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Like the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars? You’ll LOVE This! April 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War, War on Terror.
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Published on Thursday, April 28, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

by Tom Andrews

If you like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan then you’ll love what Senator John McCain and Congressman “Buck” McKeon, the new Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, are proposing: Congress should give the President and the Secretary of Defense a blank check to wage war against anyone he or she declares “associated” with al-Qaeda or the Taliban – anytime, anywhere, anyhow.  

Just what and who is an “associated force” of al Qaeda and the Taliban? Chairman McKeon’s bill leaves that determination entirely up to the Secretary of Defense. Shock and awe – the sequel – might not be far behind. And there would be no need to get authorization from Congress before the missiles start flying – that would all be covered in this new blank-check legislation.

What could be more efficient?!? No more messy Congressional authorization, with all of those hearings, debates and prolonged votes. No more having to deal with intruding Congressional inquiries! No more having to worry about the likes of Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) who insist on accountability by the administration and oversight by the Congress!

This is not a pipe dream. Legislation that will do what I have just described has not only been introduced in both the House (H.R. 968) and Senate (S. 551), it is likely to end up in the Defense Authorization bill that emerges from the House Armed Services Committee a few weeks from now. Those keeping score should note that the new authorization is:

•    Global in scope. With no geographic boundary, the Secretary of Defense could take America to war in any country in the world where a suspected terrorist resides;

•    Never ending. This language is open ended and doesn’t require the President to return to Congress for additional authority;

•    Divorced from national security concerns. Unlike the 2001 authorization passed days after the 9/11 attacks that ties the authority to use military force to a direct attack on America, this language is not linked to any attack or imminent threat to American citizens.

It is arguably the greatest ceding of unchecked authority to the Executive Branch in modern history. Not only would this bill abdicate Congress’ authority to declare war, it would relieve the Administration of the need to seek Congressional resolutions of support or authorizations for new military actions.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to providing a blank check for war, the proposed legislation would give the president dangerous new powers to detain anyone suspected of links to terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the legislation, titled the “Detainee Security Act of 2011”). It requires that all suspects be held by the military (unless the Defense Secretary grants a waiver), and either tried by military commission or held indefinitely. This provision alone diminishes the authority of law enforcement agencies integral to our anti-terror efforts, obstructs the counterterrorism operations of officials who have a record of successful intelligence gathering, overburdens the military with responsibilities it does not want, and limits the president’s options in defending America’s national security interests. Dozens of federal agencies with critical expertise would be prevented from participating in a review of whether suspects posed a threat to national security.

The odds of the Committee stripping any of this dangerous language from the bill before it hits the floor of the House are about as long as my being signed by my Boston Red Sox. House leadership is very likely to support their Chairman and push hard for passage on the floor. Passage of similar language in the Senate Armed Services Committee is not a sure bet, but it is a distinct possibility. While the Democrats hold a voting edge on the panel, one of those “edges” is none other than Senator Joe Lieberman – a Co-sponsor of the McCain version of the bill! That leaves Senator Ben Nelson as the swing vote, putting opponents of a blank check for endless war in a very precarious position at best.  If Senator Nelson votes for the bill, Senator McCain will have a victory in Committee and have plenty of momentum as the bill heads to the Senate floor.

But the first stop for the bill will be the House Armed Services Committee and then the House floor. It will begin to make its way in just a few weeks and a final floor vote will more than likely occur by Memorial Day.

Those who believe that this legislative attempt to grease the skids for the next US military adventure is outrageous and irresponsible need to worry. Better still, we need to get busy. Chairman McKeon’s legislation has so far been flying well below the radar of public attention. His bill is alive and well without a peep of public opposition or concern. This has to change now.

Take one minute right now and tell your Representative to oppose Chairman McKeon’s blank check for endless war.

Members of Congress need to start hearing from opponents of endless war and supporters of the U.S. Constitution. This tidy little provision – that heretofore has gone completely unnoticed by the public – should not be allowed to be tucked into a Defense Authorization bill without a fight. If there isn’t one, and Chairman McKeon and Senator McCain prevail, public opposition to any future US military action around the world won’t matter. It will have already been authorized by Congress.



