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‘The Responsible Left': Funding Obama’s Expanding Wars June 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Published on Thursday, June 18, 2009 by RebelReports

The cowardly Democrats who checked their spines at the door to Congress when they voted Tuesday try to defend their flip-flop on war funding. Frankly, it is embarrassing.

by Jeremy Scahill

Over the past few days, we reported on how the White House and Democratic Congressional Leadership waged a dirty campaign to scare up votes to support another $106 billion in funds for their wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, several of the so-called anti-war Democrats who left their principles at the House coat check on their way in to vote Tuesday are trying to explain away their hypocritical votes.

New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, who voted against the war funding in May—when it didn’t matter—only to vote Tuesday with the pro-war Dems, sounded like an imbecile when he made this statement after the vote: “We are in the process of wrapping up the wars. The president needed our support.” What planet is Weiner living on? “Wrapping up the wars?” Last time I checked, there are 21,000 more US troops heading to Afghanistan alongside a surge in contractors there, including a 29% increase in armed contractors. Does Weiner think the $106 billion in war funding he voted for is going to pay for one way tickets home for the troops? What he voted for was certainly not the “Demolition of the 80 Football-field-size US Embassy in Baghdad Act of 2009.” To cap off this idiocy, Weiner basically admitted he is a fraud when he said the bill he voted in favor of “still sucks.”

Jan Schakowsky, who has done some incredibly important work on Blackwater and the privatized war machine, also voted against the supplemental in May, but switched her vote on Tuesday. “I do believe my president is a peacemaker,” Schakowsky said. “I’m going to give him what he wants.” A peacemaker who is expanding war? Moreover, what happened to the system of “checks and balances?” If Congressmembers, especially anti-war ones like Schakowsky, start just giving the president “what he wants,” then where is the peoples’ voice?

How are these people sleeping at night?Obviously these folks are partisans or else they wouldn’t be Democrats, but this “Dear Leader knows best” mentality is cultish. Republican Rep. Ron Paul, who, whatever one thinks of him, has been consistently opposed to these wars, put it best when he rose on the floor Tuesday to speak against the war funding: “I wonder what happened to all of my colleagues who said they were opposed to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wonder what happened to my colleagues who voted with me as I opposed every war supplemental request under the previous administration. It seems, with very few exceptions, they have changed their position on the war now that the White House has changed hands.”

One “anonymous” Massachusetts lawmaker told Politico that those Democrats who voted for the war funding and IMF credits are “what we call the responsible left.” Barney Frank, another flip-flopper on war funding, compared the anti-war left to the Rush Limbaugh right-wing, saying, “They have no sense of reality.” Perhaps Rep. Frank should ask the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who lobbied intensely against the war funding he supported if they have “no sense of reality.”

As previously discussed, this vote was a crucial test—because the White House and pro-war Democrats actually needed to get some ‘anti-war’ legislators to vote with them or the bill would have failed—in determining which Democrats have a spine when it comes to standing up to the war and which are just party operatives with their principles and votes up for political bidding.

While the White House reportedly told some Democrats who voted against the war, “you’ll never hear from us again,” Obama has made it a point this week to intervene to defend those hypocritical “anti-war” legislators who voted with him. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn was one of the 51 Democrats who voted against the funding in May and then consciously misplaced his principles Tuesday. Cohen was targeted for his hypocrisy by activists, spurring President Obama to issue a statement to local media in his district praising Cohen:

The White House Press Office called the Washington bureau of The Commercial Appeal late Wednesday afternoon offering the statement after anti-war liberals across the country derided Cohen as a “fraud” and one who deserved a place in the “Hall of Shame.”

“Congressman Cohen is a leader in the United States Congress and a strong voice for the people of Tennessee,” Obama’s statement declared, adding that Cohen’s vote will “ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to protect our country.”

What is particularly telling is how Cohen doesn’t even pretend his vote had anything to do with principle or representing his constituents. It was simple partisanship. “Maybe [Obama] just wanted to respond to people who helped him,” Cohen said. “Yes, I was surprised but I’ve been in the president’s corner on several occasions and it’s good to have him in my corner.”

All of this sounds, frankly, corrupt. Instead of using cold hard cash, the White House threatens to pull the rug from under dissenting legislators and offers its support to those who cede their conscience to the president’s agenda. So much for change.

This spending bill is likely to sail through the Senate where there is no group even vaguely resembling the ever-shrinking anti-war crowd in the House. Once again, here are the Democrats who turned their backs on their pledges to vote against this war funding:

Yvette Clarke, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, Jerry Costello, Barney Frank, Luis Gutierrez, Jay Inslee, Steve Kagen, Edward Markey, Doris Matsui, Jim McDermott, George Miller, Grace Napolitano, Richard Neal (MA), James Oberstar, Jan Schakowsky, Mike Thompson, Edolphus Towns, Nydia Velázquez, and Anthony Weiner.

