Republicans and Democrats: A Play in Three Acts.

ACT 1: Washington DC, United States Senate early 2016

Merrick Garland, an eminently qualified judge, was nominated by Barack Obama to the Supreme Court. For weeks afterwards, Republican senators responsible for considering the nomination refused to meet with him. Some of them slink out of their offices in the Senate to avoid the visiting judge.

Several eventually do meet him after being shamed, but refuse to discuss confirmation hearings and restrict conversations to pleasantries. They work in lock step to deny Garland a hearing, and deny him the nomination. For the first time in the Republic’s history, a President’s judicial nominee is denied a hearing for 10 months.

170-Plus Days And Counting: GOP Unlikely To End Supreme Court Blockade Soon

As of now, Garland has been waiting, in vain, for more than 170 days, well over the century-old, 125-day record. The prospect is, at best, many months more of waiting.

To sum up events to date, hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last February, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced that there would be no hearings, no votes, no action whatsoever, on any Supreme Court nomination until the American people got to vote on a new president. — www.npr.org/…

The Republican Senate leader maintains strict discipline among his senators, whipping them into line, ensuring not a single one broke ranks.

ACT 2: Washington DC, early 2018

President Donald Trump nominates a pro-torture war-monger to serve as Secretary of State.

The nominee is Mike Pompeo, who once said Obama had an “affinity” for terrorists like ISIS. He called Hillary Clinton “morally reprehensible” when she was Secretary of State. He liked a tweet calling John Kerry a traitor. He has called Muslim leaders “potentially complicit” in terrorism.

Many Democrats go along as if this is B.A.U. Several senior Democrats voted to confirm said pro-torture war-monger to lead the CIA the previous year, after he said he remained open to waterboarding and other forms of torture that he had previously supported.

The Senate considers the nomination as Democratic activist groups across the spectrum oppose his nomination:

These are extra-ordinary times. At least one Republican senator has pledged to vote against Pompeo’s nomination. This senator sits on the Foreign Relations committee where Pompeo’s hearing is being held. If all Democrats on the committee join the Republican in voting down Pompeo, heis nomination will go to a floor vote. No nominee who has failed to gain majority support in committee has been confirmed in over 40 years.

The senate has only ever rejected nine cabinet level nominees in its entire history. Several observers believe that though Pompeo was confirmed 66-32 to his CIA position, Secretary of State is a different proposition as cabinet position.

In Committee, Pompeo is grilled about his views on Russia, Iran, North Korea, torture and his anti-Muslim bigotry.

“At the State Department, there are too many holes, too many vacancies, too many unfilled positions,” Mr. Pompeo said in one of his many promises to restore the department to its former glory after his predecessor, Rex W. Tillerson, pushed out hundreds of diplomats. The vow was greeted with relief by nearly all on the panel. — www.nytimes.com/…

The senate committee “appear relieved” that a pro-torture, far-right, war-mongering bigot will have the opportunity to pack the State Department with hundreds of supporters.

As the curtain falls on this act, prominent Democrats line up on the stage to publicly declare magical beliefs, such as:

ACT 3: Will Democrats Put Up a Fight?

The Act opens with a jester hopping on stage to address the audience. He wonders whether Democrats are like frogs in a kettle being boiled by Trump. The temperature’s been rising with Tillerson and , it will reach boiling point with Bolton, Pompeo and Haspel. The American public has a tiring habit of “rallying around the president” when we’re at war. And the only thing Pompeo, Bolton and Haspel love more than harassing black/brown people at home is bombing black/brown people abroad.

Martial music is piped through the theater.

 The Jester says he spoke with the nominee, and…

Mike Pompeo Can’t Believe Senate Just Expects He’ll Answer Questions Without Being Tortured First

Maniacal laughter from the rafters, interspersed with screams.

In Act 1, we saw that Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of Kentucky. Kentucky is a red state, it last had a Democratic senator in 1999. McConnell whipped his entire party to deny an eminently qualified supreme court candidate a confirmation hearing. He used all his power to ensure someone he mildly opposed ideologically didn’t stand a chance to win a supreme court seat.

He fought.

In Act 3, we see Democratic senate leader Chuck Schumer of New York. New York is a blue state, it last had a Republican representing it in the Senate in 1999. Schumer voted to confirm Pompeo as CIA Director a year prior. Schumer is happy to tell the press that he is not “at this moment” asking Democratic senators to oppose the nomination of pro-torture war-monger Mike Pompeo.

