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Thursday, December 30, 2010

U.N. Mass Grave Probe Obstructed In Ivory Coast : NPR

Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, 2007Image via WikipediaU.N. Mass Grave Probe Obstructed In Ivory Coast : NPR

Reports of dozens of bodies being dumped near a large forest in Ivory Coast first emerged as human rights groups warned that security forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo were abducting political opponents after the disputed election.

Now the United Nations believes up to 80 bodies may have been moved to a building nestled among shacks in a pro-Gbagbo neighborhood. Investigators have tried to go there several times, and even made it as far as the building's front door before truckloads of men with guns showed up and forced them to leave.

Simon Munzu, the head of the U.N. human rights division, urged security forces Thursday to allow investigators inside. Gbagbo's government has repeatedly denied the existence of mass graves following violence over the disputed presidential runoff that has left at least 173 confirmed dead already.

"We would be the very first to say that these stories are false if they turn out to be false,'' Munzu said. "Our findings on the matter and their announcement to the world would have a greater chance of being believed than these repeated denials.''

Human rights groups accuse Gbagbo's security forces of abducting and torturing political opponents since the disputed Nov. 28 vote, which the U.N. said Gbagbo lost. U.N. investigators have cited dozens of reported cases of disappearances, and nearly 500 arrests and detentions.

Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that witnesses had described nightly raids in which people were dragged away in official vehicles to undisclosed locations.

The United Nations has said that security forces accompanied by masked men with rocket launchers also had prevented U.N. personnel from reaching the building. Munzu said witnesses have said between 60 and 80 bodies are believed to be inside.

A second mass burial site is believed to be located near Gagnoa in the interior of the country, the U.N. said. Those suspected victims are in addition to the 173 deaths already confirmed by the U.N. Gbagbo's allies say that several dozen of them are police or security forces killed by protesters.

The reports of mass graves raise new concerns about human rights abuses as Ivory Coast's neighbors discuss how to remove Gbagbo from power. Regional leaders initially threatened to consider military force if Gbagbo did not step down following a high-level delegation visit Tuesday.

ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, has sent combat troops to several nations in the past two decades. Defense officials from the member states met Wednesday in Abuja, Nigeria, where the bloc is based.

However, the regional bloc instead decided to give negotiations more time, saying mediators would return to Ivory Coast next week.

Meanwhile, a fiery member of Gbagbo's Cabinet has urged supporters to seize a hotel where the internationally recognized winner of last month's election has been organizing a shadow government under U.N. protection.

Charles Ble Goude reportedly said that Alassane Ouattara, whom the United Nations declared the winner of the Nov. 28 vote, and his prime minister "have until January 1, 2011 to pack their bags and leave the Golf Hotel.''

"He who attacks Laurent Gbagbo will sorely regret it,'' the newspaper Le Temps reported Ble Goude as telling Gbagbo supporters in the Yopougon neighborhood, where a U.N. patrol was surrounded by a mob on Tuesday and one peacekeeper was wounded by a machete. "No one can remove our president from power.''

Ble Goude is Gbagbo's minister of youth and employment, known as the "street general'' for organizing a violent anti-French and anti-U.N. gang that terrorized the foreign population in Ivory Coast in 2004-2005. The beachside Golf Hotel is protected by some 800 blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers and hundreds of rebels loyal to Ouattara.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is "deeply alarmed'' by Ble Goude's comments. Nesirky said that the troops guarding the hotel are authorized "to use all necessary means'' to protect their own personnel, the officials at the hotel and any other civilians staying there.

Ban also warns that an attack on the hotel could provoke widespread violence that could re-ignite civil war, and he calls on those planning to participate in the attack to "refrain from such dangerous irresponsible action,'' Nesirky said.

Under a peace deal after the 2002-2003 civil war, the U.N. was tasked with certifying the results of the election. The U.N. declared Ouattara the winner, echoing the country's own electoral commission chief. Gbagbo insists he won, pointing out that the Ivory Coast constitutional council declared him the winner. The council, which is led by a Gbagbo ally, did so after invalidating half a million ballots from Ouattara strongholds in the north.

The United States and other world powers have insisted Gbagbo hand over power to Ouattara. For many, the credibility of the international community is at stake if it is unable to ensure that Ouattara takes power.

Chaos in Ivory Coast, once a West African economic powerhouse with skyscrapers dominating this seaside commercial center, already has kept Gbagbo in power five years beyond his mandate.

Ivory Coast's new U.N. ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, said he is worried about his country's future and is consulting with members of the Security Council ahead of a meeting next week on ways to help Ouattara assume power.

"We are on the brink of genocide,'' Bamba said after presenting his diplomatic credentials to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York.

Brain shape 'shows political allegiance' - Science, News - The Independent

Brain shape 'shows political allegiance' - Science, News - The Independent

Neuroscientists are examining whether political allegiances are hard-wired into people after finding evidence that the brains of conservatives are a different shape to those of left-wingers.

Scans of 90 students' brains at University College London (UCL) uncovered a "strong correlation" between the thickness of two particular areas of grey matter and an individual's views.

Self-proclaimed right-wingers had a more pronounced amygdala - a primitive part of the brain associated with emotion while their political opponents from the opposite end of the spectrum had thicker anterior cingulates.

The research was carried out by Geraint Rees director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience who said he was "very surprised" by the finding, which is being peer reviewed before publication next year.

It was commissioned as a light-hearted experiment by actor Colin Firth as part of his turn guest editing BBC Radio 4's Today programme but has now developed into a serious effort to discover whether we are programmed with a particular political view.

Professor Rees said that although it was not precise enough to be able to predict someone's stance simply from a scan, there was "a strong correlation that reaches all our scientific tests of significance".

"The anterior cingulate is a part of the brain that is on the middle surface of the brain at the front and we found that the thickness of the grey matter, where the nerve cells of neurons are, was thicker the more people described themselves as liberal or left wing and thinner the more they described themselves as conservative or right wing," he told the programme.

"The amygdala is a part of the brain which is very old and very ancient and thought to be very primitive and to do with the detection of emotions. The right amygdala was larger in those people who described themselves as conservative.

"It is very significant because it does suggest there is something about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some way determines or results in our political attitudes."

Mr Firth - who recently declared he had ended public support for the Liberal Democrats - said he would like to have party leader and now Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg subjected to the tests.

"I think we should have him scanned," he said.

