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John Nichols

John Nichols

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How a Koch Brothers 'Business League' Spent $236 Million to Frame the Debate

Charles Koch
Charles Koch (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Mike Burley)

“There is looming up a new and dark power.… The accumulation of individual wealth seems to be greater than it ever has been since the downfall of the Roman Empire. And the enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic conquests only but for political power.”

So said Edward Ryan, the populist jurist of the mid-nineteenth century whose rage at the corruption of democracy by the wealthy and their corporations inspired generations of progressives and populists to try to constrain “the money power.”

Ryan’s warning, delivered in 1873, described the politics of the twenty-first century more accurately than most of the reporting by today’s pliant contemporary media.

“For the first time really in our politics, money is taking the field as an organized power,” he explained. “It is unscrupulous, arrogant and overbearing.”

But it is not proud.

No matter what the billionaire Koch brothers and their operatives say.

This week, it has been revealed that Charles and David Koch and their wealthy partners funded an, until now, “secret bank” that made “grants” of $236 million during the 2012 election cycle to maintain the right-wing political infrastructure that advances their economic interests. And by all accounts, they’re just getting started.

When the official paperwork is filed with the Internal Revenue Service in short order, it will, according to documents shared by the new “Freedom Partners” group with Politico, reveal massive “grants” to undermine implementation of the Affordable Care Act ($115 million to the anti-Obamacare Center to Protect Patient Rights), maintain the Tea Party movement and related political projects ($32.3 million to Americans for Prosperity and smaller checks for the Tea Party Express and the Tea Party Patriots), promote Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda on Social Security and Medicare ($15.7 to the conservative 60-Plus Association), promote the right-wing social agenda in the states ($8.2 million to the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee), shore up the gun lobby ($3.5 million to the National Rifle Association) and develop the ability of conservative groups to use data mining to advance their projects ($5 million to the Themis Trust voter database initiative).

This is not about contributions to candidates or campaigns.

This is not about contributions to parties or traditional political organizations.

This is about “framing the debate.”

Winning elections matters. But shaping the discourse—so that no whichever party wins, so that whichever candidate prevails, the discussion defaults to a narrow set of “options”—matters more.

The management of the debate by powerful interests explains why a Congress that cannot seem to do anything useful will this week vote for the forty-first time to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Why “entitlement reforms” that the American people do not want remain “on the table.” Why Washington insiders keep proposing the same tax breaks for the rich, free trade deals and austerity schemes. Why state legislators talk about restricting the right to choose rather than expanding public education.

Freedom Partners is the latest of the many Koch creations that shape the discourse and the politics of the United States—not always with success, but with a consistency that assures long-term influence. Koch Industries is quick to point out that “Freedom Partners is a non-profit, non-partisan business league” that “operates independently of Koch Industries.” Yes, but three of the group’s five directors list Koch connections in their biographies and a fourth is one of Charles Koch’s close friends. In addition to the Kochs, the major donors to Freedom Partners, which raised $256 million during the 2012 election cycle, are reportedly the wealthy attendees at the secretive policy summits that have become command-performance events for prominent Republicans such as House Budget Committee chairman Ryan and House majority leader Eric Cantor.

“Our members are proud to be part of [Freedom Partners],” the group’s president, Marc Short, told Politico.

No, they’re not.

In the same conversation where he spoke about the “proud” Freedom Partners “members,” Short refused to reveal their identities. And he refused to say how much money the various billionaires and millionaires are chipping in to buy a piece of the American dream—except to note that the top donor gave around $25 million, so it’s not all Koch money. Which begs a question: Who else is buying?

And another question: How do groups like this get away with so much secrecy?

Organized under section 501(c)6 of the Tax Code, Freedom Partners operates as a trade association or “business league”—as in the National Football League.

Trade associations that utilize this section of the Tax Code must reveal the recipients of their “grants.” But they do not generally have to reveal the sources of those grants because the lists of donors they file with the IRS are not considered public documents.

Which brings us back to Edward Ryan.

The populist judge closed his great rant of 1873 by saying: “The question will arise and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine: Which shall rule, wealth or man? Which shall lead, money or intellect. Who shall fill public stations, educated and patriotic freemen or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?”

There’s not much question that wealth rules the day. While banks and Wall Street insiders get bailouts, great American cities are driven into bankruptcy.

There’s not much question that money trumps intellect. What else could explain the focus of official Washington on billionaire-backed schemes that would “fix the debt” by lowering tax rates for billionaires while at the same time imposing “chained-CPI” cuts on retirees with fixed incomes?

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There are still a few educated and patriotic freemen, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who warns that the Koch brothers are shaping a “plutocracy” that is “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich”), and there are educated and patriotic freewomen, like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

But Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan provide daily confirmation that the feudal serfs of corporate capital have occupied public stations. And that occupation is not merely a Republican project; in Washington and across the country there are Democrats who preach privatizations, austerity cuts and policies that will only result in a redistribution of the wealth upward.

So we have answered most of Edward Ryan’s questions.

But they only point to new questions:

Who is paying to create a “money power” politics where wealth rules, money trumps intellect and feudal serfs of corporate capital occupy public stations?

Why are they allowed to operate in secret?

And what are we the people going to do about it?

John Nichols and Bob McChesney are the authors of Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books). The first event of their fall tour is in New York City with Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. For details: visit FAIR’s website.

Bill de Blasio Leads New York Primary With Surge of Votes for ‘Bold Progressive Change’


New York Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio and his family celebrate a strong primary showing at his campaign headquarters Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

New York Democrats have voted in big numbers for the contender who just days ago was dismissed by outgoing Mayor Mike Bloomberg as “a very populist, very left-wing guy.”

