Category Archives: Congress

The Inside Story Of How Citizens United Has Changed Washington Lawmaking

Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim report for The Huffington Post:

When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote to gut a century of campaign finance law, he assured the public that the unlimited corporate spending he was ushering in would “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Because those authorized to give and spend unlimited amounts were legally required to remain independent of the politicians themselves, Kennedy reasoned, there was no cause for concern.

Just five years later, in a development that may be surprising only to Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision is reshaping how, how much and to whom money flows in Washington.

How the flood of money released by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has changed elections has been the subject of much discussion, but the decision’s role in allowing that same money to soak the legislative process has largely gone unreported. According to an extensive review of public documents held by the FEC, the U.S. Senate and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as interviews with lobbyists and policymakers, Kennedy’s allegedly independent spending has become increasingly intertwined with lobbying and legislation — the precise appearance of corruption campaign finance laws were meant to curb.’

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Thom Hartmann on Henry Wallace and American Fascists

Obama, Republicans and the media concur: It’s time for war with ISIS

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

After more than six months of virtually ignoring the fact that the war against Isis was illegal by almost anyone’s standards – given Congress’s cowardly refusal vote on it and the White House’s refusal to ask them first – the Obama administration has finally submitted a draft war authorization against Isis to Congress.

That means the media can go back to doing what it does best: creating a “debate” over how many countries we should invade, without any discussion of how our invasions created the very situation in which we feel we have to contemplate more invasions. It’s like the early Bush years all over again.’

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The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America: Interview with Yasmine Taeb

‘As a federal inquiry begins in the killing of three Muslim students in North Carolina and an Islamic center in Houston, Texas, was intentionally set on fire Friday, we look at a new report that exposes the people who fund and stoke anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. The investigation by the Center for American Progress is called “Fear, Inc. 2.0, The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America,” an update of a 2011 report. We are joined by the report’s co-author, Yasmine Taeb, Islamophobia project manager at the Center for American Progress.’ (Democracy Now!)

Obama war request unites Congress: From either side, they hate it

William Douglas reports for McClatchy:

President Barack Obama has achieved something unexpected in Congress: a degree of bipartisanship. There’s enough in his proposal for war powers against the Islamic State for both Democrats and Republicans to hate.

Too restrictive on ground troops, hawkish Republicans say. Overly broad language with no endgame in sight, several war-weary Democrats and Republicans with libertarian streaks complain.

Obama’s authorization for use of military force request against the Islamic State faces a rough go in a skeptical Congress that appears in no hurry to act on it. While most members of the House of Representatives and the Senate say they have the will to address Islamic State activities, they have serious doubts about whether Obama’s authorization request is the way to do it.’

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John McCain’s Legacy of Bloodlust and Warmongering

Abby Martin talks about Arizona Senator, John McCain’s call to arm the Ukrainian army with lethal weapons, and how this is just the latest in his line of war hawk policies.’ (Breaking the Set)

U.S. Senator “Duped” Into Using Old Photos to Promote New War With Russia

Adam Weinstein reports for Gawker:

Senator "Duped" Into Using Old Photos to Promote New War With RussiaThis afternoon [Feb 12th], the Washington Free Beacon published EXCLUSIVE photos, obtained by Sen.Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), that purportedly showed new Russian aggression in Ukraine and vindicated Inhofe’s case for U.S. intervention. Apparently, neither Inhofe’s staff nor the Beacon bothered with a Google reverse image search.

[…] It’s not clear what Inhofe’s independent verification process involved, but it didn’t work. Several national security experts on Twitter immediately set about determining the provenance of the images and found that some of them were from as far back as 2008, and a few were traceable to the conflict in Georgia and Ossetia, rather than the current war in Ukraine.’

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Congressional Opposition Mobilizes Against Obama’s ISIS War Bill

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

After several months of escalating war, President Obama has finally gotten around to putting forward a draft version of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS.

The bill is facing growing opposition from both sides, with complaints not only that its vagueness amounts to no limitation at all, but from hawks that wanted the massiveness of the war more explicitly stated.

The White House was quick to try to quiet the hawks by bragging about how they left the language deliberately vague so the president could unilaterally escalate at will. That’s only adding to the problems.’

