Congress

Why This Will Be the Unaccountable War

He stands alone.
Yesterday the House voted 273-156 to train and equip Syrian rebels, a part of President Obama's plan to combat ISIL, and today the Senate is expected to do the same. While it might look on the surface like Congress taking a stand and accepting responsibility for this new engagement, in fact, this is likely to be a war with no accountability for any political figure other than Barack Obama himself. The "no" votes were a combination of Democrats who opposed the Iraq War in 2003 and don't want to see us pulled back into another war there, and Republicans who either want a bigger war with massive numbers of ground troops or just hate Barack Obama so much they can't cast a vote for anything he proposes (or both). Today, the Senate is expected to pass the measure as well, and we'll probably see the same thing: members from both parties on each side, with drastically different reasons for voting the same way. The whole thing is the kind of war you'd expect from the Obama presidency, defined...

Benghazi Select Committee Hearings Begin; Craziness Inevitably to Follow

Republican members of the Benghazi committee get ready to do their very serious work. (Flickr/Speaker John Boehner)
There's a lot going on in the world: we have a new war ramping up, Ebola is spreading, and various NFL players are discovered beating the crap out of women and children (and I for one am shocked that a group of men who have spent their lives being rewarded for cultivating their most violent instincts and abilities would turn out to be prone to violence). So it may have missed your notice that today marks the beginning of public hearings in the select committee on Benghazi, or as Ed Kilgore has termed it, Benghazi! In advance, Democrats on the committee have set up a website showing how all the questions the committee is asking have already been answered, while a Republican PAC is already airing Benghazi-themed ads against Hillary Clinton. But if you were hoping to tune in this afternoon for thundering denunciations and dark warnings of conspiracy, you may be disappointed, as David Corn reports : In a surprising move that might disappoint right-wingers yearning for proof that Benghazi...

Republicans Go Boldly to (Sort Of) Support Obama on ISIL

For months, when you asked Republicans what they wanted to do about ISIL, they would be quick to assure everyone that they didn't want to deploy large numbers of ground troops. Trainers, intelligence folks, coordinators, sure — but they're very clear that they aren't advocating a re-invasion of Iraq. Whether their reticence about ground troops has its roots in the politics of renewing a desperately unpopular war, or it's because they genuinely believe it would be a bad idea, they were unambiguous on that point. What they did advocate was arming and training Syrian rebels. Likewise, it might be because Barack Obama wasn't doing that and therefore it was a way to be "tougher" than him, or it might be that they think it would make a real difference. But either way, that's the policy they advocated. And now that policy is one of the pillars of the anti-ISIL strategy Obama is laying out, so that's the part Republicans in Congress are getting ready to line up behind : President Obama's plan...

Republicans Seek to Tar All Muslims With the Brush of ISIL

When the president said the terrorist group was not Islamic, his opposition got hopping mad.

(Photo by Fabio Teixeira / Pacific Press/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)
(Photo by Fabio Teixeira / Pacific Press/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images) O n Saturday afternoon, news broke that ISIL (also known as ISIS) had uploaded yet another video of one of their members beheading an innocent civilian. The victim, David Haines, was a British aid worker who was captured in Syria last year. According to reports, the video is similar to the brutal murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The news of this latest execution, and its grisly video, comes on the heels of President Obama’s primetime speech on his strategy for combating the terrorist group last Wednesday night. During his address, Obama outlined the U.S. strategy for fighting ISIS but he also included a pointed statement. “ISIL is not Islamic.” Former Bush aide Ron Christie, immediately took to Twitter to criticize Obama. “#ISIS isn't Islamic? What kindergartner briefs the President on terrorism?” And Christie was definitely not the only public figure expressing that sentiment. The...

Endless 9/11s: How the Bush-Cheney Response to the World Trade Center Attack Shaped Today’s Terrors

(AP Photo/Alexandre Fuchs)
T hirteen years ago today, al-Qaeda terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, took out a chunk of the Pentagon, and very nearly crashed a fourth jetliner into a target assumed to be the Capitol or the White House. That attack, in the wake of the Bush administration’s willful refusal to pay attention to increasingly urgent warnings from its own counter-terrorism officials, set in motion a series of events whose aftermath we are still living through. Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush decided that the real culprit was Saddam Hussein, and made war on Iraq. ISIL is, in part, the creature of the regional destabilization and Islamist backlash that followed. The Bush administration, at first an illegitimate and feeble presidency, found a new voice and a new purpose. Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took over. In the USA PATRIOT Act, a long wish list of the most extreme warrantless surveillance techniques was rushed into law, and the U.S. became more of...

