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tv   Hearing Focuses on Regional Impact of Syrian Civil War  CSPAN  September 29, 2016 10:00am-12:31pm EDT

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go to, your primary source for presidential debate coverage on your desktop, phone or tablet. watch each question and answer from the debate accessing the content you want quickly and easily. use our video clipping tool to create clips of your favorite moments to share on social media. watch every moment of the debates on c-span and this weekend, c-span cities tour, along with our comcast cable partners will explore the literary life and history of pueblo, colorado. >> it's really the railroad and the steel industry and the coal industry that bring pueblo as a
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city to where it is today. and i think it sort of speaks to how this is a natural place to settle with the confluence of fountain creek and arkansas river. people keep coming back to this place because it's a natural place to bid a city. >> on book tv on c-span2, fawn amber montoya, colorado state university professor and author ofsome making an american workforce, the rockefellers and the legacy of ludlow," talks about the deadly strike between miners and the colorado fuel and iron company which resulted in a public relations nightmare for john d. rockefeller junior. >> president frank hayes walks out to the his car and tells him to turn around. he says you're not welcome here. i cannot guarantee your safety. >> then matthew harris discusses his book "the founding fathers and the debate over religious in revolutionary america." >> religion is interesting. they didn't a lot about religion at the constitutional convention. one of the only things they said was you didn't have to hold
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public office. you didn't have to believe in the bible or some form of christianity to the hold public office. >> on "american history tv" on c-span3, hear about the ludlow massacre which took place during the colorado coal strike of 1913 and '1437 we'll visit the steel work center of the west museum and talk with curator victoria miller about the colorado fuel and iron company. >> so this is the shift change whistle for cf & i. many generations of pueblo children learned how to tell time by this whistle. >> the c-span cities tour of pueblo, colorado, saturday at noon eastern on c-span2's book tv and sunday afternoon at 2:00 on "american history tv" on c-span3. working with our cable affiliates and visiting cities across the country. we're live on capitol hill now where deputy secretary of state anthony blinken will be testify this morning about the regional impact of the syrian conflict
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before the senate foreign relations committee which is chaired by republican senator bob corker of tennessee. live coverage on c-span3. >> that has not been possible. i don't want to diminish your appearance here because we're thankful to have you here, but i think for obvious reasons he's not been willing to come. the focus of today's hearing will be syria and i don't think anyone here can be proud of the united states' role in what is the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time. and what we've done to enable that to happen. as i think about your appearance here today, i think in many ways it will be helpful to us as we think about the next administration and as we think about the next secretary of state and as we think about the
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relationship that needs to exist between the executive branch and the secretary of state's office. i know that you came over from the national security staff. so you were at the white house. you came over to the state department. i know sometimes executive branch folks like to have their own people at the state department and i know, for instance, you were appear to here yesterday but the president ordered you quote to turkey instead. so it speaks to sort of the overlap that exists sometimes between the executive branch and the department of state. as an observation, the entire syrian conflict, again, is something that we are not proud of. i don't think anybody here is proud of. it's interesting that many of the people in the foreign policy establishment have even though i think they would view the obama
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administration's foreign policy generally speaking as a failure, i think that's a -- just an observation that i believe history will write, it's interesting that secretary clinton has received support from much of the foreign policy establishment because i think it's so well-known that she tried to counter so much of what has ended up happening and has lessened our standing in the world. i think that's the reason that many people have migrated in the foreign policy establishment to her and are supporting her. i think all of us are aware of her trying to counter what happened in iraq, trying to do more to support the rebels, i think that's just widely known. what is interesting to me is secretary kerry coming in.
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he came in with -- he came in with a lot of excitement. many people had thought that he had lived his whole life, if you will, to be secretary of state. he had been involved in foreign policy since being a young person. he's fought in the vietnam and made his name on the stage here as a young man. and that moved i think feelings by many, certainly by me, moved to anger as we watched what was happening in syria, what was happening in iraq to now, we had a breakfast with him just a week and a half ago, and to me, it's become somewhat of a sympathetic figure in that he's out there trying to deal with this, for instance, the situation in syria, and yet, there is no plan b. there's no support from the white house. we've had general allen in here. we knew in march of 2015 who was on his behalf working hard to create a no-fly zone, was
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talking openly about it. turkey was supporting that, and yet, no decision from the white house. the clearest example to me of why our foreign policy has been such a failure was this weekend. i know ben and i were trying to set up a meeting to try to deal with the issue of jafta to try to come to some other option that might create an outlet for the victims of 9/11 and yet, not undermine some of our sovereign community issues. i know i've been talking to the white house for some time just to engage with us. over the week, i talked to the secretary twice, secretary kerry twice and we agreed the best way to resolve this was to have a meeting. a meeting with chuck schumer, john cornyn, with ben and myself, a meeting with senator reid and senator mcconnell and just to sit down and see if another option could be developed that might cause us to
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move in a direction so that there could be an outlet for the people of 9/11 to have an outlet of some kind and yet, maybe not have some of the adverse consequences that some of us fear. secretary kerry couldn't even get the white house to call me. let me say that one more time. the outburst yesterday from the white house over what happened is remarkable when they wouldn't -- they wouldn't even sit down to meet with the secretary of state and us to try to create a solution to a problem that they felt was real. so i have to tell you, i think i know all of you guys write books after you leave. i think it's going to be a fascinating walk through what i believe to be a failed presidency as it relates to foreign policy. an unwillingness to roll up sleeves and deal with the tough issues that we have to deal with
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and certainly there's no way to deal with them without conversation. and to not have a plan b or at least maybe you'll share a plan b in syria today where diplomatic actions cannot be backed up because russia and assad realize that there is no plan b. never has been a plan b. so i look forward to your testimony. i know i'm being a little tough on you today, but i think it's in response to just seeing again why this failure has occurred and that is, the white house's inability to sit down to get involved, to be willing to put forth tough consequences when things don't occur and again, nothing could be more evidence of that than the unwillingness to even sit down and try to propose another way of dealing with the situation we dealt with yesterday on the senate floor. with that, i turn to my good friend, senator cardin, and look
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forward to his opening comments. >> well, thank you, mr. chairman. secretary, thank you for being here. senator, chairman corker and i have been partners during most of this congress on this committee and we share very similar views. about foreign policy and priorities, and we've had an opportunity to work together on many, many issues. and as i was listening to senator corker are at the beginning of his comments, i thought we were going to be able to continue that with his nice comments about secretary clinton. because i share those views on secretary clinton's extraordinary talent to conduct foreign policy. about you, and i share senator corker's frustration on jasta. i think that was highlighted through circumstances that neither he or i could control nor could the administration
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control. and that is that the timing of jasta required us to take the veto override before the recess. i think if we could have had that veto override during the lame duck session, we would have had more opportunity to explore ways in which we could try to accomplish the needed removal of sovereign immunity that stands in the path of the victims of 9/11 but do it in a way that does not cause the risk factors that this legislation causes. and neither senator corker or i and quite frankly the leadership or the president could affect that timing because the timing the president had to act within a certain number of days, the congress was required to take up the veto message immediately unless we had unanimous consent which was unlikely to be able to be gotten. i think it put us in a position where options were not as robust as i would like them to have been and that included the
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president's options. so i'm not as critical of senator corker of this administration or secretary kerry. i know secretary kerry felt pretty passionately about the jasta legislation. he expressed his views. i had a chance to be with secretary kerry on the plane for a considerable period of time and he used that opportunity to explore every opportunity we had here to deal with jasta. so i very much admire secretary kerry's optimism and his unrelenting pursuit of peace in every part of the world and we had a chance to experience that firsthand in columbia as we saw after five decades of civil war, a peace ingredient sign this had past monday and i was proud to be there with secretary kerry. secretary blinken, welcome back to the senate foreign relations committee. it's not every day that we have
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a star everywhere sesame street with us. for anyone who has not seen secretary blinken's guest appearance with grover, i encourage to you watch him discuss refugees with everyone's favorite furry blue monster before the president's summit on refugees during the u.n. general assembly session. we know that you have just returned from a trip to turkey and we look forward to learning about your discussions there, given turkey's critical role in the success of count ker isil campaign ending the conflict in syria for broader regional ability. i know this hearing is on syria and turkey clearly is a major player here. charged with oversight of the state department, the members of this committee have a fundamental interest in the success and u.s. diplomacy and u.s. leadership in the foreign policy arena. secretary kerry is correct in his belief that the tools of diplomacy should always be the
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preferred methodoff stopping violence, saving lives and restoring stability. i want to commend the dedication of secretary kerry and yourself and our nation's diplomats for the work you've done around the clock with both allies and add ser sears to forge an agreement to end violence in syria. that's what we need to to do. there is no -- there is no way to end that civil war through military. we need to to be able to have a negotiated diplomatic solution where all sides respect a government that respects its rights. but now we are clearly at an inflection point. the u.s., russia cease fire agreement was based on the assumption that russia could compel the assad regime to ground its air force, that russia would compel the assad jooep to allow immediate and unfettered humanitarian access. we have clearly seen that neither of these two objectives