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Obama aide: ISIS war powers language ‘intentionally’ vague

Justin Sink reports for The Hill:

Language in President Obama’s proposed authorization for use of military force (AUMF)against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “intentionally” fuzzy, the White House acknowledged on Wednesday.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said some of the language in the bill submitted to Congress on Wednesday was not specifically defined “because we believe it’s important that there aren’t overly burdensome constraints that are placed on the commander in chief.”

Obama “needs the flexibility to be able to respond to contingencies that emerge in a chaotic military conflict like this,” Earnest argued.

The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”’

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ISIS war to extend far beyond Iraq and Syria under Obama’s proposed plan

Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts report for The Guardian:

US air force raptorsBarack Obama’s proposed framework for the US-led war against the Islamic State will not restrict the battlefield to Iraq and Syria, multiple congressional sources said on Tuesday, placing the US into a second simultaneous global war that will outlast his presidency.

Several congressional sources familiar with the outlines of the proposal, all of whom expected the White House to formally unveil it on Wednesday, told the Guardian the so-called Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) would bless the anti-Isis war for three years.

Congressional language to retroactively justify the six-month-old US war against Isis will not, they said, scrap the broad 9/11-era authorities against al-Qaida, as some congressional Democrats had proposed, meaning the two war authorizations will coexist.

Asked if the anti-Isis AUMF opens the US to a second worldwide war against a nebulous adversary, one congressional aide answered: “Absolutely.”’

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Hillary Clinton’s claims justifying Libya war doubted by Pentagon and Congress, secret tapes reveal

Jeffrey Scott Shapiro and Kelly Riddell report for The Washington Times:

Top Pentagon officials and a senior Democrat in Congress so distrusted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2011 march to war in Libya that they opened their own diplomatic channels with the Gadhafi regime in an effort to halt the escalating crisis, according to secret audio recordings recovered from Tripoli.

The tapes, reviewed by The Washington Times and authenticated by the participants, chronicle U.S. officials’ unfiltered conversations with Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s son and a top Libyan leader, including criticisms that Mrs. Clinton had developed tunnel vision and led the U.S. into an unnecessary war without adequately weighing the intelligence community’s concerns.

“You should see these internal State Department reports that are produced in the State Department that go out to the Congress. They’re just full of stupid, stupid facts,” an American intermediary specifically dispatched by the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Gadhafi regime in July 2011, saying the State Department was controlling what intelligence would be reported to U.S. officials.

At the time, the Gadhafi regime was fighting a civil war that grew out of the Arab Spring, battling Islamist-backed rebels who wanted to dethrone the longtime dictator. Mrs. Clinton argued that Gadhafi might engage in genocide and create a humanitarian crisis and ultimately persuaded President Obama, NATO allies and the United Nations to authorize military intervention.’

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The Triumph of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex

Ben Cohen and Winslow Wheeler write for Medium:

‘In his farewell address in January 1961, Pres. Dwight Eisenhower famously cautioned the American public to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Today it’s routine for critics of wasteful military spending to cite Eisenhower’s warning. Unfortunately, Eisenhower did not warn us that the military-industrial complex would become increasingly malignant as it morphed into less obvious forms.

It’s now deeply embedded in the fiber of the American political system, academia, the civilian leadership of the Defense Department and—increasingly—the White House itself.’

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War Is the New Normal: Seven Deadly Reasons Why America’s Wars Persist

William J. Astore writes for Tom Dispatch:

It was launched immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when I was still in the military, and almost immediately became known as the Global War on Terror, or GWOT.  Pentagon insiders called it “the long war,” an open-ended, perhaps unending, conflict against nations and terror networks mainly of a radical Islamist bent.  It saw the revival of counterinsurgency doctrine, buried in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam, and a reinterpretation of that disaster as well.  Over the years, its chief characteristic became ever clearer: a “Groundhog Day” kind of repetition.  Just when you thought it was over (Iraq, Afghanistan), just after victory (of a sort) was declared, it began again.

