Tag Archives: Congress

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why Useless Impotent Democrats Will Not Lift a Finger to Fight Trump

 

Image result for trump dictator“There’s no savior out there.” That’s a line from “Lord’s Prayer,” a song written by TV Smith for the Lords of the New Church, a band that trafficked in 1980s melodic punk. Here’s some more:

“There ain’t no savior out there

Your stairway to heaven leads nowhere

Don’t look to me for emancipation

You are your only salvation.”

That’s my message to Americans who want to resist Donald Trump and his works — or more precisely the policies of the most right-wing cabinet in American history. Waiting for divine intervention is lunacy. If you’re serious about slowing down the Pencites, you’d better get ready to take them on yourselves.

You sure won’t be able to count on the Democratic Party.

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Take Trump’s cabinet nominees — please! In the old days, Democrats would only have needed 40 senate seats to filibuster a would-be attorney general accused of racism, an energy secretary who forgot the name of his own department and a sitting CEO of ExxonMobil as secretary of state.

Unfortunately for the republic, then-majority leader Harry Reid was such a fool that he thought Democrats would never lose another election. So, in a fit of staggering ahistoricity, he eliminated the filibuster for most nominees in 2013. As a result Trump will probably get all his picks, perhaps minus Jeff Sessions because he’s widely disliked by his colleagues.

OK, so unless you’re a character in the too generously reviewed movie “Arrival,” what’s past is past, no do-overs. But Democrats don’t seem to have much appetite for anti-Trump combat even when you consider their new self-imposed limits.

Democrats’ approach to policy is likely to boil down to “let the Republicans do what they want, then take the blame when they overreach.” They may even let the GOP repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration’s sole major policy achievement. “Republicans are about to learn that there’s a big difference between being against something and being for something,” said Steve Israel (D-New York). “They’ve already stumbled out of the gate, and we should let them continue to stumble.” Unasked: How many Americans will die for a tactic?

On the nominees, look for bureaucratic foot-dragging of approvals with procedural votes and other stalling tactics. “I don’t want to needlessly prevent President Trump from being successful,” Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) told The Politico. “But accelerating the confirmation of unacceptable candidates who have views that are outside the mainstream is not constructive.” In the end, though, those unacceptable candidates will get their gigs.

Dems even plan to try to find common ground on rebuilding infrastructure — an admirable goal that I’ve pushed for years. But Trumpism is already so extreme that Democrats ought to ask themselves whether they’re missing the fuhrer for the trees: is it possible to get behind an autobahn without endorsing the tyrant who builds it?

If they really wanted to mount a resistance to Trump, Congressional Democrats could do so with considerably more vigor.

Notably, any single senator can place a personal “hold” on a nominee or bill. There’s no time limit or limit on the number of holds. In 2008, for example, Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) placed a hold against a funding bill for 12 federal programs. A hold only goes away one of two ways: the senator lifts it, or 60% of the Senate votes against it. Democrats could use the hold to replace the filibuster Reid got rid of.

But there’s no reason to believe Democrats will put up a serious fight against the Trumpists. “In the end, a hybrid strategy might make the most sense for Democrats — use Trump and the GOP as a foil and slow them where they can — while seeking to pick one or two areas where his aspirations coincide with their values,” CNN muses. “A las Barricadas!” this is not.

Democratic impotence is nothing new; since the 1970s leaders have pushed the party’s ideology to the right while abandoning every pretense of resistance to the expansion of the corporate gangster capitalism that grinds up working and middle-class people’s hopes and aspirations. Now that Trump is about to impose an especially right-wing (here’s another punk reference, to The Clash) clampdown on ordinary Americans, the Democratic Party will lie completely exposed in the full glory of its uselessness.

Screw the Dems. You are your only salvation.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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When a Strange Congressman Calls

Congressional Republicans say it’s too dangerous to transfer Gitmo detainees to the United States. But what are they worried about? No one has ever escaped from one of the federal Supermax prisons where they’d be sent…not that any has ever attempted to escape in the past.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The NSA Loses in Court, but the Police State Rolls On

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Edward Snowden has been vindicated.

This week marks the first time that a court – a real court, not a sick joke of a kangaroo tribunal like the FISA court, which approves every government request and never hears from opponents – has ruled on the legality of one of the NSA’s spying programs against the American people.

Verdict: privacy 1, police state 0.

Yet the police state goes on. Which is what happens in, you know, a police state. The pigs always win.

A unanimous three-judge ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, states unequivocally that the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the USA Patriot Act is fatally flawed. Specifically, it says, Congress never intended for Section 215 to authorize the bulk interception and storage of telephony metadata of domestic phone calls: the calling number, the number called, the length of the call, the locations of both parties, and so on. In fact, the court noted, Congress never knew what the NSA was up to before Snowden spilled the beans.

On the surface, this is good news.