He said the coalition made him "extremely uneasy" but would not rule out voting Lib Dem in future.

"I would have to see what identity they took on because I don't recognise them at the moment. I think all three parties are in a state of re-evaluation."

Talking about the experiment, he said: "I took this on as a fairly frivolous exercise: I just decided to find out what was biologically wrong with people who don't agree with me and see what scientists had to say about it and they actually came up with something."

South Korean Navy Green-light's Naval Base On Korea's Beautiful Jeju A Resort Island

Green-light the Naval base

December 16, 2010

The waters to the south of Jeju Island are pivotal to our security, as most of the container traffic for our exports and imports passes through them. It is also a hot spot over which South Korea, Japan and China claim territorial rights. Although our Navy’s 3rd Fleet patrols the waters, it is still difficult to cope with an emergency situation effectively because the fleet is based in far-away Busan. That’s why both the Ministry of National Defense and the Navy have been seeking to build a Naval base on Jeju Island since 2002 under the Kim Dae-jung administration.

After five years of hassle and tussles over the feasibility and location of the new base, the Defense Ministry and the Navy picked Gangjeong Village, located on the southern tip of the island, as their first choice. Later they announced a plan to build a base for a strategic fleet with a 1 trillion won budget by 2014.

When completed, it can function both as a military base capable of mooring over 20 Navy ships and a tourist attraction by harboring two 150,000-ton-class cruisers.

However, the ambitious plan has been put on hold for more than three years because of opposition from villagers. Their absurd logic is that a Naval base should not be built on a peaceful island. They eventually filed a lawsuit against the defense minister in 2008 demanding a suspension of the project. And in 2009 they held a recall vote on then-governor Kim Tae-hwan. But they lost the legal battle, and their attempt to recall the governor was also thwarted.

They filed another suit against the new governor in January to nullify the project, this time because “the village’s habitat should be preserved intact before the project violates their right to life and happiness.”

A Jeju court, however, ruled yesterday that the project does not appear to infringe on the rights of the villagers, adding that it would be much better for both sides to have a genuine dialogue than continue to pursue a solution in court. The court’s decision was a denunciation of fights through lawsuits.

As we have seen in North Korea’s attack against our warships and Yeonpyeong Island, fortifying our Navy has emerged as a top priority. Also, the opponents’ argument that a Naval base threatens peace is not convincing. They should remember that Hawaii, a world-famous tourist attraction, has a naval base on it. We urge the people of Jeju to overcome their wasteful complaining for a better future. Peace is maintained when you are strong.
____________________________________
This is crazy.  This is the most popular resort in the country.  It is not a large island.  you can bicycle around it.  This will have a detrimental effect on the ecology of this beautiful island.

John H. Armwood

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christine O'Donnell's Campaign Spending Probed : NPR

Christine O'Donnell's Campaign Spending Probed : NPR

Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of Delaware Republican Christine O'Donnell to determine if the former Senate candidate broke the law by using campaign money to pay personal expenses, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to protect the identity of a client who has been questioned as part of the probe. The case, which has been assigned to two federal prosecutors and two FBI agents in Delaware, has not been brought before a grand jury.

Matt Moran, O'Donnell's former campaign manager, did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions from The AP. He said earlier this month that the campaign had not been contacted about any investigation and criticized what he called "lies and false-attack rumors."

The U.S. Attorney's office has confirmed it is reviewing a complaint about O'Donnell's campaign spending filed by a watchdog group, but officials in the office and the FBI declined to say whether a criminal investigation was under way.

O'Donnell, who set a state record by raising more than $7.3 million in a Tea Party-fueled campaign this year, has long been dogged by questions about her finances.

At least two former campaign workers have alleged that she routinely used political contributions to pay her personal expenses in recent years as she ran for the Senate three consecutive times, starting in 2006. The Washington-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission making similar allegations and is the group that asked Delaware's federal prosecutor to investigate.

O'Donnell's campaign has denied wrongdoing, but acknowledged she had paid part of her rent at times with campaign money, arguing that her house doubled as a campaign headquarters.

Federal law prohibits candidates from spending campaign money for personal benefit. FEC rules say this prohibition applies to the use of campaign money for a candidate's mortgage or rent "even if part of the residence is being used by the campaign," although O'Donnell's campaign maintained that it was told otherwise by someone at the agency.

O'Donnell drew national attention in September when she pulled off one of the primary election season's biggest upsets by beating moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle for the GOP Senate nomination. She was handily defeated in November by Democrat Chris Coons following a campaign that focused largely on past controversial statements.

One former O'Donnell staffer, Kristin Murray, recorded an automated phone call for the Delaware Republican Party just before the primary, accusing O'Donnell of "living on campaign donations using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt."

Another former aide, David Keegan, said he became concerned about O'Donnell's 2008 campaign finances as she fell behind on bills and had no apparent source of income besides political contributions. He submitted an affidavit to CREW alleging that she used campaign money to cover meals, gas, a bowling outing, and rent to a landlord, Brent Vasher.

Vasher, a nephew of Keegan's and a one-time boyfriend of O'Donnell, declined comment when asked by The AP if he had been contacted by authorities. Vasher bought O'Donnell's house in 2008 after she was served with a foreclosure notice, then charged her rent to stay there, according to CREW's complaint.

In a message sent last week to The AP, Keegan said he had not been questioned as part of a criminal investigation, and that he considers himself only a "catalyst" in a case in which several people must be questioned to scrutinize O'Donnell's accounting practices and alleged misuse of campaign funds.

During her three failed Senate bids, O'Donnell had numerous campaign treasurers, many of who left after serving brief stints. After losing two treasurers in 2009, she named herself treasurer until this past summer. Another short-term treasurer took over in August and resigned less than two months later, at which point Moran added the treasurer's role to his campaign manager responsibilities.

Democrat Charles Oberly III, the U.S. attorney for Delaware, and his predecessor, David Weiss, did not immediately return messages Wednesday seeking comment. Oberly was sworn in Tuesday as Weiss' successor.

Kim Reeves, a spokeswoman for the office, reiterated Wednesday that the office was reviewing the CREW complaint. She would not confirm the existence of a criminal probe.

Rich Wolf, a spokesman for the Baltimore office of the FBI, said he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.

Murray, the former aide who recorded the automated message, also said she had not been contacted about the investigation.

O'Donnell, who announced just after Election Day that she had signed a book deal, hasn't held a full-time job in years and has struggled to explain how she makes a living.