He’s not fighting.

Stay tuned to see what happens next!

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted at NotMeUs.org & TheProgressiveWing

Trump urged CIA to kill more families and children in drone strikes.

In a long article on Trump’s relationship with the military, WaPo reveals that Trump urged CIA employees to commit more war crimes.

Trump came to office promising to give the Pentagon a free hand to unleash the full force of U.S. firepower. His impatience was evident on his first full day in office when he visited the CIA and was ushered up to the agency’s drone operations floor. […]

Later, when the agency’s head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?” one participant in the meeting recalled.

On the campaign trail, Trump often said he would “take out” the families of terrorists. — www.washingtonpost.com/…

This was the visit where Trump spoke to several hundred CIA staffers towards the end of his visit. In his speech he complained about media coverage of the size of the crowd at his inauguration. He also made up a story about god stopping the rain for his inauguration speech. Those comments got a lot of attention. To our everlasting shame, the fact that the president urged military personnel to murder families was not.

Targeting civilians in combat is a war crime. Collective punishment is a war crime. Trump urged US military personnel under his command, to kill women and children. During the campaign he publicly said that he would demand that families of combatants be murdered. He followed through with this threat.

And let us also be clear. The US military obeyed the president’s command and changed the way it conducted drone strikes. In 2017, at least 6,000 civilians were killed in bombings by US armed forces:

According to statistics compiled by the Airwars watchdog group, there were nearly 50% more coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2017 compared with the previous year. Civilian deaths rose by 215%. The coalition, almost all US planes, dropped 20,000 bombs on Raqqa. By the end of the five-month campaign, 80% of the city was declared uninhabitable by the UN, and 1,800 civilians are thought to have been killed. Airwars estimates 1,400 of those deaths were caused by coalition air and artillery bombardment.

“We had always expected the highest proportion of civilian casualties to occur in that stage in the war and that’s exactly what happened,” said Chris Woods, the head of Airwars. “Even if we had had a Clinton presidency we would doubtless have had higher civilian casualties in that last stage of the war simply because Raqqa and Mosul were under assault. What we still don’t fully understand is how many more civilians were harmed as a result of fairly significant changes that the Trump administration says it put in place.” — www.theguardian.com/…

The Hill is also covering Trump’s command to the US military to murder families:

President Trump reportedly asked an official at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) why they didn’t kill a terrorist target’s family during a drone strike.

The Washington Post reported Thursday after watching a recorded video of a Syrian drone strike where officials waited until the target was outside of his family’s home, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?”

The agency’s head of drone operations explained to an “unimpressed” Trump there are techniques to limit the number of civilian casualties. — thehill.com/…

If the commander in chief of the US armed forces is formally urging troops to kill civilians, it does make you wonder who’s terrorizing whom.

— @subirgrewal

Did Jared just secure his family’s real-estate empire by facilitating a palace coup in Saudi Arabia?

I’ve written previously about the Kushner family’s attempts to shore up their precarious finances by extorting fees from low-income tenants and selling green-cards to Chinese investors. As Bloomberg reported in August, the Kushners are desperately seeking cash to save their heavily-mortgaged Manhattan skyscraper as balloon payments come due over the next two years.

Last week, Kushner took an unannounced trip to KSA:

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner returned home Saturday from an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia — his third trip to the country this year.

Kushner left Washington, D.C., via commercial airline on Wednesday for the trip, which was not announced to the public, a White House official told POLITICO. He traveled separately from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who led a delegation to Riyadh last week to focus on combating terrorist financing. […]

The White House official would not say who Kushner met with in Saudi Arabia. But he has cultivated a relationship with the crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, who, like Kushner, is in his 30s. — www.politico.com/…

Saudi Arabia has, for the past two years, been waging a brutal bombing campaign against Yemen which has caused thousands of civilian deaths. This war is widely believed to be Mohammed Bin Salman’s [MBS] project, though the war is broadly supported in Saudi Arabia across factions. For example, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal promised to reward Saudi air force pilots with Bentleys when they returned from bombing raids.

