Tag Archives: Congress

Trump needs to fire some staff – especially Bannon

But first …

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By Steven R. Maher

In the wake of the disastrous end of his “repeal and replace” Obamacare legislation, President Donald J. Trump should fire some of his staff. It’s what a smart businessman usually does after such a debacle.

After he withdrew the legislation, Trump said he wanted to work with Democrats in the future on health care. He also clearly wants to work with the “Freedom Caucus,” the successor to the “Tea Party” – a group that thought throwing 24 million Americans off their health insurance didn’t go far enough.

The website “Business Insider” reported on Saturday March 25, 2017, that White House Chief Strategist Steven Bannon said to Freedom Caucus members: “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”

The New York Times reported Saturday that Bannon and Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short wanted a vote on Trump’s health care bill because they would be able to compile an “enemies list” of Republican Congressman to take revenge on.

“You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something, I was 18 years old,” one Freedom Caucus member was quoted as saying. “And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

Trump also supposedly said during one meeting that he was not going to negotiate further on his insurance program, and Trump wanted their votes.

Not private sector

This “take it or leave it” approach might work in the private sector where everyone works for the boss, but it can be fatal in ego driven Washington, where Trump needs the votes of independently elected representatives.

Trump has two choices: If Trump expects to win enough Republican votes to pass his legislation on every major issue, he will be turning veto power on his Presidency over to a group of conservative extremists who will not compromise on issues that cry out for bi-partisan support. If he wants to find common ground with the Democrats, Trump will be writing off the Freedom Caucus.

Either way, Trump should clean house. A first good step would be to fire Bannon and Short. Both have alienated the Freedom Caucus. The Democrats despise Bannon for his involvement in Breitbart and see him as the evil genius manipulating Trump for his own obscure goals. Getting rid of Bannon would demonstrate that Trump is serious about changing his approach and would make it easier for Trump to reach out to either the Freedom Caucus or the Democrats.

Bannon feuds with Ryan

The one to watch is White House Chief of Staff Rence Priebus. Priebus reportedly urged Trump to work on his health plan first. He is a close ally of House Speaker Paul Ryan, with whom Bannon has also been feuding. This is another reason for Trump to fire Bannon. Not only is Bannon alienating the Freedom Caucus, he is straining the relationship between Trump and Ryan. If Trump fires Priebus, Washington insiders would take this as a victory of Bannon over Ryan.

Trump will undoubtedly find many scapegoats for his defeat on health care. Whether he learns the harsh lessons Washington taught him on March 24, 2017, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Trump faces two upcoming issues on which he is also likely to be opposed by the Freedom Caucus. As the New York Times reported Saturday: “Mr. Ryan repeatedly counseled the president to avoid seeking vengeance – at least until he has passed spending bills and a debt-ceiling increase needed to keep the government running. In the end, the president decided to back down.”

“Trumpcare” – NOT in style!!!😱😱😱

But first …

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REPUBLICANS SUSCEPTIBLE TO “OVERPROMISING” POLS

By Steven R. Maher

“If you’re going to live a good life, you’ve got to live within your income.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Treasury Secretary George Humphrey

“Through his time in office, he [Humphrey] insisted that the government do just that. He fought profligate spending, irritating liberals and imprudent tax cuts, to the annoyance of conservatives.” – From “Eisenhower: The White House Years,” by Jim Newton.

Recently, I was watching a talk show and heard one Republican pundit say that Trump “overpromised” on health insurance during his candidacy for the Presidency.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump repeatedly promised that his replacement for Obamacare (some call it “Trumpcare”) would allow everyone to choose their own doctor and medical plan; would cost less money; increase benefits and make available universal coverage to all Americans.

How was such a miracle to be accomplished?

Basically, through the miracle of the marketplace. Trump vowed he would make insurance rates go down and make health insurance benefits go up by increasing competition of insurance companies by allowing insurers to sell their policies across state lines.

“Believe me,” Trump would say after promising how much better a program than Obamacare, Trumpcare would be.

Trump later backed off from these pledges, saying health care was more “complicated” than he had anticipated.

Susceptible to this?

Why did so many of Trump’s supporters believe this?

I’m beginning to believe that Republican voters are particularly susceptible to demagogic appeals. We saw this with “Supply Side” economics. Under this highfalutin theory, Congress could cut taxes, increase military spending and balance the budget – all at the same time. Try doing this with your personal life. You will find yourself in bankruptcy court. Granted, you will live high off the hog, eating caviar, filet mignon and lobster to your heart’s content – right up to the point where you run out of credit cards and the bondholders decide to cut you off.

Unfortunately – or rather fortunately, given who is in the White House – there is no Chapter 11 under which nations can default on their debt.

Someday the United States will have to balance its budget. Better that we do it now ourselves, rather than wait until America’s creditors force us to do it.