Tom Andrews

Tom AndrCongressional District of Maine, is the National Director of Win Without War, a coalition of forty-two national membership organizations including the National ews, a former Member of Congress from the first Council of Churches, the NAACP, the National Organization of Women, the Sierra Club, and MoveOn.  He is also co-founder of New Security Action.






Mortgaging the White House May 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Finally, here we are at the end of this week of a hundred days. As everyone in the western world probably knows by now, this benchmark for assessing presidencies goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who arrived at the White House in the depths of the Great Depression.

In his first hundred days, FDR came out swinging. He shut down the banks, threw the money lenders from the temple, cranked out so much legislation so fast he would shout to his secretary, Grace Tully, “Grace, take a law!” Will Rogers said Congress didn’t pass bills anymore; it just waved as they went by.

President Obama’s been busy, but contrary to many of the pundits, he’s no FDR. Our new president got his political education in the world of Chicago ward politics, and seems to have adopted a strategy from the machine of that city’s longtime boss, the late Richard J. Daley, father of the current mayor there. “Don’t make no waves,” one of Daley’s henchmen used to advise, “don’t back no losers.”

Your opinion of Obama’s first 100 days depends of course on your own vantage point. But we’d argue that as part of his bending over backwards to support the banks and avoid the losers, he has blundered mightily in his choice of economic advisers.

Last week, at a hearing of the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) monitoring the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner tried to correct AFL-CIO General Counsel Damon Silvers. “I’ve practiced law and you’ve been a banker,” Silvers said. Never, Geithner replied, “I’ve only been in public service.”

We beg to differ. Read Jo Becker and Gretchen Morgenson’s front-page profile of Secretary Geithner in Monday’s New York Times, and you’ll see how Robert Rubin protégé Geithner, during the five years he was running the New York Federal Reserve, fell under the spell of the big barons of banking to whom he would one day help shovel overly generous sums of money at taxpayer expense.

During “an era of unbridled and ultimately disastrous risk-taking by the financial industry,” the Times reported, “… He forged unusually close relationships with executives of Wall Street’s giant financial institutions.

“His actions, as a regulator and later a bailout king, often aligned with the industry’s interests and desires, according to interviews with financiers, regulators and analysts and a review of Federal Reserve records.”

Wined and dined at the Four Seasons, and in corporate dining rooms and fine homes by the very men whose greed and judgment helped bring on the Great Collapse, Geithner became so much a favorite of the Club that former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill talked with him about becoming the bank’s CEO.

According to Becker and Morgenson, “Even as banks complain that the government has attached too many intrusive strings to its financial assistance, a range of critics — lawmakers, economists and even former Federal Reserve colleagues — say that the bailout Mr. Geithner has played such a central role in fashioning is overly generous to the financial industry at taxpayer expense.”

The two reporters write that Geithner “repeatedly missed or overlooked signs” that the financial system was self-destructing. “When he did spot trouble, analysts say, his responses were too measured, or too late.”

In choosing a man to manage the bailout of the banks who’s so cozy with its players, and then installing as his White House economic adviser Larry Summers, who in the Clinton administration took a laissez-faire attitude toward the financial industry which would later enrich him, the president bought into the old fantasy that what’s best for Wall Street is best for America.

With these two as his financial gatekeepers, President Obama’s now in the position of Louis XVI being advised by Marie Antoinette to have another piece of cake until that rumble in the streets has passed on by.

In fact, other Wall Street insiders — many of them big contributors to the Obama presidential campaign, and progressive in their concern for the public interest — privately are expressing serious concerns that Geithner, Summers and their associates are leading the president and America’s taxpayers down a path toward further economic disaster.

This week, as Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois unsuccessfully fought for a congressional amendment he said would have helped 1.7 million Americans save their homes from foreclosure, the senator told a radio station back home that, “The banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

He could say the same of the White House.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.

An Emerging Progressive Consensus on Obama’s Executive Power and Secrecy Abuses April 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Glenn Greenwald

“with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.”