Now, as we find ourselves enmeshed in Iraq War 3.0, what better way to memorialize the post-9/11 American way of war than through repetition.  Back in July 2010, I wrote an article for TomDispatch on the seven reasons why America can’t stop making war.  More than four years later, with the war on terror still ongoing, with the mission eternally unaccomplished, here’s a fresh take on the top seven reasons why never-ending war is the new normal in America.  In this sequel, I make only one promise: no declarations of victory (and mark it on your calendars, I’m planning to be back with seven new reasons in 2019).’

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Lee Fang interviewed about his book ‘The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right’

Editor’s Note: Lee Fang‘s interview with Thom Hartmann was recorded around the time his book was released in mid-2013. Fang has worked as an investigative journalist most recently at The Nation and has just been hired by The Intercept.

The Missing Pages of the 9/11 Report

Eleanor Clift writes for The Daily Beast:

september 11 report, missing pages‘[…] Sen. Bob Graham said the redacted pages characterize the support network that allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur, and if that network goes unchallenged, it will only flourish. He said that keeping the pages classified is part of “a general pattern of coverup” that for 12 years has kept the American people in the dark. It is “highly improbable” the 19 hijackers acted alone, he said, yet the U.S. government’s position is “to protect the government most responsible for that network of support.”

The Saudis know what they did, Graham continued, and the U.S. knows what they did, and when the U.S. government takes a position of passivity, or actively shuts down inquiry, that sends a message to the Saudis. “They have continued, maybe accelerated their support for the most extreme form of Islam,” he said, arguing that both al Qaeda and ISIS are “a creation of Saudi Arabia.”

Standing with Graham were Republican Rep.Walter Jones and Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch, co-sponsors of House Resolution 428, which says declassification of the 28 pages is necessary to provide the American public with the full truth surrounding the 9/11 attacks.’

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No freshness in our 2016 presidential contest

Dana Milbank writes for The Washington Post:

[…] This will be the seventh presidential campaign I’ve covered in some form, starting with a bit role in 1992. If the field develops the way it appears to be going, this will be my fourth Clinton campaign, fourth Bush campaign, third Romney campaign, third Paul campaign, second Huckabee campaign and second Santorum campaign. This isn’t an election — it’s a rerun.

The likely slate of candidates will include the son of a governor and presidential candidate, the son of a congressman and presidential candidate, the wife of a president and the brother of a president, son of a president and grandson of a senator. Nearly 2½ centuries after rebelling against the monarchy, our presidential contest has all the freshness of the House of Lords. Even the British royals have done a better job at bringing in new blood: Kate, the future queen, was a commoner.

The hereditary nature of the presidential race isn’t the disease but a symptom of our empty politics. In the absence of ideas and popular passion — the sort of spirit that briefly captured the nation’s imagination in 2008 — winning becomes about name recognition and celebrity. Known brands rate highly in early polls, which brings in money, which leads to victory.’

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NSA reform facing hard sell following Paris terror attacks

Julian Hattem reports for The Hill:

The push to reform the National Security Agency isn’t getting any easier.

After a reform bill was narrowly blocked on the Senate floor late last year, civil libertarians hoped that an upcoming deadline to reauthorize some of the spy agency’s controversial powers would give them another opportunity to force changes.

But the attacks in Paris last week, where gunmen killed 12 at a satirical newspaper and 4 at a kosher market, is making that job harder, and strengthening the resolve of the NSA’s backers.

[…] In the next five months, Congress needs to reauthorize a key portion of the Patriot Act which authorizes the NSA to collect virtually all Americans’ phone records without warrants.’

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CISPA Is Back… Because Of The Sony Hack, Which It Wouldn’t Have Prevented

Mike Masnick reports for Techdirt:

This isn’t a huge surprise, but Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the NSA’s personal Rep in Congress (NSA HQ is in his district), has announced that he’s bringing back CISPA, the cybersecurity bill designed to make it easier for the NSA to access data from tech companies (that’s not how the bill’s supporters frame it, but that’s the core issue in the bill). In the past, Ruppersberger had a teammate in this effort, Rep. Mike Rogers, but Rogers has moved onto his new career as a radio and TV pundit (CNN just proudly announced hiring him), so Ruppersberger is going it alone this time around.