She reported in July that she earned only $5,800 in income for the previous 18 months through freelance public relations work. She said she lived mostly on a savings account that she reported in an amended Senate disclosure report as being worth between $1,000 and $15,000.

Her financial past includes a tax lien from the IRS, a lawsuit from the university she attended over unpaid bills and a foreclosure action that she avoided by selling her house to Vasher just before a sheriff's auction. Her campaign maintained the tax lien was an IRS mistake and she attributed some of her other financial problems to mix-ups.

Her campaign reported spending some $6.1 million in the 2010 campaign. Moran said earlier this month that campaign attorney Cleta Mitchell advised reserving several hundred thousand dollars for legal fees to defend against the campaign spending allegations.

Mitchell could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Obama to Enact End-of-Life Planning for Medicare - NYTimes.com

Obama to Enact End-of-Life Planning for Medicare - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

Congressional supporters of the new policy, though pleased, have kept quiet. They fear provoking another furor like the one in 2009 when Republicans seized on the idea of end-of-life counseling to argue that the Democrats’ bill would allow the government to cut off care for the critically ill.

The final version of the health care legislation, signed into law by President Obama in March, authorized Medicare coverage of yearly physical examinations, or wellness visits. The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.

Under the rule, doctors can provide information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive,” stating how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are so sick that they cannot make health care decisions for themselves.

While the new law does not mention advance care planning, the Obama administration has been able to achieve its policy goal through the regulation-writing process, a strategy that could become more prevalent in the next two years as the president deals with a strengthened Republican opposition in Congress.

In this case, the administration said research had shown the value of end-of-life planning.

“Advance care planning improves end-of-life care and patient and family satisfaction and reduces stress, anxiety and depression in surviving relatives,” the administration said in the preamble to the Medicare regulation, quoting research published this year in the British Medical Journal.

The administration also cited research by Dr. Stacy M. Fischer, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who found that “end-of-life discussions between doctor and patient help ensure that one gets the care one wants.” In this sense, Dr. Fischer said, such consultations “protect patient autonomy.”

Opponents said the Obama administration was bringing back a procedure that could be used to justify the premature withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from people with severe illnesses and disabilities.

Section 1233 of the bill passed by the House in November 2009 — but not included in the final legislation — allowed Medicare to pay for consultations about advance care planning every five years. In contrast, the new rule allows annual discussions as part of the wellness visit.

Elizabeth D. Wickham, executive director of LifeTree, which describes itself as “a pro-life Christian educational ministry,” said she was concerned that end-of-life counseling would encourage patients to forgo or curtail care, thus hastening death.

“The infamous Section 1233 is still alive and kicking,” Ms. Wickham said. “Patients will lose the ability to control treatments at the end of life.”

Several Democratic members of Congress, led by Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, had urged the administration to cover end-of-life planning as a service offered under the Medicare wellness benefit. A national organization of hospice care providers made the same recommendation.

Mr. Blumenauer, the author of the original end-of-life proposal, praised the rule as “a step in the right direction.”

“It will give people more control over the care they receive,” Mr. Blumenauer said in an interview. “It means that doctors and patients can have these conversations in the normal course of business, as part of our health care routine, not as something put off until we are forced to do it.”

After learning of the administration’s decision, Mr. Blumenauer’s office celebrated “a quiet victory,” but urged supporters not to crow about it.

“While we are very happy with the result, we won’t be shouting it from the rooftops because we aren’t out of the woods yet,” Mr. Blumenauer’s office said in an e-mail in early November to people working with him on the issue. “This regulation could be modified or reversed, especially if Republican leaders try to use this small provision to perpetuate the ‘death panel’ myth.”

Moreover, the e-mail said: “We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists, even if they are ‘supporters’ — e-mails can too easily be forwarded.”

The e-mail continued: “Thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it, but we will be keeping a close watch and may be calling on you if we need a rapid, targeted response. The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.”

In the interview, Mr. Blumenauer said, “Lies can go viral if people use them for political purposes.”

The proposal for Medicare coverage of advance care planning was omitted from the final health care bill because of the uproar over unsubstantiated claims that it would encourage euthanasia.

Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, and Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, led the criticism in the summer of 2009. Ms. Palin said “Obama’s death panel” would decide who was worthy of health care. Mr. Boehner, who is in line to become speaker, said, “This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.” Forced onto the defensive, Mr. Obama said that nothing in the bill would “pull the plug on grandma.”

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that the idea of death panels persists. In the September poll, 30 percent of Americans 65 and older said the new health care law allowed a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare. The law has no such provision.

The new policy is included in a huge Medicare regulation setting payment rates for thousands of services including arthroscopy, mastectomy and X-rays.

The rule was issued by Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a longtime advocate for better end-of-life care.

“Using unwanted procedures in terminal illness is a form of assault,” Dr. Berwick has said. “In economic terms, it is waste. Several techniques, including advance directives and involvement of patients and families in decision-making, have been shown to reduce inappropriate care at the end of life, leading to both lower cost and more humane care.”

Ellen B. Griffith, a spokeswoman for the Medicare agency, said, “The final health care reform law has no provision for voluntary advance care planning.” But Ms. Griffith added, under the new rule, such planning “may be included as an element in both the first and subsequent annual wellness visits, providing an opportunity to periodically review and update the beneficiary’s wishes and preferences for his or her medical care.”

Mr. Blumenauer and Mr. Rockefeller said that advance directives would help doctors and nurses provide care in keeping with patients’ wishes.

“Early advance care planning is important because a person’s ability to make decisions may diminish over time, and he or she may suddenly lose the capability to participate in health care decisions,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Dr. Berwick in August.

In a recent study of 3,700 people near the end of life, Dr. Maria J. Silveira of the University of Michigan found that many had “treatable, life-threatening conditions” but lacked decision-making capacity in their final days. With the new Medicare coverage, doctors can learn a patient’s wishes before a crisis occurs.

For example, Dr. Silveira said, she might ask a person with heart disease, “If you have another heart attack and your heart stops beating, would you want us to try to restart it?” A patient dying of emphysema might be asked, “Do you want to go on a breathing machine for the rest of your life?” And, she said, a patient with incurable cancer might be asked, “When the time comes, do you want us to use technology to try and delay your death?”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Zimbabwe Fears Strife in Mugabe’s Quest for Control - NYTimes.com

Zimbabwe Fears Strife in Mugabe’s Quest for Control - NYTimes.com

HARARE, Zimbabwe — The warning signs are proliferating. Journalists have been harassed and jailed. Threats of violence are swirling in the countryside. The president’s supposed partner in the government has been virulently attacked in the state-controlled media as a quisling for the West. And the president himself has likened his party to a fast-moving train that will crush anything in its way.

