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China Blasts Proposal To Name D.C. Street For Dissident Liu Xiaobo

By Stuart Leavenworth, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BEIJING — China reacted brusquely Wednesday to a vote in the U.S. Congress that approved renaming a street outside the Chinese embassy in Washington after China’s most famous political prisoner.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, labeled as “purely a farce” the vote by the House Appropriations Committee to name the street for Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu’s crime was gathering signatures for a human rights charter similar to one that helped end communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.

Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, angering China’s Communist Party and raising his profile but doing little so far to expedite his release.

In an effort to increase pressure on China, the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to a must-pass State Department spending bill that directs the secretary of state to rename the street outside the Chinese embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”

If the full House of Representatives passes the bill, as is expected, and the Senate and President Barack Obama also approve it, the official address of the Chinese embassy would become 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza.

“Every piece of incoming mail to the embassy would bear the name of the imprisoned Nobel laureate,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who proposed the amendment and who’s one of China’s most vehement U.S. critics.

Wolf’s pressure play has been all but ignored by the media in China, where Liu’s name is “sensitive” and largely censored. Among Western experts on China, there’s been a debate on the wisdom of the congressional move, with some seeing it as the latest “tit for tat” that prevents China and United States from fully engaging on issues that divide them.

Supporters note that Congress previously has renamed streets in Washington to honor international defenders of human rights. In 1984, it honored Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov by renaming part of the street in front of the Soviet embassy.

Wolf originally sought his amendment to highlight the 25th anniversary of China’s crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, of which Liu was an enthusiastic participant.

“This modest effort would undoubtedly give hope to the Chinese people who continue to yearn for basic human rights and representative democracy, and would remind their oppressors that they are in fact on the wrong side of history,” Wolf and other members of the House said in support of the amendment.

On Twitter and other social media, commenters have wondered whether China would retaliate by naming a street outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing after a U.S. nemesis, such as former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. When asked whether China would respond in such a manner, Hua, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, smiled and dodged the question.

“What kind of measures do you think China should adopt?” she asked. She then issued a broadside against Liu, saying he’s “a criminal who has been sentenced according to law by Chinese judicial authority due to violation of Chinese law.”

Two hours before she spoke, U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus delivered his first substantive speech in China since he took the post earlier this year. Speaking to a Beijing luncheon of U.S. business organizations based in China, Baucus noted the strong economic ties between the countries and the commitment of Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to a “new model” of relations.

Baucus, however, also mentioned two issues that divide the two countries: cyberspying and human rights.

“In the past year, China has arrested several moderate voices who had peacefully advocated for such basic things as good governance and the rights of ethnic minorities and the rule of law,” Baucus said.

While Baucus didn’t name names, it was likely he was referring to Pu Zhiqiang, who was arrested last month, and Xu Zhiyong, who was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this year. Both were detained on charges similar to those that sent Liu to prison.

Before he became the ambassador, Baucus was a member of Congress for 38 years, including 35 in the Senate. It’s unknown how he views the House’s attempt to rename the street for Liu. According to U.S. embassy staff, the ambassador, after lunching with business leaders, didn’t have time to take questions Wednesday from reporters.

AFP Photo/Mark Ralston

What Does Obama’s Speech Mean For The Supercommittee?

President Obama announced his $3 trillion deficit reduction proposal today, which has many on the left praising the president’s willingness to tax the wealthy and many on the right grumbling. But what does this mean for the 12 members of the “supercommittee” tasked with reducing the deficit?

Obama said in his speech today,

“I will not support — I will not support — any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans. And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share. We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable.”

This creates a tricky situation for the six Republican members of the supercommittee: All of them have signed Republican Tax King Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise taxes under any circumstances. So if they stick to their pledge, and Obama sticks to his new promise, the supercommittee’s plan will almost definitely be vetoed.

If the supercommittee misses its Thanksgiving deadline for making recommendations to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion within the next 10 years, automatic spending cuts will be implemented starting in 2013.

Some commentators believe the president’s speech guarantees that the supercommittee’s recommendations will not be approved. Andy Kroll of Mother Jones wrote, “Obama’s veto threat essentially extinguishes even the slightest glimmer of hope that those dozen lawmakers would reach an agreement that could pass both chambers and win Obama’s support.”

After Obama’s speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “The good news is that the joint committee is taking this issue far more seriously than the White House.”

But with such a strong veto promise from the president, many wonder whether the supercommittee’s work — however “serious” it might be — will yield any results.

New York State Proposes New Hydrofracking Fund

The debate over hydraulic fracturing has been dominating environmental politics over the past several months, but one New York politician thinks he might be able to appease concerns by both eco-activists and the drilling industry.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli proposed legislation Tuesday to create an industry-supported fund to pay for environmental damage caused by the controversial drilling method.

Hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, involves pumping large amounts of a water, sand, and chemical mixture into the ground to cause the shale to crack and release natural gas. Anti-fracking activists nationwide have sought to permanently prevent such drilling methods, raising concerns that the process significantly damages the environment and poses a risk of drinking water contamination, which has happened in states like Pennsylvania. Additionally, the method is exempt from several statewide and national environmental regulations, contributing to fears that the drilling companies will cause irreparable harm to communities without compensating those affected.

Gov. Cuomo has expressed his intention to lift the current moratorium on hydrofracking in New York, one of several states resting atop the extensive natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale formation.

