measure after days of legislative intrigue, Congress concluded its final and most pitched fight over fiscal policy, the culmination of two years of battles over taxes, the federal debt, spending and what to do to slow the growth in popular social programs like Medicare.
The decision by Republican leaders to allow the vote came despite widespread scorn among House Republicans for the bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Senate in the early hours of New Year’s Day. They were unhappy that it did not include significant spending cuts in health and other social programs, which they say are essential to any long-term solution to the nation’s debt.
Democrats, while hardly placated by the compromise, celebrated Mr. Obama’s nominal victory in his final showdown with House Republicans in the 112th Congress, who began their term emboldened by scores of new, conservative members whose reach to the right ultimately tipped them over.
“The American people are the real winners tonight,” Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said on the House floor, “not anyone who navigates these halls.”
Not a single leader among House Republicans came to the floor to speak in favor of the bill, though Speaker John A. Boehner, who rarely takes part in roll calls, voted in favor. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican, voted no. Representative Paul D. Ryan, the budget chairman who was the Republican vice-presidential candidate, supported the bill.
Despite the party divisions, many Republicans in their remarks characterized the measure, which allows taxes to go up on household income over $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples but makes permanent tax cuts for income below that level, as a victory of sorts, even as so many of them declined to vote for it.
“After more than a decade of criticizing these tax cuts,” said Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, “Democrats are finally joining Republicans in making them permanent. Republicans and the American people are getting something really important, permanent tax relief.”
The dynamic with the House was a near replay of a fight at the end of 2011 over a payroll tax break extension. In that showdown, Senate Democrats and Republicans passed legislation, and while House Republicans fulminated, they were eventually forced to swallow it.
On Tuesday, as they got a detailed look at the Senate’s fiscal legislation, House Republicans ranging from Midwest pragmatists to Tea Party-blessed conservatives voiced serious reservations about the measure, emerging from a lunchtime New Year’s Day meeting with their leaders, eyes flashing and faces grim, insisting they would not accept a bill without substantial savings from cuts.
The unrest reached to the highest levels as Mr. Cantor told members in a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol that he could not support the legislation in its current form.
Mr. Boehner, who faces a re-election vote on his post on Thursday when the 113th Congress convenes, had grave concerns as well, but he had pledged to allow the House to consider any legislation that cleared the Senate. And he was not eager to have such a major piece of legislation pass with mainly opposition votes, and the outcome could be seen as undermining his authority.
Adding to the pressure on the House, the fiscal agreement was reached by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, and had deep Republican support in the Senate, isolating the House Republicans in their opposition. Some of the Senate Republicans who backed the bill are staunch conservatives, like Senators Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, with deep credibility among House Republicans.
The options before the House Republicans were fraught with risks. Senate Democrats said they would not brook any serious amendments to their bill — one that was hard fought and passed in the dark of night with many clenched teeth on either side of the aisle. Senate Democratic leaders planned no more votes before the new Congress convenes Thursday afternoon.
An up-or-down House vote on the Senate measure presented many Republicans with a nearly impossible choice: to prolong the standoff that most Americans wished to see cease, or to vote to allow taxes to go up on wealthy Americans without any of the changes to spending and benefit programs they had fought for vigorously for the better part of two years.
“I have read the bill and can’t find the spending cuts — even with an electron magnifying glass,” said Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. “It’s part medicinal, part placebo, and part treating the symptoms but not the underlying pathology.”
But with their options shrinking just two days before the beginning of a new Congress, the House leadership made one of the biggest concessions of their rebellious two years and let the measure move forward to avoid being seen as the chief obstacle to legislation that Mr. Obama and a bipartisan Senate majority said was necessary to prevent the nation from slipping back into a recession.
The measure, while less reflective of Mr. Obama’s fiscal agenda than Senate Democrats had wished, still provided fewer concessions than the president initially offered in a, tentative agreement with Mr. Boehner last month, and it was a far cry from what was on the table in 2011 when negotiators tried to reach a so-called grand bargain. “I thank all of you who will vote for it,” said Representative Darrell Issa of California. “I cannot bring myself to vote for it.”
Still, many Republicans, in light of the broad party support for the bill in the Senate and the unwavering, rare discipline they faced from Democrats, concluded that they had little room to maneuver. They decided they would save their fire for the coming rounds — the effort to increase the nation’s debt ceiling again in another month or two and an expiring governmentwide spending bill.
“We can and will pursue comprehensive tax reform,” Representative Camp said.
Republicans hope to fight for more spending cuts in the debt-ceiling vote, but Mr. Obama warned against that tactic.
“While I will negotiate over many things,” he said, “I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up through the laws they have passed. Let me repeat: we can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred.”
The last time the House voted on New Year’s Day, according to Congressional staff members on the Rules Committee, was in 1951, on a measure concerning money for the Korean War.
Robert Pear and Peter Baker contributed reporting.
**************GOP caves on spending cuts demand as House passes bill to avert fiscal cliff
By Jonathan Terbush
Tuesday, January 1, 2013 21:27 EST
After a frantic day of last-ditch debate, the House of Representatives on Tuesday night passed a bill—approved by the Senate less than 24 hours prior— to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, finally putting an end to the deficit wrangling that had gridlocked Congress for much of the past year.
The final vote tally: 257 – 167.
The bill, which will now go to President Obama, will allow tax rates to revert to their pre-Bush levels for Americans with annual incomes over $450,000. That amounts to an estimate $600 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. Despite a Republican demand for budget cuts to be a part of any deal, there are no net spending cuts in the final deal.
