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Can the New Cabinet Shut the Door on the Past?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 25/01/2021 - 4:09am in

The trick for business Republicans will be to see whether they can get rid of the authoritarian Trump supporters without enabling Democrats to rebuild the New Deal state the Republicans have just spent decades gutting. Continue reading

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The Biden Administration: Who Will Hold the Power?Joe Biden is...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 3:51am in

The Biden Administration: Who Will Hold the Power?

Joe Biden is in the process of appointing several hundred people who are critical to what the administration gets done over the next four years. But not all these people will wield the same amount of power – as I discovered during my own time as a cabinet secretary. Here’s what you need to know about where the power really lies.

Appointments can generally be separated into three categories: cabinet members, presidential advisors, and heads of task forces.

 1. CABINET APPOINTMENTS
Cabinet appointments usually get the most media attention, so we’ll start there. But just because you’re in the cabinet doesn’t mean you’re in the loop. In fact, as I discovered as Labor Secretary, it’s possible to be in the cabinet and not in the loop – and sometimes not even know the loop exists. 

Despite the media coverage – and the hoopla over Senate confirmations – most cabinet members don’t actually play a large role in a president’s major decisions. Presidents almost never meet with their full cabinets, and most cabinet members rarely see a president. Cabinet members run departments which implement or enforce laws enacted by Congress. A capable and conscientious cabinet member keeps everything on track and rarely makes headlines.

Now, there are a few cabinet positions that have a significant influence on public policy, and you should pay attention to who fills them. A cabinet member’s role in policymaking varies depending on a president, but generally, the big four are the Secretary of the Treasury, who plays a major role in economic policy; the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, on foreign policy; and the Attorney General, in the administration of justice. 

Health and Human Services is important because of the coronavirus as well as the Affordable Care Act and any move toward Medicare for All. Homeland Security is important because of all the abuses that can occur under it. 

But Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Interior, Veterans Affairs, even, dare I say it? Labor – well, they’re not at the same level.

2. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISORS

The most important influencers on day-to-day policy-making, who are very much in the loop, are presidential advisors, who don’t need Senate confirmation. The most influential of them work inside the West Wing of the White House – and the closer their office is to the Oval Office, the more influence they have. 

From the view of the White House staff, cabinet officials are provincial governors presiding over independent domains. Anything of any importance occurs in the center – the West Wing – a rabbit warren of offices squeezed into three floors clustered around the Oval. It’s such a maze that I used to get lost in it more times than I’d care to admit. 

The advisor with the most influence on day-to-day economic policy is the chairman of the National Economic Council. The advisor with the most influence on foreign policy is the National Security Advisor.

Then there are the assistants to the president, such as on international trade; a director of the Office of Management and Budget; a Council of Economic Advisors, and a variety of people with titles like Counselor to the President. 

A good rule of thumb for understanding who really wields power is the location of their office. If it’s in the West Wing, they’re in the loop and you need to know who they are. If it’s in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which lies west of the White House, they’re more likely to be staff who don’t directly advise the president – and aren’t in the loop.

The president’s most important and powerful advisor is the Chief of Staff, whose office is just down the hall from the president. They control the flow of paperwork and people into the Oval Office and manage the President’s schedule, setting the President’s agenda. In other words, the Chief of Staff controls and manages the loop.

Even with a competent, experienced chief of staff, day-to-day life in the West Wing of the White House in any administration is one of controlled chaos. Don’t be misled by the TV series the West Wing, where everyone’s witty and loves each other. Realistically, the West Wing is intense, sometimes even backbiting and competitive, but this is where crucial policies are made.

3. TASK FORCES

The last category of presidential appointments to pay attention to are the heads of task forces the president sets up – composed of cabinet and sub-cabinet members from different departments and agencies, usually assistant secretaries and the heads of various bureaus. Particularly important are task force heads who meet often with a president – such as John Kerry and his upcoming climate group. 

Finally, keep in mind that every president has a different way of making policy decisions and using advisors and cabinet members. George W. Bush, in his response to 9/11, deferred almost entirely to his chief of staff and Secretary of Defense. Barack Obama responded to the financial crisis by drawing on several economic advisors simultaneously. Donald Trump rejected all expertise and focused only on issues that fed his ego. 

My guess is Joe Biden, in tackling the pandemic and reviving the economy, will rely heavily on experts in Health and Human Services, the Treasury Department, and his National Economic Council. 

All of these people – cabinet members, White House advisers, and special appointees who run task forces – formally answer to the president, but they work for the people, for you. This is where your power lies. Let’s make sure Biden’s appointees never forget who they work for.

Tracking the Trump Administration’s “Midnight Regulations”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 5:37am in

ProPublica is tracking the most controversial and consequential regulations that are advancing through federal agencies and the White House in the Trump administration’s final days, which include rules proposed or moved along on or after the election or rules ProPublica's reporting tells us are highly likely to be finalized soon. Continue reading

The post Tracking the Trump Administration’s “Midnight Regulations” appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Biden Attempts to Move Ahead: Trump Obstructs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 3:56am in

November 18, 2020 Today marks a grim milestone. The official count of Americans dead of coronavirus has topped a quarter of a million. 250,000 Americans, lost. Governors, including some Republicans previously opposed to ordering measures to stop the spread of … Continue reading

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Which Party Will Hold the Keys to States’ Legislative and Congressional Maps?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/11/2020 - 6:58am in

That advantage will endure long after whoever won Tuesday’s presidential election has left the scene. Continue reading

The post Which Party Will Hold the Keys to States’ Legislative and Congressional Maps? appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

But we must never forget this is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

Chaos from Trump. Calm from Biden.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/11/2020 - 3:03am in

Today President-Elect Joe Biden named his chief of staff. He has picked Ronald A. Klain, 59, a veteran Democratic operative with degrees from Georgetown and Harvard Law School, who has worked in and around Washington, D.C., since 1987, when he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White. Klain was Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president. Continue reading

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Unsanitized: Deadline Day for Pre-Election Stimulus Comes, And Will Go

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/10/2020 - 3:02am in

Today is a “deadline” day for whether or not there will be an agreement on COVID relief before the election... Continue reading

The post Unsanitized: Deadline Day for Pre-Election Stimulus Comes, And Will Go appeared first on BillMoyers.com.