Sadly, our government has actively supported the Saudi war in Yemen, providing weapons (including cluster bombs) and operational support. Hundreds of children have been killed by these weapons, thousands have lost limbs. Many of you saw the heart-rending pictures of a young toddler who had lost four of her fingers, staring at the intact hand on her doll.

Then yesterday, the crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, engineered a palace coup, arresting dozens of his own uncles and cousins.

midnight blitz of arrests ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over the weekend has ensnared dozens of its most influential figures, including 11 of his royal cousins, in what by Sunday appeared to be the most sweeping transformation in the kingdom’s governance for more than eight decades.

The arrests, ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman without formal charges or any legal process, were presented as a crackdown on corruption. They caught both the kingdom’s richest investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the most potent remaining rival to the crown prince’s power: Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favored son of the late King Abdullah. — www.nytimes.com/…

Another prince died along with several officials as his helicopter crashed near the Yemeni border.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal had sparred with Trump during and after the election. His Kingdom Holding Company is a major investor in Twitter and Apple. He was one of the people arrested.

“The king and crown prince’s recent public statements regarding the need to build a moderate, peaceful and tolerant region are essential to ensuring a hopeful future for the Saudi people, to curtailing terrorist funding, and to defeating radical ideology — once and for all — so the world can be safe from its evil,” the White House said in the statement.

The White House statement made no mention of the scores of arrests, including that of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor who has held stakes in an array of Western companies, including the News Corporation, Citigroup and Twitter. Prince Mohammed, who has already sidelined rivals to the throne, is viewed as the mastermind behind the crackdown.

Prince Alwaleed sparred with Mr. Trump on Twitter during the presidential election, referring to him as a “disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America.” Mr. Trump fired back, also on Twitter, that he was a “dopey prince” trying to “control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money.” — www.nytimes.com/…

If Kushner was in Saudi Arabia to bless the impending palace coup by MBS, then the Trumps and Kushners can expect rich rewards in the years to come. If MBS can ascend to the throne and diminish the competition, he will control a state-owned oil company that is valued at $2 Trillion and about to go public this year. Yes, that’s Trillion with a T.

Even without the money raised from an IPO, Saudi Aramco produced almost 4 billion barrels of crude oil in 2016. At $50 a barrel, that’s $200 billion in sales each year, the vast majority of it profit. Those numbers are staggering. Saudi Aramco’s annual profits exceed the total net worth of the richest person in the world.

Let’s just say that becoming the King of Saudi Arabia makes you an extremely wealthy person. It makes you even wealthier if you can imprison some of your relatives and confiscate their assets in a “anti-corruption drive”.

And when you have consolidated all this power and wealth, you aren’t going to forget the friends who helped you make it happen will you? Friends with last names like Kushner and Trump? What’s a $5 billion loan or a $10 billion construction contract among friends?

So what can you do as the Trump/Kushner kleptocracy tries to milk every dollar it can out of its days in elected office? You can get out and vote. And you can help get out the vote. I’ve been doing that every day this week and have multiple people tell me they are thankful for the reminder because they didn’t know there was an election on Tuesday, November 7.

Treasury’s doors are wide open to buy bombs, but we have no money to care for the sick.

The day before President Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, the Senate passed a bill authorizing another $700bn for the Pentagon.

In a rare act of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, the Senate passed a $700 billion defense policy bill on Monday that sets forth a muscular vision of America as a global power, with a Pentagon budget that far exceeds what President Trump has asked for.

Senators voted 89-9 to approve the measure, known as the National Defense Authorization Act; the House has already adopted a similar version. — www.nytimes.com/…

Yes, you read that right. The Senate voted to spend even more than the president who wants to “totally destroy” a country with 25 million people in it.

When it’s time to educate our children, or care for the sick, or shelter the homeless, we see no end of hand-wringing about “cost concerns”. But, when it’s time to buy a few bombs, or jets and ships to launch them from, bipartisanship breaks out like a rash in DC. In these trying, divided times, we can still count on both parties to come together and claim the common ground that bombing other (preferably poor and brown) countries is a good thing.

