April 14, 2017
Community Meetings and Other Messages
As we enter the weekend I wanted to wish those who celebrate a Happy Easter and Happy Passover. I also want to thank everyone who joined us in Somerville, Mattapan, Randolph and East Boston for our community meetings. Close to 1,000 people came out over four evenings, not just to hear from me, but to learn more about how their neighbors are feeling about the direction of our country. I truly appreciate the level of engagement and the enthusiasm I experienced from those who attended. While there was certainly a tremendous amount of concern expressed about President Trump and his policies, there was also a determination to stay engaged and informed as we work together to advance progressive policies. I am deeply honored to represent the 7th Congressional District and I will continue raising my voice to ensure that yours is not lost in this new Administration.
I also want to acknowledge the 11,000 who watched some of the community meetings on Facebook Live (plus the 44,000 who clicked on the Facebook Live post). Since the election, we’ve experienced a tremendous increase in engagement on every level — calls, emails, letters, visits to our offices and social media. In particular, more than 12,000 people are subscribed to this newsletter which is a 25.5% increase since the beginning of the year. Facebook has grown by 30%. I’ve only had an official Twitter account since July of 2016 but even that has grown by 157% since Trump took office. All this is pretty good for a guy who has never been comfortable with social media and still has a hard time reducing complicated matters to readable commentary. I know these newsletters tend to be long and they’re certainly not flashy but I think they work because of you — patient, thoughtful constituents who are looking for more than just a sound bite. A quick thanks to my staff as well, none of this would be possible without them.
On a more somber note, reputable media outlets are reporting that “multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials” are indicating military strikes on North Korea are possible if they conduct a nuclear test over the weekend as anticipated. This is too important to go without comment.
I think it makes sense to start by highlighting my comments in 2002, when Congress was debating the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq with its supposed “weapons of mass destruction”. I pointed out that, in my opinion, North Korea presented the greatest danger to world peace, and the U.S. should focus on containing them. That commentary was ignored and the U.S. invaded Iraq (without my support).
Although I still believe North Korea presents the greatest danger to world peace, that alone does not authorize unilateral military action against them. There is no prior U.S. war declaration against Korea that the administration can rely on. No one suggests that Al Qaeda or ISIS operates out of North Korea so that cannot be a reason to act against them. Finally, there are no credible reports of any imminent attack by North Korea against the U.S. or our allies.
All this leads to one conclusion – there is no need and no legal authority for the United States to take military action against North Korea at this time.
If the President wants to take such action, both the Constitution (Article 1 Section 8) and the law (War Powers Act) clearly require him to come to the Congress for authorization BEFORE taking action.
Military action absent such authorization and absent an immediate threat is illegal and unconstitutional.
I am certain there are many other questions that need to be asked and answered – and I do not know what the outcome of this debate would be.
This has nothing to do with who occupies the Oval Office or whether they are a Democrat or a Republican. This is about the Constitution. In 2011, I was one of four Members of Congress who sued President Obama in an attempt to force him to seek Congressional approval for bombing Libya.
Let’s hope nothing comes of these reports and the U.S. does not precipitate what could be the most serious military action since World War II. Although they may not be capable of reaching our shores, North Korea does have nuclear weapons. Let’s pray that we can find a more thoughtful path towards a better world.
World’s Youngest Country Descends into Man-Made Famine
One of the world’s greatest tragedies, unnoticed among other crises, has been unfolding these past few months in South Sudan. The United Nations recently declared that more than 100,000 people face starvation at this moment, another 1 million are on the brink of famine, and another 3 million people are expected to face emergency level food shortages. How could this be happening?
In 2011, the world welcomed our newest democracy – South Sudan. The 11 million people of that region had waged a twenty-year struggle for independence from the Government of Sudan in Khartoum. Fighting with the North had devastated their already poor nation. Tragically, within two years, fighting broke out between former allies and a civil war began in 2013. Over the last 3 ˝ years millions have been displaced, the UN has sent a sizable force to protect internally displaced people, and war crimes have increased. Attacks against unarmed civilians, use of heavy weapons against defenseless villages, incursions into UN compounds, and widespread rape and murder have all become commonplace. Humanitarian workers have been targeted – according to USAID, 78 aid workers have been killed since the civil war erupted in December 2013. Now, even food assistance being sent in from around the world is threatened. Thievery is partially to blame in this poor country, but so is the deliberate use of food deprivation as a tactic of war. Food is being intentionally kept from entire regions and people are starving – men, women AND children!
It is right to care about innocent victims of chemical weapons dropped by government forces on a civilian population. But it is also right to care about food being used as a weapon – starvation is just as indiscriminate, at least as cruel, and just as avoidable.
The world may turn a blind eye to the plight of 4 million people in one of the poorest countries. The media may ignore it. The millions of deaths might not impact our daily lives. But that does not make it right or just. Moreover the impact of this situation will not be contained in one small country – refugees flee anywhere they can to find safety. Often, the conflict follows them. Already millions of refugees have fled to neighboring countries – who are themselves poor and often politically unstable.