Republicans Make Big Advances Thanks to Citizens United

The increase in corporate money in elections has favored one party over the other.

(Cartoon by DonkeyHotey via Flickr)
This article originally appeared on Facing South , a website published by the Institute for Southern Studies. I t's been more than four years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , a ruling that expanded the ability of corporations and unions to influence politics. Now, with two election cycles completed, a series of studies have emerged to assess what impact it's had on our political system. One of the first and most thorough investigations into Citizens United 's effects on elections, published in July by professors at the University of Alberta and Emory University and a researcher at Competition Economics, concludes that the ruling has significantly benefited Republican candidates for state legislatures -- especially in North Carolina and Tennessee. Before the January 2010 Citizens United decision, corporations and labor unions were prohibited from making so-called independent expenditures for federal races --...

Want to Fix the Jobs Crisis? Build a Federally Funded Worker Education Infrastructure

Critics are wrong when they say that, as one solution to underemployment, job training is a failure. Successful programs are plentiful, but they are small and scattered.

Photo: Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI)
Photo: Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) Job training in cooperation with the NewCourtland Network in Pennsylvania. W ith unemployment still high, and millions discouraged from even looking for work, there is considerable interest in ways to connect people to jobs. Certainly stimulating the economy is essential to creating more opportunity. But what can we do to help people make the connections to employers who are looking for workers? Job training programs would seem to be a logical answer, a key step in moving someone from unemployment, or underemployment due to obsolete skills, into well-paying work. But there is much skepticism that training programs perform well. Reports of scandals surrounding proprietary schools with low placement and high debt feed this doubt. But focusing on these failures misses the larger point. Best-practice models exist, and are slowly diffusing. The challenge lies not in ignorance about what works, but how to reach scale in delivering quality...

No, Democrats Can't Win Back the House -- At Least Not Just Yet

Wikimedia Commons
(Photo: Flickr/freshwater2006) A re Republicans going to hold on the House of Representatives forever? That's the question Nate Cohn examines in a piece in Sunday's New York Times called " Why Democrats Can't Win the House ." Cohn's basic argument will be familiar to readers of this blog and many others, because it's been around a while. What it boils down to is that while the post-2010 redistricting dominated by Republicans didn't help Democrats' prospects of taking back the House, the real problem for them lies in the way the two party's voters are distributed throughout the country. Democrats are more concentrated in cities, where many of their votes are essentially surplus; if all it takes to make a district an iron-clad lock for your party is something like a 65 percent majority, having a 90 percent majority doesn't do you any more good. Republicans, on the other hand, are distributed much more efficiently; they have almost no districts with that near-unanimous majority, but lots...

Don't Blame Eric Cantor For His New Gig

Richmond, VA, where Eric Cantor will not be living. (Flickr/rvaphotodude)
To no one's real surprise, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced today that because his years representing Virginia's 7th district in Congress had so infused him with the desire to serve others, he'll be spending his post-congressional career passing out blankets for Doctors Without Borders in disaster zones all over the...no, I'm kidding. He'll be joining a boutique investment bank , opening a Washington office from which he'll offer strategic advice to well-heeled clients. Good work, if you can get it. Which you can't, but Eric Cantor can. This makes him a bit different than most people in his position, since they tend to become lobbyists upon leaving Congress, whereas it sounds like Cantor won't have to suffer the indignity of asking his former colleagues for favors. And you can't blame him, since this is a horrible time to be a lobbyist, what with Congress not passing any laws. But Cantor's new gig highlights something I talked about in my column earlier today, about...

The Stupidity of Hating Your Senator for Living Where You've Sent Her to Work

(MSNBC/Morning Joe)
(MSNBC/Morning Joe) T his year, not one, but two, incumbent senators up for re-election have been dogged by the "issue" of the precise location where they rest their heads at the end of a weary day of lawmaking. First it was Republican Pat Roberts, who, we learned in February , lists the home of some friends as his official residence in Kansas; apparently he crashes there when he's in the state. And now it's Democrat Mary Landrieu, whose heretofore unimpeachable Louisiana roots (her father Moon was the mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s, and her brother Mitch holds that office today) are now being questioned. It seems that although Landrieu owns a home in Washington, she's registered to vote in the New Orleans house she grew up in, where her parents still reside (even though it's technically owned by Mary and her eight siblings, all of whose names begin with "M"—make of that what you will). The opposition researchers have certainly been earning their keep. But should the rest of us...