For part of the day, the Senate compromise seemed destined for the dustbin, as a rift developed among House Republicans, some of whom said publicly that they would refuse to support the bill if it came to a vote untouched. Those openly revolting included House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the number two Republican in the lower chamber, who surprisingly announced earlier in the day that he would oppose the deal.
Cantor did vote no on the final legislation, as did Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, putting them at odds with Speaker Boehner.
Boehner did not immediately allow a straight vote on the bill following its passage in the Senate, despite Democratic pressure on him to do so. Boehner faces reelection to retain his speakership in the new Congress and has already had a testy relationship with the right wing of his party.
Instead of holding an immediate vote on the raw bill as passed by the Senate, Republicans spent the day debating whether to tack amendments to it, and to then send it back to the Senate for a new vote there. Yet after hours of debate Tuesday, the Republican caucus could not muster enough support among themselves for specific amendments. And even had they pushed through an amended bill, Senate Democrats had previously said they wouldn’t consider it anyway, meaning negotiations would have started anew once the next session of Congress is sworn in.
January 1, 2013Lines of Resistance on Fiscal Deal
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — Just a few years ago, the tax deal pushed through Congress on Tuesday would have been a Republican fiscal fantasy, a sweeping bill that locks in virtually all of the Bush-era tax cuts, exempts almost all estates from taxation, and enshrines the former president’s credo that dividends and capital gains should be taxed equally and gently.
But times have changed, President George W. Bush is gone, and before the bill’s final passage late Tuesday, House Republican leaders struggled all day to quell a revolt among caucus members who threatened to blow up a hard-fought compromise that they could have easily framed as a victory. Many House Republicans seemed determined to put themselves in a position to be blamed for sending the nation’s economy into a potential tailspin under the weight of automatic tax increases and spending cuts.
The latest internal party struggle on Capitol Hill surprised even Senate Republicans, who had voted overwhelmingly for a deal largely hashed out by their leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The bill passed the Senate, 89 to 8, at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, with only 5 of the chamber’s 47 Republicans voting no.
Twenty-one hours later, the same measure was opposed by 151 of the 236 Republicans voting in the House. It was further proof that House Republicans are a new breed, less enamored of tax cuts per se than they are driven to shrink government through steep spending cuts. Protecting nearly 99 percent of the nation’s households from an income tax increase was not enough if taxes rose on some and government spending was untouched.
A party that once disputed that there was any real “cost” of tax cuts encountered sticker shock when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that enacting them in place of the “fiscal cliff” provisions would cost $4 trillion over 10 years.
“I personally hate it,” Representative John Campbell, a Republican from California, said of the bill. “The speaker the day after the election said we would give on taxes, and we have, but we wanted spending cuts. This bill has spending increases. Are you kidding me?”
By all accounts, the tax deal negotiated by Mr. McConnell and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is one of the most sweeping fiscal policy changes in a decade, a measure that would bring a certainty to the tax code long demanded by the financial community and taxpayers.
The bill’s heft was confirmed on Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, which said the income and business tax cut extensions; new capital gains, dividend and estate tax rates; and unemployment compensation would add an estimated $4 trillion to the federal deficit compared with where the government would be if Congress did nothing to halt the tax increases and spending cuts that were triggered at the start of the year.
The independent Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said that measured against extending all 2012 policies, the deal would cut the deficit by $650 billion over 10 years. The group said the biggest cost, a “patch” to the alternative minimum tax to prevent it from suddenly affecting much of the middle class, should not be considered a cost at all because Congress has adjusted it each year anyway.
But the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate gave even some Democrats pause, especially since the bill would make permanent virtually all of the Bush tax cuts — a goal that Mr. Bush chased through the rest of his presidency. “For four years in my town hall meetings across the state, Coloradans have told me they want a plan that materially reduces the deficit,” said Senator Michael Bennet, one of three Democrats who voted against the bill. “This proposal does not meet that standard and does not put in place a real process to reduce the debt down the road.”
The bill would do much more than head off the automatic tax increases and spending cuts. It would fix in place a tax code that for more than a decade has caused struggles over regular sunset provisions, temporary solutions and fleeting incentives. The bill would finally make permanent five of the six income tax rates created in 2001 by the first Bush tax cut. It would codify Mr. Bush’s successful push, in 2003, to make tax rates on dividends and capital gains equal so that one form of investment income is not favored over the other.
But it would let lapse a two-percentage-point cut in the payroll tax, one of the recent tax policy changes most squarely aimed at the working class, meaning take-home pay may be less even if higher income taxes are headed off. The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, estimated that 77 percent of Americans could pay more over all to the federal government this year.
“For me, this is very much an ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ thing,” said Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary in the years of Mr. Bush’s tax fights. “As a Bush loyalist, it’s fantastic that the Bush tax cuts, which now have to be seen inarguably as overwhelmingly for the middle class, are being made permanent. On the other hand, it’s inarguable that this adds $4 trillion to the federal debt.”
The 10-year price includes $762 billion to lock in the Bush tax rates of 10 percent, 25 percent, 28 percent and 33 percent, along with some of the Bush-era 35 percent bracket; $354 billion to continue Mr. Bush’s expanded child credit; and $339 billion to secure Mr. Bush’s 15 percent capital gains and dividend rates for families earning less than $450,000. Fixing the alternative minimum tax would cost the Treasury $1.8 trillion, according to the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
Democrats say they had little choice. The Bush White House and Republican Congresses structured the tax cuts so that letting them expire would be politically difficult. Add the across-the-board spending cuts if Congress did nothing, and President Obama felt he had to extend most of the tax cuts or watch the economy sink back into recession.