Republicans used to be the party of fiscal rectitude, wearing the old green shade accounting hats as they counted beans. They threw away those sensibilities when they adopted the fraud known as “Supply Side” economics. Now they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater with Trumpcare.

The Republicans won’t be the party of common-sense economics, like Dwight Eisenhower, until they give up “supply side” economics and “Trumpcare.”

Steve parked in Rose’s space … TRUMP DEFICITS WILL BANKRUPT AMERICA

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Cece, you can’t hide from the fact Trump is President – at least until his treasonous ties to Russia are fleshed out.   pic: R.T.

By Steven R. Maher

President Donald J. Trump has received plaudits from conservative pundits for his February 28 address to Congress. Polling the day after shows the speech was well received by an extremely wary American public.

Why? Because Trump got through one speech without it deteriorating into a public relationships disaster. He didn’t ask the Republican Congressmen to sucker punch the Democrats sitting in the Capitol, as he asked supporters to do to dissenters at his campaign rallies. Trump controlled his emotions, and didn’t descend into a manic diatribe of rantings and ravings about his opponents. He spent the last several months launching personal attacks on Congressional Democrats, especially Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. But Trump had the nerve to ask the Democrats and Schumer to work with him, and compromise their deeply held beliefs.

Trump, of course, did not offer to compromise his beliefs. He didn’t offer not to build the wall on the Mexican border, if the Democrats agreed to other Trump border security proposals. He didn’t offer to not bankrupt the State Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in exchange for a military build-up. The only people Trump sees as having to compromise are the fools who don’t agree with him.

What he didn’t say

What Trump didn’t say was more important than what he did talk about. The biggest problem facing America isn’t Obamacare, which obviously needs to be reformed. America right now spends more on its military than the next seven top military spenders in the world combined. A military buildup isn’t necessary when NATO dependents are kicking in more money, as Trump claimed to Congress.

The biggest problem facing America right now is balancing the budget and saving Social Security and Medicare for the next generation.

During the campaign, Trump talked of America’s $22 trillion national debt in apocalyptic terms. He said another $2 trillion in deficits will put America beyond the point of no return. Trump is willing to rack up more debt for his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan alone. And how does Trump intend to pay for the trillions of dollars in tax cuts for wealthy Americans who don’t need the money?

What Trump is proposing has already been tried by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. One can excuse Reagan on the grounds that the country was mired in dire straits, the Soviet Union was winning the Cold War, and Americans had lost faith in their country. Reagan also agreed to raise taxes to reduce the deficits in his first term, a magnanimous flexibility Trump is totally unprepared to replicate.

George W. Bush in 2001 inherited an America at peace with a balanced budget. In a tremendous act of stupidity, Bush destroyed the budget surpluses with idiotic tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq.

And where was the Tea Party while this was going on? Totally silent. They didn’t care about the trillions of dollars in deficits Bush ran up. Only when Obama ran up deficits to save the country from going into a depression, did they suddenly discover deficits would hurt the country. Where is the Tea Party now? Noticeably silent as Trump prepares to add trillions to the national debt. These people were phonies all along.

Trump, having been elected without being the hostage of special interests, was in a unique position to take the politically unpopular steps to return America to budgetary surpluses: raising taxes and cutting spending. This writer was impressed by Trump’s saving the taxpayers $700 million on an airplane contract. This is where Trump could have done his best work, saving taxpayers’ money on inflated contracts and corrupt vendors.

Instead, Trump is taking America down the same sorry road of W. Bush. When countries like China and Japan stop buying American bonds, the bondholders will eventually cut off the money flow, and then this country will be facing problems we can only imagine.

This writer is not taking a scintilla of comfort from the fact that Trump finally got through a speech without making a total fool of himself.

Drained swamp turns up Republican slugs

By Steven R. Maher

When Republican president-elect Donald Trump began “draining the swamp” this week, out popped a few bottom-dwelling Republican gastropods (“gastropods” are slugs which live under rocks and are indigenous to many swamp lands).

It may be highly symbolic, in that Trump will likely be confronting Republican Congressman during what promises to be a rambunctious first term. Parties which control Congress tend be involved in the worst scandals, since they have more power.

Congress, both the Senate and House of Representatives, reconvened Monday January 4, 2017, for the 115th session. A group of Republican Representatives then met secretly to disembowel the independent Office of Congressional Ethics and place it under lawmakers’ control.

Trump, upon finding out about this, took to Twitter the next day: “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority.”

Like a pack of running dogs, these cowardly Congressional Republicans called another secret meeting to rescind their vote on the ethics office.

All it took was one Trump Tweet.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if Trump kept his Tweeter account after all.

From Honest Abe to Tricky Dick

The Grand Old Party, to give the Republicans official party name, has metastasized from being the party of Abraham “Honest Abe” Lincoln to the party of Richard M. “Tricky Dick” Nixon.