In the last week alone, the Obama DOJ (a) attempted to shield Bush’s illegal spying programs from judicial review by (yet again) invoking the very “state secrets” argument that Democrats spent years condemning and by inventing a brand new “sovereign immunity” claim that not even the Bush administration espoused, and (b) argued that individuals abducted outside of Afghanistan by the U.S. and then “rendered” to and imprisoned in Bagram have no rights of any kind — not even to have a hearing to contest the accusations against them — even if they are not Afghans and were captured far away from any “battlefield.”  These were merely the latest — and among the most disturbing — in a string of episodes in which the Obama administration has explicitly claimed to possess the very presidential powers that Bush critics spent years condemning as radical, lawless and authoritarian.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for honest Obama supporters to dismiss away or even minimize these criticisms and, especially, to malign the motives of critics.  After all, the Obama DOJ’s embrace of many (though by no means all) of the most radical and extremist Bush/Cheney positions — and the contradictions between Obama’s campaign claims and his actions as President — are now so glaring and severe that the harshest denunciations of Obama’s actions are coming from those who, during the Bush years, were held up by liberals and by Obama supporters as the most trustworthy and praiseworthy authorities on these matters.  

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — which, to the cheers of liberals everywhere, was one of the nation’s most stalwart defenders against the Bush assault on core civil liberties — declared last week:  “In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush’s.”  On Tuesday night, Keith Olbermann began his show by announcing:  

President Obama‘s Justice Department now is not just defending Bush officials from lawsuits surrounding National Security Agency domestic spying, but seeking to expand the government’s authority by making it immune from any legal challenge regarding wiretapping — ever.

Olbermann went on to add that “the Obama administration is just flat-out dead wrong about this” and then contrasted Obama’s campaign statements on transparency with his conduct as President and concluded:  “That was then, this is now.”  Law Professor Jonathan Turley — who, as a regular on Olbermann’s show during the Bush years, was one of the single most-cited and praised sources by the netroots on matters of executive authority — said that Bush officials should wave a “Mission Accomplished” banner because they “have Barack Obama adopting the same extremist arguments and, in fact, exceeding the extremist arguments made by President Bush.”

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo surveyed a panel of experts last week — including one from Center for American Progress, headed by Obama transition chief John Podesta — to ask and answer these questions about Obama’s argument in the illegal surveillance cases:

Does it represent a continuation of the Bushies’ obsession with putting secrecy and executive power above basic constitutional rights? Is it a sweeping power grab by the executive branch, that sets set a broad and dangerous precedent for future cases by asserting that the government has the right to get lawsuits dismissed merely by claiming that state secrets are at stake, without giving judges any discretion whatsoever?

In a word, yes.

Sen. Russ Feingold — probably the single most praised liberal politician of the last eight years — declared himself “troubled” by the Obama administration’s conduct on secrecy and illegal surveillance and said he would seek to enact legislation to limit Obama’s powers as soon as possible.  Nancy Pelosi vowed Congressional action to limit the Obama DOJ’s position, proclaiming:  “we can never have a repetition of what was done under the Bush administration or a continuation of that.”  

When asked about investigations of Bush crimes, Pelosi also said “we have a little bit of difference of opinion between the White House and the Congress” because the White House “wants to go forward” (Beltway code for allowing Bush crimes to go uninvestigated and unpunished) whereas Congressional Democrats “believe that we have to take a look at what happened[, since] there may be criminal activity.”  And early Obama booster Andrew Sullivan warned: “with each decision to cover for their predecessors, the Obamaites become retroactively complicit in them.”

The Obama DOJ’s conduct with regard to detainee rights at Bagram is provoking even harsher criticism among the favorite sources of progressives.  The New York Times Editorial Board — a leading establishment voice opposing Bush radicalism — today condemned what it called “The Next Guantanamo” and lambasted Obama for advancing “extravagant claims of executive power and perpetuat[ing] the detention policies of the Bush administration.”  Charlie Savage, who won a Pulitzer Prize at The Boston Globe for exposing Bush’s use of signing statements to break the law, in February described the Obama DOJ’s position as “embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team” and as “a blow to human rights lawyers who have challenged the Bush administration’s policy of indefinitely detaining ‘enemy combatants’ without trials.”  

Last night, Digby lamented that “it’s clear that the Holder DOJ is going to keep at least some of the legal pillars of the Bush GWOT regime in place” and that “it’s profoundly disappointing that the administration is actually seizing more executive power in the case of the states’ secrets argument and perpetuating a lawless prison regime outside our borders.”  The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer complained this morning that “what the Obama administration is essentially arguing is that it has the authority to detain terror suspects indefinitely without trial and without charges” and that Obama’s position “stands in stark contrast to statements Obama made during the campaign.”