“New occasions make for new truths,” said Representative Danny K. Davis, a Democrat from Illinois and a veteran of the partisan wars over the Bush tax cuts. “New situations make ancient remedies uncouth.”
Most galling for Republicans are provisions projected to add $330 billion in spending over 10 years, including $30 billion in unemployment compensation and $21 billion in payments to Medicare health providers. None of those provisions are objectionable on their own, but collectively they almost proved impossible for Republicans to accept.
Even one of the chief architects of the Bush tax cuts, R. Glenn Hubbard, a Columbia University economist, was not crowing about their potential enshrinement. He said some Bush-era policies were no longer relevant to the task of tailoring a tax code to a properly sized government.
The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts “are not the best anchoring point” for that debate, he said. “We need a tax system that can promote economic growth and raise the revenue the American people want to devote to government.”
January 1, 2013On the Left, Seeing Obama Giving Away Too Much, Again
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — For President Obama, the fiscal deal passed by Congress on Tuesday finally ends four years of debate with Republicans about raising tax rates on the wealthy. But it seemed to reopen a debate within his party about the nature of his leadership and his skills as a negotiator.
While Mr. Obama got most of what he sought in the agreement, he found himself under withering criticism from some in his liberal base who accused him of caving in to Republicans by not taxing the rich more. Just as Speaker John A. Boehner has been under pressure from his right, Mr. Obama faces a virtual Tea Party of the left that sees his compromise as capitulation.
The main difference is that in the Obama era, the Democratic establishment has been less influenced, or intimidated, by the left than the Republican establishment has been by the right. Liberals have not mounted sustained primary challenges to take out wayward incumbents the way conservatives have. All but three Democrats voting in the Senate and 16 in the House supported the compromise on Tuesday, even as most House Republicans balked, giving Mr. Obama more room to operate than Mr. Boehner.
But the wave of grievance from liberal activists, labor leaders and economists suggested that the uneasy truce between Mr. Obama and his base that held through the campaign season had expired now that there was no longer a threat of a Mitt Romney victory. It also offered a harbinger of the president’s next four years.
The criticism has irritated the White House, which argued that Mr. Obama held true to principle by forcing Republicans to raise income tax rates on the wealthy and extend unemployment benefits and targeted tax credits. Mr. Obama also quashed Republican demands to trim the growth of entitlement benefits. Aides dismissed armchair criticism from those who have never had to negotiate with intractable opposition.
“There’s some frustration that over time you would think everybody would have a better understanding of the parameters of this,” said Robert Gibbs, a longtime adviser to Mr. Obama who once called such critics “the professional left.” “But he understands now probably better than at any other point in his presidency what it means to be a leader, what it means to have to do things that are good not just for one party but good for the country.”
The criticism from the left mirrors past complaints when Mr. Obama included tax cuts in his stimulus package, gave up on a government-run option in health care negotiations and temporarily extended Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy two years ago. Liberals said Mr. Obama should have capitalized on his re-election victory and the expiration on New Year’s Day of all of the Bush tax cuts to force Republicans to accept his terms.
“The president remains clueless about how to use leverage in a negotiation,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy organization. “Republicans publicly admitted they lost the tax debate and would be forced to cave, yet the president just kept giving stuff away.”
Robert B. Reich, the former labor secretary, said that Mr. Obama “has stiffened his tactical resolve” but that “he’s still the same President Obama who wants a deal above all else and seems willing to compromise on even the most basic principle.”
Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in a Twitter message on Monday that the agreement was “not a good fiscal cliff deal if it gives more tax cuts to 2 percent.” Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said on the floor on Monday that “this looks like a very bad deal.”
Still, most Democratic lawmakers accepted it, however reluctantly, concluding that voting against it could cause greater economic disruption. Many liberals grew more comfortable once they learned more about the deal, and the revolt on Tuesday by House Republicans seemed to rally them behind the plan and against a common adversary. Mr. Trumka released a new statement hailing elements of the deal, while blaming “Republican hostage taking” for its flaws.
Mr. Obama succeeded in forcing Senate Republicans to raise the top income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 35 percent despite their adamant opposition, although he agreed to apply that to household income above $450,000, instead of $250,000. He also won an increase in taxes on wealthy estates to 40 percent from 35 percent, though it was not as high as liberals wanted.
The bill will extend unemployment benefits for two million Americans; renew tax credits for child care, college tuition and renewable energy production; raise capital gains taxes; and phase out deductions for the wealthy. Mr. Obama also insisted that a two-month postponement of automatic spending cuts be financed by $1 in tax revenue for every $1 in spending reductions.
“When the dust settles, there will be a lot of important elements in this for progressives,” Mr. Gibbs said. The deal can be evaluated only in combination with the result of the next fiscal talks, to be concluded by the end of February, he said, adding, “We won’t know the final score on that until you look at both of those negotiations together.”
Defenders of the White House said it was ludicrous to expect that the president would not have to compromise, given that Republicans control the House and have enough votes in the Senate to filibuster a bill. Without an agreement, economists warned that the country would have been pushed back into recession.
Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said Mr. Obama had secured important victories like the one on unemployment benefits and stood firm against paring entitlement benefits. “The president was strong there,” he told CNN. “And I think he’ll continue to be strong. I think, you know, I notice a different president since he won this election.”