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were achieved. russia stripes to be appear to be one that is essential to solving global problems but i seriously question the reliability of russia in this regard. we must re-evaluate our approach to russia in the middle east and beyond the middle east. russia continues to attack ukraine forces in dun boss. it illegally occupies crimea. it has hacked into our computer system and sought to dedisablize our electoral process. these are not the actions of a partner. these are the actions of an adversary. and i think we have to recognize that. with our focus on russia, we cannot loss sight of iran's nefarious role in syria and beyond. iran is backing the regime economically and militarily. irgc commanders have died fighting in syria. iran has mobilized militia fighters provided intelligence
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to support syria and russia targeting sent in lethal aid and mobilized hezbollah. there must be consequences for these actions. and there are plenty of tools we have at our disposal. i reject utterly false narrative that iran and russia's activities in syria constitute counter-terrorism. i look forward to hearing from you, mr. blinken, on what actions the united states are considering, what are our options, and how can congress be your partner. turning to iraq just for a moment if i might, the counter sisal fight is just the first step in reforing stability. i'm cautiously optimistic that the military operations to push sisal out of mosul is resourced and planned to achieve its goals and beyond the military operations i want to raise the alarm bell about winning the peace. i think we'll win the war but can we win the peace? iraqi leaders of baghdad must get their act together. the fast few months the political infighting and mud throwing and still no confidence that leaders in baghdad,er bill
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and other provincial levels are prepared to put the iraqi people first. we know that the iraqi security forces the kurdish peshmerga forces and other forces can fight or bomb their way to a stable attack. what will come after sisal's defeat? i'm not confident iraqi leaders are engaged to respond to the humanitarian crisis coming when hundreds of thousands of civilians flee mosul. i'm not confident that iraqi leaders are in control of the popular mobilization forces to prevent sectarian prepriceal violence or committed to recovering stabilization and governance plans that will give all iraqis a stake in the peace. weeks ago, i would have said the situation in the region particularly syria could not be any worse. now we know that it can. russia is guilty of war crimes for bombing a humanitarian aid convoy. assad is barrel bombing aleppo with impunity and using water
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access as a weapon as if denying humanitarian aid was not sufficient lit deplorable. these are crimes against humanity. the longer the assad regime remains entrenched in damascus and the longer sisal and news ra front remain active in the region the more depraved the situation and hopeless our innocent civilians, the more susceptible vulnerable populations. governments in jordan and lebanon to respond to these pressures. at risk is an entire generation of children in the region that have only known war and governments who want and some governments want to stand with them but have been unsuccessful. at risk is an entire generation of children who only know refugee camps who don't have access 0 clean water, health care, schools and employment opportunities. this situation cannot continue. u.s. must provide mohr decisive leadership to protect the civilian population.
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>> thank you, mr. chairman. >> i appreciate your comments. i think this is what we've been saying since about 2011. my comments about secretary kerry being a sympathetic figure are really not negative towards him. he's out there without the ability to do diplomacy because everyone knows there's going to be no backup effort in the event diplomacy fails which is a recipe for disaster. we've known that now for five years. again, it was more of an indictment of the president than our secretary of state. but with that, our deputy secretary of state tony blinken who we appreciate being here today as a substitute, we thank you for your service and we look forward to your abbreviated
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comments, your written testimony without objection will be entered into the record. >> mr. chairman, thank you very much. let me start by thanking you personally, as well the committee staff for your courtesy in rescheduling this hearing to today. as you noted it was originally going to be yesterday. i very much appreciate it. it allowed me to make this trip to turkey which i'm happy to talk about. senator, cardin, thank you for referencing the best bilateral meeting i had with grover. by far the most informative and interesting session. mr. chairman, ranking member cardin, members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the civil war in syria and its regional implications. now in its sixth year, the civil war has destroyed the fabric of life in syria, killed at least 400,000 people, triggered the worst humanitarian displacement crisis since world war ii put neighboring countries under
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enormous pressure exacerbated regional tensions helped swell the ranks of extremist organizations most notably daesh and al qaeda. the conflict continues to be fueled by patrons and proxies with have i divergent interests and priorities at a time of unprecedented upheaval in the middle east as governments pursue new models of political rule and vi for regional influence. in short, the syria conflict presents one of the most complex challenges we have faced. the united states is clear eyed about our role and responsibility. the civil war in syria is not about us. nor can it be solved solely by us but it changes our security and strategic interests and our moral values. so we are working to leverage our country's unique capacity to mobilize others to end the civil war and contend with its consequences even as we leave the international coalition to counter and ultimately defeat
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daesh. we're also working to facilitate aid to millions of civilians to try to reduce human suffering the civil war enjennered. our primary task is to defeat daesh which poses the most immediate threat to our citizens, to our country, to our al lined and partners. . we have built an international quoelgs 67 partners. we devised a comprehensive strategy to attack dash at its core in iraq and syria, dismantle financing and recruitment networks, stop its external operations and confront its affiliates. we are implementing that strategy and succeeding. our campaign is liberating territory from daesh cutting off its financing, combating its narrative, an louing citizens to return home, gutting the twisted foundation on which daesh's global ambitions rest. we've deprived daesh of about
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25% of the territory it once controlled in syria and more than 50% of the territory it once controlled in iraq and now face a moment of both strategic opportunity and urgency. the opportunity before us is to effectively almost daesh's physical cal fate by taking back the last big pieces it holds, mosul in iraq and raqqahing in syria. with support from the coalition, local forces are preparing to launch these operations in the period ahead. these battles will be hard but the consequences to daesh will be devastating practically and psychologically. but this opportunity is matched by urgency. as the new is your noose around daesh is tightening, they've adapted by plotting or encouraging indiscriminate attacks in as many places as possible. especially in rack ca where many of these operations are plotted, planned and directed. in iraq, mr. chairman, two weeks
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ago, and then in turkey this week, i held discussions with our partners on the campaign plan to. it requires extraordinary coordination militarily and also to ensure we meet the humanitarian stabilization and governance needs of newly liberated territory. it will be this effort that ensures that daesh once defeated stays defeated and senator cardin, i think you're exactly right. that in a sense, the harder questions are almost what follows the military defeat daesh in iraq and certainly syria. ultimately we will not fully succeed in destroying daesh until we resolve the civil war in syria which remains a powerful magnet for foreign organizations to draw strength from assad's destruction of his own nation. the objectives and processes we agreed to earlier this month with russia were the right ones. renewal of the cessation of hostilities, the immediate
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resumption of unhintered aid dleefrss, focus on daesh and al qaeda the grounding of the syrian air force over civilian populations, a negotiating track that can make possible the restoration of a united peaceful syria. the actions of the regime and russian aided and abetted by jihadist spoilers now risk fundamentally undermining this initiative, destroying what was the best prospect for ending the civil war. the september 19 attack on the u.n. humanitarian aid convoy near aleppo was unconscionable. it's been followed by the regime and russia renewing a horrific offensive in aleppo that includes the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians and an apparently intentional attacks on hospitals, the water supply network, other infrastructure. yesterday, mr. chairman, secretary kerry informed the foreign minister of russia unless russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on aleppo and restore cessation of
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who is hostilities the united states will establish the joint implementation center. at president obama's direction we are considering other options to advance our goal of ending the civil war and starting a political transition in syria. we continue to maintain close links to the moderate opposition to support their viability. it's important as always to remember how this crisis in syria began not with barrel bombs are chlorine but peaceful protests of sizs calling for peaceful change. the humanitarian catastrophe that we bear witness to is a outgrowth and the cost is rising every day most of all for the syrian people. we'll continue to work with the coalition we beet built to defeat daesh and explore and as appropriate pursue every option to end the civil war in syria and bring about the political transition that the syrian people want and deserve. thank you very much, mr. chairman. >> thank you, mr. secretary. i'm going to ask one question
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and then may interject as we go along. is it from your perspective, having been both at the white house and now the state department in an important role, is it your observation that the only way for us to be successful in our foreign policy endeavors and for the secretary of state to be successful is for there to be a close relationship between the white house and the secretary of state and the knowledge that the white house will back up the initiatives that the secretary of state endeavors to achieve? >> i think, mr. chairman in, any administration, you certainly want. >> that's a yes. >> a close relationship among. >> let me ask you this. we've had i know numbers of proposals from the state department including the no-fly zone in the northwest triangle of aleppo and the air exclusion zone along the turkish, syrian