After nearly two years of tenuous stability under a power-sharing government, fears are mounting here that President Robert Mugabe, the autocrat who presided over a bloody, discredited election in 2008, is planning to seize untrammeled control of Zimbabwe during the elections he wants next year.

“Everything seems to point to a violent election,” said Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist and pollster.

Having ruled alone for 28 of the last 30 years, Mr. Mugabe, 86, has made no secret of his distaste for sharing power with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, since regional leaders pressured them to govern together 22 months ago.

In recent months, Mr. Mugabe has been cranking up his party’s election-time machinery of control and repression. He appointed all the provincial governors, who help him dispense patronage and punishment, rather than sharing the picks as promised with Mr. Tsvangirai. And traditional chiefs, longtime recipients of largess from his party, ZANU-PF, have endorsed Mr. Mugabe as president for life.

Political workers and civic activists who lived through the 2008 campaign of intimidation and repression — in which many foot soldiers in Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change were tortured or murdered — say ZANU-PF will not need to be so violent this time around. Threats may be enough.

In Mashonaland West, Mr. Mugabe’s home province, people said they were already being warned by local traditional leaders loyal to Mr. Mugabe that the next election would be more terrifying than the last one, when their relatives were abducted and attacked after Mr. Tsvangirai won some constituencies.

“They say, ‘We were only playing with you last time,’ ” said one 53-year-old woman, too frightened to be quoted by name, repeating a warning others in the countryside have heard. “ ‘This time we will go door to door beating and killing people if you don’t vote for ZANU-PF.’ ”

But even as many voice a growing conviction that Mr. Mugabe is plotting to oust his rival and reclaim sole power, he has retained his ability to keep everyone guessing. His political opponents and Western diplomats wonder if Mr. Mugabe is bluffing about a push for quick elections, perhaps to force the factions in his own party to declare their allegiance to him and extinguish the internal jockeying to succeed him.

Further complicating the picture, Mr. Mugabe struck a statesmanlike pose on Monday at a news conference where he graciously shared the stage with Mr. Tsvangirai. The next day, the state-controlled newspaper quoted him as boasting that he, Mr. Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara had brought peace to the country after the 2008 elections. But he also said that new elections would be held after the process of crafting a new constitution was completed, and that the power-sharing government should not be extended beyond August.

The contest between Mr. Mugabe, a university-educated Machiavellian, and Mr. Tsvangirai, 58, a former labor leader who never went to college and is often described as a well intentioned but bumbling tactician, lies at the heart of Zimbabwe’s tumultuous political life.

Not long after Mr. Tsvangirai quit the June 2008 runoff in hopes of halting the beating and torture of thousands of his party workers and supporters, the two men suddenly found themselves alone in the same room. Thabo Mbeki, then South Africa’s president and the mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, vanished during a lunchtime.

In his resonant, cultivated voice, Mr. Mugabe invited Mr. Tsvangirai to join him for a traditional meal of sadza, greens and stew, prepared by Mr. Mugabe’s personal chef, but Mr. Tsvangirai, who had been viciously beaten by Mr. Mugabe’s police force the year before, refused to eat, aides to both men say.

“I can assure you,” Mr. Mugabe said, according to his press secretary, George Charamba, “I’m not about to poison you.”

In 2009, under excruciating pressure from regional leaders, Mr. Tsvangirai agreed to a deal that some in his own party saw as a poisoned chalice. It made him prime minister, but allowed Mr. Mugabe to retain the dominant powers of the state.

Mr. Tsvangirai admits he initially found Mr. Mugabe “very accommodative, very charming.” The men met privately each Monday over tea and scones. When Susan, Mr. Tsvangirai’s wife of more than three decades, died in a car crash just weeks after the government was formed, Mr. Mugabe comforted him. Mr. Mugabe also complained about problems in his own party, and the two men commiserated about how to deal with their hard-liners, Mr. Charamba said.

But Mr. Tsvangirai said in a recent interview that he had come to believe it was Mr. Mugabe himself, not military commanders or other members of the president’s powerful inner circle, who was the principal manipulator.

“He goes along,” Mr. Tsvangirai said, “pretends to be a gentleman, pretends to be accommodative, pretends to be seriously committed to the law, and turns around, sending people, beating up people, using violence to coerce and to literally defend power for the sake of defending power.”

After a decade resisting Mr. Mugabe’s rule from the outside, Mr. Tsvangirai, other leaders of his party and a small breakaway faction have found themselves at the table with him in Tuesday cabinet meetings. They have studied the qualities that have helped Mr. Mugabe hang on to power for 30 years: stamina, mental acuity, attention to detail, charm and an uncanny instinct for the exercise of power.

“Let me tell you, that man’s brain is still very, very, very sharp, but his body is frail,” Mr. Tsvangirai said.

While polls show that Mr. Tsvangirai remains the country’s most popular politician and the likely victor of a fair election, analysts say Mr. Mugabe has been emboldened by a major development: the recent discovery that diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe, which fall under a ministry controlled by ZANU-PF, may be among the richest in the world.

The minister of mines, Obert Mpofu, insisted in an interview that “ZANU-PF has not gotten a cent from diamonds, not one cent.” But Mr. Tsvangirai and analysts here say they assume that illicit diamond profits are enriching the party’s coffers and helping buy the loyalty of the security services that enforced ZANU-PF’s violent election strategy in 2008.

Mr. Charamba, the president’s press secretary, rejected the assertions, saying there would be “an all-out deployment to assure there is no violence” by any party.

Since Mr. Tsvangirai joined the government, Mr. Mugabe has openly tested the limits of their deal, unilaterally appointing many senior officials and refusing to swear in one of Mr. Tsvangirai’s closest advisers. Mr. Mugabe, in turn, claims that Mr. Tsvangirai has not held up his end of the bargain: lobbying the West to end travel and financial sanctions on him and his coterie.

Mr. Tsvangirai admitted that after leading the struggle against Mr. Mugabe’s rule since 1999, he had no ready answers for establishing “a democratic struggle without guns, without using violence” in the country.