Jared Bernstein, a former economics adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., said Mr. Obama had done what he thought he had to, but he expressed concern that the president might have squandered leverage unless he holds firm in the debate over the debt ceiling. Republicans want to use a vote to raise the ceiling to force Mr. Obama to accept deeper spending cuts, but the president has vowed not to negotiate over the borrowing limit.
“While some appear to think his team folded in the cliff debate, I don’t see it that way,” Mr. Bernstein said. “They saw a plausible path forward, and they took it. My point is it’s only plausible if they really don’t get derailed on the debt ceiling debate.”
January 02, 2013 07:00 AMHouse Adjourns Without Passing Hurricane Sandy Relief
Fiery speeches right now on House Floor - lawmakers just found out they won't be taking up the Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Wow.
— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) January 2, 2013
Speaking as one who has been through several large and devastating earthquakes in my lifetime, I just think this is horrible. As Speaker Pelosi said on the floor Tuesday night, it's disrespectful to those people who have already lost so much.
After the vote on the tax compromise last night, the House held a few perfunctory votes and then opened up the floor for one-minute speeches. But John Boehner forgot one really important item of business: Relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Despite reports that a vote might take place on Wednesday before adjournment of the 112th Congress, Steny Hoyer came to the floor after the tax vote in a wave of fury, saying that he'd been told there would be no more votes held before the new Congress is sworn in.
The Senate passed a $60 billion aid package last week. There was a bill ready in the House that would have pared down the $60 billion to $27 billion, with a proposed amendment to bring the total back up to $60 billion.
Instead, it seems that John Boehner is going to adjourn this Congress without a vote. Evidently he takes his direction from conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin who called upon him to punish Democrats by not voting on Sandy relief. John Aravosis said it clearly:
The most likely reason – Boehner is afraid of a revolt from conservatives if asked to spend even more money, even if it is to help victims of one of the greatest disasters in American history. Conservatives don’t care. Remember that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for closing down FEMA in the middle of the Hurricane Sandy.
Rep. Rush Holt came to the floor and said what many are thinking: They dropped the ball because the disaster happened in a blue state. He's not the only one to think so:
Wonder if the House would adjourn without even voting on Hurricane #Sandy relief if it had hit red states the hardest. Having my doubts.
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) January 2, 2013
This could possibly be the most despicable non-act of Congress ever. Howie Klein has more on one of the tea party idiots in New Jersey who is probably dancing a jig right now:
Among the Koch whores in the House GOP threatening to disrupt the aid are right-wing hacks in New York (like Staten Island's corrupt Mafia-related Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm) and New Jersey's worst extremist ideologue Scott Garrett. Long Island Congressman Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, which has been handling the bill, is worried that if the money doesn't get approved while he's still chair, Texas hate-monger Michael McCaul-- the richest member of the House and an anti-tax fanatic-- will kill it. Many Republicans still fighting the Civil War look at this as an opportunity to deal a painful blow to the hated Northerners.
I rest my case.
*******Peter King rips House GOP for skipping out on Sandy relief bill
By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, January 2, 2013 9:54 EST
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) took to the House of Representatives floor on Tuesday night to slam his fellow lawmakers for not voting on a relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
“Tonight’s action not to hold this vote is morally indefensible,” King said. “There are thousands and thousands of people throughout Long Island, Rockaway, Staten Island, New Jersey, throughout the Northeast, who are homeless tonight, who are without jobs, who lost their business. “This is absolutely indefensible.”
According to CBS News, the Senate approved a measure allocating $60.4 billion in aid to victims of the freak storm, which left 120 people dead while tearing through King’s home state, as well as New Jersey and several others along the Eastern seaboard.
The House Appropriations Committee had also prepared a $27 million aid package, which had been expected to be voted upon. But CBS News reported that, according to a House Republican aide, the House will leave the matter to the incoming Congress, which is scheduled to begin on Thursday.
King said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) provided the necessary paperwork to qualify for federal help.
“Everybody played by the rules, except tonight, when the rug was pulled out from under us,” he raged, hitting the podium. “Absolutely inexcusable. Absolutely indefensible. We have a moral obligation to hold this vote for people who are out of their homes. There are people who are cold. There are people who are without food. There are people who have lost their jobs. They don’t have the time to wait. We cannot just walk away from our responsibilities.”
King’s anger was shared across party lines; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) told the Associated Press she felt “betrayed” by the House’s inaction, while Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) said it marked a first for him.
“I’m here tonight saying to myself for the first time that I’m not proud of the decision my team has made,” Grimm said. “It is the wrong decision, and I’m going to be respectful and ask that the [House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)] reconsider his decision. Because it’s not about politics, it’s about human lives.”
Watch King’s impassioned plea, posted Wednesday on YouTube by Think Progress, below.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=kVjf778X4fs
January 1, 2013From Congress to Halls of State, in New Hampshire, Women Rule
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
Most states are red or blue. A few are purple. After the November election, New Hampshire turned pink.
Women won the state’s two Congressional seats. Women already held the state’s two Senate seats. When they are all sworn into office on Thursday, New Hampshire will become the first state in the nation’s history to send an all-female delegation to Washington.
And the matriarchy does not end there. New Hampshire’s new governor is a woman. So are the speaker of the State House and the chief justice of the State Supreme Court.
“Pink is the new power color in New Hampshire,” declared Ann McLane Kuster, one of the newly elected representatives, at a recent forum at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester, where the women’s historic milestone was celebrated.