 

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Subprime Prosecution Stops Foreclosures But Lets Goldman Sachs Off Hook May 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Housing/Homelessness.
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(Roger’s note: read this then tell me why the Bailout funds could not be used to help homeowners pay subprime mortgages so that the Attorney General could pursue criminal charges against Goldman Sachs for the sake of justice and future deterrence; instead of letting Goldman Sachs get away with breaking the law with impunity and buy their way out with the taxpayers dollars.  I am guessing that the Massachusetts AG is taking her cue from Barack Obama and his AG, Eric Holder, who would rather “reconcile” and “look forward” rather than comply with their oaths of office to defend and uphold the U.S. Constitution.)

Ryan Grim, www.huffingtonpost.com, May 12, 2009

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley won a victory against the Goldman Sachs Group Monday, forcing the financial firm to cut a $10 million check to the state and pony up $50 million to help around 700 homeowners pay subprime mortgages.

“Goldman Sachs is pleased to have resolved this matter,” says Michael DuVally, a Goldman spokesman, declining to comment further.

They were also pleased, no doubt, by the terms in the settlement that allowed Goldman to avoid admitting any wrongdoing. Letting Goldman off excuses what could have been criminal behavior, but it also brings relief to hundreds of homeowners and offers a roadmap to some sort of law-enforcement-driven solution where lawmakers have come up short.

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said he wouldn’t “second guess” Coakley’s decision to settle short of criminal convictions. “I don’t know what other avenues she had available, but I will say this: Getting significant relief for 700 people is very important, both for them and for the economy. Now, that’s a legitimate consideration in getting it done more quickly than waiting for a couple years to go through the criminal procedure,” he tells the Huffington Post.

Rep. Bill Delahunt was a Massachusetts District Attorney for 23 years. He said balancing immediate justice for victims with bringing the white-collar criminals to justice can be difficult.

“You almost have to judge those on an ad hoc basis. There’s no formula,” he says in general, adding that he didn’t know enough about Coakley’s investigation to comment on her specific course of action.

“Clearly, there’s a preference to pursue them criminally because I think that creates deterrence,” he says. “You know, it’s difficult to deter a kid who’s going to rob a 7-11 store for 25 bucks but for people who are purportedly educated, or at least sophisticated, who defraud others, they’re more susceptible to being deterred.”

But the most sophisticated they are, the more they can drag out a prosecution. By the time they’re found guilty, half the victims may be out on the street, their homes foreclosed.

“It’s not always a perfect world and you can’t always secure the perfect justice,” says Delahunt. “It would appear that our attorney general did some good work that resulted in a very significant sum of money for redress by their behavior.”

Frank agrees. “I can’t tell exactly what the considerations were, but I’m inclined to think the value of getting immediate relief for 700 people and saving their homes, yeah, I’d trade off a little for that,” he says.

Goldman Sachs was not accused of originating the subprime loans in question, but rather investigated for facilitating the process by buying them and bundling them into securities without regard to whether the borrowers would be able to pay them back — or whether the borrowers or originators had followed reasonable lending practices or filed the appropriate paperwork.

“We will continue to investigate the deceptive marketing of unfair loans and the companies that facilitated the sale of those loans to consumers in the Commonwealth,” Coakley said in a statement. (Coakley’s press office did not return a call.)

The state attorney general’s office has previously pulled in more than $75 million from settlements with UBS, Morgan Stanley, Citibank, and Merrill Lynch, all related to the financial crisis.

But the U.S. attorney general would have a hard time making a similar case nationally. Coakely relied on stricter rules on subprime lenders who make “unfair” loans under state law.

Congressional Democrats hope to give the federal government the power some states now have. Last week, the House passed anti-predatory lending legislation that Coakley helped Frank’s committee draft.

“What we do in our bill is to go beyond any set of state laws,” says Frank, citing a requirement that five percent of the loan portfolio be kept by the company that originates the loan. Having that amount of skin in the game, he hopes, will persuade a lender to take a loan seriously.

The bill is now, like much else, stalled in the Senate.

Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) says that subprime lending reform is a lesser priority because the credit freeze has inadvertently dried up the business.

“That’s true right now but we cannot count on that being true forever,” says Frank. “You couldn’t count on getting a non-predatory loan a little while ago and it is true that the freeze has helped some. That’s true in some other areas as well. There aren’t a lot of credit default swaps being written.”

But, says Frank, the financial industry won’t have forgotten how to write a bad loan once the market thaws.

“It is important to get laws on the books, because this de facto moratorium isn’t going to last forever,” he says.

Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America

How Many Democrats Will Stand Up to Obama’s Bloated Military Budget and $75 Billion More in War Spending? April 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Obama wants billions more for the Iraq/Afghanistan wars on top of a US military budget that already surpasses Bush-era spending by $21 billion. Where is the resistance?

by Jeremy Scahill

Much of the media attention this week on President Obama’s new military budget has put forward a false narrative wherein Obama is somehow taking his socialist/pacifist sledgehammer to the Pentagon’s war machine and blasting it to smithereens. Republicans have charged that Obama is endangering the country’s security, while the Democratic leadership has hailed it as the dawn of a new era in responsible spending priorities. Part of this narrative portrays Defense Secretary Robert Gates as standing up to the war industry, particularly military contractors.