International law professor Kevin Jon Heller of Opinio Juris said that “the Obama administration’s stance on Bagram is deplorable” and that Obama was trying to “create a legal black hole” in Afghanistan identical to what Obama vehemently condemned at Guantanamo.  The ACLU’s Jonathan Hafetz warned that the Obama position was creating “the new Guantanamo” and, if they prevail, “the Obama administration will continue to be free to create a prison outside the law.”  Liberal law professor Darren Hutchinson said of Obama’s Bagram position:  “This is the same argument that the Bush administration made” and, because of it, “Bagram could become the functional equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.”  And on Thursday, former DOJ official Bruce Fein — one of the most eloquent (and widely-cited-by-liberals) authorities on the Bush assault on the Constitution — extensively detailed what he called “an emerging pattern of mightily expansive claims of executive authority by the new administration” as part and parcel of “President Barack Obama’s claim to czarlike powers in a perpetual global war against international terrorism.”

Perhaps most significantly, Digby last night documented that Marty Lederman — a hero to the netroots when he used his blog and authority as a former OLC official to mercilessly critique the Bush approach to executive power and is now Obama’s number 3 OLC official — emphatically condemned (last year) the Bush policy of denying rights to Bagram detainees:  exactly the policy which the Obama DOJ is now defending.  Digby wrote (emphasis added):

I continue to wonder where Marty Lederman is in all this since he went to the Justice department. There is nobody who was more critical of these same policies during the Bush years and for whom I have more respect. But I wonder if he is using his thorough analyses of the Bush policies to end them?

In the wake of the Boumadiene decision [Lederman] wrote:

As I noted below, the two most important questions the Court did not answer are:

(i) Would habeas rights extend to alien detainees held in foreign locations other than GTMO (such as Bagram)?


(ii) What is the substantive standard for who may be indefinitely detained?

The Court was not, however, completely silent on these questions; it provided hints about how they might be resolved. . . .

So, as for the first question: Would habeas rights extend to alien detainees held in foreign locations other than GTMO? That is to say, can the military avoid the impact of Boumediene simply by detaining or transferring all alleged alien enemy combatants to a different facility, such as at Bagram?

Short answer: No. . . .

Most importantly, the Court strongly implies that if, as in this case, the government chooses a foreign detention facility for the very purpose of avoiding judicial review (or perhaps even if the military retains a prisoner at a battlefield locale for the same reason), the Court will not look kindly upon such efforts. As I noted below, I believe the single most important sentence in the opinion might be this one: “The test for determining the scope of [the Suspension Clause] must not be subject to manipulation by those whose power it is designed to restrain.”  The political branches will not be permitted “to govern without legal constraint” or to “have the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will” . . . .

During the Bush years Lederman’s position couldn’t have been clearer that detainees such as those who applied for habeas corpus at Bagram clearly were, should be subject to the writ. Read his posts in this fascinating exchange if you doubt me. He even suggested that the Bagram prisoners, who he admits have been held in the absolute worst of conditions, should be sent to Guantanamo where at least they’d have some rights. It’s very difficult to believe that he would endorse this appeal.

Though Lederman acknowledged practical difficulties that might prevent full habeas hearings for Bagram detainees, he clearly stated that the crux of the Boumediene ruling applies to Bagram as it applies to Guantanamo — the exact opposite of the claim the Obama DOJ is now pressing.

Even for the hardest-core Obama loyalists, it’s rather difficult to attribute these increasingly harsh condemnations of Obama’s civil liberties, secrecy and executive power abuses to bad motives or ignorance when they’re coming from the likes of Russ Feingold, TalkingPointsMemo, the Center for American Progress, Nancy Pelosi, EFF, the ACLU, The New York Times Editorial Board, Keith Olbermann, Jonathan Turley, The American Prospect, Bruce Fein, Digby, along with some of the most enthusiastic Obama supporters and a bevvy of liberal law professors and international law experts — those who were most venerated by progressives during the Bush era on questions of the Constitution and executive power. 