Bloomberg thought that was a negative assessment.

But Bill de Blasio did, indeed, run as a very populist, at least reasonably left-wing guy who promised to deliver “the bold progressive change this city needs.”

That worked for Democratic primary voters. With more than 98 percent of the votes counted, de Blasio was winning a high enough percentage of the vote—just over 40 percent—to possibly avoid a runoff election with the next strongest Democratic finisher.

The margins were such that a runoff might still be required: de Blasio had 40.2 percent of the votes as of Wednesday morning with thousands of paper ballots yet to be counted. Even when the initial count is completed, a recount could still give a runoff slot to second-place finisher William Thompson, who trailed de Blasio by almost 100,000 votes.

The wide lead that de Blasio ran up in Tuesday’s voting was a remarkable development for a candidate who just a few weeks ago was running fourth in the polls.

The de Blasio surge signaled an embrace of a populist politics that the candidate, at his packed election night party in Brooklyn, described as an “unapologetically progressive alternative to the Bloomberg era.”

Like most of the other contenders in a crowded field of Democratic candidates, the city’s elected Public Advocate embraced a socially-liberal agenda on issues such as marriage equality. But de Blasio did not stop there. He ran on a platform that proposed to increase taxes on the rich in order to raise $500 billion to fund education and community initiatives.

Beyond the specifics of his tax plans, de Blasio promised not to “nibble around the edges of the inequities facing our city.”

That was a specific rejection of the approach advanced for more than a decade by Bloomberg, who New York Times columnist Frank Bruni acknowledged on Monday has “worshiped at the altar of Wall Street.”

The closing message from de Blasio said as much:

“For twelve long years, New York City has lived by Mayor Bloomberg’s false choices. We couldn’t ask the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes to help our children get a great education. We couldn’t keep our streets safe without infringing on the rights of millions of New Yorkers—mostly young men of color. And our neighborhoods couldn’t thrive if affordable housing was the priority,” the candidate declared.

The conclusion from de Blasio was blunt and unapologetic: “For twelve long years, we’ve had a Mayor who doesn’t understand this, and his false choices have created the Tale of Two Cities we’re living today.”

Bloomberg dismissed that kind of talk as “class warfare.”

He also suggested that de Blasio was running a “racist” race by campaigning with his African-American wife and their children.

Both charges from the outgoing mayor were absurd, and even Bloomberg allies dismissed his intervention in the contest as “unfortunate.”

Even as Bloomberg and his allies attacked, de Blasio’s poll numbers rose. The candidate who had trailed through much of the race became a frontrunner.

He remained so on election night, celebrating that 40.2 percent vote total—14 percent more than the next most popular Democratic contender, former New York Comptroller Thompson.

If the margin holds, de Blasio will not need to run the October 1 runoff race with Thompson, who split key unions endorsements with the Public Advocate.

The results may take several days, perhaps even weeks, to sort out.

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Even if he is secures the Democratic nod, De Blasio will still have to compete on November 5 with Republican nominee Joe Lhota, an ally of former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman who was elected initially as a Republican and then became an independent, will almost certainly position himself at Lhota’s side. And the campaign could yet by an ugly one, as the city’s economic, political and media establishment seeks to derail de Blasio and his big ideas for addressing income inequality.

But Bloomberg and his crew have had a hard time blocking de Blasio.

The mayor made little secret of his enthusiasm for New York City Council President Christine Quinn in the Democratic primary. But on Tuesday, she collected just 15 percent of the vote—running 25 points behind de Blasio.

John Nichols explores Mike Bloomberg’s freak-out over Bill de Blasio’s tax populist campaign.

Obama Delays Demand for Force 'While We Pursue This Diplomatic Path'


President Obama discusses military response to Syrian chemical weapons use with Congressional leaders. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

President Obama said on Monday in a PBS NewsHour interview regarding Syria that “my intention throughout this process has been to ensure that the blatant use of chemical weapons that we saw doesn’t happen again. If in fact there’s a way to accomplish that diplomatically, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”

Over the following 24 hours, circumstances intervened and made it possible for the president to pursue the diplomatic resolution that Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to as “the ideal way” to remove the chemical-weapons threat. With prodding from the Russians and a show of flexibility from the Syrians, the prospect of military intervention has been delayed.

In his speech to the nation Tuesday night, the president announced that he has asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force “while we pursue this diplomatic path.”

The president has been freed to focus on his concerns about chemical weapons—which are broadly shared by the American people—without making immediate demands for the military intervention that the American people do not want.

Yes, Obama will keep the “credible threat” of military action on the table. But it is no longer has to be the centerpiece.

The key passage in the president’s speech was his announcement that “I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.”

As he said Tuesday night, diplomatic initiatives have “the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force.”

The president should embrace that potential.

And he should take the American people with him—even if the diplomatic route if difficult, even if it is frustrating.

This is a moment when the president can and should remind the country of the commitment he made when he accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

“The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach—condemnation without discussion—can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door,” said the president.

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“In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable—and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies,” he recalled. “Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There’s no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

Obama was right then.

He can and should be just as right now.

John Nichols urges Obama to puruse "open-door" diplomacy.

The President Should Speak Again About the Necessity of ‘Open-Door’ Diplomacy

President Obama

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama told the PBS NewsHour Monday that in his response to Syria “my intention throughout this process has been to ensure that the blatant use of chemical weapons that we saw doesn’t happen again. If in fact there’s a way to accomplish that diplomatically, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”

At the time, he and his aides were still lobbying members of the House and Senate to provide him with an authorization to use military force against Syria. And it was presumed that the president would use tonight’s speech to the nation to make the argument for that unpopular proposal.