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border that the turks were supportive of. why is it that in that case, in the case right now where secretary kerry is out there on a tether you just mentioned that we're going to cut off bilateral negotiations on syria. i mean, i just have a feeling this is not much of a price to pay from russia's standpoint. so the there's been discussions of plan b. secretary kerry talked to several of us in munich in february about the cessation discussions and there was going to be a plan b if they failed. i've never seen signs of a plan b. i know russia doesn't believe there's a plan b. assad doesn't believe there's a plan b. iran doesn't believe there's a plan b. so when i say that when i refer to sympathetic figure, how can a secretary of state have any chance of success in ending the murder, the torture, the rape,
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the bombing of innocent people, the killing of young people, how does a secretary of state have any chance of success when the white house is unwilling at any level to have a backup to what he's doing if diplomacy tails. >> on all of these issues including syria, we work through a very deliberative process involving all of the agencies relevant to the issue. at the np sc with the state department, with the pentagon, with the intelligence agencies, et cetera. and we try to work through these things deliberately and make the best possible assessment of the best way to advance our objectives and our interests and to evaluate both the benefits and ricks of any course of action. and that's what we've done in this case. and the policy that emerges is the product of these deliberations that the secretary of state is very much fully a
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part of. in the case of syria, first it's useful for to ask ourselves this question. how do civil wars typically end. we know from history and experience they end in one of two ways. >> i don't want a history lesson. i'd like to understand what plan b is. the mysterious plan b that's been referred to since february, mysterious plan b that was supposed to be leveraged to get russia to quit killing innocent people to get assad to quit killing innocent people. just explain to us the elements of plan b. >> two things, mr. chairman. in the first instance, plan b is the consequence of the failure as a result of russia's actions of plan a. in that what is likely to happen now if the ingredient cannot be followed through on and russia reneges totally on its
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commitments. >> which it has. >> it appears to have done, this is going to be bad for everyone but it's going to be bad first and foremost. >> i want to hear about plan b. i understand all the context here. >> i think, sir, this is important because russia has a profound incentive in trying to make this work. it can't win in syria. it can only prevent assad from losing. if this now gets to the point where the civil war accelerates all of the outside patrons will throw in more and more weaponry against russia. they'll be left propping up assad in an ever smaller piece of syria. >> what is plan b? give me the elements of plan b. >> two things. again, the consequences i think to russia as well as to the regime will begin to be felt as a result of plan a not being implemented because of russia's actions. second, as i indicated the president has asked all of the agencies to put forward options
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some familiar, some new that we are very actively reviewing. when we are able to work through these in the days can ahead, we'll have an opportunity to come back and talk about them in detail but we're in the process of doing that. >> let me just say what we already know. there is no plan b. and when i refer to secretary kerry as a sympathetic figure, i say that because he gets up every day. some say he should resign over lack of support or at least threaten to. but there's no support. it's impossible to be successful in negotiating an agreement with someone if there's no consequences. in this case, the consequences that you're laying out is that russia will fully determine the future of syria. >> i think russia is going to bear very significant consequences for the failure of
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this effort. >> so far that, hasn't been the case. i know that's what the president said when they came in and stepped into the vacuum a year ago. so look, i rest my case. diplomacy without without any plan of failure is something that cannot be successful and i again, based on my experiences this weekend, with an administration who is unwilling to even sit down and talk about a solution with the people who are involved because they think this is bad for our country but unwilling to sit down and talk about a possible option, just leads me to believe that we will continue to have nonsuccess in syria, nonsuccess in other areas and again, all of us have tremendous sadness over the fact that our country as idly sat by
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after encouraging the people of syria, ambassador ford was cheering these people on, cheering these people on. we made commitments to the opposition which general edress, i remember meeting with him in turkey. we couldn't even get him the trucks that we committed to. so it's a -- it's a statement without a plan. it's a statement of red lines without follow-up. and again, i fear that more bad, more bad results are going to occur. with that, i'll turn it to senator menendez. >> thank you, mr. chairman. let me thank the ranking member for yielding time. we've had a train derailment in new jersey with fatalities. i need to get back. i appreciate the opportunity. this is incredibly important topic. so i think we had a lot of missed opportunities when this committee passed, not unanimously but a strong
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bipartisan vote 0 train anton assist the vetted syrian rebels moderate syrian rebels at the time ha that could be done and gave the president the power and wherewithal to do that. it wasn't done then. then when it was done, it was done so feebly that those who we trained were largely eliminated. and then instead of having a safe zone which many of us caused for which would have given individuals the opportunity to have ability for security and maybe to organize those who might want to fight for their country, that wasn't done. and so i moved forward and i see what's happened to date and the one thing, of course, your written testimony is much longer but there's one paragraph from it that i think is incredibly important to talk about. you say in your statement on page 3, ultimately we will not succeed in fully destroying daesh until we resolve the civil
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war in syria which remains a powerful magnet for foreign terrorist organizations that thrive in the war's ungoverned. and i fully agree. that's the problem here. having missed opportunities, now, and now creating a vacuum where russia comes in, i know that i keep hearing the equation that russia will ultimately come to an understanding that it's paying very large consequences for its participation. that hasn't changed their calculation at all. as a matter of fact, they have buoyed assad in this process. i think that the temporary truce that was created never had a from the russian perspectives never had a real calculation to actually effectuate the results of what secretary kerry intended which, of course, i would have an plaued. but it was to give assad the ability to rearm and reorganize. then immediately, the incredible
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despicable attacks made against humanitarian convoys. so my question is this. i would have asked what plan b is, too. i don't get a sense that there is one and that worries me. i don't think we should wait for the next president to start devising something that moves in that direction and i understand that secretary kerry has threatened to end bilateral talks with russia over syria. but i can't thath fathom for the life of me what those talks are producing any howe. russia seems to agree only for the purposes of giving assad time to rearm and regroup. what leverage do we really have? what are we doing here to russia to change its calculation because now, you know, whether we like it or not, they're the major player here. and i have had a totally different view that russia does not share our end goals here. it does not have the same interests as we do.
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it has a very different set of interests. so understanding that, give me a sense of what leverage specifically, what leverage do we have, why are we still engaged in a conversation in which we have a, quote unquote, partner that continues to undermine our purposes in syria as well as that of the international community which is why i understand some british and french counterparts walked out of a meeting recently at the u.n. >> thank you, senator. two things. first, we believe that the effort that we've made to reach this agreement with russia was the best way to effectively move toward ending the civil war because had it succeeded and indeed if it still can succeed and i think we'll know in the hours ahead whether russia is responsive or not, the cessation of hostilities would be resto
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restored, humanitarian assistance would flow. you would get the syrian air force out of the skies over civilian populated areas. russia would be focused as it claims it has been and isil and daesh. >> we understand the benefit if it had succeeded it's not going to succeed because russia doesn't want it to. >> again, i know that this may not fully resonate but first, russia escalate add its engagement in syria because it's been there all along for years precisely because it was at risk of losing its only foot hold in the middle east and it came in harder in order to save assad from falling at a time when it looked like he would although i think that assessment was possibly overly optimistic. having gotten in, it's very, very hard to get ought because assad cannot win. they can prevent him losing but he cannot win. so they're stuck. so the leverage in the first
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instance, the leverage is again the consequences for russia of being stuck in a quagmire that is going to having a number of profoundly negative ekes. first, they're going to be bearing the brunt if the civil war escalates as a result of their actions of an onslaught of weapons coming from outside patrons. they will be seen in their own country and throughout the world as complicit with assad with hezbollah and with iran in the slaughter of sunni muslims. 15% of their own own population is muslims. >> do we already agree they're already complicit on that. >> indeed. but this is only going to get worse if the war gets worse as a result of their actions. any efforts that they've been making to get to peel away countries, for example, on ukraine, i think the international disgust at the actions they're taking in aleppo will make that even more difficult than it already is. as i said, in response also to the chairman's question, we're also very actively looking at
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additional options that we can bring to bear to advance our objectives in syria and those objectives are ending the civil war, and getting a political transition. >> i know what the objectives are. i just don't see what the consequences that you're suggesting can be leb have ied. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you. i know senator rubio is here but he wants to get -- if you could go ahead, that would be great. >> thank you, secretary blinken, again. what has happened has happened. and i think history will reflect decisions that were made and whether they were the right decisions at the time. we need to to learn from the past and decide how to move forward. there's no question that there is an urgent need to protect human life civilian life in syria. and the united states needs to act boldly. i'm encouraged, secretary blinken, by your comments that there will be very significant
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consequences for russia's actions. i look forward to seeing how that is translocated into u.s. policy and u.s. international leadership working with other countries. we need to bold u.s.-led actions to protect civilian lives. we need to that now. and i look forward to reviewing with you the options that are being considered and the actions that are taken to protect civilian life, and the significant consequences concerning russia. i want to ask you a specific question. could russia have stopped the assad regime from what it has done in the last several weeks and does russia have enough influence over the assad regime to change their behavior? >> i believe the answer is yes. >> number two, iran has been extremely engaged in syria.