 * * * * *

That the Obama DOJ has repeatedly embraced the very legal theories responsible for much of the intense progressive rage towards the Bush/Cheney regime is now beyond dispute.  The question of motive — of why Obama is doing this — is far less clear.  Motives in general are notoriously difficult to discern.  It’s often hard to know one’s own motives, let alone those of others, and one can only speculate about the reasons for Obama’s actions.

There is, as Pelosi said this week, clearly a strong aversion — one might say “desperation” — on the part of the Obama White House to avoid anything that could increase the pressure to commence investigations and prosecutions of Bush crimes.  As Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick succinctly put it:  “by keeping the worst of the Bush administration’s secrets hidden, the Obama Justice Department can defer awkward questions about prosecuting the wrongdoers.” 

Preserving the President’s general ability to block lawsuits alleging illegal conduct on the part of the President obviously enables Obama to invoke that power whenever there are allegations that he is breaking the law.  The power to abduct people and put them in cages indefinitely without having to answer to anyone about what you’re doing — the power Obama is claiming he possesses in the Bagram case — is obviously a potent authority that a typical President fighting a “war” would instinctively want to wield.  And Howard Fineman was likely correct when he told Olbermann on Tuesday night that Obama is petrified of alienating the permanent intelligence and military establishments in Washington which might be alarmed by any attempt to abandon these vast powers, particularly where reversing course could raise the likelihood of prosecutions.

Ultimately, though, motives don’t matter.  Simply put, there is no excuse, justification or mitigation for advocating blatantly unconstitutional and tyrannical powers or claiming that secrecy shields the President from the rule of law.  Nor is the faith-based belief that Obama is a Good Person who therefore deserves trust even remotely rational or relevant.  As Professor Turley put it on Countdown:  “It doesn‘t matter if you are a good person doing bad things. You are doing bad things.”  These secrecy and detention powers are among the most dangerous and tyrannical powers a President can seize, and Obama’s attempt to cling to them is deplorable no matter his “motives.”

It’s certainly true that Democrats and liberals, in general, overwhelmingly approve of the job Obama is doing.  That makes perfect sense.  It is inconceivable that many progressives would say otherwise three months into the tenure of a new Democratic President.  The country is still celebrating the fact that George Bush and Dick Cheney are no longer in power.  And there are many important areas in which, from a progressive perspective, Obama’s preliminary actions are encouraging:  budget policy, changes in tone and even mindset in some spheres of America’s foreign policy, reversals of Bush’s most controversial domestic policies, some excellent presidential appointments.  By themselves, Obama’s future judicial nominees can justify efforts to elect him.  To condemn Obama’s executive power and secrecy abuses is not to posit that Obama is the general equivalent of Bush or that his victory over McCain/Palin was irrelevant.

It’s also possible Obama may (or may not) take actions in the future — releasing the last OLC torture memos, granting full due process rights to Guantanamo detainees, offering habeas hearings to abducted-and-rendered Bagram prisoners — that could substantially improve his record in the areas of accountability, transparency and adherence to Constitutional guarantees.  If he does those things, credit will be warranted — but only if and when he does them.  And thus far, he has not.  In most instances, he has done the opposite.

Whatever else one might say, the rule of law, the Constitution, and core civil liberties are the centerpiece of a healthy and well-functioning government, and nothing justifies an assault on those safeguards.  That was the argument most progressives made throughout the Bush presidency, and the more Obama continues on the Bush/Cheney path in this area, the more solid the progressive consensus against his actions becomes.  

UPDATE:  On Friday, I suggested to Greg Sargent on Twitter that the White House should be forced to say whether Obama supports passage of the State Secrets Act — legislation which would significantly limit Obama’s power to invoke “secrecy” as a means of blocking judicial review of presidential actions and which (during the Bush years) was supported by leading Senate Democrats, including Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, as a response to Bush’s use of the same doctrine.  The Act was re-introduced in February of this year by Russ Feingold, Arlen Specter, John Conyers and others as a response to Obama’s abusive invocation of the privilege in the rendition/Jeppesen case. 

Sargent reports today that he posed the question and the White House simply refuses to say whether Obama supports or opposes the legislation.  As Sargent notes, the Act “represented the consensus view of the Democratic Party a year ago” and this question thus “sets up an unappetizing political prospect: The President would be opposing the corrective that is favored by prominent Senate Dems and once enjoyed the support of his Vice President and Secretary of State.”