These women did not rise to the top together overnight. Nor was there an orchestrated movement to elect them. Each toiled in the political vineyards, climbed the ladder in her own time and campaigned hard for her job. But they have caught the state’s collective imagination, inspiring forums and media interest and prompting Jay B. Childs, a New Hampshire filmmaker, to make a documentary about them.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, 65, a Democrat and dean of the delegation, was the state’s first elected female governor and the first woman in United States history to be elected both governor and senator.
Senator Kelly Ayotte, 44, a Republican, was the state’s former attorney general.
Carol Shea-Porter, 60, a Democrat and former member of the House, lost her seat in 2010 and won it back in November.
Ms. Kuster, 56, a Democrat, is a lawyer and lobbyist who has not held office before but has long been active in the state and comes from a political family.
Maggie Hassan, 54, a Democrat and the new governor, was majority leader of the State Senate.
Women will make up 20 percent of the new Senate and 17.9 percent of the new House. These are records in Washington, but they fall far short of matching the 50.8 percent of the general population that is female.
While New Hampshire is doing more than its share of bolstering the number of women on Capitol Hill, six states — Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota and Vermont — have never elected a woman to the House. And four of those — Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi and Vermont — have never sent a woman to the Senate.
The state after New Hampshire, with the next highest proportion of women in its Congressional delegation, is Hawaii, where both House members and one senator are women.
In only three other states, Maine, Missouri and Washington, do women make up at least half of the delegations. Sixteen states, including New Jersey, have no women in Congress.
Although the women in New Hampshire are serving all at once by happenstance, women have long held prominent positions in New Hampshire government.
One reason is the size of the State House, a typical pipeline for aspiring politicians. It has 400 members, making it the largest of the states and the fourth-largest governing body in the English-speaking world (after the United States Congress, the British Parliament and the Indian Parliament). With so many seats available, women have a better chance of being elected in New Hampshire than they have in many other states.
New Hampshire also has a long history of volunteerism, and serving in the General Court, as the legislature is known, amounts to an act of volunteerism because it pays just $100 a year, plus mileage. Every year since 1975, more than 100 women have served.
“There are lots of opportunities for women to pitch in, prove their competence and learn a lot about governing and the political process,” Ms. Hassan said in an interview. “We’ve had a very deep bench of women.”
Even if the legislature in New Hampshire is big, the state itself is small. That makes it easier for everyone to know everyone else, and most of the women in the Congressional delegation have intricate ties to one another.
Ms. Kuster’s mother, for example, a Republican state senator who ran for Congress in 1980, was a mentor to Ms. Shaheen. “She thought it was so important to elect women,” Ms. Shaheen said in an interview. “She was helpful to all women, not just me.”
Ms. Shaheen in turn has been a mentor to many of the others coming up through the ranks, including Ms. Kuster herself.
“A lot of people in office, even their managers and staff, are Shaheen protégés or were brought up through the Shaheen organization,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the Institute of Politics.
Ms. Kuster said the number of women in office made it easier for women to provide encouragement and support to one another. “In some other states, there’s more of a dominant old-boy network,” she said.
Most of these women grew up with mothers who worked, which set an example for them, and are mothers themselves, which, they say, has given them practice at reaching compromise and solving problems.
“Never underestimate the power of a woman with a minivan and a cellphone,” Ms. Hassan said.
They also had supportive families who urged them to run for office.
Ms. Shea-Porter said at the forum, which is on video, that she had been worried that running for Congress would take her away from her ailing mother.
“She just looked at me and said, ‘You better run,’ ” Ms. Shea-Porter said. Her teenagers, on the other hand, asked only that she not embarrass them.
Ms. Kuster praised her law firm, where she was the first part-time partner. She was allowed to work four days a week while she raised her children.
Still, the women said they faced obstacles that men did not, particularly with regard to their children. Ms. Ayotte, who noted at the forum that voters over the years had seen her “in all stages of pregnancy,” said that while campaigning, she was constantly asked what was going to happen to her children, who are now 8 and 5.
“I think those questions are there much more for women than they are for men,” she said. “That’s just the reality.”
***************Group warns military: Prepare now for risks of ‘mutant soldier’ future
By David Ferguson
Monday, December 31, 2012 17:26 EST
Researchers at California Polytechnic State University warn that the U.S. military is working to create and implement technologies that will give soldiers “mutant powers” without fully thinking through the consequences. According to Wired magazine’s “Danger Room” blog, the scientists warn that if the military fails to prepare properly, these advancements, including enhanced strength and endurance, superior cognition and a lack of fear, the technology could do more harm than good.
Patrick Lin and his colleagues Maxwell Mehlman and Keith Abney have produced a report for the Greenwall Foundation (.pdf), a foundation dedicated to rewarding excellence in the arts and humanities as well as in the growing field of bioethics. The report, “Enhanced Fighters: Risk, Ethics and Policy” warns that “military human enhancements” could pose a decided risk to enlisted personnel. The means used to produce the enhancements, including drugs, special nutrition, electroshock, gene therapy and robotic implants, are all only dimly understood. The consequences of utilizing these techniques with anything but exquisite care could be devastating.
“With military enhancements and other technologies, the genie’s already out of the bottle: the benefits are too irresistible, and the military-industrial complex still has too much momentum,” wrote Lin in an email to Wired. “The best we can do now is to help develop policies in advance to prepare for these new technologies, not post hoc or after the fact (as we’re seeing with drones and cyberweapons).”