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i have not seen the u.s. take action or work with the international community to take action against iran in regards to their support of terrorism in syria. are we restricted because the jcpoa? my understanding is that the terms in the jcpoa do not restrict us. but has there been diplomatic restrictions as a result of the jcpoa that has limited our ability to hold iran responsible for its actions in syria? >> the answer is no, senator. >> so why haven't we taken action against iran? >> we have and indeed, we continue with regard to iran. >> in regards to their activities in syria. >> yes, sanctioned activities. >> new sanctions have been imposed? on entities in iran that have sought to do business or support the regime. >> yeah, i understand we have sanctions that are related to
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their nefarious actions other than the nuclear activities. but i'm not aware that we have increased those sanctions or have looked at ways in which we can apply more pressure against iran. it's my understanding we've been pretty guarded in these activities. >> we put in place at the very outset of the crisis as you know, various sanctions with regard to syria. to isolate and put pressure on the regime and those sanctions also include sanctioning individuals or entities who do business in various ways with the regime with the military, et cetera. and in that context, my understanding is that iranian entities and individuals have been sanctioned. >> are we, you said we're looking, the president instructed to look at all options in regards to the current crisis in syria. is part of that taking action against iran? >> i don't want to get ahead of
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where we are in our discussions. but iran is clearly along with its proxy hezbollah, the most serious impediment to ending the civil war in that its support for the regime is the most significant of all. as i said at the outset, i believe that given the support that russia has provided support that has gotten greater since russia increased its engagement in syria, it too has the capacity to change the actions of the regime. but there's no question that iran and hezbollah are arguably the most important outside supporters of the regime. >> well, i think you would agree with me that since the jcpoa has been agreed upon, iran has shown no slowing down of their activities in syria. so i would hope that we would see some aggressive u.s.
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leadership to make it cheer that that conduct doesn't get a free pass because of the jcpoa. so i would hope that that would be part of the options that are being considered. and let me also say in regards to russia, it's not an isolated problem we're having with russia. russia has attacked america through cyber. trying to compromise our electoral process. russia has violated the minsk ingredients and is causing ukraine to be compromised today. and i could list a lot of other activities that russia is participating in. so as we look at very significant consequences that russia will play as a result of their failure to live up to the cease fire ingredients, i hope that in that equation will go these other activities so that there's a very clear message to russia that u.s. leadership will not tolerate that type of
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conduct and we're prepared to take unilateral action, we're also prepared to work with the willing to make sure there's a price to be paid for their activities. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, mr. ranking member. i'm sure that there will be more words that i would love at some time if there is a plan b to have a briefing if that's what it takes. i think we all understand that it's nonexistent and the only thing that is existent is words. senator rubio. >> thank you. thank you, sect blinken, for being here. in your statement, you mentioned russia six times as you should. they're clearly involved. but there's an omission. i do not believe in your testimony you mention iran a single time. until senator cardin raised, i'm not sure it's been discussed in terms of their role in the region. you said you couldn't guarantee to the american people that the funds that iran has received as a result of the payments made have not been use ford terrorism. i think it's common sense in
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fact they would do that. we've seen press reports that iran's guardian council instructed its central banking to transfer $1.7 billion to the military of iran and by the way, i don't think that number is a coincidence. so we've seen the top irgc commander last week say that the irgc and allies supply intelligence for russian air strikes in syria. so i think the first thing we have to point to here is the fact these pallets of taxpayer dollars allowed to iran have utley helped them help russia. target innocent syrians in this quest to increase their dominance of the region or their role in the region and to prop up assad. and again, i don't know how we justify the transfer of all of these funds to the iranian regime knowing that the iranian regime is deeply involved and propping up the assad regime and in the process providing assistance to all of these atrocities now being committed by both assad and the russians. how do we justify that?
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>> thank you, senator. first, as you know, because you've been so focused on this for.years, iran has been engaged in the support of terrorism and destabilizing activities including in syria for a long time. during sanctions, in other words, before the nuclear agreement, during the negotiation of the agreement, and indeed, since sanctions have been lifted in the context of that agreement. so their conduct has been consistent throughout. again, they were doing this before when we had the sanctions regime in place because of their nuclear program. the one thing that has changed is we have taken a nuclear weapon off the table which is profoundly good for our interests and interests of allies and partners. as we said all along, we fully expected that they would continue to take these actions in various ways and various places after the agreement. that's why we have worked very hard to continue and indeed to
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increase our efforts to counter them. we've worked very closely as you know with the gulf partners building up their capacity. we just signed a record breaking we just signed a record breaking mou with israel to make sure next decade what they need for their security and continue to implement sanctions against iranian entities -- >> the one thing that changed basically they were involved in terror before, involved in terror now and i consider their support of assad to be part of that. the only thing that changed we made it harder for them to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. i would say a second thing has changed, they have access to millions and millions of dollars they didn't have access to before. the world's key sponsor of terrorism has millions of dollars more than they once did, no evidence of building hospitals, brinlz, roads, orp n orphana orphanages, sponsor food programs around the world, we don't see iran supporting the medicine for the suffering in syria. one of the things that's changed they have access to millions of
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dollars they didn't have a year and a half ago. >> senator, our best assessment -- >> billions i apologize. >> our best assessment given iran's significant economic difficulties the vast bulk of the resources they've had access to as a result of the agreement or the hague sell amount these funds are dedicated to the domestic economy, not to regional activities. under the nuclear agreement we believe that they now have access to roughly $50 billion that had been frozen or restricted in foreign accounts. they need half a trillion dollars to meet investment needs, government only gagss, propping up their currency, et cetera. as i said they've engaged in these activities before, during and after and also unfortunately a lot of the support they're providing to terror, to proxies is not very resource-intensive, so that's why, even as we have implemented the agreement, which in our judgment, is a very good thing for our security and that of our allies and partners, we have worked to intensify our efforts to counter these
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activities. >> even if we assume what you said is true, the money's used to prop up their domestic economy ultimately if that were the case that domestic economy would produce more revenue to produce the funding needs of their priorities, which is terrorism and the propping up of assad. the point for the arming american watching this issue, you have the world's supreme sponsor of terrorism has billions of dollars than they once did as a result of this and we're somehow supposed to believe the bulk of it is spent to improve their economy and this is not being used to increase their other aims that they have around the world, and that includes the propping up of this extraordinarily vicious regime on assad and their enablers in russia. again i think this is just another example of how this deal and everything that surrounds it has now provided more resources to the iranian regime to continue to do what they did and one of the things they do with the money they've been given is they are able to fund their intelligence gathering capabilities that allow them to
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help the russians with our air strikes and those are the air strikes that struck a convoy a week ago, those are the air strikes that are decimating aleppo and creating a situation on the ground that we have not seen in decades anywhere in the world. >> thank you, senator shaheen. >> secretary blinken, thank you for being here this morning. sadly, i have to say that i share my colleague's views that, despite the best intentions that our policies in syria have contributed to where we are today and there was a news report that just came over that russia has rejected our demands for resumption of syrian cease-fire and that they vowed today to press ahead with their operations in syria, so i guess that says to me and i think the news has been very clear, that russia has escalated the civil war in syria, and they intend to
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continue to do that, and assad intends to continue to do that, no matter what the expense is to his own people. so i'm not going to beat the plan "b" horse, because i appreciate that you have not been able to share with us what might be being considered, but, and maybe you're not able to talk about what options are being discussed that we might still have in syria, but it seems to me that we need to look at all of those options, because the current effort is not working, and i appreciate the arguments you're making. i just don't think they're working. so let me go on to a couple of other areas where i'm interested in what you can share with us. on the leader summit on