“There’s no template about the solution to the Zimbabwe crisis,” he said. “We have learned this over the last 10 years. There is no template for how we’re going to deal with Mugabe.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

Atlanta weather | First Christmas snow pile since 1800s  | ajc.com

Atlanta weather | First Christmas snow pile since 1800s | ajc.com

Forecasters were saying Friday morning that snowfall was "likely" and that there was also a good chance that it would fluff on the ground -- until hordes of children scurry outside to pat it down.

The morning is expected to start with rain and with temperatures just above freezing. That should change as Arctic air from somewhere near the North Pole collides with warmer, water-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico.

"We won’t wake up to a white Christmas tomorrow morning, but snow is in the forecast later in the day," Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz told the AJC Friday morning. He sees accumulations of as much as a half inch to an inch in some metro Atlanta locations, with one to four inches settling on the mountains of North Georgia.

It would be the first snow to fall in Atlanta behind St. Nick since 1993, and the first accumulation since 1882, when nearly a third of an inch lay on the ground.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Daily Kos: Poll: Lame duck boosts Obama; GOP slips

Daily Kos: Poll: Lame duck boosts Obama; GOP slips


Opinion Research Corporation for CNN. 12/17-19. 1,000 American adults. MoE 3%.

As you may know, over the past few weeks Congress has been meeting in what is sometimes referred to as a "lame duck" session to consider issues including tax cuts, unemployment benefits, government spending, gays in the military, and nuclear arms. Please tell me whether you approve or disapprove of the way each of the following have handled those issues under consideration during this session: (RANDOM ORDER)
Barack Obama: 56% approve, 41% disapprove
The Republicans in Congress: 42% approve, 53% disapprove
The Democrats in Congress: 44% approve, 52% disapprove

Overall, 42% had a favorable opinion of the GOP while 50% had an unfavorable opinion. The public was split at 47% on the Democratic Party.

One important finding from the poll is that the public believes President Obama has done an effective job at reaching out to Republicans -- but they don't believe Republicans have done an effective job at reaching out to President Obama. 59% said President Obama was doing enough to work with Republicans (up from 47% in February), but just 28% said Republicans were doing enough to work with President Obama.

This hasn't just boosted Obama's ratings, it's also boosted Democrats relative to Republicans. In February, 35% said Democrats were mostly responsible for the lack of cooperation in DC compared and 37% blamed Republicans. Now, 46% blame Republicans and just 28% blame Democrats.

The implication of this is that the public is looking to the GOP to give more ground the next time compromise is required. In February, 51% felt Democrats needed to give up more than Republicans compared to 43% who felt Republicans needed to give up more than Democrats. That's now shifted: 45% say Democrats need to give up more while 47% say Republicans need to give up more.

While it's true that allowing Republicans to take hostages during the tax cut debate validated their hardline stance, it's also true that the public noticed what the GOP did. They might find legislative success if they pursue the same hostage-taking strategy again during the budget and debt ceiling battle which will play out this spring, but they will do so at the expense of turning the public further against them. That means despite the outcome of the tax cut battle, Democrats and the Obama administration are in better position now to hold the line in negotiations, at least as far as short-term public opinion goes.



Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Senate Passes Arms Control Treaty With Russia, 71-26 - NYTimes.com

Senate Passes Arms Control Treaty With Russia, 71-26 - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — The Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to a new arms control treaty with Russia, scaling back leftover cold war nuclear arsenals and capping a surprisingly successful lame-duck session for President Obama just weeks after his party’s electoral debacle.

The 71 to 26 vote sends the treaty, known as New Start, to the president for his signature, and cements what is probably the most tangible foreign policy achievement of Mr. Obama’s two years in office. Thirteen Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic caucus to vote in favor, exceeding the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution.

The ratification vote was the third bipartisan victory for the president in the waning days of the session, while Democrats still control both houses of Congress. The treaty had assumed such symbolic importance for Mr. Obama’s presidency that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took the rare step of presiding personally over the vote, in his role as president of the Senate. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former Senator, was on the floor as well.

Mr. Obama argued that the treaty was vital to rebuilding the Russian-American relationship, and that it represented a small first step toward his vision of eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Republican opponents said the treaty could not be adequately enforced and would undercut national security by giving Russia leverage to try to obstruct American missile defense plans.

The treaty obliges each country to have no more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers deployed within seven years, and it provides for a resumption of on-site inspections, which halted when the original Start treaty expired last year. It is the first arms treaty with Russia in eight years, and the first that a Democratic president has both signed and pushed through the Senate.

While it will make smaller reductions in deployed weapons than its predecessors did, the treaty took on outsized importance in recent weeks as both American political parties invested it with greater meaning and turned the ratification debate into a proxy fight over national security in the 21st century. No other Russian-American arms treaty that was ultimately ratified ever generated as much opposition on the final vote.

Republican opponents said the treaty reflected a dangerous and naïve approach by Mr. Obama to the world, “a foreign policy that sends a message of timidity” in search of “a fantasy world that’s nuclear free,” as Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said the treaty represents “a continued pattern of appeasement.”

But supporters said the treaty, even if flawed, was an important step in reducing nuclear arms, resuming mutual inspections and keeping Russia within a legal agreement. “There’s no question in my mind that this is in our country’s national security interest,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, said in an interview. “This is not one of those votes where you wonder. This is not even a close call.”

The treaty had the support of the nation’s uniformed military leaders and of a host of Republican national security veterans, including former President George H. W. Bush and five former secretaries of state, Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice. But many of the party’s potential 2012 presidential candidates, like Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and John Thune, came out against it, as did the two top Republican leaders in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Just a month ago, prospects for the treaty appeared to be bleak, when Mr. Kyl, the lead Republican negotiator, declared that there was not enough time to approve the treaty before the end of the year. Mr. Obama decided to wage a high-profile campaign for the treaty over Mr. Kyl’s objection, risking a large share of his prestige and testing his clout in the new political environment.

To bypass the hostile leaders and win over other Republican Senators, Mr. Obama made a commitment to spend $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, so that the smaller arsenal would still be well-maintained and effective. He also gave repeated assurances that he would follow through on development of missile defense in Europe, despite Russian resistance.

The final vote on the treaty came after the Senate disposed of a raft of Republican-proposed amendments Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Most of them were rejected entirely, but Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who led the Democratic effort to win approval of the treaty, accepted a few of them as side statements, which do not formally become part of the treaty and therefore do not require renegotiation with Russia.