The reality is that all of this is false.

Here is an undeniable fact: Obama is substantially increasing US military spending, by at least $21 billion from Bush-era levels, including a significant ratcheting up of Afghanistan war spending, as well as more money for unmanned attack drones, which are increasingly being used in attacks on Pakistan. (David Swanson over at AfterDowningStreet.org does a great job of breaking down some of the media coverage of this issue across the political spectrum).

Obama’s budget of $534 billion to the Department of Defense “represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010,” bragged Lawrence Korb, author of the Center for American Progress‘ report supporting Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, in an article called, ” Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target.”

Obama and his neoliberal think tankers clearly didn’t think much of Rep. Barney Frank’s call earlier this year to cut military spending by 25% to pay for urgently needed social programs and economic aid to struggling Americans. “To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit,” Frank said, Obama needed to reduce military spending. “If we do not get military spending under control, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs.” Well, not only is overall military spending on the rise, but Obama is about to ask for billions more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a “supplemental” spending bill, the type which were staples in Bush’s campaign to mask of the full military budget and total cost of the wars. Obama could seek the funding as early as Thursday.

Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that we may actually see some spine coming from Congress in standing up to Obama’s request for this additional $75.5 billion in war funds. The WSJ characterized the situation as one of “raising tensions” between Obama and some lawmakers opposed to the wars. It should be noted off-the-bat that the Congresspeople speaking out are, predictably, members of the usual suspects club and the Democratic leadership is probably at this moment sharing cocktails in the backroom with McCain and McConnell, but, nonetheless, it is worth examining what is being said:

“I can’t imagine any way I’d vote for it,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat and leader in the 77-member congressional Progressive Caucus. It would be her first major break with this White House.Ms. Woolsey fears the president’s plan for Iraq would leave behind a big occupation force. She is also concerned about the planned escalation in Afghanistan. “I don’t think we should be going there,” she said.

Similar sentiments echo across the House. Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said he fears Afghanistan could become a quagmire. “I just have this sinking feeling that we’re getting deeper and deeper into a war that has no end,” he said.

Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama’s plans as “embarrassingly naive,” and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him. “He’s the smartest man in American politics today,” Rep. Conyers said. “But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances.”

Obama has vowed to break with the Bush-era tradition of seeking such supplementals to fund the war, saying that beginning in 2010 he will fund the wars as part of his overall budget. The anti-war caucus of Democrats is unlikely to have enough votes to block it given the increasingly overt pro-war nature of the Democratic leadership. And, as the WSJ notes, the funding bills are likely to pass “since many Republicans will support them.”

An interesting point nestled half-way through the WSJ piece illustrates a point some antiwar activists have been making since Obama’s election-he is likely to win increased support from Democratic lawmakers for wars they may not have supported when Bush was in power:

The president argues that Afghanistan has been neglected, allowing al Qaeda to regroup and exposing the U.S. to new dangers.Rep. John Larson (D., Conn.) suggests Democrats may be less inclined to joust with the current White House on the issue than they were with former President George W. Bush. “We have somebody that Democrats feel will level with them,” said Mr. Larson, the House’s fourth-ranking Democrat.

This truly is one of the most important trends to watch with the Obama presidency, particularly as it relates to war policy. Obama is in a position to greatly advance the interests of empire, precisely because he is able to build much wider support for policies that are essentially a continuation of those implemented by Bush.

 

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Lawmaker says `no’ to Rev. Warren at inauguration December 21, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
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AP, December 21, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first openly gay member of Congress said Sunday it was a mistake for President-elect Barack Obama to invite the Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration.

“Mr. Warren compared same-sex couples to incest. I found that deeply offensive and unfair,” Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said in a broadcast interview.

“If he was inviting the Rev. Warren to participate in a forum and to make a speech, that would be a good thing,” Frank said. “But being singled out to give the prayer at the inauguration is a high honor. It has traditionally given as a mark of great respect. And, yes, I think it was wrong to single him out for this mark of respect.”

Warren, a best-selling author and leader of a Southern California megachurch, is a popular evangelical who stresses the need for action on social issues such as reducing poverty and protecting the environment, alongside traditional theological themes.

But gay rights advocates, who strongly supported Obama during the election, are angry over Warren’s backing of a California ballot initiative banning gay marriage. That measure was approved by voters last month.

Although Warren has said that he has nothing personally against gays, he has condemned same-sex marriage.

“I have many gay friends. I’ve eaten dinner in gay homes. No church has probably done more for people with AIDS than Saddleback Church,” he said in a recent interview with BeliefNet. But later in the interview, he compared the “redefinition of marriage” to include gay marriage to legitimizing incest, child abuse, and polygamy.

Warren, in a speech on Saturday, said he took “enormous heat” three years ago for inviting Obama to speak at his church, even though the two men disagree on some issues. “Now he’s invited me,” Warren said.

Obama defended the selection of Warren last week, telling reporters that America needs to “come together,” even when there’s disagreement on social issues. “That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about,” he said.

Frank appeared on “Late Edition” on CNN.

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