CRomnibus and the Torture Report: Business as Usual in Washington

This week in Washington we saw two monumental reports come out, one in the form of a bill and the other a scathing report of a governmental organization. The bill, CRomnibus, saved the U.S. government from shutting down again for the second time in two years. The torture report exposed the CIA torture methods during the Bush administration, a policy that began a decade ago. Despite CRomnibus saving the government from a shutdown, the bill is overwhelmingly pro-business, and the torture report, without actual prosecutions of individuals, does nothing to reform a clandestine, governmental body that has consistently embarrassed the United States abroad for decades. These two developments, which have both conservatives and liberals upset, couldn’t be better indicators of how Washington hasn’t changed in recent years, and it is simply business as usual inside the beltway.

If average Americans can’t understand “Washington talk” then it’s time for them to stop talking.

 

Cromnibus

When #CRomnibus started trending on Twitter this week and the term was being thrown around on news programs, many people, including myself, wanted to know what the heck it meant. I thought Mitt Romney was riding some sort of bus. But, the term itself, which was conjured up on Capitol Hill, couldn’t better epitomize the disconnection Washington has with the rest of the country. I will now have to define this term, which perfectly illustrates Congress’s inability to be transparent. If average Americans can’t understand “Washington talk” then it’s time for them to stop talking.

CRomnibus is a term that brings together two ideas. The “CR” stands for ‘continuing resolution’; this is the way Congress continues to fund the government when a deal can’t be reached. Omnibus refers to an ‘omnibus bill’ which is how Congress funds the government when things are running normally. In layman’s terms, this term indicates that the government will continue to be funded but not exactly on a normal basis. It’s a resolution, or rather a compromise.

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But who has compromised what? Well, both the Republicans and Democrats have yielded to big business, because that’s all this bill is. One of the most important parts of the bill is that it aims to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, which is the financial reform that was implemented after the financial crisis. In essence, Congress now hopes to pass a bill that eliminates a reform aimed at preventing the country from experiencing another financial collapse, which is partly to blame for why the government has no money in the first place. What does this say about Wall Street? It always wants deregulation, even after a financial collapse, and will blackmail or buy out members of Congress right before a congressional holiday just to get its way. It’s quite obvious that this 1,600-page bill was written in the backrooms of Congress with pressure from big business. And what will happen next year or the year after? This is a slippery slope that could lead to Congress repealing all financial reform legislation.

And does Wall Street even need this?

On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 17,280.38, one of the highest closings on record. But, at the end of 2009, it was hovering around 10,000. This simple example demonstrates that Wall Street does not need any deregulation or special treatment to make the economy work. Today, if you ask middle-class Americans if they feel much better economically than in 2009, very few will answer in the affirmative. Yet, Wall Street looks and feels much better than 5 years ago, and still Congress is trying to pass a bill that benefits the bankers and the businessmen instead of the middle-class workers.

Back in 2012, President Obama extended the Bush tax cuts for these Wall Street millionaires and here they are again looking for more special treatment.   Unfortunately, politics is playing a huge role in all of this as well. The Senate Democrats and President Obama could stop this bill but that would cause a government shutdown, which in turn would make them even more unpopular. So instead, they are playing along with Wall Street who is essentially holding them ransom until Congress does what they want. But, politics is not the entire issue; it’s just an easy scapegoat. The real issue is the financial power Wall Street has over Congress. Special interest earmarks fill this bill and in reality certain companies have written this bill in their favor. Private companies and institutions are controlling policy. This is nothing new, and Americans know this. But this is oligarchy. Not democracy. Despite Wall Street’s image as a capitalist figurehead, it is actually more emblematic of the oligarchic tendencies of the U.S.

Elsewhere in the bill, funding for the IRS is being gutted, another positive for big business who can evade more tax laws and capitalize on loopholes. Combine this with the endless amounts of tax cuts for businesses that aren’t offset with any revenue creation and it’s easy to see that this Congress just wants to pass the bill and go home for the holidays without any controversy over a government shutdown or complaints from their sponsors on Wall Street.