Among those accepted on Wednesday was one by Mr. Kyl on modernization and one by Mr. Corker on missile defense. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who had been trying to work out his own side statement on missile defense, joined in backing Mr. Corker’s amendment instead.

Mr. Kerry also accepted on Tuesday night a declaration that the United States should open new talks with Russia within a year to negotiate a new treaty curbing tactical nuclear weapons, the smaller battlefield bombs that are not covered by New Start or any previous Russian-American treaty.

Russia has far more such weapons than the United States, and according to American officials, as recently as last spring Russia moved some of them closer to its borders with NATO nations, as a n response to American missile-defense deployments. Some experts consider these smaller bombs a greater risk of theft or black-market diversion to rogue states or terrorist groups.

The New Start treaty lowers the ceiling on strategic weapons set by previous Russian-American treaties, which it will now supplant. Under the Treaty of Moscow, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, each side was allowed no more than 2,200 strategic warheads as of 2012. Under the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, signed by the first President Bush in 1991, each side was required to reduce launchers to 1,600 before the treaty expired last year.

The United States currently has 1,950 deployed strategic warheads and 798 deployed launchers, according to the Federation of American Scientists, while Russia has an estimated 2,540 deployed strategic warheads and 574 launchers. The technicalities of counting rules mean that not as many weapons may have to be shelved as those figures imply. The limits do not apply to the thousands of weapons kept in storage.

The treaty must still be approved by the Russian Parliament, an endorsement that the Kremlin had withheld while waiting for the Senate to act. Given the authoritarian nature of Moscow’s political system, that approval is seen as certain.

In addition to Mr. Corker, the Republicans voting for the treaty on Wednesday were Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Robert F. Bennett of Utah, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and George V. Voinovich of Ohio.

Deal for 9/11 Health Bill Reached in Senate - NYTimes.com

Deal for 9/11 Health Bill Reached in Senate - NYTimes.com

1:49 p.m. | Updated A deal has been reached in the Senate to approve a bill that covers the cost of medical care for rescue workers and others who became sick from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The compromise on Wednesday was reached after Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, agreed to changes demanded by conservative Republicans, who raised concerns about the measure’s cost.

Under the new agreement, the bill provides $4.3 billion over five years for health coverage to the 9/11 workers, instead of the original $7.4 billion over eight years.

In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand called the deal a “Christmas miracle.”

“Over the last 24 hours, our Republican colleagues have negotiated in good faith to forge a workable final package that will protect the health of the men and women who selflessly answered our nation’s call in her hour of greatest need,” the statement said. “This has been a long process, but we are now on the cusp of the victory these heroes deserve.”

With lawmakers eager to get home for the holidays, the Senate is expected within the hour to take up the bill by unanimous consent, an agreement made between the parties to bypass any potentially time-consuming debate.

One of the main critics of the bill, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, expressed satisfaction with the legislation’s final price tag.

“Every American recognizes the heroism of the 9/11 first responders,” he said. “But it is not compassionate to help one group while robbing future generations of opportunity.”

The deal was a major turn of events for a bill that had been stalled in the upper chamber. Only 12 days ago, Senate Republicans blocked the legislation from advancing to a floor vote.

But Republicans backed down after facing a barrage of criticism — not just from Democrats, but also from traditional Republican allies, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, and conservative news outlets like Fox News.

Should the Senate pass the measure, it will go to the House, where it is expected to be swiftly approved and then sent to President Obama for his signature.

Heartburn drugs linked to increased pneumonia risk - WIN 98.5 Your Country

Heartburn drugs linked to increased pneumonia risk - WIN 98.5 Your Country

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People on two types of widely prescribed heartburn medications may have a higher-than-average risk of developing pneumonia, a new research review finds.

The drugs in question belong to two classes frequently used to treat heartburn or stomach ulcers: proton pump inhibitors, which include drugs like Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec; and H2-receptor blockers, such as Pepcid and Zantac.

In the U.S. alone, people spent $27 billion on these medications in 2005.

Some studies have found a connection between the heartburn drugs and a heightened risk of pneumonia. One theory is that by curbing stomach acid, the medications allow ingested bacteria that would otherwise be killed to instead survive and thrive -- and potentially get into the lungs.

For the new analysis, South Korean researchers pulled together 31 international studies looking at the connection between heartburn drugs and pneumonia.

When they combined the studies' results, they found that people on either proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers were about one-quarter more likely than non-users to develop pneumonia.

Some studies focused on people who became infected while in the hospital, where pneumonia is a common, and often deadly, problem. Other studies focused on out-of-hospital infections. People who used heartburn drugs were at increased risk in either case.

The risks to any individual medication user were not huge. The researchers estimate, for example, that among hospital patients on the heartburn drugs, there would be about 25 cases of pneumonia per 1,000 patients. That compares with 20 cases per 1,000 among hospital patients not on the drugs.

And it's not certain that the drugs themselves are to blame, Dr. Sang Min Park, one of the researchers on the study, told Reuters Health in an e-mail.

It's possible that chronic acid reflux itself could at least partly account for the link, according to Park, of Seoul National University Hospital. Acids that back up out of the stomach can sometimes be sucked into the airways, where they could cause pneumonia.

Still, Park said the findings suggest that doctors and heartburn sufferers should use some caution when it comes to acid-suppressing drugs.

Discuss the pros and cons with your doctor, the researcher advised, and use the medications only if necessary to control your symptoms -- in cases where diet and other lifestyle changes don't work, for example -- and at the lowest dose possible.

Caution would be especially important for people already at higher-than-average risk of pneumonia, such as the elderly and people with emphysema or other chronic lung diseases, according to Park.

The findings, reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, are based on 31 studies from Europe, Asia and North America.

Based on the hospital studies, Park's team estimates that acid-suppressing drugs could contribute to an extra four to five cases of pneumonia for every 1,000 hospital patients.

The researchers point out that anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of hospital patients are on one of these drugs. This, they say, suggests that the medications could account for a "considerable" portion of hospital-acquired infections.

The researchers could not perform a similar overall estimate for out-of-hospital infections. But one study they reviewed gives an idea of the drugs' potential contribution to pneumonia cases outside hospitals.

In that study, Dutch researchers looked at out-of-hospital pneumonia rates among nearly 365,000 adults over seven years. Of the people on proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers, 2.5 percent developed pneumonia per year, versus 0.6 percent of those not on the drugs.

