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Tag Archives: Congress

Yes Congress, Afghanistan is Your Vietnam, by Andrew J. Bacevich

Fortunately, there are a lot fewer dead in Afghanistan, among both the US military and the native population, than in Vietnam. That is the only positive thing you can say about the US’s engagement in Afghanistan. From Andrew J. Bacevich at theamericanconservative.com:

Does any member have the courage and vision to take responsibility?

20th Century “Angel of Mercy.” D. R. Howe (Glencoe, MN) treats the wounds of Private First Class D. A. Crum (New Brighton, PA), “H” Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, during Operation Hue City, Vietnam, 1968. (Public Domain/USMC)

Just shy of fifty years ago on November 7, 1967, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by J. William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas, met in executive session to assess the progress of the ongoing Vietnam War. Secretary of State Dean Rusk was the sole witness invited to testify. Even today, the transcript of Rusk’s remarks and the subsequent exchange with committee members make for depressing reading.

Responding to questions that ranged from plaintive to hostile, Rusk gave no ground.  The Johnson administration was more than willing to end the war, he insisted; the North Vietnamese government was refusing to do so. The blame lay with Hanoi. Therefore the United States had no alternative but to persist. American credibility was on the line.

By extension, so too was the entire strategy of deterring Communist aggression. The stakes in South Vietnam extended well beyond the fate of that one country, as senators well knew. In that regard, Rusk reminded members of the committee, the Congress had “performed its function…when the key decisions were made”—an allusion to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution,  a de facto declaration of war passed with near unanimous congressional support. None too subtly, Rusk was letting members of the committee know that the war was theirs as much as it was the administration’s.

Yet Fulbright and his colleagues showed little inclination to accept ownership. As a result, the back-and-forth between Rusk and his interrogators produced little of value. Rather than illuminating the problem of a war gone badly awry and identifying potential solutions, the event became an exercise in venting frustration. This exchange initiated by Senator Frank Lausche, Democrat from Ohio, captures the overall tone of the proceedings.

Senator Lausche:  “The debate about what our course in Vietnam should be has now been in progress since the Tonkin Bay resolution. When was that, August 1964?

Senator Wayne Morse (D-Ore.):  “Long before that.”

Senator Albert Gore, Sr. (D-Tenn.):  “Long before that.”

Senator Fulbright:  “Oh, yes, but that was the Tonkin Bay.”

Senator Lausche:  “For three years we have been arguing it, arguing for what purpose? Has it been to repeal the Tonkin Bay resolution? Has it been to establish justification for pulling out? In the three years, how many times has the Secretary appeared before us?

To continue reading: Yes Congress, Afghanistan is Your Vietnam 

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Russia-gate’s Fatally Flawed Logic, by Robert Parry

Having taken away Trump’s negotiating ability with Russia, Iran, and North Korea, Congress has left him only one option: belicosity. From Robert Parry at consortiumnews.com:

Exclusive: By pushing the Russia-gate “scandal” and neutering President Trump’s ability to conduct diplomacy, Democrats and Congress have encouraged his war-making side on North Korea, writes Robert Parry.

There was always a logical flaw in pushing Russia-gate as an excuse for Hillary Clinton’s defeat – besides the fact that it was based on a dubious “assessment” by a small team of “hand-picked” U.S. intelligence analysts. The flaw was that it poked the thin-skinned Donald Trump over one of his few inclinations toward diplomacy.

President Trump delivers his brief speech to the nation explaining his decision to launch a missile strike against Syria on April 6, 2017. (Screen shot from Whitehouse.gov)

We’re now seeing the results play out in a very dangerous way in Trump’s bluster about North Korea, which was included in an aggressive economic sanctions bill – along with Russia and Iran – that Congress passed nearly unanimously, without a single Democratic no vote.

Democrats and Official Washington’s dominant neocons celebrated the bill as a vote of no-confidence in Trump’s presidency but it only constrained him in possible peacemaking, not war-making.

The legislation, which Trump signed under protest, escalated tensions with those three countries while limiting Trump’s power over lifting sanctions. After signing the bill into law, Trump denounced the bill as “seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.”

As his “signing statements” made clear, Trump felt belittled by the congressional action. His response has been to ratchet up bellicose rhetoric about North Korea, bluster appearing to be his natural default position when under pressure.

Remember, in April, as the Russia-gate hysteria mounted, Trump changed the subject, briefly, by rushing to judgment on an alleged chemical-weapons incident in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, and firing off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military base.

He immediately won acclaim from Official Washington, although Hillary Clinton and other hawks argued that he should have gone further with a much larger U.S. invasion of Syria, i.e., establishing a “no-fly zone” even if that risked nuclear war with Russia.

