An Associated Press photograph brought the horror of little children lying dead outside of their home to an American Audience. At least 10 Afghan children and some of their mothers were struck down by an airstrike on their extended family household by order of President Barack Obama. He probably decided on what his aides describe as the routine weekly “Terror Tuesday” at the White House. On that day, Mr. Obama typically receives the advice about which “militants” should live or die thousands of miles away from drones or aircraft. Even if households far from war zones are often destroyed in clear violation of the laws of war, the president is not deterred.
These Obama airstrikes are launched knowing that very often there is “collateral damage,” that is a form of “so sorry terrorism.” How can the president explain the vaporization of a dozen pre-teen Afghan boys collecting firewood for their families on a hillside?The local spotter-informants must have been disoriented by all those $100 bills in rewards. Imagine a direct strike killing and injuring scores of people in a funeral procession following a previous fatal strike that was the occasion of this processional mourning. Remember the December 2009 Obama strike on an alleged al-Qaida training camp in Yemen, using tomahawk missiles and – get this – cluster bombs, that killed 14 women and 21 children. Again and again “so sorry terrorism” ravages family households far from the battlefields.
If this is a war, why hasn’t Congress declared war under Article 1, Sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution? The 2001 Congressional Authorization to Use Military Force is not an open-ended authorization for the president. It was restricted to targeting only nations, organizations or persons that are determined to have been implicated in the 9/11 massacres, or harbored complicit organizations or persons.
For several years, White House officials, including ret. General James Jones, have declared that there is no real operational al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan to harbor anyone. The Pakistani Taliban is in conflict with the Pakistani government. The Afghan Taliban is in brutal conflict with the Afghanistan government and wants to expel U.S. forces as their members view occupying-invaders, just as their predecessors did when they expelled the Soviet invaders. The Taliban represent no imminent threat to the U.S.
President Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, used to complain to his colleagues about the CIA’s drone attacks saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.” He knew how such attacks by whining drones, hovering 24/7 over millions of frightened people and their terrified children produce serious backlashes that fester for years.
Yet this unlawful killing by a seemingly obsessed Obama, continues and includes anyone in the vicinity of a “suspect” whose name isn’t even known ( that are called “signature strikes”), or mistakes, like the recent aerial killings of numerous Pakistani soldiers and four Afghan policemen – considered our allies. The drone kill list goes on and on – over 3000 is the official fatality count, not counting injuries.
In a few weeks, The Nation magazine will issue a major report on U.S.-caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan that should add new information.
Now switch the scene. The president, filled with memories of what his secret drone directives as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner have done to so many children, in so many places, traveled on Monday to Newtown, Connecticut for the second time. He commiserated with the parents and relatives of the 20 children and six adults slain by a lone gunman. Here he became the compassionate president, with words and hugs.
What must be going through his mind as he sees the rows of 10 Afghan little children and their parents blown apart in that day’s New York Times? How can the president justify this continued military occupation for what is a civil war? No wonder a majority of the American people want out of Afghanistan, even without a close knowledge of the grisly and ugly things going on there in our name that are feeding the seething hatred of Obama’s war.
'Unless the American people come to realize that a president must be subject to the rule of law and our Constitution, our statutes and treaties, every succeeding president will push the deficit-financed lawlessness further until the inevitable blowback day of reckoning. That is the fate of all empires.'Sometime after 2016 when Barack Obama starts writing his lucrative autobiographical recollections, there may be a few pages where he explains how he endured this double life ordering so-called precision attacks that kill many innocent children and their mothers and fathers while mourning domestic mass killings in the U.S. and advocating gun controls. As a constitutional law teacher, he may wonder why there have been no “gun controls” on his lawless, out-of-control presidency and his reckless attacks that only expanded the number of al-Qaeda affiliates wreaking havoc in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, North Africa and elsewhere....
Obama is not like the official criminal recidivist, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, who misses no chance to say he has no regrets. Obama worries even as he greatly escalates the aerial attacks started by George W. Bush. In his State of the Union speech he called for a “legal and policy framework” to guide “our counterterrorism operations,” so that “no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way.” Granted, this is a good cover for his derelictions, but it probably reflects that he also needs some restraint. Last year he told CNN it was “something you have to struggle with.”
Mr. Obama recognized in his CNN interview that “it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means. That’s not who we are as a country.”
Unfortunately, however, that’s what he has done as a president.
Unless the American people come to realize that a president must be subject to the rule of law and our Constitution, our statutes and treaties, every succeeding president will push the deficit-financed lawlessness further until the inevitable blowback day of reckoning. That is the fate of all empires.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).
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How the Post Office Is Being Destroyed By a Phony Budget Crisis
Congress, not the post office itself, is the problem
As every 6 year old learns, there is real and there is make believe. The massive Post Office deficit that is driving its management to commit institutional suicide by ending 6-day mail delivery, closing half of the nations’ 30,000 or so post offices and half it’s 500 mail processing centers, and laying off over 200,000 workers, is make believe.
Here’s why. In 1969 the federal government changed the way it did accounting. It began to use what was and is called a unified budget that includes trust funds like social security previously considered off budget because they were self-sustaining through dedicated revenue.