Unintended consequences of “mutant fighter” technology, the report said, could include maimed and killed soldiers from technologies gone awry, spurring costly lawsuits. Tweaked and modified soldiers could be found in violation of international law, spawning a fresh international crisis every time U.S. troops are deployed. Worse, the new technologies could kick off a frantic arms race between the U.S. and its enemies.
Lin pointed to the case of U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot, Maj. Harry Schmidt, who was returning from a 10-hour mission over Afghanistan when he saw flashes on the ground below him indicating weapons fire. Thinking that friendly troops on the ground were under fire by insurgents, Schmidt unloaded a 500-pound laser-guided bomb on the area from where the weapons fire was originating.
There were no insurgents on the ground, however, only Canadian troops on a live-fire training exercise. Four soldiers were killed in the incident.
Schmidt, who was stripped of his pilot’s wings by the Air Force, blamed the drug Dexedrine, an amphetamine routine prescribed by the Air Force for fighter pilots flying long missions. Post-amphetamine jitters can cause irritability, poor judgment and can impair decision making.
This information, said Schmidt, had been witheld from him.
“I don’t know what the effect was supposed to be,” Schmidt told Chicago magazine. “All I know is something [was] happening to my body and brain.”
This incident underscores the risks of using artificial means to push soldiers beyond their natural limits. The “Danger Room” article raised the question of whether the military is ready for the consequences of “a future battlefield teeming with amphetamine-fueled pilots, a cyborg infantry and commanders whose brains have been shocked into achieving otherwise impossible levels of tactical cunning.”
If one side in a conflict were to deploy what the article called a “terrifying cyborg army,” what type of arms race could this potentially kick off between warring powers? What international rules of conduct would govern what can be done to soldiers in the name of national defense?
In the 1970s, the Pentagon gave soldiers the hallucinogen LSD in hopes of developing hallucinogenic weapons. During the Cold War, the U.S. military exposed troops to nerve gas, radiation and other toxins without their consent in the name of determining the effects on battle readiness. Lin and the other report authors warn that soldiers should be given the option to opt out of enhancements and other experiments that may have unintended consequences.
“Should warfighters be required to give their informed consent to being enhanced, and if so, what should that process be?” the report asks.
The research group suggests a set of guidelines for the military as it tests and explores the frontier of military human enhancement. Is there a legitimate military purpose for the enhancement? Furthermore, “Is it necessary? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Can subjects’ dignity be maintained and the cost to them minimized? Is there full, informed consent, transparency and are the costs of the enhancement fairly distributed? Finally, are systems in place to hold accountable those overseeing the enhancement?”
Lin, Mehlman and Abney warn that the time to think about the ethical ramifications of human enhancement is now, not when problems have arisen.
“In comic books and science fiction, we can suspend disbelief about the details associated with fantastical technologies and abilities, as represented by human enhancements,” the report warns. “But in the real world — as life imitates art, and ‘mutant powers’ really are changing the world — the details matter and will require real investigations.”
January 1, 2013Rig Runs Aground in Alaska, Reviving Fears About Arctic Drilling
By JOHN M. BRODER and HENRY FOUNTAIN
WASHINGTON — One of Shell Oil’s two Arctic drilling rigs is beached on an island in the Gulf of Alaska, threatening environmental damage from a fuel spill and calling into question Shell’s plans to resume drilling in the treacherous waters north of Alaska in the summer.
The rig, the Kulluk, broke free from a tow ship in stormy seas and ran aground Monday night. The Coast Guard was leading an effort to keep its more than 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lubricants from spilling onto the rocky shoreline.
At a news conference in Anchorage on Tuesday afternoon, Capt. Paul Mehler III, the federal on-scene coordinator, said that a reconnaissance flight showed the Kulluk was upright and stable, with no significant motion.
“The results are showing us that the Kulluk is sound,” Captain Mehler said. “No sign of breach of hull, no sign of release of any product.” He said the response team hoped to get salvage experts aboard the ship to get a better picture of damage.
Steven Russell of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said that, so far, there was no sign of harm to the environment or wildlife.
The Kulluk’s 18 crew members had been evacuated by Coast Guard helicopters on Saturday after the rig first went adrift in high winds and rough seas.
The grounding was the latest in a series of mishaps to befall Shell’s ambitious plans to prospect for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the North Slope of Alaska.
Shell halted drilling for oil in September after equipment failures, unexpected ice floes, operational missteps and regulatory delays forced the company to scale back its plans.
Its drilling rigs completed two shallow pilot holes and left the Arctic in late fall to return to Seattle for maintenance work but have encountered problems in transit.
If the Kulluk, which Shell upgraded in recent years at a cost of nearly $300 million, is wrecked or substantially damaged, it will be hard for the company to find a replacement and receive the numerous government permits needed to resume drilling in July, as planned.
Under Department of Interior rules governing Arctic drilling, the company must have two rigs on site at all times to provide for a backup vessel to drill a relief well in case of a blowout, an uncontrolled escape of oil or gas.
A separate containment system designed to collect oil in the case of a well accident failed during testing, preventing Shell from drilling into oil-bearing formations during its abbreviated exploration season last summer and fall. Shell’s Alaska vice president, Pete Slaiby, said he could not discuss the latest accident, saying that company officials were working with a Coast Guard-directed unified command and could not comment separately.