He will speak about the same topic tonight. But with prospects for a diplomatic solition strengthened by a series of dramatic developments Tuesday, he can come at it from a very different perspective.

Instead of talking about the necessity of military intervention, he can talk about the prospect of advancing human rights through diplomacy.

He can admit that this is not easy—acknowledging that he has struggled to get the calculus right. He can explain that there is nothing “soft” about the pursuit of what he has referred to as a “just peace.” He can help Americans to recognize why it is necessary to communicate with, to negotiate with, Syrian leaders whom he and his aides have condemned.

The president’s speech can be instructive. Even, perhaps, hopeful.

He has time for that now.

That’s because Obama has asked for a delay in congressional action on his request. The Washington-insider journal Politico reported Tuesday afternoon that Obama “wants Congress to delay its efforts to vote on authorizing the use of force in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons until the round of diplomatic efforts that began this week has a chance to play out.”

After the president met with senators Tuesday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said that, while Obama wants “the credible threat of our doing something about this (chemical weapons) attack…to remain,” he also wants time to have the United States work with France and the United Kingdom, in consultation with Russia and China toward what the White House refers to as “verifiable and enforceable destruction” of Syria’s chemical weapons.

A senior Democrat aide told a reporter shortly after the meeting with Obama, “His main message is we need to allow time for diplomatic situation to play itself out, but at the same time we need to keep the threat of military force credible because that’s how we got here in the first place.”

This is the case Obama can and should make tonight.

Circumstances have, at least for the moment, freed him to focus on his concerns about chemical weapons—which are broadly shared by the American people—without having to make a case for military action. Yes, the president is likely to keep the “credible threat” on the table. But he can also talk about the power and the potential of diplomacy.

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He might even quote from a speech he gave almost four years ago.

“The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach—condemnation without discussion—can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door,” the president said as he accepted the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

“In light of the Cultural Revolution’s horrors, Nixon’s meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable—and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies,” he recalled. “Pope John Paul’s engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan’s efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There’s no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

Obama made an important commitment then.

He can and should renew it tonight.

Read John Nichols on Congress’s role in the Syria debate.

Congress Should Provide Advice, Not Consent, on Syria

President Obama

President Barack Obama speaks at a G-20 Summit press conference in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama says he would not launch military strikes against Syria if the government of that country were to turn over its chemical weapons to foreign minders—as Russia has proposed.

But the skeptical president—who suggests that he takes the Russian offer “with a grain of salt” —still wants the authority to launch those strikes.

So, even as the prospect for a non-military fix has been raised, Obama will keep lobbying a skeptical Congress for the approval of a military fix. Though the president refuses to rule out the prospect that he might launch strikes without congressional approval, he says, “I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously.”

Obama should take the congressional votes seriously.

He should not consider launching the strikes without affirmative signals from both the House and the Senate.

But he should also consider the debate that will anticipate those congressional votes—and the alternatives that will be proposed.

This president needs alternatives.

And Congress should provide them.

The president’s proposal to launch strikes against Syrian government targets, in response to reports of chemical weapons attacks, faces overwhelming opposition from the American people—59 percent in the latest CNN survey—and deep skepticism from Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Beginning with a series of television interviews Monday evening, the president will be using the bully pulpit to make his case. And he’ll get a good measure of media buy-in in coming days. There will even be suggestions that the threat of military action is working—and that it must be codified.

But the prospect that the president will achieve a full momentum shift on this issue, and get the Congressional authorization for the use of force that he seeks, remains uncertain. Even Obama admits: “I wouldn’t say I’m confident” about the congressional votes.

But, even if he loses, the president could gain options in the process.

The concept of a system of checks and balances, as outlined by the founders of the American experiment, relies on the notion that president’s must seek the “advice and consent” of Congress on vital issues. In the contentious politics of our moment, too little attention is paid to the “advice” part of that equation. But Congress can and should offer the president and his aides an alternative to a military intervention that has stirred deep skepticism.

That’s the thinking of Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who argues: “We must recognize that we do have alternatives to the use of force and we should be vigorously pursuing them.”

Lee is the California Democrat who, in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, cast the sole vote against the broad authorization of the use of force sought by then-President George W. Bush. Lee argued a dozen years ago that Congress needed to have more of a hand in defining the direction of what would become a global “war on terror,” and in promoting diplomatic responses to challenges facing the United States.

Today, Lee continues to work to renew the role of Congress in foreign policy. Several weeks ago, she authored a key letter urging President Obama to ask Congress for authorization to use force against Syria. That letter drew the signatures of sixty Democratic members of the House—many of them, like Lee, long-term backers of the president. There is little question that the Lee letter played a role in influencing the president to go to Congress on the issue.

Now, Lee is taking the next step. She is asking House members to sign on for a diplomatic alternative to missile strikes. The letter reads:

Dear Colleague:

I write to urge your support for my proposal which lays out non-military options the United States can pursue, in partnership with the international community, that is consistent with law and would hold perpetrators accountable for heinous crimes against humanity.

While I believe the Assad regime must be held accountable, I reject that it has to mean a military response to be effective. There is no military solution to this complex civil war, and while a negotiated settlement is necessary, I do not believe military action will further that goal.

Instead of pursuing military force, United States policy should focus on working with the United Nations and the international community on an enhanced diplomatic strategy to facilitate a negotiated political settlement and hold the Assad regime, and all responsible parties, accountable for human rights violations. My Resolution lays out options such as:

1. requiring the Government of Syria to allow unfettered access to humanitarian organizations;

2. pressuring all internal and external parties to participate urgently and constructively in the Geneva process and other negotiations and regional arrangements with the League of Arab States and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation;

3. seeking to strengthen and coordinate multilateral sanctions targeted against the assets of Assad;

4. investigating and prosecuting crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law, including appropriately-timed International Criminal Court referral;

5. working with member states of the Chemical Weapons Convention;

6. working with the international community to establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal; and

7. enabling United States courts to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law committed in Syria.

