Mother Jones Daily


Putting a Spin on Dirty Air
Tax Cut Redux?
US Aiding War Criminals?

ENVIRONMENT
Putting a Spin on Dirty Air

As anticipated, the White House has followed through on its industry-friendly plan to relax the 1977 Clean Air Act. And few pundits are finding anything positive to say about the decision, which will make polluting power plants, refineries, and factories even less responsible for air quality, threaten to trump state air quality rules and promise to spawn numerous legal challenges.

Citing the decision as further evidence of the Bush administration’s environmental regression, the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle opine:

“Two weeks after winning control of Capitol Hill, the Bush administration made its environmental agenda clearer: Business can duck the costs of clean air. Here in California, which shamefully has some of the nation’s foulest air, the new rules will further weaken cleanup efforts by undercutting state laws.”

The Chronicle also asserts that the easing of restrictions will equal a granting of a free pass to “upward of 15,000 manufacturers, refineries and utility sites with a special impact on the Northeast where coal-fired power plants killed forests, fouled lakes and sickened those living downwind.”

Indeed, the strongest criticism of the White House decision may come in New England, where John E. Mulligan of the Providence Journal reports an angry backlash is forming. With Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, the most significant challenge to the new rules could come from individual states, Mulligan writes, and several attorney generals in the northeast seem eager to press the matter in court.

Unfortunately, a successful legal challenge could take years, the editors of the Boston Globe note gloomily, while “ the immediate effect of the Bush decision will be to hobble current efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to crack down on past violations.” Indeed, the only constituency likely to herald the decision, the Globe delcares, are those energy companies which ave been “fighting for years in courtrooms and in the halls of government in order to keep these cash dinosaurs running without costly improvements.”

POLITICS
Tax Cut Redux?

Regardless of the electoral outcome, Republicans weren’t going to let their tax cut die. Now, however, with the GOP in control of both chambers of Congress, Washington conservatives are thinking really big.

The menu of measures under consideration reads like a GOP wish list, Donald Lambro writes in The Washington Times: the acceleration of future cuts; the permanent adoption of last year’s cuts; and a repeal of the estate tax. As Lambro notes admiringly, the emboldened White House, thinks it can pull it off:

“‘Maybe we can now go after things that we thought were tougher nuts to crack and that we have been putting off,’ a White House adviser told me. ‘With the mandate from this election, the president can go after two or three more things in the new Congress. The game has changed so much [since the elections]. Everybody had to take a step back and realize what is possible now. It’s a matter of reprioritizing what you can do in this new political environment that you could not do in the previous environment.'”

The cherry on the top of the Republican’s sundae? The National Review‘s Bruce Bartlett notes that several key positions at the Congressional Budget Office and Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) are open. These positions, he gloats, can now be filled by ideologically friendly hires and pave the way for huge new tax cuts.

“The staff director of the JCT is one of the most powerful jobs in Washington. People in this position have been known to effectively enact or kill proposed tax laws with no less power than that exercised by Roman emperors on gladiators in the arena.”

Democrats, meanwhile, still shellshocked by the Republican rout, seem to be wondering whether to stand and fight or roll over. Robert Reich, writing in The Los Angeles Times, urges them to take the offensive, turning the tables on the GOP by offering a cut that will actually benefit working- and middle-class families.

“Republicans love forcing Democrats to vote for or against tax cuts. It puts Democrats into a Republican box. Bush did it last year, and it worked. Having lost both houses of Congress in recent years, Democrats should have learned their lesson. Avoid the Republican box. Instead, force Republicans into a Democratic box. Make them choose between a payroll tax cut for more than 130 million working families or a tax cut for the richest 2% of American families. If Republicans are too dumb to choose a payroll tax cut over an estate tax cut, Democrats should blast them.”

Finally, while offering little advice to the Democrats, Robert Scheer blasts the hypocrisy of Congressional Republicans who, while stumping for massive tax cuts for the wealthy, voted to throw 800,000 people off the welfare rolls.

“While denying a few hundred bucks to unemployed workers, the Bush Republicans are still moving aggressively to extend and make permanent their budget-busting 2001 tax cut for the rich and to eliminate the inheritance tax, thereby widening the gap between haves and have-nots.”

US Aiding War Criminals?

Using American-supplied cluster bombs and targeting coordinates, Colombia launched an attack on leftist rebels in 1998 that claimed the lives of 17 civilians, five of them children. Now, after four years of denials and cover-ups, Washington has suspended funding for a Colombian air force unit charged with human rights violations related to the attacks, Human Rights Watch reports.

The suspension of aid — required by US legislation that prohibits the funding of human rights violators — will affect only the one unit, however, and will likely have no more than symbolic significance, Reuters reports, since the unit in question currently receives no monetary or material aid from Washington. But, as the US authorizes an additional $98 million in aid for the rest of the Colombian military, even the targeted unit will suffer little, says one US official:

“‘It won’t affect their funding or whatever. We don’t give them planes. We don’t give them money. We gave some members of the unit training, but they can do that themselves, too. The only thing they can’t do [is] buy munitions from us. They’ll have to buy them from somebody else.'”

Unfortunately, human rights groups claim that the process of certification, though which military units are authorized to receive US funding, is so clouded and distorted by partisan influence that reforms are unlikely, and the suspension of a single unit will do nothing to influence the overall aid decision, Thomas Ginsberg writes in the Philidelphia Inquirer.