Still Nader After All These Years

(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File)
(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File) In this April 27, 2008, file photo, Ralph Nader speaks to supporters as he campaigns for his 2008 independent presidential bid in Waterbury, Connecticut. F or many Democrats who came of age after 2000, Ralph Nader is a crank who cost Al Gore the presidency. But Nader deserves a more honored place in the progressive pantheon. Over the years, Nader has understood the stranglehold of corporate power on democracy as well as anyone, and throughout his career he has creatively organized counterweights. In the heyday of postwar reform, the 1960s and 1970s, Nader-inspired groups prodded and energized Congressional allies to enact one piece of pro-consumer legislation after another. As both a journalist and senior Senate staffer in that era, I can attest that nobody did it better than Nader. Since then, Nader has been a prophet, often without honor in his own coalition. I should add that I go back a long way with Ralph Nader. When I was in Washington, D.C., in the...

McConnell’s Appeal to Millionaire Donors Makes Case for Constitutional Amendment on Political Money

The constitutional amendment deemed "radical" by the Senate minority leader simply affirms that money is not speech and that no one, however wealthy or powerful, has a constitutional right to spend unlimited sums to influence our elections.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) In this Feb. 6, 2014 file photo, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks toward the Senate chambers on Capitol Hill in Washington. H e surely did not intend it, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made a stunningly compelling case for a constitutional amendment allowing Congress and the states to restore sensible limits on the influence of money in politics. We appreciate his help and his clarity. The good news is that the Senate will vote on just such a proposal next month, the Democracy for All Amendment (S.J. Res 19). Senators still undecided about the amendment should study Sen. McConnell’s remarks carefully. Speaking to a roomful of ultra-rich political investors in June (audio here ), McConnell voiced his delight at their collective success in unharnessing political money. “The worst day of my political life” was when then-President George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold law with its limits on independent...

T-TIPping Point: Rise of Corporate Right Greater Menace than Rise of Far Right

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew T he latest reports from Europe indicate that the continent is slipping back into recession. The U.S. is doing only slightly better, with positive economic growth but scant progress on the jobs front, and no growth in the earnings of the vast majority of Americans. Meanwhile, global climate change continues to worsen, producing unprecedented policy conundrums of how to reconcile the very survival of the planet with improved living standards for the world's impoverished billions, and for most Americans, whose real incomes have declined since the year 2000. Amid all of these serious challenges, what common strategies are top U.S. and European leaders pursuing? Why, a new trade and investment deal modeled on NAFTA, to make it harder for governments to regulate capitalism. The proposed deal, known as T-TIP (for Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) would define well-established domestic policies as illegitimate restraints of "trade," including protections...

The Silver Lining for Democrats if They Lose the Senate in 2014

Click inside for the full charty goodness.
There are really only two possible outcomes for Democrats in this year's Senate elections. Either Republicans are going to win enough seats to take control of the chamber, or Democrats will hold on by the skin of their teeth. The first outcome is more likely, simply because of the map. Democrats are defending twenty-one seats while Republicans are only defending fifteen seats. Furthermore, many of those Democratic seats are in conservative states like West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Montana, making it even tougher. So if you're a Democrat who's getting depressed by the prospect of a Republican Senate and all the loveliness that would bring, here's something that might make you feel a little better. A couple of weeks ago, I made a graph showing all this year's Democratic candidates and the tough environment many face. I decided to duplicate it for the 2016 races, as a little liberal pick-me-up. Here's the good news for Democrats: Even if Republicans take the Senate this year,...

Why Congressional Democrats Are Upset that President Obama Doesn't Hang Out With Them More

A man alone with his thoughts. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
The other day, the New York Times published a long article on President Barack Obama's miserable relationship with Congress, particularly the members of his own party. The point of the article is that Obama doesn't put much effort into building personal relationships with congressional Democrats, and as a result they're rather disgruntled with him, which could make the remainder of his presidency more difficult. It's a good example of how, in its facts, a piece of journalism can be perfectly true, even revealing, and yet be completely misleading in its implications. Ezra Klein gave it the necessary dismantling : Obama does see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking...

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