We must recognize that we do have alternatives to the use of force and we should be vigorously pursuing them. I urge you in joining me to support non-military means to hold the perpetrators accountable and bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Sincerely,

BARBARA LEE

 

Lee is hardly alone in offering advice on the wisdom of a diplomatic response, as opposed to military strikes. A new ad campaign from Progressive Democrats of America says: "Forceful diplomacy is the alternative to force without a diplomatic solution." And members of the House and Senate are making the same point.

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Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, said after being briefed by White House aides: “I am still not convinced that there is a compelling national security interest that necessitates a military response, solely or largely borne by the United States. We need to engage the international community to find the appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons, and to do so will require a much broader discussion with all proper options given full consideration. The use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable, but this is an issue that is best addressed by the international community.”

Pocan represents the Wisconsin district previously served by Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who last year was elected to the US Senate. Baldwin has yet to say whether she will vote for or against the resolution itself says she thinks that Senate amendments might play a significant role in the process. While two senators—West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp—are proposing an amendment that might delay US action, Baldwin is particularly interested in assuring that the international community is brought into the mix. “The use of chemical weapons is a global atrocity and demands a global response,” she says. “The various treaties and conventions addressing these issues have been ratified by most of the world’s nations. Devising a precedent-setting response to their violation demands that the world’s nations engage in this discussion.”

New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to say that he is “very disappointed that the administration has given up” on working with the United Nations. The United States should be “rallying the world” to respond to developments in Syria, says Udall, whose father (former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall) served in the administration of Lyndon Johnson when an ever-expanding military involvement in Vietnam undermined the president’s ambitious domestic agenda.

Bitter experiment has informed the American people, argues Udall, who suggests that President Obama “is moving much too rapidly down the war path and not trying to find a political solution.”

Americans, the senator says, “don’t want to be embroiled in a Middle Eastern civil war; this is an act of war that we’re going to take. We haven’t exhausted all of our political, economic, and diplomatic alternatives.”

Udall, a savvy former prosecutor with broad experience in Washington, says President Obama “is moving much too rapidly down the war path and not trying to find a political solution.”

Congressman James McGovern, D-Massachusetts, recognizes the dynamic. “Look, I’m a big supporter of Barack Obama,” says McGovern. “But sometimes friends can disagree.”

McGovern is concerned that White House insiders suffer from an “inability to think outside the box.”

Congress should help them with that.

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No on Military Intervention in Syria

Read John Nichols on Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for Syrian strike.

Mike Bloomberg and the 'Fortunate Ones' Versus Bill de Blasio


Bill de Blasio responds to questions after the Democratic New York City mayoral debate Tuesday, August 13, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

New York Public Advocate Bill de Blasio might just be elected the new mayor of America’s largest city.

And that has the current mayor of New York freaking out.

It’s not that Mike Bloomberg has much reason to fear that de Blasio would do harm to the city. When Bloomberg was elected mayor in 2001, de Blasio was elected to the city council, and though their positions differ on a good many issues, they have both worked within the broad mainstream of New York City politics and governance ever since.

But Bloomberg does fear de Blasio’s support for a slightly more equitable tax system—of the sort that might make New Yorkers like the billionaire mayor pay a few more bills.

So on the eve of the New York mayoral primary in which de Blasio is likely to beat the mayor’s unofficial favorite (City Council President Christine Quinn), Bloomberg was ripping the public advocate. Most of the headlines from Bloomberg over the weekend related to a bizarre comment he made about de Blasio’s highlighting of members of his family—including his African-American wife and their teenage son Dante—in public appearances and in television ads that focus on, among other things, the candidate’s long-standing opposition to the city’s “stop-and-frisk” law.

It is hard to imagine a more traditional political tactic than a candidate and his or her family campaigning together. But Bloomberg told New York magazine that de Blasio is running a “class warfare and racist” campaign because: “he’s making an appeal using his family to gain support. I think it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching what he’s been doing.”

That was a “Seriously?” moment, to which response has been universally negative. The mayor’s office went into damage-control mode immediately, complaining about the transcription of the taped interview; it was noted that Bloomberg said in the same interview of de Blasio: “I do not think he himself is racist.” But even Quinn labeled Bloomberg’s remark “unfortunate.

The controversy distracted from another jab at de Blasio by the mayor—a hit that is likely to be central to the mayor’s effort to attack the public advocate in a potential mayoral primary runoff race (which is required if no Democratic contender gets more than 40 percent of the vote) and the November general election.

Bloomberg’s biggest gripe was with what he terms “class warfare.”

From the beginning of his campaign, de Blasio has highlighted issues of income inequality, arguing that New York’s story is becoming “a tale of two cities.” One of the candidate’s most popular platform planks is a proposal for “increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund early childhood and after-school programs.” It’s hardly a radical plan, and it comes not as part of a divisive appeal but as part of a platform that calls for “One New York, Rising Together.”

But the mayor does not like that the front-runner in the race to replace him points out a fact of life in the city Bloomberg has led for twelve years: “In so many ways, New York has become a Tale of Two Cities,” says de Blasio “Nearly 400,000 millionaires call New York home, while nearly half of our neighbors live at or near the poverty line. Our middle class isn’t just shrinking; it’s in danger of vanishing altogether.”