Abraham Lincoln in 1864 warned: “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Today this would be called “income inequality”; Lincoln sounds here like Bernie Sanders.

All Americans should be glad that Trump stopped Congressional Republicans from destroying an independent Congressional watchdog. The swamp Trump wants to drain has members of both parties amidst the sludge.

If Trump truly drains the Washington swamp, he is likely to face a backlash from his fellow Republicans, now in the majority and therefore extremely vulnerable to being suborned by lobbyists offering bribes, graft and gratuities for services rendered.

Going back to Electoral College

slave-owners1
photo submitted

By Gordon Davis

For the second time in 16 years there’s been a US Presidential Election during which the candidate with the most popular votes did not get the most Electoral College votes.

Now there are calls for eradicating the Electoral College. Its abolition is almost impossible, and it will have to wait for a new generation of voters. People working on its abolition are probably wasting their energies.

There is a Gordian Knot entanglement between states and the Electoral
College. The Electoral College was created to protect small states. There is no workable definition of a state, except that a state is what the Congress defines it to be. As a result, we have a hodgepodge of political entities such as Alaska and Rhode Island which are states. Other political entities such as the District of Columbia are not states, despite demands from some folks to grant Washington, D.C., statehood.

At first the Electoral College protected the states with small populations from being dominated by the states with large populations. Of course, this creates inequalities. For example, the smallest state in terms of population is Wyoming with about 550,000 residents. Wyoming has 3 votes (electors) in the Electoral College. Montana also has 3 electors but almost twice the number of residents. This proportional inequality is magnified when Wyoming is compared to larger states like California.

The supporters of the Electoral College will sometimes argue that the Electoral College prevents national voter recounts. The recounts would be limited to individual states. An example of this is the Florida recount of 2000.

Even then in 2000 the Electoral College did not prevent a Constitutional crisis. The Supreme Court ruling has not resolved that issue. For that reason Jill Stein of the Green Party sought recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

An old friend once told me: the real motivation for American politics is race and class. So it is with the Electoral College. Originally, the proposal was for the President of the United States to be elected by Congress. There was no popular election. Many thought that men without means could not elect a qualified president. Those who argued for a popular election by the people had to settle for the election by the states via Electors, who then elected the President in a process described in Article II of the Constitution. Unfairly, women did not get the franchise until the 1920s. Also, no enslaved person could vote. (This disfranchisement of Black people continues today in the form of not giving ex-felons the franchise and by voter suppression.)

All of the antebellum slave states supported the Electoral College, as the enslaved people were not counted as people in the Federal Census. My ancestors were counted as chattel. This meant that all of the slave states had very few residents. Men in the slave-owning plantation class were relatively few in number.

Faced with the loss of political power, all of the slave states took their horrible irrationality and crimes a step further. They argued that enslaved people were not people when in their respective states but should be counted as people in the Federal Census.

Of course, the Free Soil states pushed back and said “No.” From that dispute arose the so called compromise that an enslaved person would be counted as 3/5 of a person in the Federal Census. The abolition of slavery by the 13th Amendment put an end to that particular issue for the Electoral College.

Since the Civil War, the Electoral College has been a refuge for smaller, mostly rural states like Wyoming. The United States, like the rest of the world, is moving to a population shift – 80 percent of the world population will soon be living in cities.

The material conditions are changing such that not only the Electoral College, but its small-state protectors, are becoming obsolete and something of an anachronism. A reasonable person could wonder about the usefulness of the Electoral College and then wonder about the usefulness of small states like Wyoming, Montana, Vermont – and even Massachusetts!

Congressman McGovern leads 72 lawmakers in call for President Obama to make Tibet a priority in final months in office

Congressman Jim McGovern led a group of 72 House lawmakers this week in a letter calling on President Obama to make Tibet a priority in his final months in office.

Congressman McGovern has been a leading voice in Congress pushing for the United States to do more to support reforms that would strengthen human rights in Tibet.

In November 2015, Congressman McGovern joined Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers on a trip to China and Tibet to urge Chinese leaders to enact reforms to increase the freedom and autonomy of the Tibetan people.

“We write to ask that you redouble efforts in support of the Tibetan people during your remaining months in office. We believe it is critically important to move beyond words to actions,” McGovern and House lawmakers wrote in the letter to President Obama. “The Tibetan people view the United States as their friend. It is time to honor that friendship with new, creative strategies to encourage meaningful dialogue, protect Tibetan rights, and preserve their unique cultural, religious and linguistic identity.”

In the letter to President Obama, Congressman McGovern and House lawmakers call for:

· U.S. government officials to invite the Dalai Lama to every event, on every occasion, where his knowledge and decades of reflections would be helpful for addressing the world’s problems.

