As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CA-10: Yet Another California Democrat Bails Out

After a day or two of rumors, this is official: Ellen Tauscher is leaving Congress:

“For the past 13 years, I have had the honor and privilege of serving you in Congress. Representing California’s 10th Congressional District always has been and remains – especially in these trying times – my first priority.”

“Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asked me to serve as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.”

“While her offer is both generous and flattering, I did not take the decision lightly. I accepted it after much soul searching and long discussions with my family and friends.”

Her mission will be an important one - to fulfill the Obama Administration's goal of eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons, and in the near term reducing stockpiles through trade agreements with Russia and ensuring the security of loose nuclear materials around the world. Given that she has supported the Reliable Replacement Warhead system in the past, which would usher in a new generation of nuclear weapons and work directly counter to proposals like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, I am dubious that this is her best role:

Those of us who are interested in working toward a world free of nuclear weapons realize that progress will involve many steps, some large, some small. One important step will be ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Some CTBT supporters suspect that the outlines of a deal are coalescing: those who want the RRW will try to make the CTBT and the RRW a package deal, arguing that we will be able to maintain a reliable, safe nuclear deterrent without testing, as the CTBT would require, only if the weapon labs are allowed to proceed with weapon modernization. The Congressional Strategic Posture Commission interim report appears to be at least sympathetic to this view. This artificial link is based on both faulty logic and a long list of unstated and unsupportable assumptions.

The assertion that our nuclear weapons need any modernizing implies, usually implicitly, that current weapons are antiques that are not quite up to snuff. Chilton, in the article cited above, specifically links U.S. modernization to Russian and Chinese nuclear weapons. This superficially makes sense: after all, we don’t send our military out to fight with World War II vintage tanks, ships, and airplanes. Certainly the United States should be armed with the latest and best nuclear weapons; at the very least, our weapons have to be at least as modern as any possible competitors, right? The simple analogy to conventional weapons doesn’t hold because of the types of tasks assigned to nuclear weapons and some confusion about just what a “nuclear weapon” is [...]

Simple uranium bombs with high reliability and yields of twenty kilotons (or the power of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima) or more would be easy to manufacture. We could design such a weapon, perhaps build one or two, and put the plans on the shelf in case we ever needed it. I can’t help but imagine those language-free schematic assembly instructions that come along with unassembled Ikea furniture, describing how to put a bookshelf together without special skills or complex tools. We should design the Ikea Bomb. The DOE’s arguments for a new nuclear bomb design would be a lot more convincing if DOE were eagerly trying to design themselves out of a job rather than looking at a future that has them building nuclear weapons forever.

Nuclear weapons modernization is a complete myth, and Tauscher has perpetuated it. Regardless of the positives of her leaving Congress, she is a terrible choice for the safety of the world. I'll leave it to you to determine the relative benefits of the trade-off.

The Governor will not need to announce any special election for this seat until Tauscher is confirmed, which could take "weeks, if not months," as she notes. District sources tell me that labor's voice matters here, and all the serious candidates come from the legislature, in particular Asm. Tom Torlakson and Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (who lives outside the district in Concord, but that's not required under state law). Of the two, only one will run, and Torlakson has been gearing up for a statewide run for a while, though Congress may offer a more attractive platform. While Buchanan has seemingly been groomed for this position, it's probably too soon for her to make the jump, and AD-15 does not have a deep Democratic bench and would be likely to flip back to the Republicans if she vacates. Either way, we're looking at a special election for Congress, followed by another special election for the legislature. At this rate, the legislature will be missing bodies until early 2010. And that's horrible news, given the conservative veto and the need for every single vote on budget and tax issues.

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