We are trying to get an international arms embargo and strong international sanctions against those responsible for this atrocity. We are trying to simply keep the tragedy in the public eye – in the hope that some help may come of it.
I am not sure what to ask of you. Maybe just your thoughts and prayers. Maybe your voice to pass the word to others who may care. I just know I cannot turn my back on a manmade tragedy and will continue to do all I can to shine a light on it.
New England Council
I had the opportunity this week to attend the New England Council’s regular breakfast meeting and address attendees about the current climate in Washington. The New England Council is a nonpartisan organization with members coming from health care, transportation, academia, technology and many other industries. The Council advances policies that enhance economic opportunity in the region. We talked at length about the new reality in Washington, including whether there are areas where compromise is possible. I always enjoy speaking with New England Council members and getting their perspective on how the discussion in D.C. is resonating locally.
On Monday, I spent some time at Simmons College with staff and students. Simmons is a women’s college located in The Fenway, another of the 7th Congressional District’s outstanding institutions of higher learning. I was pleased to engage in a lively question and answer session during a political science class. I also enjoyed touring Simmons’ science labs and talking with students about the research they are conducting. During my visit I took the opportunity to talk with Simmons College President Helen Drinan and members of her leadership team about issues and opportunities facing Simmons.
60+ Veterans Group
District work periods give me the opportunity to catch up with local activists and community groups. I had the pleasure of meeting with the 60+ Veterans Group, an organization of local veterans who meet weekly to discuss current events and issues impacting veterans. Members work to improve the quality of life for veterans and their families. They invited me to attend one of their meetings, which I was happy to do. We had a lengthy discussion about how the Trump Administration may impact veterans’ issues. We also talked about the new Administration’s possible approach to other issues such as social security, federal budget priorities, housing and events in Syria. I appreciated the invitation and look forward to meeting with the group again.
I had a lively discussion yesterday with officials from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), a public agency that serves as a regional planning advisor for the metro Boston area. The MAPC engages in issues that directly impact our communities, from transportation and affordable housing, to the economy and environmental issues. The MAPC was specifically interested in discussing federal transportation matters, particularly what the President’s long promised infrastructure plan may involve. We also discussed federal efforts to roll back the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which is a requirement that federal agencies and recipients of federal housing money honor the Fair Housing Act. We are concerned about this roll back effort and talked about its implications.
Behind the Curtain — More House and Trump Administration Actions You Don’t Want to Miss
Here are this week’s additions. If you need to catch up or share with friends, you can find the full list here.
- At the end of March, it came to our attention that the Trump Administration has stopped disclosing troop deployments in Iraq and Syria to the public. This means that the American public will know less about the military engagements that the United States is involved in. Given the recent military action and the complexity of Syria specifically, the public has a right to know when our men and women in uniform are in harm’s way.
- On April 7, 2017 Twitter dropped a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after the federal agency withdrew demands to unmask an anonymous Twitter account critical of the administration. Federal officials thought the account, @ALT-USCIS, looked like it might be run by an employee of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services division of the Department of Homeland Security. Federal officials ordered Twitter to turn over information about the account, including names, passwords, and ISP addresses associated with it. Federal officials noted that if the account owner wished to challenge the information demand they had one day to notify Twitter, with a certified copy of the letter sent to DHS. Of course, this action would require the user to unmask him or herself. Once Twitter started legal proceedings to protect its user, the government backed off and Twitter dropped its lawsuit. We think this example belongs on the list because it is a blatant abuse of power to silence a critic. The Trump Administration didn’t succeed this time but they will no doubt try again.
- On April 10, 2017 it was reported that AG Sessions would terminate the National Commission on Forensic Science, an advisory board of independent scientists focused on raising forensic science standards. This partnership was established to strengthen the scientific foundation of forensic evidence after the Justice Department determined some expert testimony was scientifically misleading. This can impact jury deliberation and could result in the conviction of innocent people. For example, one review of the FBI's hair analysis data found that over 20 decades experts gave flawed or overstated testimony in 90% of cases. The purpose of the commission was to strengthen forensic science when a clear need to do so was identified.
UPDATE:23. On April 13, 2017 President Trump signed H.J. Res. 67, ending a program giving counties and municipalities the authority to create workplace savings plans for private sector employees who don’t have access to one.
UPDATE:24. On April 13, 2017 President Trump signed H.J. Res. 43 ending a requirement that states must make Title X grant money available to ALL qualified health care facilities, including Planned Parenthood. This federal money helps community health centers and other medical facilities provide family planning and preventive health services to low income individuals and their families. By nullifying this rule, states can withhold Title X money from any provider that also offers abortion services. Over four million low income Americans rely on Title X funds for family planning services. This move was so controversial in the Senate, it required Vice President Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote.
What’s Up Next
A District Work Period is scheduled. The next House votes will take place on Tuesday April 25th. The House is expected to consider legislation to fund the federal government beyond April 28, 2017.