· U.S. government officials to facilitate the involvement of the Dalai Lama or his representatives in the global debate on climate change and its potential consequences given Tibet’s fragile environment, rapid warming, and critically important reserves of freshwater.

· The establishment of a U.S. consular office in Lhasa, Tibet to help the U.S. observe and address the obstacles to freedom of movement that affect both Tibetans within China, and U.S. citizens, including Tibetan-Americans, who seek to travel to Tibetan areas of China.

· The U.S. government to publicly support the right of the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet

· President Obama to publically and regularly call for the immediate and unconditional release of all Tibetan political prisoners held by the People’s Republic of China whose cases have been documented by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

· Support reciprocity legislation that would ensure that the senior Chinese officials responsible for the policy that restricts the access of U.S. officials, journalists, Tibetan-Americans and other citizens to Tibetan areas of the country are themselves restricted in their travel when they are in the United States.

Joining Congressman McGovern on the letter to President Obama were Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, as well as Representatives Betty McCollum (D-MN), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Tim Walz (D-MN), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Michael Capuano (D-MA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Richard Neal (D-MA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), David Cicilline (D-RI), Peter Welch (D-VT), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), John Garamendi (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), William Keating (D-MA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Nydia Velazquex (D-NY), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Gene Green (D-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Pedro Pierluisi (D-P.R.), Mark Takano (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Michael Honda (D-CA), Steve Israel (D-NY), Andre Carson (D-IN), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), John Yarmuth (D-KY), John Lewis (D-GA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Mark Desaulnier (CA), Jerry McNerney (CA), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), Danny Davis (D-IL), Donald Beyer (D-VA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Keith Ellison (D-MN), John Larson (D-CT), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Sander Levin (D-MI), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Ann Kuster (D-NH), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Juan Vargas (D-CA).

The full text of the letter is below:

August 17, 2016

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

In June, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Washington. Prior to his meeting with you, he came to Capitol Hill, where he spoke of his genuine friendship with Members of Congress, thanked the United States for its staunch support for Tibet over many decades, and described America as the leading nation in the free world. It was an honor and a pleasure to be in his company, but his visit was also a reminder of how little progress has been made in addressing the grievances of the Tibetan people. It is for this reason that we write to ask that you redouble efforts in support of the Tibetan people during your remaining months in office.

Since the 1980s, the Congress has often spoken out for the Tibetan people. The purpose of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 (TPA), the principal legislation guiding U.S. policy toward Tibet, is “to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity” through substantive dialogue between the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Dalai Lama or his representatives. The position of Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues established by the TPA is called upon to “vigorously promote the policy of seeking to protect the distinct religious, cultural, linguistic, and national identity of Tibet,” and to press for “improved respect for human rights.” Last summer, the Congress passed House Resolution 337, which recognized the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday and reaffirmed the TPA policy framework, calling on the U.S. government to redouble its efforts to encourage substantive dialogue, stalled since 2010, and to oppose PRC interference in the reincarnation process.

The State Department’s next annual report to the Congress on Tibet negotiations in the framework of the TPA is due shortly. But unfortunately, we can already anticipate the content: meetings and conversations will have been held, including your June meeting with the Dalai Lama, high-level public and private statements will have been made, and note may be taken of State Department reports that document the human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China. But in the end, the dialogue will not have resumed and no concrete achievements will be identified.
We understand that it is the government of the PRC, not that of the United States, that is the principle obstacle to progress on redressing the grievances of the Tibetan people. But as the Dalai Lama celebrates his 81st birthday, our concern about the future is growing.
During his meetings on the Hill, His Holiness recalled the Tibetan commitment to non-violence and reiterated that his people are seeking autonomy within, not independence from, China. He emphasized that the philosophy underpinning Tibetan Buddhism has much to offer China and the world, and spoke at length about the global environmental importance of the Tibetan plateau. He contrasted the democratic practices of the Tibetan people with the wartime mentality and the immense corruption that have infected China’s approach to governance. We believe his words suggest new opportunities that could be pursued within the framework of the TPA.

First, the U.S. government should invite the Dalai Lama to every event, on every occasion, where his knowledge and decades of reflections would be helpful for addressing the world’s problems. The Dalai Lama is a world spiritual and philosophical leader who is well-positioned to contribute to global debates on religious tolerance and countering violent extremism, on the conceptual foundations and uses of non-violence, and on building peace in war-torn countries, among other topics. Tibetan Buddhists should be included in U.S.-supported initiatives to foster cross-cultural understanding and tolerance.