It will soon have been two years since Snowden leaked the NSA’s documents detailing numerous government efforts to sweep up every bit and byte of electronic communications that they possibly can — turning the United States into the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, where nothing is secret and everything can and will be used against you. Many Americans are already afraid to tell pollsters their opinions for fear of NSA eavesdropping.

One can only imagine how chilling the election of a neo-fascist right-winger (I’m talking to you, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker) as president would be. Not that I’m ready for Hillary “privacy for me, not for thee” Clinton to know all my secrets.

Until now, most action on the reform front has taken place abroad, especially in Europe, where concern about privacy online has led individuals as well as businesses to snub American Internet and technology companies, costing Silicon Valley billions of dollars, and accelerated construction of a European alternative to the American dominated “cloud.”

Here in the United States, the NSA continued with business as usual. As far as we know, the vast majority of the programs revealed by Snowden are still operational; there are no doubt many frightening new ones launched since 2013. Members of Congress were preparing to renew the disgusting Patriot Act this summer. One bright spot was the so-called USA Freedom Act, which purports to roll back bulk metadata collection, but privacy advocates say the legislation had been so watered down, and so tolerant of the NSA’s most excessive abuses, that it was just barely more than symbolic.

Like the Freedom Act, this ruling is largely symbolic.

The problem is, it’s not the last word. The federal government will certainly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take years before hearing the case. Even in the short run, the court didn’t slap the NSA with an injunction to halt its illegal collection of Americans’ metadata.

What’s particularly distressing is the fact that the court’s complaint is about the interpretation of the Patriot Act rather than its constitutionality. The Obama Administration’s interpretation of Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” said the court ruling. However: “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

Well, ain’t that peachy.

As a rule, courts are reluctant to annul laws passed by the legislative branch of government on the grounds of unconstitutionality. In the case of NSA spying on us, however, the harm to American democracy and society is so extravagant, and the failure of the system of checks and balances to rein in the abuses so spectacular, that the patriotic and legal duty of every judge is to do whatever he can or she can to put an end to this bastard once and for all.

It’s a sad testimony to the cowardice, willful blindness and lack of urgency of the political classes that the New York court kicked the can down the road, rather than declare the NSA’s metadata collection program a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Authorization for the Use of Farce

A declining American military empire relies on increasingly flimsy legal justifications to attack foreign countries without provocation. Last year, Obama asserted that the 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force authorized him to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, even though the AUMF related to Al Qaeda, an enemy of ISIS. Now Obama wants Congress to give him retroactive authorization, even while claiming he was right last year. Why not go even further to stretch logic?

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Backdate

For nearly a year, the Obama Administration has waged a high-intensity air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, killing thousands of Iraqis and Syrians, including many civilians. Now they’re finally asking for retroactive authorization from Congress, as mandated by the Constitution, for doing what they’ve already done. So much for a nation of laws.

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Unamerican? On the Political Undermining of US-Iran Talks

Originally Published at ANewDomain.net:

Far be it for me to bend my knee to President Obama — neither the office of president nor the man currently occupying said office get much respect from this news junkie — but the Republicans have crossed the line about Iran.

Over much of the past year, the Obama Administration has been conducting negotiations with Iran over its nuclear energy program. By most accounts, talks have been fruitful, moving closer to the goal of a deal under which Iran would guarantee not to build nuclear weapons in exchange for at least a partial lifting of U.S.-led trade and other economic sanctions, some of which date nearly four decades to the Islamic revolution, the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the 444-day hostage crisis.

Under an interim agreement signed a year ago to jumpstart talks, Iran has frozen its nuclear program and the U.S. has not imposed new sanctions.

Because both countries have been more open to a deal than ever before, negotiations have gone well, so well that — in light of the White House’s recent announcement that it plans to normalize relations with Cuba — many Iranians hope that Iran too may resume diplomatic relations with the United States.

Americans and Iranians would both benefit from a thaw. There would be new economic opportunities, not least due to Iran’s geography, which makes it the shortest route for a pipeline for Caspian Sea oil and gas pipelines. Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah and cozier ties to Hamas, not to mention its influence in post-occupation Iraq and as a Shiite counterbalance to the Saudi Wahhabism that fuels much of radical Islamism, would make it a valuable Middle East partner. Forty percent of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf — which is controlled by Iran.

First and foremost, however, in the American system diplomatic relations are and always have been the domain of the executive branch. It is a radical breach of the separation of powers, and rude and disrespectful to the office of the president, for legislators to undermine White House efforts to forge closer ties with another nation, which is exactly what the GOP is currently doing.

Members of Congress are pushing hard for new sanctions against Iran, or at least the threat of additional sanctions should the U.S. and Iran fail to come to terms soon. Pressing the issue further, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) took the extraordinary step of inviting right-wing Israeli prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress — without consulting with the president. “Inviting a foreign leader to speak at the Capitol without even informing the president, let alone consulting him, is a bald-faced usurpation for which there is no recent precedent,” notes Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.