Furthermore, there is always talk during an election year about eliminating earmarks from congressional bills, yet when Congress is put to the test they drop the ball and fill bills with endless amounts of pork and special interest inputs. This bill still needs to be approved by the Senate and President Obama but there is no indication that it will be rejected or vetoed, especially since this upcoming week is the week before Christmas. CRomnibus is a gift-wrapped present for Wall Street filled with earmarks, tax breaks, and deregulation. This is business as usual for Congress, and the next Republican-led Congress shows no promise for altering this repetitive cycle of congressional prostitution.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is one member of Congress voicing her concerns about the bill:

 

Torture Report

The second development this week was the release of a Senate report detailing the CIA torture methods used in the fight against terrorism during the Bush administration. There was much talk on this topic towards the end of the presidency of George W. Bush but there was no report as scathing as this one. The extensive and often disgusting details of the torture program have been plastered on the front pages of newspapers around the globe. The CIA again looks like an evil menace used by the U.S. to police the world, a fact that hasn’t changed for nearly 30 years. It was during the ‘80s that crack cocaine and Contras were on the CIA’s mind, in a similarly controversial project (more on that later).

This torture report does nothing to help improve the image of the CIA or the U.S. government. Latin America is very familiar with the CIA. And now, the Middle East can start lambasting this clandestine world police. Again, if average Americans can’t be informed about what a government-funded institution is doing then perhaps it is time for the organization to be shut down. Or at least reformed.

Liberals will argue that torture does nothing to elicit actual intelligence and conservatives will argue that the ends justify the means (i.e. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has already done his media rounds in defense of his administration’s ‘enhanced interrogation’). Now, whether or not you think shoving hummus up a prisoner’s butt is only ‘enhanced interrogation’ the fact is, gruesome acts were committed on human beings that may not have even provided accurate intelligence. Politics aside, the report says that CIA agents even admitted that these techniques were faulty and unproductive. More importantly, many thought them to be immoral. And last time I checked, people should be prosecuted for committing or authorizing immoral acts on human beings. A U.N. official has even said these agents are vulnerable to prosecution, in any country, for these ‘war crimes.

So where are the Washington Trials, like Nuremberg?

Any American politician will admit that the CIA needs reform but nothing is ever done. Why not have a criminal trial that publicly outs these ‘war criminals’ and puts a face on these atrocities. Why is the CIA exempt from international law?

And yet, this again is nothing new. Recent history quickly informs us that the CIA has played this game before. The Iran-Contra affair of the ‘80s perfectly illustrates that little has changed within the Central Intelligence Agency. The Reagan administration admitted then that money from cocaine sales helped finance the Nicaraguan Contras but a government investigation, headed up by John Kerry, found no actual authorization from the Reagan administration. However, later in 1996, journalist Gary Webb linked the CIA with facilitating this cocaine importation into the U.S. and taking the money to finance the Contras, detailed in his Dark Alliance series of articles for the San Jose Mercury News. Much like today, the public then was outraged with the CIA, and even more upset over the insinuation that they had started the crack cocaine epidemic in the U.S. in the 1980s. And yet, the CIA was never found liable, and no one was prosecuted. The CIA was even linked to Gary Webb never being able to get a job again, causing him to allegedly kill himself in 2004.

Journalist Gary Webb and his controversial exposé on crack cocaine and the Contras

Journalist Gary Webb and his controversial exposé on crack cocaine and the Contras

The clandestine activity of the CIA involves committing international crimes and then simply brushing them under the carpet. It comes as no surprise that this time around the government is doing nothing to reform the CIA. Much like the Iran-Contra affair, the real truth about torture doesn’t come out for almost a decade after the fact. If this is such an important report why has it taken so long to complete and release it? Unless it involves lots of money or Wall Street, the government takes its sweet time to release information. And the timing couldn’t be better. American families are in the holiday spirit and not following the news as closely this time of year. Congress must be thinking: ‘Let’s release a report on torture before Christmas and then hopefully by January it’ll blow over.’

Business as usual inside the beltway.

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