Second, the U.S. government should facilitate the involvement of the Dalai Lama or his representatives in the global debate on climate change and its potential consequences. Climate change, one of the few topics on which the U.S. and China have found common ground, is of great concern for Tibet, given its fragile environment, rapid warming, and critically important reserves of freshwater. For its part, the Chinese leadership has acknowledged at the highest levels the scale of the environmental crisis it faces. Conserving the Tibetan plateau is surely a shared interest, one that can only be achieved with the full participation of the Tibetan people within and outside China… the transnational democratic experience of the Central Tibet Administration (CTA) should be highlighted in U.S. government initiatives that promote democratic governance

Third, the transnational democratic experience of the Central Tibet Administration (CTA) should be highlighted in U.S. government initiatives that promote democratic governance. The CTA’s recent elections, in which Dr. Lobsang Sangay was reelected as Sikyong and the 45-member Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies was selected, were carried out over several months in more than 30 countries with the participation of tens of thousands of people. This electoral process stands in sharp contrast to China’s authoritarian practices and offers an interesting, innovative model in an increasingly globalized world.

Mr. President, we welcome your expressions of support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions, and the equal protection of human rights of Tibetans in China, and your recognition of Dalai Lama’s efforts to raise awareness of the importance of limiting global warming, including protecting the Himalayan glaciers and environment on the Tibetan plateau. But we believe it is critically important to move beyond words to actions.

Initiatives like those we have described that underscore the relevance of the Tibetan experience for world affairs should complement renewed and more robust efforts to fully implement the TPA. In this regard, we strongly encourage your Administration, during the remaining months of your term in office, to focus on establishing a consular office in Lhasa. Such a presence is critical for observing and addressing the obstacles to freedom of movement that affect both Tibetans within China, and U.S. citizens, including Tibetan-Americans, who seek to travel to Tibetan areas of China.

As you are surely aware, although the U.S. government allows journalists and other citizens of the PRC to travel freely within the United States, the Chinese government restricts the access of U.S. officials, journalists, Tibetan-Americans and other citizens to Tibetan areas of the country. Legislation pending in Congress would address this problem by making those senior Chinese officials responsible for the policy ineligible to receive visas to enter the United States, on the premise that reciprocity forms the basis of diplomatic engagement between countries. Pending passage of such legislation, nothing precludes your Administration from implementing a policy of reciprocity now, or tying Chinese access to United States territory to the opening of a consular presence in Lhasa.

In addition, the U.S. government should publicly support the right of the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which China voted for in 1948, everyone has the right to leave and return to his own country.

Finally, we strongly urge you to publically and regularly call for the immediate and unconditional release of all Tibetan political prisoners held by the PRC whose cases have been documented by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Mr. President, the Tibetan people view the United States as their friend. It is time to honor that friendship with new, creative strategies to encourage meaningful dialogue, protect Tibetan rights, and preserve their unique cultural, religious and linguistic identity. We respectfully request that you exercise your leadership on this matter.

House Members call on Speaker Ryan, once again, to hold War Debate

U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern, Barbara Lee, Walter Jones, Adam Schiff, Peter Welch and 20 other Members of Congress yesterday sent a bipartisan letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan calling for a debate and vote on the year-plus, multi-billion dollar war raging in the Middle East.
 
“In November, a bipartisan group of 35 House lawmakers urged Speaker Ryan to bring an AUMF to the House floor for a debate and vote. We were pleased to hear Speaker Ryan include this as a priority for 2016. Today, I join with my colleagues in calling on him to deliver on that promise,” Congressman Jim McGovern said. “Americans deserve a Congress that will honor its constitutional responsibility when it comes to war and authorizing military force. Our brave men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.”
 
The letter, addressed to Speaker Ryan, cites language included in the omnibus spending bill that finds “Congress has a constitutional duty to debate and determine whether or not to authorize the use of military force against ISIL.”
 
In the State of the Union, President Obama renewed his call for a Congressional debate on the AUMF. He said, “If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote.”
 
“Tomorrow will mark one year since President Obama sent Congress a draft AUMF. Over the last 365 days, it has sat on the Speaker’s desk while our nation has become increasingly more embroiled in yet another costly and endless war in the Middle East,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA). “The Constitution is clear: Congress has a responsibility to debate and vote on matters of war and peace. The American people deserve better than a Congress that abdicates this sacred responsibility.”
 
“For 15 years, the American people have felt the cost and pain of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have spent over $1.5 trillion and lost over 6,800 brave men and women. ISIL is a new and distinct threat, and the American people expect Congress to meet its constitutional responsibility to have a debate and a vote on whether yet another war is worth the grave cost,” said Congressman Jones (R-NC).
 
“Nearly 18 months into the military operation against ISIS, and a year since the President submitted a draft Authorization for Use of Military Force, Congress continues to abdicate its responsibility to consider a new AUMF to authorize the war against ISIS,” said Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), Ranking Member on the House Intelligence Committee. “There are a variety of different approaches and ideas to authorize the campaign against ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban, and Congressional leadership must allow a full and open debate and vote on the matter. The power to declare war is one of Congress most solemn responsibilities and if our troops are willing to do their jobs — and they are — Congress should have the guts to do its job.”
 