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refugees, and i thought your appearing on "sesame street" was a good thing. it's nice to let young people know what's going on, but can you talk about which states have been particularly generous, what has come out of that summit, what is being looked at to implement the commitments that have been made at the refugee summit? >> thank you very much, senator. as you know, and as the committee knows, we are facing the largest single wave of human displacement since world war ii. syria of course is what is generating a lot of it but it's a global problem, a global crisis, because we see -- it >> right. >> -- forced migration of one kind or another virtually on every continent. in africa alone 12 countries were people are forcibly displaced by conflict. central america. afghanistan. pakistan. around the world. so the president brought together countries and leaders
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from around the world at the summit on new york at the margins on the general assembly to take action, not just to talk about the problem but to do something about it and that's exactly what we did, and what he did. there were three objectives that we had going into the summit. one was to get more resources from around the world into the humanitarian support system because as the committee knows, unfortunately it's significantly underfunded and it's basically overmatched by the scale and scope of the problems that we're facing. so we wanted to get more resources in, and we wanted to get countries that hadn't participated as much to participate or to do more. and we succeeded. we've got countries all totaled to put in for this next year about 30% more than they did in 2015 so we're looking at billions of additional dollars for the humanitarian system. second looking for additional countries to resettle refugees, and we sought to double the
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number of legally resettled persons around the world over the next year. that objective based on the commitments made was also achieved. third and finally, we wanted to help build the resilience of countries that are receiving refugees, basically the countries of first refuge and asylum. syria, turkey, lebanon and jordan have borne extraordinary burdens with millions of refugees. we wanted to increase support to them but also wanted them to make additional commitments to make sure that children could go to school and adults could go to work, because as senator cardin said we do risk a lost generation of children from these conflicts if they're not able to go to school. we have commitments over the next year for there to be an additional 1 million places in schools around the world for refugee children and another 1 million legal jobs around the world. these are significant, these are real, these are concrete. that said, ultimately the answer
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to a lot of this has to be resolving the underlying conflicts that are causing people to flee, to leave their homes and their families, in some cases to put their lives and their children in jeopardy. we recognize that and that, of course, is why it's so important to work to end this conflict in syria. we did make a major advance. now the critical thing will be to make sure the countries make good on their commitments and we'll look at that carefully. >> thank you. my time is up so i'll wait for the next round for other questions. >> okay, thank you. senator murphy? >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. thank you, mr. secretary, for being with us today. comment and then a question. so at the heart of the most spectacular u.s. foreign policy failures over the last 50 years is hubris, is this idea that there is a u.s. solution,
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usually a u.s. military solution to every problem in the world. you can read vietnam and iraq and libya through that lens, and this idea that's sort of being proffered on this committee, frankly, by both sides of the aisle, but there are these clear alternatives to the current policy in syria or iraq that would lead to a radically different reality on the ground is fantasy. i hate the place that we are in today. it is an ongoing global tragedy but this idea there was a magical moment in 2012 where we could have parachuted arms to the syrian rebels and they would have overrun assad is not true. russia and iran have had, for a very long time, equities in that country that are unequal to ours. they were always going to come to the defense of assad, with ferocity. this idea that a safe zone would
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magically change the reality on the ground is a fantasy as well. our own military leaders have thrown cold water on this idea because it would involve some major ground forces to make it meaningful, and there are very few people in this congress who are willing to support the major deployment of u.s. ground forces, and so i just say this because maybe just maybe every bad thing that happens in the world isn't a fault of failed u.s. policy, and maybe, just maybe there are times and there are places where there is not always a u.s. answer. i think we can be incredibly helpful. i think that we can work with partners to try to make this situation better, but i read the last three years as a continued ramp-up, albeit very slowly of u.s. military engagement in syria, and the situation on the ground for the syrian people
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getting worse and worse and worse. not better and better and better. and i think history should probably teach us that those two things are likely not a coincidence. and so i reject the idea that there are easy, clear alternatives that the administration isn't looking at. this is a hard problem with no easy solutions, and we should operate from an assumption that there are not always u.s.-led solutions to terrible intractable problems in the world. and so let me ask you a question about where this failing of hubris could get us in trouble in the coming weeks and months, and that's in mosul. so a new announcement we are going to put 600 more u.s. military personnel on the ground to help retake mosul, not an announcement that we are going to make a diplomatic surge in and around mosul to try to solve
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some of the governance problems in that city, so share with us, maybe share with me and answer to my skepticism that a military surge in mosul is ultimately going to solve the political problems that you correctly identify as the most intractable. we don't have a military quagmire in iraq. we could solve the military problem in a heartbeat by putting another 200,000 u.s. troops back in. we have a political problem, and so mosul seems to me to be an example of where you have responded to pressure to try to make progress by announcing a military surge. i have no doubt that, with 600 or 1200 or 1400 u.s. troops we'll get the military objective that we want in mosul but how does that get the political solution? ninevah is an incredibly diverse province and what allowed for
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isis to overrun mosul in the first place was not a military vacuum, it was a political vacuum in that city, so how do we make sure that there is a political component here so that our military hubris that we often have doesn't get us in the same exact situation that it has over and over again in that region? >> senator, if i have a chance i want to come back to your opening comment but i want to answer your question. mosul is and will be the culmination in the iraq side of the theater of the counter-isil or counter-da'esh campaign. it's a vitally important opportunity to deny isil its physical or geographic caliphate, which has been at the heart of its narrative, and at the heart of its ability to project success. so it's vitally important, but your comments are also vitally important, because you're exactly right that this cannot be indeed and is not just a
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military effort. we're working along multiple tracts at the same time in a coordinated fashion, on the military piece, making sure that all of the forces are coordinated under one plan, with iraqi leadership but bringing in all of the critical elements to include the iraqi security forces, the kurdish peshmerga and critically tribal elements from ninevah. there is an objective of raising 15,000 members from the tribes and we're well on track to do that. that's part one. part two is making sure that we have in place all of the capacity we need to deal with what are likely to be the humanitarian consequences of seizing mosul and in particular internally displaced persons. the u.n. is projecting there could be up to a million people forced to flee mosul as a result of the effort to liberate it. we're working hard with the u.n., with the iraqis to put in place everything that they need to care for these people with
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food, with shelter, with medicine, and that also so on track. it's challenging but on track. we've raised the money to do it and we're prepositioning resources. third, stabilization of mosul itself after it's liberated so people have something to go back toes aquickly as possible. we've raised significant resources and have a plan to restore basic services, basic security. fourth and finally, you're exactly right, governance, because unless the basic gove governance structure is in place and everyone agrees to it, we're going to have problems after the liberation. we've worked very hard with the iraqi government, with the kurds, with other actors to make sure there's basic agreement on what governments will look like in mosul centered on the governor who is the constitutionally appropriate person for the province, the provincial counsel but persons designated by baghdad and erbil to support them and the city itself in effect divided up into eight quadrants with submayors
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to make sure that, as much as possible, those making decisions are very closely representative of the people for whom they're making decisions. this is a coordinated effort. you're exactly right, it has to bring in all of these element. that's what we're working on. we tried to learn lessons from the past, in fallujah when it was liberated as you know, we saw some reprisal atrocities committed by the shia pmf, popular mobilization forces. we have made sure that for mosul, there will be no southern or shia pmf going into to mosul city, similarly no kurdish peshmerga going in and as i said a significant hold force comprised of members of sunni tribes from the region, both in the security forces and in the police, so we've tried to learn from that and also as idps leave mosul and are screened before they go to find refuge provided to them by the government and by the united nations, we want to
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make sure that that process is done as quickly as possible, keeping families together, and again, without any of the divisive elements being part of it, including the shia pmf. we very much have that in mind. quickly on your initial comment, i do think it's very important that we not be bound by history but we be informed by it, and in the case of syria, we do know this. civil wars throughout history ended basically in one of three ways, one side wins. that is not likely to happen any time soon in syria because the of the dynamic we've seen as soon as one side gets the advantage outside patrons come in and right the balance. that's been what happened. what the dynamic is outside patrons can make sure no one loses in syria but it's very, very hard to make sure that one side wins. the second way these things end is the parties exhaust themselves. tragically what we see in history at least is that that takes on average ten years.