What Trump learned from that experience is that even when he is going off half-cocked, he is rewarded for taking the military option. (More careful analysis of the Khan Sheikhoun evidence later raised serious doubts that the Syrian military was responsible.)

To continue reading: Russia-gate’s Fatally Flawed Logic

Trump: “Thank Congress That US-Russia Relations Are At All-Time And Dangerous Lows”, by Tyler Durden

Trump’s blame is not misplaced. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:

Update: shortly after he took credit for the record stock market and business enthusiasm, Trump – accurately – blamed Congress for the current “very dangerous” relationship with Russia, when he tweeted that
“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!”

 

On Wednesday Trump similarly lashed out at Congress when signing the legislation, arguing the bill limited his executive power and ability to negotiate with Moscow.

“By limiting the executive’s flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people, and will drive China, Russia, and North Korea much closer together,” Trump said in a sharply worded statement.  He also said the bill was “seriously flawed” and included “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions.”

Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!

Trump has in the past faced backlash for his attempts to form ties with Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. His comments come amid widening investigations into whether his associates colluded with Moscow during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s escalating fight with Congress republicans comes at a troubling time for the president: just as his approval ratings plumb all time lows, and just over a month before the critical negotiations over the US debt ceiling are set to take place. Failure to reach agreement there would lead not only to government shutdown, but also a technical default.

To continue reading: Trump: “Thank Congress That US-Russia Relations Are At All-Time And Dangerous Lows”

The Imperial City’s Fiscal Waterloo, by David Stockman

David Stockman lays out the impending bloodbath. From Stockman at dailyreckoning.com:

It’s all over now except the shouting about Obamacare repeal and replace, but that’s not the half of it.

The stand by Senators Lee and Moran was much bigger than putting the latest iteration of McConnell-Care out of its misery. The move rang the bell loud and clear that the Imperial City has become fiscally ungovernable.

That means there is a chamber of horrors coming. With it, an endless political and fiscal crisis that will dominate Washington for years to come. Its cause is deep and structural.

Found Fathers, Fiscal Crisis and the Washington of Today

The founders, in fact, were small government de-centralists and non-interventionists. That’s why they agreed to Madison’s contraption of redundant checks and balances.

Aside from ruthlessly ambitious Alexander Hamilton, the founders wanted a national government that was hobbled by levels of hurdles and vetoes. They wanted a government that could act sparingly and only after thorough deliberation and consensus building.

And that made sense. After all, most believed that the 10th amendment was the cornerstone of the Constitution.  Neither Washington or Jefferson envisioned the political and fiscal burdens of running an empire.

“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world.” That was George Washington’s Farewell Address to us.

The inaugural pledge of Thomas Jefferson was no less clear in stating, “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations-entangling alliances with none.”

So when Woodrow Wilson embarked the nation on the route of Empire in April 1917 and FDR launched the domestic interventionism of the New Deal in March 1933, the die was cast. It was only a matter of time before the disconnect between a robust Big Government and the structural infirmities of Madison’s republican contraption resulted in a deadly impasse.

The Fed has now backed itself into a corner and is out of dry powder. Even its Keynesian managers are determined to normalize and shrink a hideously bloated balance sheet. The current account has no basis in sustainable or sound finance.

The time of fiscal reckoning has come. With the financial sedative of monetization on hold, bond vigilantes will soon awaken from their 30 year slumber.

To continue reading: The Imperial City’s Fiscal Waterloo

A Bipartisan Vote To Put the Brakes on War, by Peter Certo

After 9/11, congressional gave the president a war authorization to track the perpetrators of the attacks. Since then, that authorization has justified military action 37 times, in 14 countries. Now there’s a movement in congress to revoke the authorization. From Peter Certo at antiwar.com:

By putting such a sinister face on it, Trump might have finally inspired lawmakers to rein in America’s post-9/11 war machine

One of the few things I recall fondly about the Trump campaign – a short list, I’ll admit – was the candidate’s apparent glee in ridiculing the warmongering of his rivals and predecessors.

In early 2016, Trump (correctly) summed up George W. Bush’s legacy this way: “We’ve been in the Middle East for 15 years, and we haven’t won anything.”

He ridiculed Hillary Clinton for being “trigger happy” – no standard-issue gibe from a guy who also promised to bring torture back – even while echoing progressive complaints that the $5 trillion pricetag from Bush’s wars would’ve been better spent at home.

And though Trump’s relationship with the Russians has since acquired an unseemly cast, he once offered quite sensibly that “it’s better to get along” with the world’s other nuclear-armed superpower than not to.

Compared to his rivals, Politico magazine once mused, Trump was “going Code Pink” on foreign policy. But what a rose-colored lie that turned out to be.