Alternative ways to manage frequent heartburn include lifestyle changes, like avoiding foods that trigger symptoms, eating smaller meals and losing weight, and quitting smoking. Over-the-counter antacids, which neutralize stomach acids, can bring quick symptom relief.

Some people with frequent or severe heartburn, however, may need an acid-suppressing medication to control their symptoms and prevent or treat damage to the esophagus or stomach lining.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haley Barbour's Praise For Racist Group Gets Noticed : It's All Politics : NPR

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 02:  Republican Governor...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeHaley Barbour's Praise For Racist Group Gets Noticed : It's All Politics : NPR


—— original post below ——

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is getting much more national attention than he usually does this week following a Weekly Standard profile in which the Republican with presidential aspirations lauds a group that was part of the racist reaction to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s.

In the piece headlined, "The Boy from Yazoo City" by writer Andrew Barbour, the governor, a former Republican National Committee chair, has a fond memory of the Citizens' Council in his hometown that dresses up the real history of such groups.

It's this excerpt from the piece that has caused collective eye-brow raising:

Both Mr. Mott and Mr. Kelly had told me that Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so.

“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”

Needless to say, this is a version of history that is unrecognizable to many who lived through the Civil Rights period in the South or have studied it.


As in resisting Reconstruction, Mississippi led resistance to the civil rights movement. Two months after the Brown decision, planters, lawyers and other prominent Delta men met in Indianola to form the White Citizens' Council. The council often clothed its policies in the garb of "states rights," but one pamphlet succinctly defined its purpose: "The Citizens' Council is the South's answer to the mongrelizers. We will not be integrated! We are proud of our white blood and our white heritage..."

Sometimes called the "Uptown Klan" Mississippi's Citizens' Councils used a variety of tactics. They held high school essay contests on "Why Separate Schools Should Be Maintained For the White and Negro Races."

Specifically to the point of the Citizens Council in Yazoo City, Michelle Goldberg, in The Daily Beast, writes specifically about that franchise of the organization.

It's true that in Yazoo, the local Citizens Council stood against the Klan—because it was worried about the competition. Citizens Councils were white supremacist organizations that were formed in the 1950s to defend segregation. They tended to be more upscale and respectable than the Klan, but they didn’t disagree with Klan racism. In his book Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, John Dittmer wrote, "The Yazoo City chapter of the Citizens Council went on record opposing the Klan, adding that 'your Citizens Council was formed to preserve the separation of the races, and believes that it can best serve the county where it is the only organization operating in this field.'"

So Barbour has something of a problem. His version of history is at best incomplete and at worst it's a misrepresentation.

Meanwhile, if you're Barbour, you can't ignore how your fellow Mississippian Trent Lott lost his U.S. Senate majority leader's post after publicly praising Sen. Strom Thurmond's segregationist past.

That showed how much many in the Republican Party recognized the need for their party to broaden its appeal to people of color, a growing part of the population.

Barbour's embrace of the Yazoo City Citizens Council will seem a lot like Lott's praise for Thurmond's segregationist years. It didn't work for Lott and it's going to be hard for Barbour to make it work for him.

After all, a headline like this one in The Daily Beast can't be good in 2010: "Is Haley Barbour a racist?" Goldberg's answer, for the record, is yes.

The interesting thing about the Weekly Standard piece, then, isn't the revelation of Barbour's racism. It's that Barbour, a man with a deep knowledge of Republican politics, believes that his party's base sees race the same way he does.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative who blogs at the Washington Post, makes the point that many conservatives reject racism so the notion that a Southern Strategy would get him very far in Republican presidential politics is mistaken.

The notion that this is all part of a "Southern strategy" (which Greg Sargent tells us is being discussed in the left-leaning blogosphere) is tinfoil-hat sort of stuff that reminds me how little the left understands today's conservatives.

Rep. Holt: Sen. McCain Objected To My Military Suicide Prevention Bill

Rep. Holt: Sen. McCain Objected To My Military Suicide Prevention Bill

WASHINGTON — In 2008, a young sergeant named Coleman S. Bean took his life. After completing his first tour of duty in Iraq, he had come home and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nevertheless, he was deployed to Iraq a second time. Bean had sought treatment for PTSD but as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), he found fewer resources available to him than to veterans and active-duty members.

In April, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) introduced legislation named after the late soldier meant to provide more resources for suicide prevention to Reserve members. The House in May incorporated it into the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011, but it was stripped from the final version, and Holt is pointing the finger at the lead Republican negotiator on the Senate legislation, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"Twice now, the Senate has stripped this legislation from our defense bill," Holt told The Huffington Post Tuesday. "It's hard to understand why. I know for a fact, because he told me, that Sen. McCain doesn't support it. Whether he's the only one, I don't know. But there was no effort to try to improve the language or negotiate changes; it was just rejected, and I think that is not only bad policy, but it's cruel. It's cruel to the families that are struggling with catastrophic mental health problems."

"He [McCain] said having these counselors check in with the Reservists every few months this way overreaching," continued Holt, relaying a phone conversation he had had with the senator. "I asked him in what sense it was overreaching. Surely he didn't think there wasn't a problem, did he? I must say I don't understand it."

The major piece of Holt's amendment would require the Defense Department to ensure that every member of the Reserves who completes at least one tour of duty in either Iraq or Afghanistan receives "a counseling call from properly trained personnel not less than once every 90 days so long as the servicemember remains a member of the IRR." If they were determined to be at risk, they would receive counseling or mental health treatment.

The legislation is modeled on a program run by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which provides veterans with peer counseling and clinical assessments. Unlike the program proposed by Holt, however, veterans and their families are the ones to initiate assistance.

McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan took issue with Holt's version of events, saying that he should look to his House colleagues for why the amendment was removed.

"Unfortunately, and with all due respect, Holt's office is mischaracterizing Senator McCain's 'support' for the provision," wrote Buchanan in a statement to The Huffington Post. "The fact is the provision never entered conference and was actually removed on the House side before the bill was taken to conference. So whatever frustrations or concerns Congressman Holt may have should be directed to his colleagues on the House side. Senator McCain is committed to providing the necessary support to every service member and appreciates the special needs of our armed forces and the particular hardships they face both at home and abroad."

A Holt spokesman responded that the reason it was removed from the House version this year was because of pre-emptive objections from the Senate.