An official involved in the response operation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said: “We don’t know about the damage. It’s too dark. The weather is horrendous.” The official said that when a helicopter flew over the rig Monday night: “It looked upright about 1,600 feet off the beach. There was no sign of any spill.” The official said the fuel tanks on the vessel were well protected inside the hull, making a spill unlikely.
The Kulluk, which does not have a propulsion system of its own, ran into trouble late last week when its tow ship, the Aiviq, lost engine power and the towline separated. A Coast Guard cutter and other ships arrived, and crews struggled through Monday, in seas up to 35 feet, to reconnect tow lines to the rig, succeeding several times. But each time the lines separated.
On Monday night, the Kulluk, 266 feet in diameter, broke free from one tow ship and the Coast Guard ordered a second ship to disconnect, fearing for the safety of its crew.
The Kulluk is sitting on the southeast coast of Sitkalidak Island, an uninhabited island separated by the Sitkalidak Strait from the far larger Kodiak Island to the west. The nearest town, Old Harbor, is across the strait on Kodiak Island; it has a population of about 200 people. The strait is home to a threatened species of sea lion.
A spokesman for the Interior Department’s offshore drilling safety office would not say whether the latest problem would cause a re-evaluation of the agency’s approval of Shell’s overall Arctic program. But the spokesman, Nicholas Pardi of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said that any equipment Shell proposes to use off the Alaskan coast must meet federal safety and testing standards. He added that regulations require a federal inspector be present around the clock during drilling operations.
The other ship Shell has used in the Arctic, the Noble Discoverer, has had problems of its own. In July, before sailing to the Arctic, it nearly ran aground after dragging its anchor in the Aleutian Islands. Then in November it had a small engine fire.
Later that month, during an inspection in the Alaskan port of Seward, the Coast Guard found more than a dozen violations involving safety systems and pollution equipment. Last week, the Noble Corporation, the Swiss company that owns the 512-foot-long drillship and is leasing it to Shell for $240,000 a day, said that many of the problems had been repaired and that the ship was preparing to sail to Seattle to fix the remainder of them.
Critics said that the accident confirmed their worst fears about Shell’s Arctic project and should force federal regulators to stop it.
“We’re learning that oceans, while beautiful, are dangerous and unforgiving,” said Michael LeVine, senior Pacific counsel for the environmental group Oceana. “Shell has demonstrated again and again that it’s not prepared to operate in Alaskan waters. Hopefully something good will come out of this latest incident, and the government will take a careful look at whether activities such as this can be conducted safely, and if so, what changes are needed to make that possible.”
Shell was on the verge of drilling in 2011, but delays in getting final approval for an air quality permit forced the company to put off drilling until 2012. More equipment failures and unpredictable weather continued through the year. In September, Shell had to abandon preliminary drilling in the Chukchi Sea when sea ice moved toward the drilling area only a day after work began.
And finally, the company was forced to put off completing the two wells it had begun to drill for another year when a barge containing a spill containment dome was badly damaged during a testing accident. During the testing, a mechanical device malfunctioned as the containment dome was lowered into the water, and a submarine robot became tangled in some of the dome’s anchor lines.
Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.
December 31, 2012The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln
By ERIC FONER
ONE hundred and fifty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln presided over the annual White House New Year’s reception. Late that afternoon, he retired to his study to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. When he took up his pen, his hand was shaking from exhaustion. Briefly, he paused — “I do not want it to appear as if I hesitated,” he remarked. Then Lincoln affixed a firm signature to the document.
Like all great historical transformations, emancipation was a process, not a single event. It arose from many causes and was the work of many individuals. It began at the outset of the Civil War, when slaves sought refuge behind Union lines. It did not end until December 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which irrevocably abolished slavery throughout the nation.
But the Emancipation Proclamation was the crucial turning point in this story. In a sense, it embodied a double emancipation: for the slaves, since it ensured that if the Union emerged victorious, slavery would perish, and for Lincoln himself, for whom it marked the abandonment of his previous assumptions about how to abolish slavery and the role blacks would play in post-emancipation American life.
There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Lincoln’s statement in 1864 that he had always believed slavery to be wrong. During the first two years of the Civil War, despite insisting that the conflict’s aim was preservation of the Union, he devoted considerable energy to a plan for ending slavery inherited from prewar years. Emancipation would be undertaken by state governments, with national financing. It would be gradual, owners would receive monetary compensation and emancipated slaves would be encouraged to find a homeland outside the United States — this last idea known as “colonization.”
Lincoln’s plan sought to win the cooperation of slave holders in ending slavery. As early as November 1861, he proposed it to political leaders in Delaware, one of the four border states (along with Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri) that remained in the Union. Delaware had only 1,800 slaves; the institution was peripheral to the state’s economy. But Lincoln found that even there, slave holders did not wish to surrender their human property. Nonetheless, for most of 1862, he avidly promoted his plan to the border states and any Confederates who might be interested.
Lincoln also took his proposal to black Americans. In August 1862, he met with a group of black leaders from Washington. He seemed to blame the presence of blacks in America for the conflict: “but for your race among us there could not be war.” He issued a powerful indictment of slavery — “the greatest wrong inflicted on any people” — but added that, because of racism, blacks would never achieve equality in America. “It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated,” he said. But most blacks refused to contemplate emigration from the land of their birth.