Not surprisingly, he’s using the Sony Hack as a reason for why this bill is needed.’

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The greatest trick Obama ever pulled was convincing the world America isn’t still at war

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

afghanistan soldier cloudThe holiday headlines blared without a hint of distrust: “End of War” and“Mission Ends” and “U.S. formally ends the war in Afghanistan”, as the US government and Nato celebrated the alleged end of the longest war in American history. Great news! Except, that is, when you read past the first paragraph: “the fighting is as intense as it has ever been since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001,” according to the Wall Street Journal. And about 10,000 troops will remain there for the foreseeable future (more than we had a year after the Afghan war started). Oh, and they’ll continue to engage in combat regularly. But other than that, yeah, the war is definitely over.

This is the new reality of war: As long as the White House doesn’t admit the United States is at war, we’re all supposed to pretend as if that’s true. This ruse is not just the work of the president. Members of Congress, who return to work this week, are just as guilty as Barack Obama in letting the public think we’re Definitely Not at War, from Afghanistan and Somalia to the new war with Isis in Iraq and Syria and beyond.’

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The most diverse U.S. Congress in history is 80% white, 80% male and 92% Christian

Philip Bump reports for The Washington Post:

‘Trying to predict the gender and race of a member of Congress is like trying to predict who would win a basketball game between the 1996 Chicago Bulls and the 2015 New York Knicks. Which is to say: It is like trying to predict who would win in an arithmetic competition between you and a talking horse. Which is to say: It is like trying to guess how many jellybeans are in a glass jar that contains two jellybeans. Which is to say: It is easy.

The 114th Congress, which gets to “work” on Tuesday, is one of the most diverse in American history, comprised of nearly 20 percent women and just over 17 percent of which is non-white. Which means, of course, that four out of five members of Congress are white and four out of five are men. Ergo, given the name of a member of Congress (at random: Oregon GOP Rep. Greg Walden), you can probably guess his or her gender and race.’

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Sony Hack a Prime Excuse for New US Cybersecurity Laws

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘Congress has been reluctant to pass the various draconian cybersecurity laws pushed by the administration in recent years, but that may be changing because of the high-profile Sony Pictures hack.

With the FBI ‘successfully’ pinning it on North Korea, at least so far as everyone on Capital Hill is concerned, there is a great deal of pressure for Congress to “do something,” and little interest in the evidence that North Korea had nothing to do with it.’

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A Brief History of the CIA’s Unpunished Spying on the Senate

Conor Friedersdorf writes for The Atlantic:

This is the story of John Brennan’s CIA spying on Congress and getting away with it.

Last March, Senator Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of spying on the Senate intelligence committee as it labored to finalize its report on the torture of prisoners. “I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution,” she said. “I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither.”

CIA Director John Brennan denied the charge. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “We wouldn’t do that. That’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we’d do.” It would be months before his denial was publicly proved false. “An internal investigation by the C.I.A. has found that its officers penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its damning report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program,” The New York Times reported. “The report by the agency’s inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers read the emails of the Senate investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information.”‘

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U.S. Approval of Congress Remains Near All-Time Low

Rebecca Riffkin reports for Gallup:

Congress' Job Approval Ratings, Yearly AveragesAmericans’ job approval rating for Congress averaged 15% in 2014, close to the record-low yearly average of 14% found last year. The highest yearly average was measured in 2001, at 56%. Yearly averages haven’t exceeded 20% in the past five years, as well as in six of the past seven years.

Congress’ approval rating has averaged less than 20% each year since 2010. In 2009, President Barack Obama’s first year in office in which he governed with a large Democratic majority in Congress, an average of 30% approved. Prior to 2008, Congress’ job approval over the 40-year history of Gallup’s measure had been below 20% only twice before, in 1979 and 1992.

After peaking in 2001 at 56%, a high figure that reflected the rally in support for government institutions after the 9/11 terror attacks, Americans’ approval of Congress has generally been dropping each year, with the exception of the spike in 2009.’

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Congressional Hawks Vow to Block Normalization of Cuba Ties

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘President Obama’s announcement of his intentions to end 53 years of acrimony toward Cuba, and move toward normalization of relations, including reopening the Embassy in Havana, came as a shock to many.