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syria is in year seven. someone object to that comment. and when there are a multiplicity of comment it takes even longer. the third way is some kind of outside intervention, either military or political. military intervention of the scale necessary to actually end the conflict is technically possible, but then whoever does that is going to be left holding a very, very heavy bag with all of the unintended consequences that will flow from that and i don't think the united states nor for that matter russia or any other actor is prepared to do that. that leaves in effect outside powers, the united nations and others, trying to put in place and as necessary, impose some kind of political resolution. that's what we've been working on, because we've seen that as the best way to try to end this. >> thank you. i always appreciate my friend senator murphy's comments and
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perspective, and i think hubris is certainly something that can be the downfall of all of us. i'll say that hubris also from the standpoint of making big statements about what the united states is going to do raises people's expectations. i think we certainly have made bold statements what we're going to do relative to syria that were followed up with almost nothing, and in that case we've called sons, daughters, brothers, uncles and sisters of those in the syrian opposition to be slaughtered as they waited for those things that we stated we were going to to but never did. senator markey? >> thank you, mr. chairman, very much. secretary blinken last october former president jimmy carter wrote in the "new york times" "since 2011 the united states preconditioned that "assad must go" has reinforced escalation of
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syria's civil war, and inhibited serious discussion about compromised solutions." last wednesday president carter published a follow-up peace in "the times" calling on the entire international community to focus for now on just one imperative, stop the killing. he wrote "the discussions should focus on a goal of temporarily freezing the existing territorial control without the government, the opposition or the kurds giving up their arms. additionally, measures should be agreed upon to stabilize conditions in territories controled by these belligerents with guarantees of unrestricted access to humanitarian aid." secretary blinken, what do you think about that proposal? the united states could advance that even in the absence of russian or syrian agreement by proposing a chapter 7 united nations security council resolution requiring all parties to immediately stop the killing,
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stabilize civilian populations and ensure full access to humanitarian relief for all victims of this war? russia's ongoing atrocious behavior in aleppo makes it clear they would not support such a resolution. however, it would put them on notice that at the united nations we were about to have this global discussion of the need to just stop the killing. can you talk about president carter's proposal, what you think about it and putting aside the assad must go movement for the time being, so that we can just begin to put an end to this humanitarian crisis. >> senator, thank you very much. i haven't read it so i'd like to be able to read it in detail but i purger your description of it. first in effect what we've been trying to achieve with russia's support is a cessation of
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hostilities that would, in effect, end the violence. the provision of humanitarian to people who need it in besieged areas and as i said as well taking the syrian air force out of the skies in civilian populated areas and economy, and focusing on da'esh or al qaeda in syria or al nusra. in effect those were the first steps that we thought were so critical. now, if we were able to take those steps, we would then have in place the conditions under which all of the parties could begin to negotiate a political transition. >> i understand but it's broken. so what do you think about taking it to the u.n.? taking it to a chapter 7, escalating this thing to a point where everyone is going to be forced to sit down and to discuss it, you know, syria, russia might not like it, but at least we're going to be focusing upon the core problem of stopping the killing.
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>> we are actively looking at what more can be done at the united nations with regard -- >> would that include a chapter 7? >> sure, except that of course russia would almost certainly veto a chapter 7. >> that's all right, let's have russia veto. let's pin the tail on the donkey, let's have the culpable parties put in place. let's not allow them -- i just think there's such an atmosphere of ambiguity it's so complex in syria and aleppo, you have so many parties involved that it's just very difficult for the world to understand who has the capability of -- >> you're exactly right, senator, that's added to the complication because we have a multiplicity of actors, all of whom have different priorities. our priority has been in the first instance da'esh because that poses the most immediate threat to us and our interests. russia's priority has been to keep assad in place or maintain its foothold in syria. the priority of the turks is
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dealing with the kurds. >> exactly all of that is true. >> so all of these things, the saudis most interested i think in checking iran. so in all of these ways, because people come to this with different interests and different priorities it makes it even more complicated. that said i think you're right that further turning up the heat at the united nations is something that we have to very closely look at. >> okay, the administration announced that this week it would increase the supply of arms to kurdish militant groups in syria to enable them to play a leading role in a future offensive to take raqqah, a sunni city, back from isis. what are the risks of relying on a kurdish force for military operations in a sunni arab city and did you discuss this with the turkish government before you made that announcement? >> i was in turkey just this week and we're looking with our turkish partners and allies very closely at how we continue the campaign in syria to take territory away from da'esh.
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>> what was their perspective using kurdish troops aided by the u.s. in raqqah? >> as you know, senator, we've worked in more than syria with something called the syrian democratic forces, the sdf. that has the syrian arab coalition, predominantly arab forces and also includes kurdish forces in this case the ypg and the turks have not been comfortable with support to this kurdish element of the syrian democratic forces and it's obviously caused some tensions but it has resulted in taking back manbridge, critical point from syria and turkey. treasure trove information about their external plotting came from that. we need to work with effective actors on the ground in syria,
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that's what we've done, that's what we'll continue to do, and also in a way that respects the concerns and interests of our turkish allies so we're in the midst of conversations with them about the best way to move forward including on raqqah. >> and if i could just going back up to mosul again in terms of your statement that it will be a sunni government officials, sunni police that will be in charge of mosul, does the government in baghdad agree with that? have they signed off on that? are they going to keep the shia militia out? >> that is their commitment just as it is to keep the kurdish peshmerga out of the city and the core of the force that liberates mosul will be the iraqi security forces backed by the coalition with the support of the peshmerga. the tribal elements that are
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being trained, equipped, brought on board with the goal of getting 15,000 of them will be predominantly the holding force once the city is liberated. >> okay, great, thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, ranking member closing comments? >> want to thank our secretary for your help here. just keep us involved on the options considered in regards to syria. in regards to mosul it could be a wonderful advancement because militarily things look like they're in place. i share senator markey's concerns that in practice we don't see the ethnic reprisals that we've seen happen so often when territory has been reclaimed from isis' grips. i think that's going to be more difficult in getting the confidence necessary so i just
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urge us to work together. in regards to turkey, i would enjoy getting, talking to you, not through questioning here, as to how successful we are in getting our nato partner constructive and keeping the border closed but also dealing with the kurdish issues that don't distract us from dealing with isis. thank you very much for your service and look forward to continuing this discussion. >> thank you. >> i thank you for appearing today and thank you for your service and mostly for your responsiveness. i do want to say i think history does teach us a lot and i think running your foreign policy in a manner to be not what the last person was, that being your total basis for decisions, leads us to a place that had been very
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negative for u.s. national interest, and what i hope is going to happen as people have watched and understand that foreign policy is much more complex, takes much more engagement than just a policy of not being who your predecessor was. i'm hopeful that the next president and the next secretary of state can learn from the failures that we've witnessed, and hopefully in some form or capacity what you've learned from this will be helpful in that regard, too. >> mr. chairman, i welcome the opportunity to pursue that conversation at another time whenever it's convenient. from my experience we're more engaged in more places and ways than before. >> the negative trend in most every one -- >> i think there's a lot of positive, too. i'd be happy to pursue that conversation. >> i would welcome that and would welcome that with secretary kerry and others also, which i know has been difficult to achieve. but with that, the meeting is adjourned.
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the record will remain open through the close of business monday, and if you could fairly promptly with all the other responsibilities you have respond to those, we thank you for being here and the meeting's adjourned. >> thank you.
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>> if you missed any of this
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hearing you can find it in our video library where you can watch, clip and share all of our content and congress is officially done with legislative business now until after the november elections. passing a short term spending bill yesterday, funding the government until december 9th. the hill writing "lawmakers quickly set their sights on leaving for recess as soon as it became clear the spending bill could clear both chambers. the house passed the bill late wednesday after the senate easily approved it early that afternoon. the house was originally slated to vote thursday on a resolution to hold the former state department staffer responsible for setting up hillary clinton's private email server in contempt of congress. yet house gop leaders opted to postpone consideration until after election day depriving republicans of highlighting an issue that's dogged clinton in her presidential campaign. congress will face a host of thorny issues when it returns after election day primarily to avoid another shutdown on december 9th.
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app. ralph nader recently hosted the breaking through pallor conference in washington, d.c., sponsored by the center for study of responsive law. participants talked about issues including corporate crime, the energy sector and the use of nuclear power, tax policy, lobbying congress, media accountability, consumer rights and protection answer campaign responsibility. >> good morning everybody, i'm ralph nader. welcome to the fifth day of our events which we have called through the website. on the occasion of the 50th anniversary year of "unsafe any speed" my book that put so many forces into motion with the help of the media and led to the creation of many citizen groups who led the struggle successfully for the advances in that period in environmental consumer worker safety freedom
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of information and other achievements. breaking through power means challenging concentration of power that abuses its authority or exceeds its authority, and challenging it to either replace it with more democratic initiatives or to create new forms of democratic power. this is done in our history with the challenging the power structure of slavery, the exclusion of women from the right to vote, the great populist progressive movements that regulated banks, rail roads, provided safeguards for workers, farmers and electoral reforms right into and through the 20th century. this convocation is the fifth of eight days, four days in may and
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four days in september, commemorating the 50th anniversary of unsafe at any speed. it is being live streamed by c-span and this course is being live streamed by real news network of baltimore, maryland. [ applause ] the gathering represents together with the other days the largest gathering of accomplished civic leaders and more redirections and reforms ever to our knowledge in american history. the purpose is to demonstrate that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. people specialize in civic advocacy, they often get into silos, they're in struggles day after day. we would like to see a larger
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framework of democracy. we live in a time when commercialized and corporatized elections have managed to put democracy itself off limits, have managed to put the civil society off limits. this is an extremely serious deficiency in our political economy and democratic pretensions. when civil society is off limits with the cooperation of the media making it so, all the accomplishments, the experience, the broad-based introductions into the electoral process are excluded, whether there should be new issues, new directions, broadening the campaigns of the existing candidates, whether there should be verification or challenges of erroneous behavior, the civil society is not asked for its opinion.