In the bill, lawmakers boosted funding for the F-35 fighter jet by $1.2 billion for 11 more aircraft for a total buy of 74; the F/A-18E/F fighter jet procurement by $979 million for 12 more aircraft. — www.defensenews.com/…

That’s just the acquisition cost. The total cost of the F-35 program is well north of a Trillion dollars. Governing is about choices. We can’t have nice things like free public college, health-care for all and affordable housing, because the military-industrial-complex wants F-35s. So instead of building housing for our own people, we blow up houses across the world. Instead of paying for health-care for our own people, we kill and maim others across the world. Instead of paying to educate our children, we drop bombs on children somewhere else. Last year alone, we dropped 26,000 bombs.

After all, our politicians know there is no cost to starting wars, even when they lie to the American population to start them. They can expect to be invited to the talk show circuit and cocktail parties just like George W. Bush is. They can count on the media, and documentary filmmakers, to whitewash their actions as “honest mistakes” made by “well-meaning” people.

There are eight senators who voted against the National Defense Authorization Act. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted No because he wants to revoke the AUMFs for the 15 and 16 year old wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Mike Lee (R-UT) is concerned about the cost of our war budget. Bob Corker (R-TN) voted No because he’s deeply concerned about spending levels, he released this statement:

“Unfortunately, this legislation not only blows the budget caps by nearly $83 billion but also exceeds the president’s funding request by more than $32 billion and continues the abuse of OCO as a budget gimmick. While I support investing the appropriate resources to ensure our troops have the tools they need, we cannot continue to do things the same way and deepen the fiscal crisis jeopardizing our national security.” — www.chattanoogan.com/…

Patrick Leahy (D-VT) objects to the process and to the bloated bill. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is concerned about waste in the DoD contracts and overall spending on war given other priorities. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has not released a statement but her objections are likely along the same lines. Gillibrand did propose an amendment to overturn Trump’s transgender ban (it was not included in the bill). Wyden (D-OR) and Merkley (D-OR) have voted No in prior years. Sen. Wyden issued this statement to explain his No vote:

“I can’t sign off on another bill that OKs massive increases in military spending, including unnecessary military hardware even the Trump administration didn’t ask for. All this, when Congress can’t figure out how to pay for new roads, bridges, schools and other priorities Americans desperately need to create jobs.”  — www.wyden.senate.gov/…

The House passed the bill back in July, the vote was 344-81.

We have been at war almost without exception, somewhere in the world, for the past 100 years. We’ve currently got special forces deployed in 70 countries.

Here’s then MP, Tony Benn’s speech in the House of Commons in 2003. He went on to chair the Stop the Wars coalition.

A Modest Proposal: Conscript Don Jr, Jared and Eric into a combat infantry unit

Eric Trump is 32.

Jared Kushner is 36.

Donald Trump Jr. is 39.

They’re all young enough to serve. Yes, the Army won’t allow Jared and Don Jr to enlist since they’re over 34, but I’m sure the President can make a call and request an exemption.

If Donald Trump is going to deliver “fire & fury”, perhaps his kids and sons-in-law should help deliver it. Eric and Don are already “locked & loaded” so to speak. They have the ability to track and shoot dangerous animals as you can see in the photo above. They should require minimal training to end up on the front-lines.

It would really be a wonderful testament to their father and father-in-law’s deep desire to serve his country in Vietnam, which was prevented by his painful bone spurs. Those bone spurs really were a pity, since all those years he spent at the pampered “military academy” were wasted.

Anyway, this generation can redeem all that. I would recommend placing them in a combat infantry unit that leads the “fire & fury” charge into Pyongyang, or any other place Trump wants to go to war.

Hey, maybe we should ask all Senators, Representatives and Presidents’ children to serve in combat roles if their parents voted for war. Wouldn’t that be a good idea?

#ConscriptDonJr #ConscriptEric #ConscriptJared

— @subirgrewal

Our bombs blew off this baby’s fingers. She is now learning to use the few she has left.

One year old Zuhoor, whose fingers were amputated after an airstrike in Yemen.

Our government sold the airplanes that dropped these bombs.

Our government refuels the planes on their sorties.

Our government makes and sells the bombs, including cluster bombs.

We share responsibility for these atrocities.

And please don’t believe any of the bullshit peddled to us about how our bombs bring “freedom” and “democracy”. The hands on the triggers are Saudi and we provide the political cover for the Saudis as they do this. The Saudi government is a brutal monarchy. They are about to behead 14 men for taking part in a pro-democracy rally. One of the men was under 18 and arrested on his way to attend college in Michigan. Another is a 23 year old man who is blind and deaf. They were tortured to obtain confessions, most have since recanted.