Bloomberg complains that “de Blasio’s whole campaign is that there are two different cities here. And I’ve never liked that kind of division. The way to help those who are less fortunate is, number one, to attract more very fortunate people. They are the ones that pay the bills.”

Grumbling about the whole de Blasio campaign, Bloomberg says: “It’s a destructive strategy for those you want to help the most. He’s a very populist, very left-wing guy, but this city is not two groups, and if to some extent it is, it’s one group paying for services for the other.”

The mayor is off-base on plenty of levels. The majority of New York’s revenues come from working people, not millionaires and billionaires.

And de Blasio’s “ask” of the wealthiest 1 percent is relatively modest: an increase in New York City’s top income tax rate from 3.876 percent to 4.41 percent. Only New Yorkers with incomes above $500,000 would pay any more.

Yet, the tax increase would yield $532 million to help pay for universal all-day pre-kindergarten and after-hours middle-school programs that would, overwhelmingly, benefit low- and moderate-income families.

That those families could use help is hard to debate. In 1980, according to New York’s Fiscal Policy Institute, New York’s wealthiest 1 percent collected 12 percent of all earnings. By 2012, the wealthiest 1 percent was pocketing 39 percent of all earnings.

“Here [in New York City], one of the country’s poorest congressional districts, primarily in the South Bronx, sits less than a mile from one of its wealthiest, which includes Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And here, a billionaire mayor presides over a homelessness crisis so massive that 50,000 men, women and children sleep in shelters each night. More New Yorkers are homeless these days than at any time since the Great Depression,” notes the Fiscal Policy Institute. “The numbers tell the story. Between 2000 and 2010, the median income of the city’s eight wealthiest neighborhoods jumped 55 percent…. Meanwhile, as the cushy precincts got even cushier, median income dipped 3 percent in middle-income areas and 0.2 percent in the poorest neighborhoods.”

Bill de Blasio’s response to that data is to say: “We need a game-changer, and at a time when so many families are struggling, it’s right and fair that we tax the wealthiest New Yorkers to achieve it. There is no investment that will prove more transformative for our kids.”

Mike Bloomberg accuses de Blasio of “class warfare.”

That’s tough talk. But instead of arguing with Bloomberg, perhaps de Blasio should borrow a page from Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Noting that his 1936 reelection campaign was opposed by the forces of “business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering,” the thirty-second president said: “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”

Bernie Sanders: Billions for 'Another War,' but No Money for Needs at Home


Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, speaks at the California Democrats State Convention in Sacramento, April 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In an age of deep partisan divisions, the broadest opposition to United States military intervention in Syria is not coming from Republicans. Or Democrats.

Independent voters are the most determined foes of President Obama’s proposal to launch missile strikes in response to reports that the Syrian government employed chemical weapons in that country’s brutal civil war. While Republicans and Democrats surveyed for the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll expressed strong opposition to the president’s proposal—by margins of 55-43 and 54-42, respectively—independents were against the plan 66-30.

So what does the independent senator from Vermont say?

Bernie Sanders shares the skepticism.

The Vermonter, who caucuses with the Democrats but has a history of breaking with presidents of both parties on matters of principle, is asking questions that are more likely to be heard on Main Street than in the cloistered conference rooms where administration aides are asking members of Congress to authorize the use of force against Syria.

“We’ve cut back on education, we’ve cut back on nutrition programs, we’ve thrown kids off Head Start,” says Sanders. “We have billions to spend on a war but no money to take care of the very pressing needs of the American people. That bothers me a lot.”

Like most senators, Sanders has not made a formal declaration on how he will vote when the chamber takes up the authorization measure that was approved Wednesday on a ten (seven Democrats, three Republicans) to seven (five Republicans, two Democrats) vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, voted “present.”)

Sanders says he will keep listening to the arguments made by the White House. “But,” he said on MSNBC’s The Ed Show Wednesday night, “I would be less than honest with you if didn’t say I had very, very deep concerns about this proposal. And, by the way, I can tell you that in my office the phones are bopping off the hook and almost unanimously people are opposed to what the president is talking about.”

The senator, who has a track record of engagement with international human rights issues, expresses deep concern about reports of the deployment of chemical weapons, and about the humanitarian issues raised by developments in Syria.

But the Vermonter worries, as well, about the prospect that “a third Middle East war in 12 years may make a very bad situation even worse.”

He fears the prospect of the United States “getting dragged into an interminable war.”

Those are common concerns in Washington these days.

But Sanders goes further.

What distinguishes the senator’s response is the extent to which he is speaking about priorities. Or, rather, about the impact a new global policeman project might have on the ability of an easily distracted Congress to recognize—even in a time of military conflict—that the fundamental economic challenges facing tens of millions of Americans must be addressed.

“(The) truth is that a largely dysfunctional Congress has difficulty today focusing on the very serious issues facing our country: the disappearing middle class, high unemployment, low wages, the high cost of college, the decline of our manufacturing sector and the planetary crisis of global warming,” argues Sanders. “I fear very much that U.S. involvement in another war in the Middle East, and the cost of that war, will make it even harder for Congress to protect working families.”

“Our Republican friends have made it very clear: they’re not going to ask the wealthy or large corporation to pay more in taxes,” says Sanders. “They already want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. What may well be happening is the cost of this war may be paid for by more kids being thrown off of Head Start, senior citizens being thrown off ‘Meals on Wheels’ programs, educational programs being cut.”

Sanders is raising an important matter with regard to this Congress.

And with regard to the scope and character of the coming debate.

“Right now, it’s impossible to know if military intervention in Syria will cost the U.S. $100 million or hundreds of billions,” explains the National Priorities Project.