At that time the Post Office was, as it had been since 1792, a department of the federal government like the Department of Energy or the Department of Agriculture. While generating most of its revenue from postage it also received significant Congressional appropriations.
In 1970 Congress transformed the Post Office into the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The new quasi-public agency was intended to put the Postal Office on a more business like footing. The Postal Service was given was allowed to borrow to make needed capital investments and was given more flexibility in how it spent its money. In return Congress required the Postal Service to become self-sufficient. The subsidy, at that time running about 15 percent of total revenues (close to $10 billion a year in 2012) was phased out over the next 15 years. After the mid 1980s the only taxpayer funds involved in the Post Office, amounting today to $100 million a year, subsidizes mail for the blind and official mail to overseas voters.
In keeping with the new philosophy that the Postal Service should be independent, President Richard Nixon’s Office of Management and Budget administratively moved its finances off budget in 1974. In 1989 Congress did it by statute.
None of this made any difference, as exhaustively detailed by the USPS Inspector General in a 2009 report. The OMB and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) continued to treat the postal service as part of the unified budget, the budget they use for “scoring” legislation to estimate its impact on the deficit.
And that’s where the make believe comes from.
In 2001 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) put the Postal Service on its list of “high-risk” programs because of rising financial pressures resulting from exploding demand from both the residential and commercial sectors. A year later the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found the Postal Service had been significantly overpaying into its retirement fund. It seemed a simple matter to reduce future payments and tap into the existing surplus to pay for current expenses.
And that’s when make believe began to have a tragic impact in the real world.
How the Unnecessary Tragedy Unfolded
In late 2002, the CBO announced that this logical change in the retirement contribution formula could increase budget deficits in Congress’s unified budget by as much as about $3.5 billion a year, or $41 billion over the long haul. If the overpayments were used to delay future rate increases, the CBO added, future government receipts would decline, adding to the unified budget deficit.
To overcome the budget scoring objections Congress began what in retrospect we can see was little more than an exercise in rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. The final law allowed the Postal Service to use its overpayments to pay off its debt and delay increasing rates for 3 years. After that any overpayments were to be collected in an escrow fund that would be unavailable to the Post Office until Congress determined how the funds would be used. And then came the quid pro quo. The Postal Service became responsible for paying postal workers for the time they spent in prior military service. Up until then, as one might expect, these obligations were paid by the U.S. Treasury. Assuming that obligation essentially eliminated any Post Office surplus during the 10 year scoring window.
The House and Senate held 11 hearings on postal reform between 2003 and 2006. Senator Susan Collins, Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee commented, “two issues… united every single witness who has testified before our committee … a desire to see the escrow account repealed and the return of the military pension obligation to the Treasury Department.”
Bills to this effect were well received in Congress. But again and again the OMB and CBO stepped in to thwart policy makers. In 2004, as the bills were moving rapidly through Congress the Bush Administration stopped their progress by announcing its opposition,which they justified by the impact on the unified budget. The next year, on the day that a bill to help the Post Office with big bipartisan backing was brought to the floor of the House , the Bush Administration again threatened a veto because of its “adverse impact on the Federal budget”. Congress backed down.
In 2006 Congress finally passed a new law. The Postal Service was allowed to tap into escrow money and pension obligations for military service were shifted back to the US Treasury. But again a quid pro quo was required that negated any financial benefits that would result. To achieve unified budget neutrality the USPS was required to make 10 annual payments of between $5.4 billion and $5.8 billion each to the newly created Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund. The fund could not be tapped to pay actual retiree health benefits during those 10 years.
The level of the annual payments was not based on any actuarial determination. The numbers were produced by CBO as the amounts necessary to offset the loss of the escrow payments.
Remember, this all began because the post office discovered it had surplus funds. Unified budget accounting made sure it could never tap into this surplus unless at the same time it assumed new liabilities of an equal magnitude.
The Simple Solution
The solution to the post office financial deficit is simple. Give it back the money Congress, as a result of pressure from the CBO, has stolen from it over the past years. Then make future payments into the health fund for retirees actuarially based.
Once this artificially generated financial noose is removed from the postal service’s neck we can get on with helping it navigate the shoals of an uncertain future. To do this the postal service must build on its two most important assets: its ubiquitous physical infrastructure and the high esteem in which most Americans hold it. In combination, these assets offer the post office an enviable platform upon which to many new revenue-producing services.
But to do this Congress will have to remove another burden imposed by the 2006 law: a prohibition on the postal service offering non-postal services. Like issuing licenses (e.g. drivers, hunting, fishing, etc) or contracting with local and state agencies to provide services. Congress should also lift the prohibition on the post office shipping wine and beer.
In offering new services the USPS could learn from post offices in other countries. The French post office offers banking and insurance services. Remember that from 1911 to 1967 the US Post Office successfully and profitably ran a nationwide postal savings bank. The Swedish post office will physically deliver e-mail correspondence to people who are not online.
But before any of this will happen we need to fess up. The postal crisis is contrived. Let’s stop scaring ourselves silly with make believe deficit monsters and unshackle this national asset.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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