Meanwhile, in his visit to Saudi Arabia, President Trump did find the time to participate in an elaborate sword dance, but never brought up human rights violations.

US President Donald Trump joins dancers with swords at a welcome ceremony ahead of a banquet at the Murabba Palace in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The president who spends hours watching TV and tweeting can’t seem to comment on the fact that our close ally is planning to behead men and boys for the crime of attending a rally.

Mr Trump has not yet commented on the case of Mr al-Sweikat. In his speech to the Saudis in May, he said: “America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens.

“We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.

“Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.” — www.independent.co.uk/…

Perhaps torture and a penchant for bombing other countries the “values” we share with brutal monarchies?

— @subirgrewal

Progressive Lion: Rep Barbara Lee is one step closer to ending our perpetual war in Afghanistan

On September 14, 2001 Barbara Lee strode up to the podium and made this speech to explain her vote against the AUMF in Afghanistan.

x

Rep Barbara Lee was the lone dissenting vote.

The AUMF passed 420-1 in the house. We have now been at war in Afghanistan for almost 16 years. Her courageous vote that day echoed Jeanette Rankin’s lone vote against declaring war on Japan and entering World War II.

As Lee explained in her speech:

“We are not dealing with a conventional war,” she said. “We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control … If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other noncombatants will be caught in the cross-fire … Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.” — The Guardian

Today, almost 16 years after her lone dissenting voice was heard on the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment to sunset the 2001 AUMF was adopted in committee and will head to a floor debate. If her amendment passes and brings to a close this unending war, it will have been one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of our country and Congress.

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@subirgrewal


Lee represents California’s 13th district, which covers Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda and surrounding areas in the East Bay. She has a long association with the area, and studied at Mills College in Oakland. While there, she volunteered with the Oakland area Black Panther party, and worked on Bobby Seale’s bid for the mayor’s office. As a student, Lee was inspired by and worked on Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the Democratic nomination for President. She later went on to earn a Masters degree at UC Berkeley.

Lee was born in Texas into a military family, and named Barbara Jean Tutt. Her father, Garvin Alexander Tutt retired from the US Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Lee worked on Congressman Ron Dellums’ staff for several years and served in the California State Assembly for 8 years (1990-1996). Dellums was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and the only member of Congress to identify as a socialist.

When Dellums retired in 1998, Lee ran for and won his seat in the 9th district. She succeeded one of the most progressive voices of his generation. Upon re-districting in 2013, she ran for office in the 13th district, succeeding Pete Stark, another strong progressive voice, and one of the earliest members of the CPC. Lee has served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the CPC.

The vote against the AUMF was a defining moment for Lee and led to severe criticism including death threats. Lee has never backed down and has remained steadfast in her commitment to peace. She voted against the Iraq War Resolution, several bills to fund these wars, and the military action in Libya. She has continued to be a vocal, courageous voice for ending our perpetual war. In a speech to her alma mater, Mills College, in 2014, as we embarked on another series of attacks in Iraq and Syria, she had this to say:

“I have called and will continue to call for a full congressional debate and vote on any military action, as required by the Constitution. The American people deserve a public debate on all the options to dismantle ISIS, including their costs and consequences to our national security and domestic priorities.”— The Nation

That Nation article also notes that Lee, is among a dwindling few other Democrats and Republicans

rejects the argument that resolutions from years ago and votes on amendments to funding measures meet the standard for congressional authorization of new military strikes.

In her autobiography, Rep. Lee revisits that moment three days after September 11, 2001 and explain, once again, her lone dissenting vote. She says that even as smoke continued to rise from the ashes of the World Trade Center, she knew, and acted upon this truth:

Congress voted, almost unanimously, to give President Bush a “blank check” to attack an unspecified country, an unspecified enemy for an unspecified period of time… I stood alone against this “blank check” for what has become known as the Global War on Terror. I knew then that the administration would turn this into a Global War and tried to warn the nation and my colleagues in the Congress. — Renegade for Peace and Justice: A Memoir of Political and Personal Courage​​​​​​​

Progressive Lion is an occasional series celebrating a politician or activist exemplifying progressive values. The goal is the recognize their achievements and lives. If you know aspects of their career or work that are not in the diary, please share them in comments.