To put it mildly, Netanyahu is cra-cra when it comes to Iran. He repeatedly compares Iran to Nazi Germany (never mind the whole Iran has never invaded another country or built a death camp thing), warning that it’s 1938 (the year before Hitler started World War II) and that the world must act militarily or risk losing everything. Worried that a speech will likely bash Iran and thus lead to the scuttling of talks, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has asked Netanyahu to stay home.

As someone who has been on the receiving end of accusations impugning my loyalty to my nation of birth, I am always hesitant to accuse other Americans of being unpatriotic. In this case, with so much at stake and so much to be gained, however, I can’t avoid the conclusion that Congressional Republicans are engaging in diplomatic sabotage so extreme as to be anti-American, bordering on treason.

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Archival War

FDR asked Congress for a formal Declaration of War against Germany and Japan. Subsequent presidents asked Congress for various forms of legal justifications to attack other nation-states. Now Obama is further eroding Congress’ right to declare war by relying on obselete and irrelevant authorizations for old conflicts.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Reparations for Blacks? For an Exceptionally Vicious Nation, Just a Start

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In the latest of periodic revivals of the argument that the United States ought to issue reparations to African-Americans as compensation for slavery, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic: “Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

That discrimination, poverty and genocide are at the heart of the black American experience is not in doubt — at least not in the minds of people of moderate intelligence and good will. That tens of millions of blacks continue, “even” after the election of the first black president, to suffer systemic racism along with its attendant symptoms — schools starved of funding, grinding poverty, police brutality, a viciously skewed judiciary, bigotry in every aspect of life from the workplace to housing to romance — is obvious to all who care to open their eyes the slightest bit.

Reparations are obviously justified. Moreover, they are normative; in the United States, aggrieved parties routinely seek and receive compensation for their injuries and economic losses via class-action lawsuits and the occasional U.S. Treasury payout. During the 1990s, for example, Congress issued $20,000 reparations checks to 82,210 Japanese-Americans and their heirs in order to compensate them for shipping them to concentration camps during World War II (and, in many cases, stealing their homes and businesses).

Better ridiculously late than never; better insultingly small than nothing.

Other U.S. reparations precedents include North Carolina residents forcibly sterilized during the mid 20th century as part of a nationwide eugenics program targeted at minorities and the mentally disabled (they are receiving $50,000 each), victims of the infamous Tuskegee untreated-syphilis experiment ($24,000 to $178,000), and blacks killed in the 1923 mass lynching at Rosewood, Florida ($800,000 for those forced to flee).

Coates admits that complications arise from his proposal: “Who will be paid? How much will they be paid? Who will pay?”

Should blacks who are not descendants of American slaves, like President Obama, receive reparations? What about wealthy blacks — should a wealthy black person receive a payout while members of other races go hungry? Should poor blacks get more than rich blacks? What about “mixed race” people — if your father was black and your mother was white, should you get half a check?

These are good questions, but as a white man (not descended from Americans who lived in the United States during slavery), I don’t enjoy the political standing to ponder them, much less answer them.

Whatever the details of a theoretical reparation scheme, my only objection to the idea overall would be that no amount of money would or could be enough. Reading through Coates’ survey of centuries of savage rape, abuse and degradation, one can’t help but ask, how could $100,000 make up for a single ancestor turned away from restaurants or rejected for promotions or unable to attend college due to the color of her skin? $1 million? $10 million?

Not that doing the right thing is going to happen any time soon. “For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for ‘appropriate remedies,’ Coates writes.

The bill “has never—under either Democrats or Republicans—made it to the House floor,” he says, because “we are not interested.”

Well, I’m interested. And I’d be paying, not getting.

Coates is, if anything, too polite. Congress’ disinterest in trying to atone for America’s original sin of slavery, he says, “suggests our concerns are rooted not in the impracticality of reparations but in something more existential.”

That existential something, of course, is that the United States and its economic infrastructure are the products of so much brutality, stealing, lying and exploitation, of so many hundreds of millions of people not only within “our” borders but — as the center of a vast economic and military empire — that it would not only be impossible to compensate all of its victims without going broke many times over, reparations would force American political leaders to concede that we are indeed an exceptional nation, if only in our violence and perfidy.

One place to start compiling lists of victims and heirs to consider for reparations would be Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.” All 49 states (except Hawaii) belonged to Native Americans; any fair assessment of compensation would give the total real estate value back to them, plus four centuries of interest and penalties for pain, suffering, and opportunity cost. Hawaii was stolen from native Hawaiians by an invasion force of U.S. Marines.

Chinese railroad workers were abused, discriminated against and in some cases murdered; America’s freight travels the rails they laid down. Except for slavery, Latinos too have suffered many of the same horrors, and still do, as Coates enumerates. There are the victims of America’s countless wars of colonial conquest in North America and around the world: Filipino patriots tortured to death in the early 20th century, two million Vietnamese, Koreans, Afghans, Iraqis and Yemenis — honestly, this is like one of those Oscar speeches where there isn’t enough time to thank everyone who made this “wonderful” exceptional country possible.

By all means, cut everyone a check, then close up shop.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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