Polls show that the American public has been supportive of the idea for awhile now, however, and that anti-Cuba sentiment is something a lot of people got over literally decades ago.

Being the obvious thing to do, and a popular thing to do, doesn’t mean it’s going to get done, however, and Congressional hawks are promising to stop normalization, as well as to block any nomination of an ambassador to Cuba.’

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Republican Congressman Peter King: Sydney calls for “heavy surveillance”

Ben Kamisar reports for The Hill:

‘Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) says the deadly hostage situation in Sydney underscores the need for increased government surveillance, applauding former programs that spied on Muslim communities.

“It shows to me the need for increased surveillance, heavy surveillance, and to get as many sources as we can into these communities where these type of lunatics may come from,” King said on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.”

“And not just lunatics — people who are on the edge and who have these Islamist leanings,” the lawmaker added.

King went on to bash the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times for what he referred to as “attacking the police.”’

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Dodd-Frank Budget Fight Proves Democrats Are a Bunch of Stuffed Suits

Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone:

‘[…] Conservatives for welfare, and liberals for big business. It doesn’t make sense unless we’re not really dealing with any divided collection of conservatives or liberals, and are instead talking about one nebulous mass of influence, money and interests. I think of it as a single furiously-money-collecting/favor-churning oligarchical Beltway party, a thing that former Senate staffer and author Jeff Connaughton calls “The Blob.”

What’s happening here is that The Blob, which includes supposed enemies like Reid and Graham, wants to give donation-factory banks like Citi and Chase a handout. But a coalition of heretics, including the liberal Warren, the genuinely conservative Vitter and (surprisingly to me) the usually party-orthodox Nancy Pelosi is saying no to the naked giveaway.

Is killing the Citigroup provision really worth the trouble? Is it a “Hill to die on”? Maybe not in itself. But the key here is that a victory on the swaps issue will provide the Beltway hacks with a playbook for killing the rest of the few meaningful things in Dodd-Frank, probably beginning with the similar Volcker Rule, designed to prevent other types of gambling by federally-insured banks. Once they cave on the swaps issue, it won’t be long before the whole bill vanishes, and we can go all the way back to our pre-2008 regulatory Nirvana.’

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What the Torture Report Isn’t Telling You

‘Why is the corporate media turning torture into a debate? Abby Martin discusses the media’s reaction to the Senate torture report and why torture has suddenly turned into a partisan debate.’ (Breaking the Set)

Proposed Senate Bill Would Make Future CIA Torture Prosecutable

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press today [Sunday 14th December], Sen. Ron Wyden (D – OR) a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has promised to introduce a new bill next year which would make any future incidents of CIA torture prosecutable.

Sen. Wyden expressed concern that in CIA Director John Brennan’s Thursday defense of past torture, he left open the possibility that the CIA would do so again in the future.’

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U.S. Congress Secretly Legitimizes Questionable NSA Mass Surveillance Tool

Mike Masnick reports for Techdirt:

‘[…] For a while now, we’ve discussed executive order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan, which more or less gives the NSA unchecked authority to tap into any computer system not in the US. Over the summer, a former State Department official, John Napier Tye, basically blew the whistle on 12333 by noting that everyone focused on other NSA programs were missing the point. The NSA’s surveillance is almost entirely done under this authority, which has no Congressional oversight. All those other programs we’ve been arguing about — Section 215 of the Patriot Act or Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act — are really nothing more than ways to backfill the data the NSA has been unable to access under 12333. In other words, these other programs are the distraction. 12333 is the ballgame, and it has no Congressional oversight at all. It’s just a Presidential executive order.

Yet, what Amash and his staffers found is that a last minute change by the Senate Intelligence Committee to the bill effectively incorporated key parts of EO 12333 into law, allowing for “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of “nonpublic communications.” Here’s where those who slipped this bit into the law got sneaky. Recognizing that they might be called on it, they put it in with language noting that such information could only be held on to for five years — and then claimed what they were really doing was putting a limit on data already collected.’

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Reuters Report Exposes Absurd Level of Cronyism In U.S. Supreme Court