The budget transparency group notes, however, that “U.S. forces would use Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to attack Syria. On our brand-new Cost of National Security site, you can see the real-time cost of the Tomahawk Cruise Missile program. In 2013, the program is projected to cost U.S. taxpayers $320 million—or $36,563 every hour. That cost would spike if the U.S. military ultimately fired hundreds of missiles at Syria, as it did in Libya in 2011.”

No doubt the United States can and would spend whatever might be necessary to defend itself from attack. But when the Congress is considering whether to approve missile strikes that the State Departments admits are about “holding the Assad regime accountable,” and when President Obama is saying those strikes are “not time sensitive,” it is reasonable to include in the broader debate a discussion of the economics of war and peace, of military preparation and of military intervention.

It is reasonable to recall that the Libyan mission in which the United States engaged in 2011 cost in excess of $1 billion.

It is reasonable to suggest, as has Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Washington, that Congress should be talking not just about if and when to bomb Syria but about how the costs of the mission will be covered. “We’ve got all kinds of problems and here we are spending more money on a war,” says McDermott, who in addition to being a senior member of the House is a US Navy veteran and former a US Foreign Service Medical Officer.

Those who know a bit about war, and the world, are inclined to consider the human costs of military interventions.

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When President Dwight Eisenhower was winding down the Korean War in 1953, he explained that

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road. the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron

The congressional debate about Syria should consider all the issues that have been raised with regard to international relations and humanitarian interventions. It should speak about America’s place in the world, and about America’s resposibilities to other countries. But Senator Sanders is right to remind us that this debate also must consider how the United States will fare under the cloud of threatening war.

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No on Military Intervention in Syria

'Nobody Wants This Except the Military-Industrial Complex'


A man sits in front of houses destroyed during a Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, Syria on August 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, backs President Obama’s request for authorization to intervene militarily in Syria, as does House Democratic Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is similarly “in,” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, in mum.

The president has done a pretty good job of selling his plan to congressional leaders.

He has not, however, sold it to the American people.

Thus, when members of Congress decide which side they’re on in the Syrian intervention votes that are expected to take place next week, they will have to consider whether they want to respond to pro-war pressure from inside-the-Beltway—as so many did when they authorized action against Iraq—or to the anti-war sentiments of their constituents.

Reflecting on the proposed intervention, Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Florida, allowed as how “nobody wants this except the military-industrial complex.”

The level of opposition might not be quite so overwhelming.

But it is strikingly high.

And, even as the president makes his case, skepticism about intervention appears to be growing.

A Pew Research survey released Tuesday found support for air strikes had collapsed from 45 percent to 29 percent, while opposition had spiked. “The public has long been skeptical of U.S. involvement in Syria, but an April survey found more support than opposition to the idea of a US-led military response if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed,” Pew reported Tuesday. “The new survey finds both broad concern over the possible consequences of military action in Syria and little optimism it will be effective.”

The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released after the president announced he would seek congressional authorization for an attack on Syria, and after several days of administration lobbying for that attack, found that voters are overwhelmingly opposed to intervention.

“The United States says it has determined that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in the civil war there,” the Post/ABC poll asked. “Given this, do you support or oppose the United States launching missile strikes against the Syrian government?”

* Sixty percent of registered voters (59 percent of all respondents) express opposition. Just 36 percent support intervention.

* Self-identified Democrats are opposed 54-42—a 12 point gap.

* Republicans are opposed 55-43—a similar 12 point gap.

* The fiercest opposition is among independents, who disapprove of intervention by a 66-30 margin. That figure suggests that members of Congress who represent swing districts might actually be more vulnerable if they vote to authorize the attack.

In addition to being broad-based, the opposition sentiment runs deep. Even if US allies such as Britain and France join in, a 51-46 majority is still opposed to missile strikes.

The idea of going further and trying to topple the Syrian regime appears to be a political non-starter. Seventy percent of those surveyed oppose supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, while just 30 percent support the proposal that has been floated by President Obama and Republican hawks such as Arizona Senator John McCain.

What is especially notable about the polling data is the intensity of opposition to any sort of intervention—including missile strikes targeted at suspected chemical weapons sites—among groups that lean Democratic at election time.

* Sixty-five percent of women surveyed for The Post/ABC poll oppose missile strikes, while just 30 percent favor them. (The Pew survey found an even lower level of support among women: just 19 percent)

* Among Americans under age 40 who were surveyed for the Post/ABC poll, 65 percent are opposed.

* Among Hispanics, 63 percent are opposed.

* Among African-Americans, 56 percent are opposed.

On the question of arming the rebels, opposition numbers skyrocket.

* Seventy-six percent of women surveyed for the Post/ABC poll are opposed.

* Seventy-four percent of those under age 40 are opposed.

* Seventy-three percent of African-Americans are opposed.

Regionally, the Democratic-leaning states of the Midwest and the Northeast are more opposed than the Republican-leaning states of the South.

It is true that foreign policy is not always made on the basis of polling data. It is true that patterns of war weariness and concern about how to address the use of chemical weapons makes the current circumstance volatile. And it is true that poll numbers can change. But it is worth noting that discomfort with launching air strikes—let alone any other intervention—is running strong among voters who have followed the story closely and among voters who have only recently begun to engage with it. Pew reports that “opposition to the idea is prevalent regardless of people’s level of interest—nearly half oppose airstrikes among the most and least attentive segments of the public.”

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Or, as the Washington Post analysis puts it: “there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the survey.”