Since taking office, Trump’s turned virtually all use of force decisions over to his generals. With the president’s backing, they’ve ordered 4,000 new American troops back into Afghanistan, sent thousands more to Iraq and Syria, and nearly quadrupled the rate of drone strikes from the Obama administration, which was already quite prolific.

Everywhere they go, they’re escalating the brutality – and we still haven’t won anything.

They cratered Afghanistan with the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped. They’ve stepped up support for the brutal Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, where 11,000 have died and thousands more are at risk of dying of hunger and cholera. Meanwhile they’ve brought civilian casualties from our bombings in Iraq and Syria to record levels, inflicting what the UN calls a “staggering loss of civilian life.”

Things are about to get even more dangerous in Syria, as the Islamic State falters and armed factions turn on each other to claim the remains of its caliphate.

To continue reading: A Bipartisan Vote To Put the Brakes on War

Would Congress Authorize Bankruptcy for Illinois and Other States? Yes, Inevitably. by Mark Glennon

The inevitability of bankruptcy, or something akin to it, comes from the issue: what do you when an entity can’t pay it’s debts. You can only squeeze so hard, and in Illinois’s cases, all the squeezing in the world won’t make much of a dent in its mountain of debt. From Mark Glennon at wirepoints.com:

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. -Arthur Schopenhauer.

 

For Illinois or another state to formally go bankrupt, the United States Congress would have to pass legislation.

Would they? I think so. In fact, bipartisan support is reasonably foreseeable and, ultimately, that legislation is unavoidable, which will trump any debate.

The legal question whether Congress could extend bankruptcy to states was addressed in my earlier article so I won’t rehash that here, except to say I think David Skeel is right. He’s a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who also serves on Puerto Rico’s oversight board in its bankruptcy-like proceeding authorized by Congress under PROMESA. He wrote firmly that the “constitutionality of bankruptcy-for-states is beyond serious dispute.”

In Congress, reasons will vary for initial political hostility to bankruptcy-for-states.

Some conservatives view state bankruptcy as a form of bailout and will be particularly averse to helping Illinois, which they understandably think deserves its fate. Others may view it as federal intrusion on state sovereignty, which is also what the constitutional objection is about.

But bankruptcy is really the anti-bailout alternative, and turning Illinois around is important to the national economy. We are now a drag on the national economy despite assets that should make us a powerhouse of jobs and production. Illinois GDP has lagged the nation’s significantly for ten years. A federal bailout is happening automatically, at least in a small sense, in the form of food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and similar programs. A fresh start for Illinois would reduce its federal tab for those costs and grow Illinois’ tax base for federal revenue.

Respecting state sovereignty, remember Congress would only be offering states the option of using bankruptcy, just as it has already done for municipalities; nothing would be forced on states.

The left will fear the power of bankruptcy to reduce pension payments, but it’s essential to remember the Bankruptcy Code would not be expanded “as is” to states. Changes would be made on which all sides should find common ground.

To continue reading: Would Congress Authorize Bankruptcy for Illinois and Other States? Yes, Inevitably.

 

SWAMP PEOPLE: 47; TRUMP: 0, by Ann Coulter

There is no difference between this year’s budget fiasco and those of the last couple of decades. There’s also no money for a wall on the southern border. From Ann Coulter, at coulter.com:

If this is the budget deal we get when Republicans control the House, the Senate and the presidency, there’s no point in ever voting for a Republican again.

Not only is there no funding for a wall, but — thanks to the deft negotiating skills of House Speaker Paul Ryan — the bill actually prohibits money from being spent on a wall.

At a CYA press conference on Tuesday, Trump’s ridiculously chipper budget director, Mick Mulvaney, described the bill’s prohibition on building a wall as a MAJOR win. (At least Mulvaney said it in English, unlike his all-Spanish 2014 townhall.)

True, there will be no wall. But the Democrats graciously agreed to allow the administration to fix broken parts of any existing fences on up to 40 miles of our 3,000 mile border.

The other big wins, according to Mulvaney, are:

1) more defense spending, which is fantastic news, because I was worried Boeing and Lockheed Martin CEOs were falling behind Mark Zuckerberg with their gluttonous salaries; and

2) school choice, an obsession of Washington wonks that is hated out in America, where parents move to high-tax towns for the express purpose of avoiding schools full of disaffected urban youth, and the disaffected urban youth don’t want to spend two hours on a bus every day.

But Mulvaney assures us that this monstrosity of a spending bill has set things up beautifully for the next budget negotiation in October.

That has become the GOP’s official motto: “Next time!”

We can never win this time. Instead, Republicans’ idea is always to surrender this time, in hopes that their gentlemanliness will be rewarded by their mortal enemies next time. Then, next time comes, and Republicans again surrender in hopes of currying favor with the Democrats and the media for the next time.

To continue reading: SWAMP PEOPLE: 47; TRUMP: 0

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