Thursday, May 30, 2013

McCain’s Syrian Adventure: Should He Be Charged with Violations to the Logan Act?

Here’s an astounding bit of news from The Daily Beast.
McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator.

Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.
“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”
McCain’s unannounced visit- one conservative website called it “gutsy”- raises all sort of questions. Is it possible that the State Department could have given authorization for such a trip? 
It would surely have taken an approval by the executive branch. Think about it. A high-ranking official slipping across the border of one NATO country into another country in the midst of a bloody civil war? (Could there be grounds for another Issa investigation? Obama "scandals" are being sold to the gullible press at a dime a dozen nowadays.)
Reuters adds this:
The White House had no immediate comment.

A senior State Department official, in Paris with Kerry, confirmed that McCain did "cross into Syrian territory" but referred all questions to McCain's office. 
That suggests the trip was not authorized at all. The Secretary of State would surely have supplied further information if he had any. That implies that McCain took it upon himself to traipse into the messy conflict. A thumbing of the nose to the president, as it were. If true, then it raises some serious political and diplomatic questions.

Firstly there is the sticky question of legality. Did Senator McCain make it clear to the leaders of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army that he is in no way authorized to speak or to make promises or to negotiate on behalf of the United States? 
His statements have no more weight than, say, Angelina Jolie. The statement by General Idris doesn’t suggest that McCain made that clear.

There's another question. Did John McCain commit a felony by violating the Logan Act, which forbids anybody but the president (or anybody the president authorizes) to conduct foreign policy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

How ALEC, The Koch Brothers and the Tea Party Congress Tried to Destroy the Constitution

by Nomad

The issue of "state's rights" is not at all new. In fact, the debate goes back before the founding of the nation. However, when Tea Party House members drafted the Repeal Amendment, courtesy of Koch-funded ALEC, it threatened to unravel the union that holds the United States together. And despite George Washington's warning, they very nearly succeeded.

Back in 2010, after taking over the House of Representatives, the Tea Party faction of the GOP proposed a "states' rights" change in the Constitution. Sponsored by Utah's Rob Bishop, the proposal was called the Repeal Amendment. It was designed to give states the authority to veto federal laws and regulations. Under this proposed amendment, supporters aimed “to push back the federal government's encroachment on sovereign states rights." 

Any federal law, like healthcare, abortion or gun control laws and even civil rights legislation, would be up for a vote in state legislatures. The resolution read:
“Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed.”
The Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank and another 501(c)3 organization, supports the idea saying:
At present, the only way for states to contest a federal law or regulation is to bring a constitutional challenge in federal court or seek an amendment to the Constitution. A state repeal power provides a targeted way to reverse particular congressional acts and administrative regulations without relying on federal judges or permanently amending the text of the Constitution to correct a specific abuse.
Of course let’s not forget that the Cato Institute was co-founded by Charles Koch, co-owner of Koch Industries known for its financing of the Tea Party. So enthusiastic support for challenging the authority of the federal government shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

It is in fact a fundamental change to the balance of powers and not merely a corrective measure. In effect, it would invalidate the “united” part of the “United States” since state legislatures would have final say-so on the law of the land. The United States would, therefore, become about as united as say, the United Nations. 

In addition, the legislative branch in Congress would suddenly become irrelevant, since the eventual application of any congressional law would be subject to a vote in each state. The structure of the two houses of Congress prevents smaller less-populated states, most of which happen to be red states, from having undue influence or from dictating to the more populated states what national policy would look like. Under this proposed change, all that would change. 
The implications and the ensuing unnecessary complications are mind-boggling.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

IRS Scandal: Why Should Tea Party Groups Have Any Tax Exemptions?

The rules for tax exemptions for organizations are not well-understood. They tend to be complicated and, even then not well-enforced. Still, it is fair to ask, when it comes to tax exemption, what makes the Tea Party organizations so special?

It has been really hard to get my head around the recent “scandals” that have “plagued” Obama’s second term. Quotation marks are mandatory in this case since, as far as I can see, the scandals seem to be an imaginative invention manufactured by the Republican Congress and a mainstream media.
(To be sure, there are questions that should be asked to the president about, for example, the handling of such things as Gitmo, the legality of drones, press freedom and other things.)

The investigation of the Benghazi tragedy has dragged along becoming less and less productive and more and more embarrassing for the investigators. All of the rocks have been squeezed and much to their dismay, GOP congressmen have found not even a drop of blood.

However, the most ridiculous of these so-called scandals has been the accusation of the IRS targeting Tea Party tax-exempt organizations. (Daily Kos has called the whole affair a "Scandalnavian nothing-burger.")

Targeting Flaunters

As long-time readers of this blog may know, we have examined the possible violations of both Tea Party and Christian right-wing 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 organizations in the past. The abuse of their tax-exempt status has been openly flaunted. It was clear that something had to be done.

In the run-up to the election, religious organizations, in particular, seem to challenge the administration to take action. A careful reading of the tax codes demonstrates beyond much doubt that these organizations should have come under some kind of scrutiny at least.

And yet, somehow we find the entire argument re-framed as "targeting" and "profiling." Is it really wrong to target those who publicly flaunt the law?

When Leona ("Queen of Mean") Hemsley went on 60 minutes and proclaimed We don't pay taxesOnly the little people pay taxes” would anybody have accused the IRS of targeting super-wealthy hoteliers?
Most people felt she deserved what she got for thinking she was somehow untouchable. Today the Republican party has become the chosen defenders of anybody who would defy  the IRS and the Obama administration, in general. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On Tyranny and Treason: NRA's Second Amendment Solution

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After the smoke cleared, the outcome of the push for reforms of the gun control laws ended in disappointment for the president and advocates of stricter regulations. The National Rifle Association (NRA), in defiance of the public will, managed to corral just enough votes to thwart new legislation.

What was most striking (for outsiders) was the argument that citizens must have combat weapons in order to prevent their own government from becoming tyrannical.

Most scholars agree that when the second amendment was adopted, it was conceived as a defense against an invasion of foreign armies, most notably the King of England, not as a stand-by rebellion against federal authority.

"A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

To throw some light on the exact meaning of those words -and its pre-revolutionary origins- the Supreme Court in 1887 gave this constitutional interpretation:
Undoubtedly, the framers . . . had for a long time been absorbed in considering the arbitrary encroachments of the Crown on the liberty of the subject . . . .
This view is supported by the words, “necessary to the security of a free state”- or in other words, a nation independent of its imperial origins. A kind of last defense ad hoc  army against imperial invasion. 

"Sic semper tyrannis"

Wayne LaPierre, CEO and Executive Vice President of the NRA appeared before a Senate Judiciary Committee in the aftermath of the calamity at Newtown. From that meeting a source give us this interesting quote:
"Senator, I think without any doubt, if you look at why our Founding Fathers put it there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny."
But if LaPierre feels there’s a risk of tyranny today, let him say it clearly. Who has the power to subjugate the United States today? From where does he expect this tyranny to emerge? If he knows something about an approaching police state, it really is his patriotic duty to inform Congress.
He didn't reveal anything but he implies it clearly enough. The threat that Americans must be armed against is their own government. He certainly wasn’t talking about an Iranian invasion or a Neo-Soviet Russia, Communist China. This tyrant will be home-grown.