“The Constitution is clear. It is the responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force. Yet, since military operations against ISIL began in August 2014, Congress has been absent.” Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) said. “It’s inexcusable. A service member has died. Taxpayers have spent more than $5.8 billion on airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Speaker Ryan acknowledged that a declaration of war is the responsibility of Congress. He is right. It’s time for Congress to debate and vote on America’s strategy to defeat of ISIL.”
 
**********
 
Full text of the letter is below:
 
February 10, 2016
 
The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
H-232, U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515
 
Dear Speaker Ryan:
 
We write to follow up on our request that you bring before the House a formal authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Daesh.
 
We commend your statements in December 2015 in support of updating an AUMF to reflect U.S. efforts against ISIL in Iraq and Syria and agree with your statement that “Congress is the one who declares war. This is Congress’ responsibility.” Further, we appreciate your recent efforts to explore support within your Caucus for a debate and a vote on an ISIL-AUMF.
 
While members may have differing views on the scope of a new authorization for the use of military force, we can all agree that Congress has a Constitutional duty to debate and declare war. Indeed, the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill included Sense of Congress language adopted on a bipartisan basis in the House Appropriations Committee stating that:
 
(A)  Congress finds that –

(1)   The United States has been engaged in military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for more than 8 months;

(2)   President Obama submitted an authorization for the use of military force against ISIL in February 2015; and

(3)   Under article 1, section 8 of the Constitution, Congress has the authority to “declare war.”

(b) Therefore, Congress has a constitutional duty to debate and determine whether or not to authorize the use of military force against ISIL.
 
Congress cannot continue to abdicate its constitutional authority to authorize military action abroad. We stand ready to work with you to prioritize the consideration of an authorization for the use of military force against ISIL before the House as soon as possible.
 
Sincerely,

HRC announces endorsement of Carl Sciortino for Congress

Sciortino a leader in the fight for LGBT equality

Washington – This week the Human Rights Campaign – the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization – announced the endorsement of Massachusetts state Representative Carl Sciortino running for the U.S. House in Massachusetts’ 5th District. Sciortino has been a leading voice on LGBT equality, and he authored the bill that added gender identity and expression to the state’s employment, housing and hate crimes laws in 2012. Carl’s hard work and tenacity are key reasons the bill finally became law.

During the first legislative battles to roll back marriage equality in Massachusetts—the first state to recognize such unions legally—Carl Sciortino’s election to and leadership in the legislature were key reasons why marriage equality remains the law of the land in the Bay State. Sciortino, who is openly gay, was first elected to the state House in 2004 by defeating a Democrat in the primary who opposed marriage equality; prior to that Carl worked at Fenway Health, one of New England’s leading HIV/AIDS organizations.

“Carl Sciortino is a proven leader who will be an effective advocate for equality in Congress. His leadership has shown that he will stand up for all Americans and ensure that all of his constituents are accepted and welcomed as part of the American family,” said Marty Rouse, HRC’s National Field Director and the former campaign director of MassEquality.

“I first ran for office at the height of the marriage debates in Massachusetts in 2004, and beat an anti-equality incumbent in the Primary,” said Sciortino. “In the state legislature I fought to kill the gay marriage ban, authored the Transgender Equal Rights law, and am running to continue the fight in Congress. I am proud to have the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign which shares the same values on these important issues.”

Carl Sciortino has served in the Massachusetts state legislator nine years, and currently lives in Medford with his partner, Pem. He is running for the House seat vacated by Rep. Ed Markey, who will be sworn in as the next U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and is another committed supporter of LGBT equality. The election will be held this fall.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

HOME OF THE BRAVE

By Edith Morgan

We all have an opinion about weapons: How many, what type, who should have them, where to use them, etc. Our country is awash in guns, assault weapons, and ammunition. Our movies and television programs extol weapon-wielding “heroes” who are presented to our children as the “good guys.” Many of grew up to believe that these brave heroes solve their (and our) problems by shooting the bad guys and thus making us safe. But do we actually feel safer? Do all the motion detectors, alarms, guns under pillows and in drawers, foot patrols, surveillance cameras, deadbolts, and the myriad other defensive devices really make us feel safer?  How much more “protection will we need to feel safe?

Perhaps our problem lies in our definition of “Safe.” Cowards are always afraid. Brave people much less so. The persons who will go down in history as having accomplished great things and influenced millions to do better, have stood up UNARMED , against well-armed enemies, and won. Think of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Moses, Jesus, Buddha – and numerous others like them.

Much closer to home, we all know real ”heroes and heroines” who took risks , and unarmed, convinced others to follow their better selves.