Take Action: Demand Your Reps Vote No on Military Intervention

Amid Outcry, President Honors Demand for Syria Vote


President Obama talks to bipartisan Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington while discussing a military response to Syria, September 3, 2013. (REUTERS/ Larry Downing)

In an extraordinary development that reflected both the level of division regarding military intervention in Syria and the power of the popular outcry from Americans who want their Constitution to be respected, President Obama on Saturday indicated that he will ask Congress for authorization to use force against the Middle Eastern country.

Obama, who had seemed to be on track to launch missile strikes without the approval of the House and Senate, faced loud objections from House members. More than 150 Democratic and Republican members signed letters demanding that the president ask for the approval of Congress before taking any action. The White House took note when Democrats such as California Congressman John Garamendi pointedly declared that “the president has the responsibility to seek authorization from our nation’s elected leaders before initiating military action.”

On Saturday, in a White House Rose Garden announcement that shocked much of official Washington, the president agreed.

“We should have this debate,” Obama announced, just days after the British Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s appeal for authority to join the United States in intervening in Syria.

Now Obama has set up a similar test. While the president continues to assert that he has the “the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization,” he acknowledged Saturday that “I’m also mindful that I’m the president of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. I’ve long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

With that expression of regard for the system of checks and balances, the president would be hard-pressed to go ahead with a military intervention that the House or Senate rejected.

Indeed, though he will lobby for the strike, Obama clung Saturday to his past association with antiwar sentiment. “A country faces few decisions as grave as using military force, even when that force is limited,” he said. “I respect the views of those who call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that I was elected in part to end.”

Because Congress does not return from its current recess until September 9, the president’s decision appears to delay what had seemed to be an imminent strike. It has also created an opening for opponents of this military intervention to press members of the House and Senate to vote “no.”

Obama left no doubt that he wants to take action. He said Saturday that he is “prepared to strike” Syria, in response to reports of chemical weapons attacks in that war-torn country. “I have decided that the US should take military action against Syrian military targets,” said the president, who described the desired action as “limited in duration and scope.”

The key word in that statement was “should”—as opposed to “will.”

NBC News reported that most members of the president’s national security team wanted the president to act without Congress. But the growing demand for a vote—coming not just from Republicans who usually oppose the president but from Democrats who are often aligned with him—led the president on Saturday to acknowledge the objection to going to war without the constitutionally mandated authorization from Congress: “Over the last several days, we’ve heard from several members of Congress who want their voices to be heard. I absolutely agree.”

“While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective,” said Obama. “We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual.”

How much of a break there will be from business as usual remains unclear.

The White House will ask for limited authority to take necessary steps “to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons.” The actual language of the request is important, as will be the language of the proposal that is debated by the House and Senate.

There should be a difference between an “authorization of the use of force,” which ought to be limited, and a “declaration of war,” which is far more sweeping. But the lines were blurred by former President George W. Bush, who used an authorization for the use of force in Iraq to initiate a full-scale war.

Fears about mission creep are real, not just in Congress but among the American people—50 percent of those questioned in an NBC poll this week said they did not want a US attack on Syria even if there is confirmation of a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government on civilians.

When it comes to military intervention, skepticism and questioning is valid—and potentially definitional. There are members of Congress, such as Michigan Republican Justin Amash, who say the House could well reject the president’s request.

Of course, the White House will lobby hard. And, if the past is any indication, the media coverage of the debate will err on the side of the White House.

But the president has now said that there is no need to rush to war.

The space that has been created allows for sorting through the facts, for debating the options and for House and Senate votes on whether to intervene militarily in the affairs of another distant land.

This is as the founders intended when they wrote a Constitution that gives the power to declare war not to an all-powerful commander-in-chief but to an unwieldy Congress.

As one of the essential figures in the development of the Constitution, George Mason, said: “I am for clogging rather than facilitating war.”

The president’s decision to delay action until he hears from Congress respects the Constitution’s language, and its intent.

Now, Congress must do the same by taking its responsibility seriously enough to demand facts, to consider whether acts of war are justified and to determine whether the United States—as opposed to the United Nations—should be the police officer of the world.

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For his part, the president has shown respect for the role of Congress is a system of separated powers. He must be clear now that, like David Cameron, he will respect the decision of the legislators—even if it clogs rather than facilitates war,

To do so would move the United States toward a restoration of the rule of law that was disregarded under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and that has yet to be restored.

Katrina vanden Heuvel warns Congress to think carefully before intervening in Syria.

Not Another Undeclared War: UK Parliament Votes, Why Not US Congress?


President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Nicole Hockley and families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in the Oval Office, April 11, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In the aftermath of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s immediate response was to appear before a joint session of Congress to ask for a declaration of war. Despite the fact that an attack on US soil had killed and wounded thousands of Americans, despite the clear threat of additional attacks, Roosevelt honored the separation of powers as defined by the Constitution, along with the clear requirement that “the Congress shall have power…to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”

No president since Roosevelt has respected the Constitution sufficiently to seek a formal declaration of war.

They have had plenty of excuses: a United Nations Security Council resolution, a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a “consultation” with congressional leaders. They have interpreted the War Powers Act broadly. They have simply done as they chose.

But they have not obtained the formal declarations of war required by the Constitution.

It is easy to blame presidents for this.

But the blame is shared with successive Congresses, which have lacked respect not only for the founding premises of the republic but for their own role in a system of checks and balances. And a growing number of House and Senate members, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are recognizing that, as Congresswoman Barbara Lee says, “Congress must assert our authority on this issue.”

The British Parliament did just that, voting "no" to intervention.

Does the British Parliament have more of a say when it comes to warmaking that the United States Congress?

The framers of the US Constitution certainly did not intend that this would be the circumstance. But in coming days we will learn whether the Constitution still applies.