The comptroller’s proposed legislation would provide easier access to compensation for accidents related to natural gas production and would ensure the timely clean-up of contamination. According to the press release, DiNapoli said,

“The only current remedy for private citizens who suffer damages to their property from natural gas production is to enter into litigation, which has the potential to be costly, difficult and slow. … New Yorkers should not have to bear the burden from contaminations that damage their air, water, and property. Whatever final decisions are made regarding high-volume hydraulic fracturing, this program and new fund will provide the necessary resources to respond to any accidents.”

DiNapoli modeled his proposal on the New York State Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund (Oil Spill Fund), an industry-supported fund created in the 1970s to pay for oil spill-related damages. In addition to providing funds for hydrofracking accidents, DiNapoli’s proposal would also create an online registry of incidents related to gas drilling in the state.

Even though the proposal would provide an easier route for people seeking compensation for damages, activists are calling for more regulations to eliminate the risk of those damages in the first place. Other methods of drilling, such as using propane to fracture the shale instead of water and fracking fluid, propane minimize the environmental impact of natural gas extraction. But with a state government that seems determined to push ahead hydraulic fracturing, at least concerned citizens might have easier access to compensation should things go awry.

Obama Praises ‘Gang of Six’ Debt Deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring “11th hour” urgency” to raise the government’s borrowing limit, President Barack Obama on Tuesday hailed a plan by “Gang of Six” senators from both parties to reduce federal deficits as the kind of balanced approach that could break the economy-threatening deadlock. He said it was time for Congress to rally around such a proposal.

“We don’t have any more time to engage in symbolic gestures, we don’t have any more time to posture. It’s time to get down to the business of actually solving this problem,” the president said.

Obama spoke even as House Republicans pushed toward a vote on separate legislation that would require trillions in spending cuts and agreement on a balanced-budget constitutional amendment in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling, which the government says must be raised by Aug. 2 to avoid economic calamity. That House plan, expected to come to a vote Tuesday evening, was unlikely to get through the Senate, and Obama has said he would veto it if it ever arrived at his desk.

Facing the deadline in two weeks, Obama said he would call House Speaker John Boehner after Tuesday’s vote to invite him and other leaders back to the White House for meetings in coming days.

Obama, Boehner and other top leaders met last week for five days straight without reaching agreement, leading to warnings from credit agencies about dire consequences if the U.S. defaults on its obligations for the first time, rendering it unable to pay its bills.

Obama added his own warning Tuesday, saying that while financial markets have shown confidence thus far in Washington, it won’t last much longer if lawmakers fail to act.

But he found cause for optimism in the announcement Tuesday by leaders of a bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators that they’re nearing agreement on a major plan to cut the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the coming decade.

“I think it’s a very significant step,” Obama said, calling it “broadly consistent with the approach I’ve urged.”

The Gang of Six plan calls for an immediate $500 billion “down payment” on cutting the deficit as the starting point toward cuts of more than $4 trillion that would be finalized in a second piece of legislation. It would raise revenues by about $1 trillion over 10 years and cut popular benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid — dealing out political pain to Republicans and Democrats.

That mixture of cuts and new revenue is the “balanced approach” Obama has urged, though it’s rejected by many Republicans because it would require higher taxes for some.

Rep. Dave Camp, Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the spending cuts and budget mechanisms in the plan could form the basis of a deal but tax increases would be a big problem for him and fellow GOP lawmakers.

“A trillion dollars is a lot, by any measure,” Camp said of the tax increases in the plan.

While praising the broader plan, Obama said it was still important to have a “Plan B” option being worked on by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a fallback. The McConnell-Reid plan would give Obama the ability to raise the debt limit by $2.5 trillion in three installments over the next year without a separate vote by lawmakers. Instead, a panel of House and Senate members would be created to recommend cuts in benefit programs, with their work guaranteed a yes-or-no vote in the House or Senate.

While all that was going on behind the scenes, advocates of the legislation to be voted on in the House on Tuesday said it would cut spending by an estimated $111 billion in the next budget year and then by more than an additional $6 trillion over a decade — and require Congress to send a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to the states for ratification — in exchange for raising the debt limit by $2.4 trillion.

With the measure facing a veto threat from the White House, Boehner said he was exploring other alternatives to avoid government default.

“I do think it’s responsible for us to look at what Plan B would look like,” he said at a news conference a few hours before the opening of debate on the legislation backed by conservative lawmakers.

Said Obama: “The problem we have now is, we’re in the 11th hour, and we don’t have a lot more time left.”

On a day of political theater, a group of House Republicans also boarded a bus for a 16-block ride to deliver a letter asking Obama to disclose his own plan for reducing federal deficits.

No administration officials were present to meet the delegation when the bus rolled to a stop outside the White House gates, and lawmakers gave copies of the letter to reporters.

Democrats said it was urgent that the debt ceiling be raised.

In a closed-door meeting in the Capitol, House Democrats listened to an audio of Republican President Ronald Reagan urging lawmakers in 1987 to raise the debt limit. “This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans’ benefits,” he said then.

Nearly a quarter of a century — and numerous trillions of dollars in debt — later, Obama needs acquiescence from the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate to win another debt ceiling increase. So far, efforts to agree on a package of spending cuts — the price demanded by GOP lawmakers for their votes — have proved futile.

Barring action by Congress to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, the Treasury will be unable to pay all the government’s bills that come due beginning Aug. 3. Administration officials, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and others say the resulting default would inflict serious harm on the economy, which is still struggling to recover from the worst recession in decades.

Reid announced Monday that the Senate would meet each day until the issue was resolved, including weekends.

Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Stephen Ohlemacher, Darlene Superville and David Espo contributed to this article.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.