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

In for a Penny, In for $2.98 Trillion April 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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Posted on Mar 31, 2009, www.truthdig.com
toxic schmoxic
AP photo / Mary Altaffer

Toxic schmoxic: The ABC news ticker in New York’s Times Square on March 23, a day when the Dow average surged nearly 500 points.

By Robert Scheer

The good news on the government’s “No Banker Left Behind” program is that according to the special inspector general’s report on Tuesday, the total handout to date is still less than 3 trillion dollars. It’s only 2.98 trillion to be precise, an amount six times greater than will be spent by federal, state and local governments this year on educating the 50 million American children in elementary and secondary schools. 

The bad news is that even greater amounts of money are to be thrown down what has to be the world record for rat holes.

Where did the money go? Almost all of it went to the bankers and stockbrokers who got us into this mess by insisting that the complex-by-design derivatives they trafficked in should not be regulated by government since they were private transactions between consenting professionals. Sort of like a lap dance: If it doesn’t work out, that’s the problem of the parties involved and no concern of the government. 

For the government to intervene would have created “legal uncertainty” in the derivatives market, an argument that a Republican-dominated Congress and President Clinton bought in authorizing the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in December of 2000. That law brought “legal certainty” to the market, a phrase that Lawrence Summers, then Clinton’s secretary of the treasury and now Barack Obama’s top White House economics adviser, deployed incessantly as a calming mantra as the financial derivatives market swirled out of control.

Now Summers and the other finance gurus who move so easily from Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue assure us that those professionals who made the toxic swap deals are too big to fail and must be entrusted with 3 trillion of our dollars to save themselves from disaster. And thanks to the laws they wrote, the bankers are likely to be covered for their socially destructive behavior by a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Well, maybe not all of them. A shudder must have run through the former Wall Street buddies of Bernie Madoff—once the highly respected chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange—when Inspector General Neil Barofsky warned on Tuesday that “we are looking at the potential exposure of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money lost to fraud.”

How naive. The fraud no doubt has occurred and will occur again, but the exposure part is more questionable, if by that is meant bringing the criminals to account. As opposed to welfare cheats who end up imprisoned over scams that involve hundreds of dollars, these guys have brilliant lawyers who tell them how to steal legally when it comes to billions in fraud.

But most likely the white-collar criminals, if they are high enough up the food chain, will not even be quizzed about their activities. As the independent Congressional Oversight Panel has reported, there has been no serious accounting of the bailout money. It took major pressure from a Congress reacting to an outraged public to discover that AIG, in addition to handing out hundreds of millions in bonuses to the very hustlers who created the firm’s swindles, was a conduit for at least $70 billion in taxpayer money to reimburse the banks and stockbrokers who got us into this crisis with their bad bets. 

No surprise there, given the incestuous world of finance, where the revolving doors between the Treasury Department, the Fed and executive offices in the industry have been swinging throughout both Republican and Democratic administrations. As a result, those orchestrating the bailout and those grabbing the money are for the most part friends and former colleagues, with enormous respect for each other but not for the American taxpayer and homeowner. Or for the autoworkers who had nothing to do with creating this problem but stand to lose their retiree health benefits and pensions if the Obama administration goes though with its threat to use bankruptcy to discharge GM and Chrysler from their obligations to their workers.  Why float a company like AIG to the tune of $170 billion to keep that massive conglomerate from bankruptcy but balk at a much smaller commitment to keep GM solvent?

The money involved in the auto bailout is chump change compared with what Wall Street got, and it is far better spent. As opposed to the financial high rollers richly rewarded for crawling in and out of balance sheets, the folks who crawl in and out of cars along an assembly line are left with permanent aching backs and hard-won health care and retirement plans about to disappear through their company’s bankruptcy. Where’s their bonus package? 

Who Will Rein in the War in Afghanistan? February 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Posted by ZP Heller, Open Left at 7:00 AM on February 21, 2009.


“We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which has the power to raise and maintain armies, and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war.  We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of Vietnam now.”

