By Ralph Nader
Spring, the season of renewal, is here. The ants are diligently building their little symmetrical ant hills. The robins are in their nests occupied with posterity. And the anointed members of Congress, after a long recess, aka vacation, return to work on April 17th. The next day, April 18th is the deadline for filing taxes.
Congress collectively is less than the sum of its parts. That is because there are only a few dozen sterling Representatives and Senators worthy of their voter constituents back home. These lawmakers, however, are unable to accomplish as much as they would like and as much as our country needs. However, they could accomplish much of what’s needed if they were better organized and focused.
Corporatism grips the corporate Republican Party and most Democrats into indentured obeisance to the fossil fuel industry. The CEOs of the purveyors of greenhouse gases are hostile or indifferent to how the burning of coal, gas and oil are detonating the planet’s climate patterns. Yet, Congress fails to abate large taxes and other subsidies for these climate catastrophe corporations.
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It is time to visualize the Congress as a giant inanimate boulder blocking the highway of life, straddled on both sides by steep cliffs of death. Unfortunately, despite its awesome power under the Constitution to do good, Congress wallows in corruption. Too many members of Congress are driven to ignorant or nefarious actions by the venom of campaign cash. Congress should be viewed as a criminogenic enterprise.
One learned Congressman called Congress a “criminal enterprise,” which is technically inaccurate, for there is no criminal statute covering Congress. (The solons have insulated their privileged position.) However, if you adopt the early common law of criminality – before statutory laws proliferated, Congressional actions and inactions fit the criteria of premeditated endangerment, obstruction of justice and repeated knowing and willful behavior costing lives and livelihoods without due process of law.
One major dimension of criminogencity is how Congress, year after year enables, funds and covers up the vast depredations of Empire – undeclared wars and frequent violent incursions (anywhere decreed by the runaway Presidency), overthrows of governments and sabotages desperate justice movements against tyrants backed by the U.S. Congress has deliberately shut down its critical oversight of public hearings (e.g., on the Iraq, Afghanistan, Syrian and Libyan wars), yet funds them on the Senate and House floors without any debate. (The 2011 Libyan overthrow – with continuing chaos and violence to this day – was funded by an unauthorized White House dictate to the Pentagon.)
Abandoning Constitutional duties arising out of its exclusive war-making and appropriating authorities, the Congress has been the enabler of regular actions abroad that are unconstitutional, and violative of both federal statutes and international law, including the UN Charter – a ratified treaty in 1946.
Legions of books and reports have documented how Congress shielded corporate crimes that caused fatalities, injuries, sickness and loss of incomes by millions of workers and consumers. (See, ralphnaderradiohour.com). Aiding and abetting huge tax evasions by the super-rich and large corporations resulted from Congress starving the IRS budget and its law enforcement obligation.
These actions do not match the “Three Branches of Government” description offered on the House of Representatives “kids” page: “Legislative: The Congress. The legislative branch makes the laws of the United States, controls all of the money, and has the power to declare war.”
It most assuredly is not the mythical picture of Congress brought to college campuses by the corporate-funded bi-partisan speechmakers from the Association of Former Members of Congress. (See: capitolhillcitizen.com).
The April 2023 issue of the Capitol Hill Citizen, hot off the press, contains a list of congressional NOs, which a sizable majority of the American people want to be replaced with resounding YESes:
- Enacting a modern federal criminal code and enforcement budget. NO
- Enacting full Medicare for All – single payer – all inclusive, more efficient, life-saving and with free choice of doctor and hospital. NO
- Enact legislation replacing the anti-labor union and union organizing statutes with a pro-worker law that facilitates union organizing and representational rights on large corporate boards. NO
- Enact the first increase in Social Security benefits in forty years and funding the Social Security Administration budget to expedite service to claimants now delayed for months. NO
- Enact a federal minimum wage at $15 an hour, up from the current $7.25 per hour and budget the Labor Department to be able to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act and also stop wage theft. NO
- Enact an adequate budget for, and clarify the authority of, the Environmental Protection Agency to stop its lagging enforcement of the laws it’s authorized to enforce. NO
- Strengthen the weak authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and increase its anemic budget so as to perform its obligation as directed by Congress in 1970. NO
- Enact long overdue upgraded authority for the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NO
- Enact reductions in the bloated, wasteful budgets of the Department of Defense, and the intelligence agencies so that they can do a better and lawful job for their mandated purposes. Include measures to hold these departments and agencies accountable for law violations and other abuses documented by the GAO and departmental audits. NO
- Enact basic reforms of the federal election laws, including expanded public financing of campaigns and easier access to ballots by candidates. End obstructions to voting. NO
- Enact the long overdue reform of the tax system, a system which now favors the rich and powerful and burdens the average tax-paying citizen with crushing complexities, inequities and perverse incentives distorting economic efficiencies and justice. NO
- Enact the end of runaway corporate personhood and the vast expanse of corporate welfare with its exploitations, double standards and hypocrisies. NO
That’s what a Congress – with both parties dominated by corporate predators, looks like. It hurts Americans and billions of people worldwide.
For many more examples of outrageous derelictions by the collective Congress, obtain and read the Capitol Hill Citizen. Learn about the real Congress. Then look at yourself in the mirror and consider what you and a couple million liberal and conservative people, organized in the 435 Congressional Districts, could do to turn the Congressional NOs into resounding YESes. It’s easier than you think. See capitolhillcitizen.com for more information.
(See also, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think).
Ralph Nader is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.