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one only has to look at the sunday news programs to illustrate that point. the point of showing up is extremely important. half of democracy is showing up to vote, show up to city council meetings, town meetings, marches, rallies, neighborhood gatherings, courts, showing up is half of democracy. at this period in our history with virtual reality absorbing so many hours of its citizenry, showing up has become one of the great perils of democracy because it is not exercised by so many people. we're very pleased to have students from hood college, whose president had the perspective of having these students expose themselves to a
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full day of civic accomplishments and civic initiatives, unlike other colleges, universities and secretary schools in the area, who received similar invitations, but did not respond. i think it's important to note, and note again and again that showing up is what started our country. this is a $2 bill. this is the gathering of the men who signed the declaration of independence. whatever you say about them, some of them are, were slave owners and they called native americans savages and they excluded women, in the. in their time in history it was a krangious act. they thought they were signing their death warrant at the hands of king george iii, who headed the most powerful military in the world at that time. we're glad that these citizens
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showed up, and we have to show up in our different manners in this time in american history. we have a wonderful line-up of speakers, oliver hall, who i'll introduce in a moment, is going to be our moderator. we have russell mckyber talking about crime in the suites, crime in the streets in corporate personhood. we have david freeman, the leading expert on energy in the united states who ran four public utilities, including the tennessee valley authority, talk about power for the people, what our energy policy should be. we have john fox, who's pie neared the teaching of tax law and tax practice to undergraduates at mt. holyoke and test something successfully with high school students, a former corporate tax lawyer.
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we have joan claybrook on how to work the congress. she's an accomplished civic lobbyist with a whole strain of successes. we have jane jackson, a citizen's guide to freeing the press, she comes as the program director affair. we have oliver hall talking about the use of small claims court, as an illustration, we have far more rights and remedies in this country, although we need more, than we even use. we don't use what we have. we have neil seidman, who is talking about community business is revolutionary. we have mike jacobson, the legendary advocate for nutrition and safety and food, head of the center for science and the public interest. we have david vladek from the federal trade comission among his many experiences talking about empowering consumers, we have wobert weissman talking
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about stopping putting corporate money in politics. after lunch we have the world's expert on whistleblowing, law professor robert vaughn, from american university washington college of law, we have petter d dreyer on social sentiment, reminding us abraham lincoln said with public sentiment you can do anything. we have jordan, national people's action on training for change, civic skills training like we train for our other skills in life. i'm tackling the most important issue of all, unfortunately, overcoming civic apathy, as if anybody has an answer to that one. we have teaching civics, a view from the classroom. we have building a movement by director of common cause, we have civic engagement, the
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responsibility of business leaders by mitch rosky who started the better world club, a sort of environmental aaa version, and we have a discussion with the former president of national council for the social studies and a proposal for a new citizen library, and of course, the key issue in terms of civic motivation that it rarely takes more than 1% of the people reflecting public sentiment and congressional districts to turn around the congress. and we'll have some audience feedback and questions. now it's my pleasure to introduce oliver hall, who has been working strenuously on access to the ballot so that the voters have more voices and choices. he's a director of the center for competitive democracy, and he's going to be the moderator today. oliver hall, thank you. [ applause ]
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>> thank you, ralph. good morning to everyone who is here today, and good morning to our audience on c-span and joining us online. is everybody ready to start breaking through power? >> woo! [ cheers and applause ] >> let's get on with it. our first speaker of the morning is the editor of weekly newsletter "corporate crime reporter." he has been on the crime beat for 30 years and nobody covers crime in the suites as opposed to crime in the streets better than our next speaker. corporate crime reporter is available online at corporatecrimerepo and without further adieu, russell mokeiber. [ applause ]
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>> good morning. >> good morning. >> ralph spoke about putting civil society off limits and i came across an example this weekend. i went to the library of congress national book festival, spectacular thing. i don't know if anybody went thousand. 100,000, maybe 150,000 people attended and it was really a great thing, where you know, people go, they hear the authors read their books. you get to ask questions, you get to stand in line and get your book signed, so i've been covering, you know, i've been interviewing authors who write books about corporate power, corporate control of society, corporate grime crime and there's some great ones, bradley burkenfeld's "luse er "lucifer' these are all within the last year, "why do they do it" by
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harvard business professor eugene soltis, why corporate criminals commit crime, "too big to jail" by brandon garrett, "capital offenses" by sam buehl, the list goes on, maybe 50 of them just this year. i go through this list of 150 books at the national book festival, library of congress and there's not one book on any of these subjects, corporate crime. i mean, there are great books there and people having a great time including a great kids book called "ghosts" and the line was endless, maybe 500 parents and their kids standing in line to get this book signed. so i'm trying to, i'm asking myself why is this the case? i have a sense as to why it's the case but i'm looking for everyday of it. so i go into the basement of the convention center, which is maybe three football fields long, that's where they sign all the books, where all the books are and i look off into the distance, and there is the
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children's book area, and there's maybe 150 kids sitting with stuffed horses in front of a replica of a wells fargo bank. and right next to it is the wells fargo stage coach, where the kids are allowed to get in and have a ride and stuff, and the authors of these children's books, like "froggy plays soccer" and "nelly saves the day" and too many tamales" they're reading the books to the kids. of course my first thought, should wells fargo be allowed to be next to kids? [ laughter ] because if a corporation is a person, maybe we should treat them like people, right? if you engage in serious criminal activity, we should treat them the way we treat human criminals, or you know,
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senator elizabeth warren, you probably heard her last week, when the ceo of wells fargo went up to the hill to testify, she said "if bun of your tellers took a handful of $20 bills out of the cash drawer, they probably would be looking at criminal charges for theft. but of course if the justice department follows its pattern on hsbc, the big wall street banks, general motors, no high-ranking wells fargo executive will see jail." now this is not because the facts don't warrant it. the record's clear on all these cases. it's because, when it comes to large corporations, corporate crime is less about the law and the facts, and we were taught in law school that crime is about the law and the facts. it's not about that generally for big corporations. it's about raw power politics. it's about can i sponsor the library of congress and as a result, put civil society off the table as ralph puts it?
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it's unclear whether wells fargo said we're not going to have any of these books, but the result is, of all these great books on corporate power and corporate crime, not one -- books aren't everything, but not on that. that's the main thing i know about corporate crime, it's often about raw power politics, and since i've given, been given 20 minutes here, here is corporate crime in a nutshell. 20 things you should know. number one -- number 20, start with number 20. corporate crime inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined. whether in bodies or injuries or dollars lost, it wins by a landslide. just two quick examples, there's a whole bunch. just this last year, credit
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suisse pled guilty for filing false tax returns, find $2.6 billion bnp paribas, forced to pay $9 billion. just those two corporate crimes the cost of those dwarfed the yearly out-of-pocket costs of all burglaries and robberies in the united states. health fraud, health care fraud alone costs anywhere from $100 billion to $400 billion. so there's no question, the kinds of crimes committed by wells fargos and other major american corporations just dwarfs what's happening on the street. now, people say, and this is number 19, don't be ridiculous. it's not violent crime. i've heard experts on corporate crime tell me about this. you can't compare them, apples and oranges. it's not violent crime, but of course, it is violent crime. for example, the fbi estimates
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that 14,000 americans are murdered every year. compare this to 54,000 americans who die every year on the job or from occupational diseases, such as black lung and asbestosis or the tens of thousands of americans who fall victim every year to the silent violence of pollution and contaminated foods and hazardous products and hospital violence. hospital violence just this year johns hopkins study, 250,000 americans die every year from what they call medical errors. it's a quarter of a million americans, making it the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer. and these deaths are often the result of criminal negligence. yet, they are rarely prosecuted, and in west virginia, a place i call home, april 2010, upper big branch mining disaster, 29 americans dead. the labor department did a study
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and found that the company's unlawful practices and policies were the root cause of the disaster. what happened to the company? non-prosecution agreement. in a fluke, because there was a u.s. attorney who was going after them, the ceo, don blankenship, was convicted of a crime and sent to one year in jail, so 29 deaths, one year in jail. it's unusual because blankenship was the first executive ever to be sentenced for conspiracy to violate the industrial safety standards. number 18, corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the united states that have the power to define the laws under which they live. so street thugs, no, the mafia, no, corporate criminals yes, and they're all around us here in washington doing it. and despite the fact that they're at it, defining the
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laws, they still violate their own rules with impunity. of course, exhibit "a" is the automobile industry, which, for the past 30 years, has worked its will on congress to block legislation that would impose criminal sanctions on knowing and willful violations of federal auto safety laws, and when ralph wrote this book, which was up there "unsafe at any speed," 50 years ago, and they were passing the first federal law, there's a great scene where the lobbyist for the automobile industry was sitting down and there was a demand for criminal sanctions, and that was one thing that got cut out. number 17, corporation commits the crime, you do the time. this was a hard one for me to get my head around. let's say you're behind the wheel of a defective general