Those were the emotional words of a 27-year-old John Kerry, dressed in green fatigues, Silver Star, and Purple Heart ribbons as he shocked the country with his antiwar testimony before a crowded Senate Foreign Relations committee in 1971.  Kerry’s fiery thirty-minute condemnation of the war became instantly legendary for questioning the reasons our military was in Vietnam; revealing the fact that the nation had turned its back on veterans; and slamming President Nixon for refusing to pull out.

It was a definitive moment for the antiwar movement made possible because chairman William Fulbright called Kerry to testify.  Thirty-eight years later, Senator Kerry now sits in Fulbright’s seat.  Along with Rep. Howard Berman, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Kerry has the power to focus the national spotlight on a similar quagmire, the war in Afghanistan.  And as the Obama administration just committed an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan at a cost of $775,000 per soldier every year, oversight hearings can’t come soon enough.



Congressional oversight has historically been essential to government accountability in wartime.  It dates back to 1792, when the House used hearings to investigate the War Department for a military fiasco in Indian territory that left 600 soldiers dead.  During the Civil War, a joint congressional committee forced the resignation of President Lincoln’s first Secretary of War by exposing corruption and mismanagement.  In World War II, Senator Truman’s Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program held hundreds of hearings that eventually saved the country $15 billion (roughly $200 billion today).  Senator Lyndon Johnson used oversight during the Korean War to question the efficiency and waste of military agencies.  And the Fulbright Hearings were followed by decades of vigorous oversight hearings that included the Church committee investigations into CIA covert operations and intelligence gather, the joint committees that placed the Iran-contra affair under the microscope, and the hearings used to review US military operations in Kosovo.

In all of these instances, Congress upheld its responsibility to investigate military spending, expose scandal, hear expert testimony, and challenge policymakers and the implementation of foreign policy.  And as The American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner noted, “the most effective oversight has been bipartisan, often with the President’s own party challenging his policies.”  Of course, our country’s proud history of congressional oversight came crashing down during the majority of President Bush’s time in office.  From 2000-2006, the administration largely eluded oversight, as Congress failed to confront the executive branch on the invasion of Afghanistan, the erroneous prewar intelligence that led us into Iraq, and the conduct of both wars, not to mention the torture of detainees and the administration’s reliance on mercenary contractors who have made hundreds of billions from these wars.

But the Bush administration’s years of blatant disregard for our legal system have ended.  Though Congress remains deeply polarized, we have a Democratic majority in both houses, and an administration that presumably is more amenable to congressional oversight.  It now falls to Congress to restore this system of checks and balances, and they can start by examining the policies and proposed military spending for Afghanistan, enlightening the American public about the true costs of a drawn-out war.  As Andrew Bacevich, professor of International Relations and History at Boston University, told me, “The purpose of congressional oversight hearings ought to be an educational one.  We’re not playing a game of ‘gotcha’ or trying to embarrass anyone.  Congress should inform the public about the reality of policy, soliciting a wide variety of views in order to assemble as complete a picture as possible.”

Bacevich, a vocal critic of the war in Afghanistan, said it appeared President Obama put the cart before the horse, making his decision to send more troops without having completed the policy analysis various institutions have been working on.  He remains skeptical that we will see oversight in Afghanistan, considering there has not been any institutionalized or concerted effort to monitor how the global war on terror–what Robert Gates has called the “Long War”–has been conducted and what it aims to achieve.  That said, Bacevich agreed that if any one Senator could bring about oversight, it would be John Kerry.

Kerry is in the perfect position to call for hearings, not only because he chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, but also because he has nothing to lose in terms of political standing.  Chances are he will not be President, nor will he serve as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.  If Kerry wants to leave a lasting mark, it could be through hearings and investigations that rein in the Long War.

Recently, when Kerry compared Vietnam to Afghanistan during Hillary Clinton’s Secretary of State confirmation hearings, we saw a glimpse of that passionate 27 year old who once brought President Nixon and the nation to its knees:

“I am deeply concerned that, at least thus far, our policy in Afghanistan has kind of been on automatic.…Our original goal was to go in there and take on Al Qaeda. It was to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. It was not to adopt the 51st state of the United States. It was not to try to impose a form of government, no matter how much we believe in it and support it, but that is — that is the mission, at least, as it is being defined today.”

Now, if we could only urge Kerry to act boldly on that rhetoric, and, with his counterpart Berman in the House, let the hearings begin.