As preparations are made for war with Syria—and, should anyone be confused on this point, missile strikes meet the definition of warmaking—Secretary of State John Kerry is making public pronouncements aimed at explaining and justifying what could be a unilateral response to reports that chemical weapons were deployed in the strife-torn country.

Kerry says that “the administration is actively consulting with members of Congress.”

But “actively consulting” is not the same as securing a clearly stated declaration of war. Indeed, Congressman Justin Amash, an antiwar Republican from Michigan, argues that striking Syria without a congressional authorization is “unquestionably unconstitutional.”

Amash flatly declares that, if a vote were held, “it would fail.”

Even if Amash is wrong, the reality is that Congress must be in session for a declaration to be made.

And at this point, the House and Senate are on recess.

But that cannot be an excuse for Congress to stand down.

Seventy-nine percent of Americans surveyed for the latest NBC News Poll say that President Obama should seek congressional approval before taking any military action. According to NBC: "nearly seven-in-10 Democrats and 90 percent of Republicans say the president should be required to receive congressional approval before taking any action."

More than 150 members of the House and Senate have formally expressed the same view: calling in letters to the White House for a debate and for a vote on whether to go forward with a military intervention.

 

“There is no greater decision for a country to make than the decision to go to war,” argues Congressman John Garamendi, D-California. “For that reason, the President has the responsibility to seek authorization from our nation’s elected leaders before initiating military action. Our leaders in Congress have a similar responsibility to the American people to demand this constitutionally-required authority and to evaluate any potential US military intervention abroad. The past decade has amply demonstrated the folly of military commitments poorly conceived. Our brave men and women in uniform deserve better. The American people deserve a full explanation of the situation, the pending action, the strategic goal, and the potential outcomes.”

Garamendi this week joined Congressman Walter Jones Jr., R-North Carolina, is penning a bipartisan letter specifically asking President Obama to seek congressional authorization before launching any military intervention into the Syrian conflict.

“As stated in the War Powers Resolution of 1973, absent a Congressional declaration of war or authorization for the use of military force, the President as Commander-in-Chief has constitutional power to engage the US armed forces in hostilities only in the case of a national emergency created by an attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces,” reads the letter. “As none of these criteria have been met, we believe it is Congress’s right and responsibility to be fully briefed on any potential plans to engage in military action in Syria, to assess whether such an intervention is in the national security interest of the United States and our allies, and to withhold or grant authorization for the use of military force based on this assessment.”

Another letter, authored by Congressman Scott Rigell, R-Virginia, and signed by 116 members (ninety-eight Republicans and eighteen Democrats) declares that “engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.”

Rigell has been one of the House’s most consistent critics of undeclared wars since his election in 2010 to represent a district with a large population of current and retired military personnel. And he is particularly pointed when it comes to the prospects of an assault on Syria, arguing that “Congress is not a potted plant in this process, and President Obama should call us back into emergency session before authorizing the use of any military force. We stand ready to share the burden of decisions made regarding US involvement.”

Rigell asserts that “proactive consultation with Congress and explicit, definitive authorization” is necessary. And like Garamendi and Jones, he rejects the premise that the president has the authority under the War Powers Resolution to intervene militarily in Syria as a response to the government’s reported use of chemical weapons against civilians.

The congressman told CQ Roll Call that, because a US intervention would have as its purpose a “humanitarian objective,” the War Powers Resolution does not apply. In the absence of an authorization from Congress, presidents are supposed to be able to initiate warfare only in a national emergency associated with a foreign attack on the United States. In the absence of a “national emergency,” the Armed Forces Committee member explained to the Capitol Hill paper, if the president proposes to intervene in Syria, “then, indeed, prior to—prior to!—not after the fact, he needs to call Congress into session.”

That premise has bipartisan and ideologically diverse support in the House. Among the signers of the Rigell letter are libertarian Republicans such as Amash and progressive Democrats such as Rush Holt of New Jersey and Pete DeFazio.

Other Democrats are stepping up to raise concerns about the rush to war.

Congressman Lee, the California Democrat who cast a lonely vote against the blanket authorization of the use of force after the September 11, 2001, has obtained 54 signers for her own letter asking the president to “seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis,” and is more specific than most members in stating her opposition to intervention. Among the signers so far are Congressional Black Caucus chair Martha Fudge, D-Ohio, and the  the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison and Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, as well as key House Democrats such as Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and John Lewis of Georgia.

“While the use of chemical weapons is deeply troubling and unacceptable,” Lee says. “I believe there is no military solution to the complex Syrian crisis. Congress needs to have a full debate before the United States commits to any military force in Syria—or elsewhere.”

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, says: “The United States must remain cautious and pragmatic in our response. The last decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated what comes of war waged with poor planning. We cannot haphazardly enter another conflict with a sovereign nation. Questions still remain about the identity and intentions of the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime, and I believe we need clear answers before moving forward.”

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Congressman Jim McGovern, the Massachusetts Democrat who has worked closely with antiwar groups such as Progressive Democrats of America to dial down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, says that, while he is “deeply troubled by reports that the Assad regime may have used chemical weapons against their own people…. We must also remain very cautious about military intervention in light of the terrible price our soldiers and their families have already paid in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

A lack of caution on the part of Congress more than a decade ago haunts America to this day.

The need for a real consultation of Congress this time, for an honest debate and for clear House and Senate votes on whether to authorize the use of US military force against Syria, is confirmed by bitter experience. And by the Constitution.

Walter Jones is precisely right when he says, “For too long, the legislature’s responsibility to authorize military force has been overlooked. It is time that we uphold the Constitution, which makes it clear in Article 1, Section 8 that Congress alone holds the power to declare war.”

The media finally raise alarms about attacking Syria.

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