In the summer of 1862, a combination of events propelled Lincoln in a new direction. Slavery was disintegrating in parts of the South as thousands of slaves ran away to Union lines. With the war a stalemate, more Northerners found themselves agreeing with the abolitionists, who had insisted from the outset that slavery must become a target. Enthusiasm for enlistment was waning in the North. The Army had long refused to accept black volunteers, but the reservoir of black manpower could no longer be ignored. In response, Congress moved ahead of Lincoln, abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, authorizing the president to enroll blacks in the Army and freeing the slaves of pro-Confederate owners in areas under military control. Lincoln signed all these measures that summer.
The hallmark of Lincoln’s greatness was his combination of bedrock principle with open-mindedness and capacity for growth. That summer, with his preferred approach going nowhere, he moved in the direction of immediate emancipation. He first proposed this to his cabinet on July 22, but Secretary of State William H. Seward persuaded him to wait for a military victory, lest it seem an act of desperation.
Soon after the Union victory at Antietam in September, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, a warning to the Confederacy that if it did not lay down its arms by Jan. 1, he would declare the slaves “forever free.”
Lincoln did not immediately abandon his earlier plan. His annual message to Congress, released on Dec. 1, 1862, devoted a long passage to gradual, compensated abolition and colonization. But in the same document, without mentioning the impending proclamation, he indicated that a new approach was imperative: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present,” he wrote. “We must disenthrall our selves, and then we shall save our country.” Lincoln included himself in that “we.” On Jan. 1, he proclaimed the freedom of the vast majority of the nation’s slaves.
The Emancipation Proclamation is perhaps the most misunderstood of the documents that have shaped American history. Contrary to legend, Lincoln did not free the nearly four million slaves with a stroke of his pen. It had no bearing on slaves in the four border states, since they were not in rebellion. It also exempted certain parts of the Confederacy occupied by the Union. All told, it left perhaps 750,000 slaves in bondage. But the remaining 3.1 million, it declared, “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
The proclamation did not end slavery in the United States on the day it was issued. Indeed, it could not even be enforced in most of the areas where it applied, which were under Confederate control. But it ensured the eventual death of slavery — assuming the Union won the war. Were the Confederacy to emerge victorious, slavery, in one form or another, would undoubtedly have lasted a long time.
A military order, whose constitutional legitimacy rested on the president’s war powers, the proclamation often disappoints those who read it. It is dull and legalistic; it contains no soaring language enunciating the rights of man. Only at the last minute, at the urging of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, an abolitionist, did Lincoln add a conclusion declaring the proclamation an “act of justice.”
Nonetheless, the proclamation marked a dramatic transformation in the nature of the Civil War and in Lincoln’s own approach to the problem of slavery. No longer did he seek the consent of slave holders. The proclamation was immediate, not gradual, contained no mention of compensation for owners, and made no reference to colonization.
In it, Lincoln addressed blacks directly, not as property subject to the will of others but as men and women whose loyalty the Union must earn. For the first time, he welcomed black soldiers into the Union Army; over the next two years some 200,000 black men would serve in the Army and Navy, playing a critical role in achieving Union victory. And Lincoln urged freed slaves to go to work for “reasonable wages” — in the United States. He never again mentioned colonization in public.
Having made the decision, Lincoln did not look back. In 1864, with casualties mounting, there was talk of a compromise peace. Some urged Lincoln to rescind the proclamation, in which case, they believed, the South could be persuaded to return to the Union. Lincoln refused. Were he to do so, he told one visitor, “I should be damned in time and eternity.”
Wartime emancipation may have settled the fate of slavery, but it opened another vexing question: the role of former slaves in American life. Colonization had allowed its proponents to talk about abolition without having to confront this issue; after all, the black population would be gone. After Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln for the first time began to think seriously of the United States as a biracial society.
While not burdened with the visceral racism of many of his white contemporaries, Lincoln shared some of their prejudices. He had long seen blacks as an alien people who had been unjustly uprooted from their homeland and were entitled to freedom, but were not an intrinsic part of American society. During his Senate campaign in Illinois, in 1858, he had insisted that blacks should enjoy the same natural rights as whites (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), but he opposed granting them legal equality or the right to vote.
By the end of his life, Lincoln’s outlook had changed dramatically. In his last public address, delivered in April 1865, he said that in reconstructing Louisiana, and by implication other Southern states, he would “prefer” that limited black suffrage be implemented. He singled out the “very intelligent” (educated free blacks) and “those who serve our cause as soldiers” as most worthy. Though hardly an unambiguous embrace of equality, this was the first time an American president had endorsed any political rights for blacks.
And then there was his magnificent second inaugural address of March 4, 1865, in which Lincoln ruminated on the deep meaning of the war. He now identified the institution of slavery — not the presence of blacks, as in 1862 — as its fundamental cause. The war, he said, might well be a divine punishment for the evil of slavery. And God might will it to continue until all the wealth the slaves had created had been destroyed, and “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” Lincoln was reminding Americans that violence did not begin with the firing on Fort Sumter, S.C., in April 1861. What he called “this terrible war” had been preceded by 250 years of the terrible violence of slavery.
In essence, Lincoln asked the nation to confront unblinkingly the legacy of slavery. What were the requirements of justice in the face of this reality? What would be necessary to enable former slaves and their descendants to enjoy fully the pursuit of happiness? Lincoln did not live to provide an answer. A century and a half later, we have yet to do so.
Eric Foner is a professor of history at Columbia and the author, most recently, of “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 1, 2013
An earlier version of this essay misquoted part of Lincoln's second inaugural address. He said the war, possibly divine punishment for slavery, might continue “until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword" — not "by the sword."