For example: her home never had a weapon in it; but when a young Nazi lieutenant came to her door in the middle  of the night to arrest her husband, she had the courage to demand to see the paperwork, and asked the name of his commanding officer. The young recruit, unaccustomed to being questioned, retreated to get the paperwork, giving the family time to get help and make plans. That same woman, on vacation in Paris, walked up to a group of young American students in the hotel lobby where she and her husband were staying, and asked them to take their feet off the glass-topped table, then proceeded to lecture them on how to behave as representatives of their mutual country, America. Back home, this remarkable lady, while on her daily walk with her husband, found their way obstructed by a group  of teenagers loitering on the corner. She marched up to the group and asked them to make way on the public sidewalk so she and her husband could pass. Miraculously, they did. That woman was my mother – who saved our family many times during the difficult days of WW II.

If we look around our neighborhood, I think we could find people who display that kind of bravery every day: parents, teachers, friends, neighbors – who stand up for what is right, armed only with the courage of their convictions, They should be the real heroes to whom we pay homage. And sometimes, we are smart enough to elect such a person to represent us – a person who speaks truth to power again and again, does not enrich himself at our expense, and bravely forges on despite the odds.

 

 

America, you must not look away (How to finish off the NRA)

By Michael Moore, filmmaker

The year was 1955. Emmett Till was a young African American boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi. One day Emmett was seen “flirting” with a white woman in town, and for that he was mutilated and murdered at the age of fourteen. He was found with part of a cotton gin tied around his neck with a string of barbed wire. His killers, two white men, had shot him in the head before they dumped him in the river.

Emmett Till’s body was found and returned to Chicago. To the shock of many, his mother insisted on an open casket at his funeral so that the public could see what happens to a little boy’s body when bigots decide he is less than human. She wanted photographers to take pictures of her mutilated son and freely publish them. More than 10,000 mourners came to the funeral home, and the photo of Emmett Till appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation.

“I just wanted the world to see,” she said. “I just wanted the world to see.”

The world did see, and nothing was ever the same again for the white supremacists of the United States of America. Because of Emmett Till, because of that shocking photograph of this little dead boy, just a few months later, “the revolt officially began on December 1, 1955” (from Eyes on the Prize) when Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The historic bus boycott began and, with the images of Emmett Till still fresh in the minds of many Americans, there was no turning back.

In March of 1965, the police of Selma, Alabama, brutally beat, hosed and tear-gassed a group of African Americans for simply trying to cross a bridge during a protest march. The nation was shocked by images of blacks viciously maimed and injured. So, too, was the President. Just one week later, Lyndon Johnson called for a gathering of the U.S. Congress and he went and stood before them in joint session and told them to pass a bill he was introducing that night – the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And, just five months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

In March, 1968, U.S. soldiers massacred 500 civilians at My Lai in Vietnam. A year and a half later, the world finally saw the photographs – of mounds of dead peasants covered in blood, a terrified toddler seconds before he was gunned down, and a woman with her brains literally blown out of her head. (These photos would join other Vietnam War photos, including a naked girl burned by napalm running down the road, and a South Vietnamese general walking up to a handcuffed suspect, taking out his handgun, and blowing the guy’s brains out on the NBC Nightly News.)

With this avalanche of horrid images, the American public turned against the Vietnam War. Our realization of what we were capable of rattled us so deeply it became very hard for future presidents (until George W. Bush) to outright invade a sovereign nation and go to war there for a decade.

Bush was able to pull it off because his handlers, Misters Cheney and Rumsfeld, knew that the most important thing to do from the get-go was to control the images of the war, to guarantee that nothing like a My Lai-style photograph ever appeared in the U.S. press.

And that is why you never see a picture any more of the kind of death and destruction that might make you get up off your couch and run out of the house screaming bloody murder at those responsible for these atrocities.

That is why now, after the children’s massacre in Newtown, the absolute last thing the National Rifle Association wants out there in the public domain is ANY images of what happened that tragic day.

But I have a prediction. I believe someone in Newtown, Connecticut – a grieving parent, an upset law enforcement officer, a citizen who has seen enough of this carnage in our country – somebody, someday soon, is going to leak the crime scene photos of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. And when the American people see what bullets from an assault rifle fired at close range do to a little child’s body, that’s the day the jig will be up for the NRA. It will be the day the debate on gun control will come to an end. There will be nothing left to argue over. It will just be over. And every sane American will demand action.

Of course, there will be a sanctimonious hue and cry from the pundits who will decry the publication of these gruesome pictures. Those who do publish or post them will be called “shameful” and “disgraceful” and “sick.” How could a media outlet be so insensitive to the families of the dead children! Someone will then start a boycott of the magazine or website that publishes them.