This week, Coleman's father Gregory, wrote a column expressing disappointment with McCain. "Late last week, the defense appropriations bill passed without Holt's measure as a part of it. Holt says he's furious; so are we," he stated. "In fact, I'm so angry that McCain -- who has dined out for decades as an 'advocate' for veterans -- made a unilateral decision to squash this fine, bipartisan measure that discretion dictates I write no more about it until I cool down."

Holt said going forward, he'll re-introduce his legislation as a stand-alone measure, try to get the language included in military health care legislation and help the Pentagon improve mental health services.

"I'll keep trying to have the best possible federal policy to provide this help," said Holt. "I thought it was just an oversight or a mistake when the Senate rejected this last year, but when they really deliberately and knowingly rejected it this time, I was just appalled."

In 2009, Holt also included his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010, but an anonymous senator blocked the measure, and it was stripped out.

Senate Advances Arms Treaty, 67-28 - NYTimes.com

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...Image via WikipediaSenate Advances Arms Treaty, 67-28 - NYTimes.com

By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON —The Senate voted 67 to 28 on Tuesday to advance a new arms control treaty that would pare back American and Russian nuclear arsenals, reaching the two-thirds margin needed for approval despite a concerted Republican effort to block ratification.

Eleven Republicans joined every Democrat present to support the treaty, known as New Start, which now heads to a seemingly certain final vote of approval on Wednesday, as the Senate wraps up business before heading out of town. Voting against the treaty were 28 Republicans who argued that it could hurt national security.

“Today’s bipartisan vote clears a significant hurdle in the Senate,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who led the floor fight for the treaty. “We are on the brink of writing the next chapter in the 40-year history of wrestling with the threat of nuclear weapons.”

The vote represented another bipartisan victory for President Obama, who emerged politically wounded from last month’s mid-term elections but turned around to successfully press the outgoing Congress to enact several of his top priorities. At his behest, lawmakers passed an $858 billion package of tax cuts and unemployment benefits, and they ended the longstanding ban on gay men and lesbians serving in the military.

The New Start treaty was the last major challenge of the session for Mr. Obama, and in some ways the most emboldening for him. The tax-cut deal required the president to swallow a compromise that extended the expiring Bush-era lowered tax rates even for the wealthy, costing him support within his own party. The overturning of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy was driven as much by senators as by the White House.

But it was Mr. Obama who decided to make passing the treaty before the end of the year a high-profile test of his remaining clout. Despite bleak prospects for the treaty just a month ago, Mr. Obama mounted an unusually relentless campaign to win over enough Republican senators on his terms, enlisting former Republican luminaries, the nation’s military commanders and Eastern European leaders to knock down any objections.

The treaty requires the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles so that within seven years of ratification neither deploys more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers. It would also require the resumption of on-site inspections that lapsed last December when the original Start treaty expired.

The White House and its ally, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, have locked down Republican votes in recent days in part with a series of letters and statements intended to address concerns about the treaty’s impact on missile defense, nuclear modernization and verification.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, originally an appointee of President George W. Bush, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the nation’s top military officer, appealed to Republican respect for the military and urged support for the treaty.

In a letter to several senators, Mr. Obama repeated his commitment, beyond the current budget, to a 10-year, $85 billion program to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, to ensure that a shrinking nuclear arsenal would still be well maintained and effective.

“I recognize that nuclear modernization requires investment for the long-term, in addition to this one-year budget increase,” Mr. Obama wrote. “That is my commitment to the Congress — that my Administration will pursue these programs and capabilities for as long as I am President.”

The reassurances appeared to win over enough Republican support to ensure ratification of the treaty. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who last week voted with other Republicans to block consideration of the treaty during the lame-duck session, cited Mr. Obama’s support for modernization in announcing his decision to vote to approve it on Tuesday morning.

“I’m convinced,” Mr. Alexander said on the floor, “that America is safer and more secure with the New Start treaty than without it.” He said he was convinced that the treaty still left the United States with “enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come.”

Senator Johnny Isakson of georgia, who voted for the treaty in committee but had not declared whether he would follow suit on the floor until Tuesday, said in a statement: “Only through setting the example, without giving in or capitulating a thing, do we give hope to the future that my grandchildren and yours can live in a world that will not be free of nukes but will be secure.”

Republican opponents continued to hammer away at the treaty, arguing that its verification procedures were inadequate and that nonbinding language in its preamble could give Russia leverage to try to keep the United States from deploying missile defense installations in Eastern Europe. They said Russia got more out of the treaty than the United States.

“The administration did not negotiate a good treaty,” Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican, told reporters. “They went into negotiations, it seems to me, with the attitude with the Russians just like the guy that goes into the car dealership and says, ‘I’m not leaving here until I buy a car.’”

Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, bristled at Russia’s warning Monday that the Senate should not try to rewrite the treaty. “The Senate is not a rubber stamp — not for the administration, not for Russia,” he said. “And as one senator, I am not ready to stamp this treaty.”

The Senate planned to vote later Tuesday on whether to close off debate after a week of floor discussion, which requires 60 votes. For final passage, the Constitution requires that two-thirds of senators present vote their approval. With Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, absent after prostate surgery, that means supporters need 66 votes. If they get that many on the Tuesday vote, it presumably would foreshadow the final outcome, which could come Wednesday.

Left unclear was whether the administration would come to an agreement with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was trying to fashion a compromise to reassure Republicans that the treaty will not constrain American missile defense plans.

The White House and Pentagon have insisted from the beginning that the treaty would do nothing to block American missile defense plans. On Monday, Mr. McCain unveiled a proposed amendment to the resolution of ratification that accompanies the treaty affirming that the United States will proceed with all four planned phases of missile defense in Europe by 2020 as Mr. Obama has committed to doing.

The growing support from Republicans suggested that the White House no longer needed Mr. McCain and it may choose to pocket what seems to be shaping up as a victory without making further accommodations. At the same time, it may decide to come to an agreement with Mr. McCain in the interest of building a stronger bipartisan vote for the treaty beyond the bare-minimum 66. As a separate statement, Mr. McCain’s amendment would not change the treaty itself or require renegotiation with the Russians; it would only be a declaration of American policy.

In addition to Senators Alexander, Isakson, Corker and Murkowski, the Republicans who have pledged their support include Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, and Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said on Monday that he would most likely vote yes as well.

For the treaty to take effect, the Russian parliament must ratify it as well. But given the Kremlin’s control over the Russian political system, that is viewed as a formality.