Tag Archives: Congress

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.

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.

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.

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From Street Walker to Call Girl

The US Supreme Court has ruled to abolish overall caps on federal campaign contributions, bringing an end to most meaningful limits on the influence of money on Congress. Yeah, there’s going to be even more corruption. But think of the bright side: Congress can ask their sponsors for even more money! If nothing else, it will stimulate the economy.

Can’t Close that Camp

What if Nazi Germany had won World War II? Things might look quite as different as you might think. This time: the Leader wants to close a concentration camp, but blames Congress for not being able to do so.

It Might Be Low P

Pundits are opining that, if Congress rejects Obama’s request for a resolution authorizing the use of military force against Syria, he could become an impotent president, unable to pass legislation on other issues. All this testosterone-filled rhetoric prompts a question: Could it be Low P?

U.S. to Attack U.S. over Chemical Weapons

The United States has repeatedly used chemical weapons, including against its own people. Will we act?