But this will be a false outrage. Because the real truth is this: We do not want to be confronted with what the actual results of a violent society looks like. Of what a society that starts illegal wars, that executes criminals (or supposed criminals), that strikes or beats one of its women every 15 seconds, and shoots 30 of its own citizens every single day looks like. Oh, no, please – DO NOT MAKE US LOOK AT THAT!

Because if we were to seriously look at the 20 slaughtered children – I mean really look at them, with their bodies blown apart, many of them so unrecognizable the only way their parents could identify them was by the clothes they were wearing – what would be our excuse not to act? Now. Right now. This very instant! How on earth could anyone not spring into action the very next moment after seeing the bullet-riddled bodies of these little boys and girls?

We don’t know exactly what those Newtown photographs show. But I want you – yes, you, the person reading this right now – to think about what we do know:

The six-year and seven-year-old children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School were each hit up to eleven times by a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The muzzle velocity of a rifle like the AR-15 is about three times that of a handgun. And because the kinetic energy of a bullet equals one-half of the bullet’s mass multiplied by its velocity squared, the potential destructive power of a bullet fired from a rifle is about nine times more than that of a similar bullet fired from a handgun.

Nine times more. I spoke to Dr. Victor Weedn, chairman of the Department of Forensic Sciences at George Washington University, who told me that chest x-rays of a person shot with a rifle will often look like a “snowstorm” because their bones will have been shattered into fragments. This happens not just because of the bullet’s direct impact, but because each bullet sends a shock wave through the body’s soft organs – one so powerful it can break bones even when the bullet didn’t hit them. A video here shows what the shock wave looks like in the “ballistic gelatin” used by experts to simulate human tissue. (Would Gabby Giffords have survived if shot by a rifle rather than a Glock pistol? Probably not, says Dr. Weedn; the shock wave would have damaged the most critical parts of her brain.)

As horrifying as this is, there’s more; much more. Dr. Cyril Wecht, past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, told me this:

The kind of ammunition used by the Newtown killer would have produced very extensive, severe and mutilating injuries of the head and face in these small victims. Depending on the number of shots striking a child’s head, substantial portions of the head would be literally blasted away. The underlying brain tissue would be extensively lacerated with portions of hemorrhagic brain tissue protruding through the fractured calvarium and basilar skull, some of which would remain on portions of the face…actual physical identification of each child would have been extremely difficult, and in many instances impossible, even by the parents of any particular child.

We also know this, according to Dr. Wecht:

In one case, the parents have commented publicly upon the damage to their child, reporting that his chin and left hand were missing. Most probably, this child had brought his hand up to his face in shock and for protection and had the hand blasted away along with the lower part of his face.

Veronique Pozner, the mother of Noah, the six-year-old boy described by Dr. Wecht, insisted that the Governor of Connecticut look at Noah in an open casket. “I needed it to be real to him,” she said. The Governor wept.

The pictures showing all this exist right now, somewhere in the police and medical examiner’s files in Connecticut. And as of right now, we’ve somehow all decided together that we don’t need to look, that in some way we’re okay with what’s in those pictures (after all, over 2,600 Americans have been killed by guns since Newtown) – just as long as we don’t have to look at the pictures ourselves.

But I am telling you now, that moment will come with the Newtown photos – and you will have to look. You will have to look at who and what we are, and what we’ve allowed to happen. At the end of World War II, General Eisenhower ordered that thousands of German civilians be forced to march through the concentration camps so they could witness what was happening just down the road from them during the years that they turned their gaze away, or didn’t ask, or didn’t do anything to stop the murder of millions.

We’ve done nothing since Columbine – nothing – and as a result there have been over 30 other mass shootings since then. Our inaction means that we are all, on some level, responsible – and therefore, because of our burying our heads in the sand, we must be forced to look at the 20 dead children at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The people we’ve voted for since Columbine – with the exception of Michael Bloomberg – almost none of them, Democrat or Republican, dared to speak out against the NRA before Newtown – and yet we, the people, continued to vote for them. And for that we are responsible, and that is why we must look at the 20 dead children.

Most of us continue to say we “support the Second Amendment” as if it were written by God (or we’re just afraid of being seen as anti-American). But this amendment was written by the same white men who thought a Negro was only 3/5 human. We’ve done nothing to revise or repeal this – and that makes us responsible, and that is why we must look at the pictures of the 20 dead children laying with what’s left of their bodies on the classroom floor in Newtown, Connecticut.

And while you’re looking at the heinous photographs, try saying those words out loud: “I support the Second Amendment!” Something, I’m guessing, won’t feel right.

Yes, someday a Sandy Hook mother – or a Columbine mother, or an Aurora mother, or a mother from massacres yet to come – will say, like the mother of Emmett Till, “I just want the world to see.” And then nothing about guns in this country will ever be the same again.

Pack your bags, NRA – you’re about to be shown the door. Because we refuse to let another child die in this manner. Got it? I hope so.

All you can do now is hope no one releases those photos.