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motors car, and the engine shuts down while you're driving, and you end up killing someone as a result. who goes to jail? you do. take the case of lakecy ha ward green. she was driving a gm car, one with a faulty ignition switch which you've all read about. the car shuts down, she crashes into a school bus. her boyfriend sitting in the passenger seat was killed. she was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. last year a judge overturned her conviction after it was discovered that lakeisha ward green was not at fault, the car was. similar case, a judge cleared candice anderson in the death of her boyfriend. in 2007, anderson pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide, turned out that the gm ignition switch was involved in the deadly crash. in 2014, her conviction was
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overturned. and a third one in 2007, qua fung lee was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to eight years in prison for a 2006 crash that killed three people. he was released from prison in 2010, after his lawyers argued that his 1996 toyota camry suddenly accelerated and lee couldn't stop it. number 16, corporate crime is underprosecuted. one big reason? corporate crime prosecutors are underfunded. big companies that are criminally prosecuted represent only the tip of a very large iceberg of corporate wrongdoing. for every company convicted of bribery or of giving money directly to a public official in violation of federal law, there are thousands who give money legally through political action committees to candidates and political parties. for every company convicted of polluting the nation's waterways, there are many others
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who are not prosecuted because their corporate defense lawyers are able to offer up a low level of employee to go to jail in exchange for a promise from prosecutors not to touch the company or higher level executives. and for everybody company convicted in the death of a worker, very rare. and this is from corporate crime defense bar, white collar criminal defense lawyers tell me this, that if you increase a lot of these cases are left on the table for lack of resources. if you increase the amount of the police, the prosecutorial budgets you'll see a rapid increase of criminal prosecutions of corporations. number 15, as an aside, this has
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grown in the last few years, is the number of consumer other public interest groups who make nice with big corporations. there are probably more fake public interest groups than actual ones in america today with names like, and you probably can recognize some of these, the american council on science and health, the center for consumer freedom, the global climate coalition consumer alert, and the list goes on and on and there's also public interest groups that started out as good public interest groups where they're taking a lot of corporate money so you have to be wary of groups calling themselves consumer groups. which consumer groups? there was one called the child labor coalition, i think? it started out as child labor, and now has morphed into a consumer group that's taking a
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lot of corporate money. number 14. it used to be when a corporation commit aid crime they pled guilty to a crime. that was when i started this publication 30 years ago. by the way it's a print publication also, we still believe in print and we have a lot of subscribers so go to and send me an email. we had so many corporations pleading guilty in the '90s, that i did this report, the 100 top corporate criminals of the '90s, just listed them with the amount of the fine, and rank them. these are the top 100. now it doesn't -- you rarely see a corporation pleading guilty. why? because they came up with these devices to get them out. they don't want to shame the corporation, so to get them out of pleading guilty they're called nonprosecution agreeme s agreements, which is what massey got, deferred prosecution agreements, or pleading guilty to like a defunct subentity of
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the corporation. number 12. corporations love deferred prosecution agreements. so in the '90s, if there was evidence of a crime, they would bring a criminal charge against the corporation and sometimes against the individual executives and the company would end up pleading guilty. then the justice department said hey, there's these things called deferred prosecution agreements. you can charge the company and then say if you're a good boy for two years and don't engage in wrongdoing, we will drop the charges, and enter into this deferred prosecution agreement. the prosecution is deferred for two years. they pay a fine, they get off the hook. wells fargo doesn't want to be known as a corporate criminal, despite what it did, and it's an open question. there's an open criminal investigation of the company, and it's an open question, they or their executives will be criminally prosecuted.
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"new york times" article recently last week saying this is going to be the test case. will the justice department actually bring criminal charges against high-ranking executives, because it's so egregious. they went in and they opened up accounts without the knowledge of their customers and often forged signatures. so people -- something people could get their head around but, you know, it used to be when they did these congressional hearings, like we saw last week, they followed it up with real reforms. and ralph and joan and the early public interest fighters were part of that. now it's like grandstanding, you know? you whip the corporation, you get the publicity and you go home. and number 11 is corporations love non-prosecution agreements even more, because non-prosecution agreement, you don't get charged with a crime, they just -- like in massey, they just say we're not going to prosecute you, just pay the
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fine. and number 10 -- so deferred prosecution agreement, a non-prosecution agreement, or number 10 in health care fraud cases if you -- if a company admits that it criminally ripped off medicare, you didn't deal with medicare anymore, so that's like a death sentence so this is what they do, this is really cute. they find a unit of the company that doesn't have any assets and they have that company plead guilty. so that company can't do business with medicare, but that company wasn't doing business with medicare. corporate criminals -- number nine, corporate criminals don't like to be put on probation. you and i, we commit a crime, we're put on probation after we get out. they hate it because it actually works. the judge puts an officer of the united states government in the corporation to make sure they're not doing anything wrong. that happened with con ed about
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20 years ago. that was the last one for a big company. and they don't like to be charged with homicide. there used to be a d.a. in los angeles who would investigate every worker death as a homicide and bring some cases. they hate that. it's all about public perceptions but number seven, there are very few career prosecutions of corporate crime. the reason is the revolving door. they love spinning between the government and defense law firms and back. there's pluses and minuses to that but the minus is the undermining of the justice system. number six, corporate criminals often turn themselves over to authorities. most big corporate crime cases are driven by these big law firms who come up with the facts, know that there's criminal activity, go to the justice department, present the facts and cut a deal, a deferred
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non-prosecution agreement. number five the market doesn't take most corporate crime prosecution seriously. when they cut these deals, the -- when they cut these deals, the stock of the companies goes up because there's no real ramification to it. number four, the justice department puts out every year a crime in the united states report. doesn't include corporate crime and ralph and others have been called every year for a corporate crime in the united states report. number three, when -- and i've got one more minute so this will be really fast. number three, when corporate criminal sanctions are the most potent weapon in a prosecutor's arsenal, look for the whistle-blowers. there are these great laws now, so for those of you lrng istenio this out there and you know about corporate criminal wrongdoing you can get a share of the bounty, usually 30% under the false claims act. the guy who set it up will be
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here, s.e.c. has a similar program. you go to the s.e.c., you say "here's a crime. if you successfully prosecute it, we'll get a third of it." number two, we need a 911 for corporate crime. let's call it 611, that goes along with the whistle-blower. and the one thing you should know finally about corporate crime is that this city is in the pocket of the corporate criminals and the corporate criminal lobby. there's a coalition of players including public citizens the, center for auto safety, taxpayers against fraud and better markets that are pushing back, sort of the anti-corporate crime lobby, you can join with them if you want to sign up. thanks very much. [ applause ] >> thank you, russell mokhiber. ralph nader talks about the corporate crime wave besieging the country. there's your evidence. maybe we'll see it on c-span or
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cnn or fox sometime soon. our next speaker is a senior advisor with friends of the earth's nuclear campaign which works to reduce the risk of nuclear power to the public. he was appointed chairman of the tennessee valley authority by president jimmy carter in 1977 where he stopped the construction of eight large nuclear power plants and pioneered a massive energy conservation program. he's been general manager of several large public power agencies, including the los angeles department of water and power, the new york power authority, and the sacramento municipal utility district. he's the author of several books, including "winning our energy independence, an energy insider shows how." david friedman. [ applause ]
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energy is the ultimate good news/bad news story in the world. when the lights go out, everything stops. it's the imagine that i can keeps our cell phones charged. it's just an invisible everything about our life that we enjoy. but it's also the two most awesome threats to mankind that exists. if we don't control atomic energy and stop it from blowing us up, the burning of fossil fuels is creating such a greenhouse effect, it will heat this earth up to make it uninhabitable. so what we enjoy the most is the
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greatest threat to mankind listen carefully to what i had to say because with all due respect all the other issues will be discussed today tomorrow and the day after won't make much difference. if we don't stop the awesome threat of the atom bomb and if we don't get off of this poisonous diet we're on, namely coal, natural gas and oil. if we keep on making these speeches about the threat of climate change but don't fight for the kind of actions that will really reduce it and eliminate it, we're hypocrites.
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plain and simple. [ applause ] and let me be blunt about it. i hold the people that make the speeches about climate change so eloquently and offer nothing much that mother nature can notice, i hold them in higher disregard than dumb folks that don't believe in climate science at all. if you understand the problem and don't take or even add vad the actions to cure it you have a lot more explaining to do than the dumb folks that just don't know what's going on now most of the younger people in this country have forgotten about the nuclear threat. but that doesn't mean it went away. in the age of terror we ought to be doubly aflied of radioactive
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pro january horses in our midst, which is what the nuclear power plants are and we have almost forgotten that the nuclear power plant is the path to the bomb. how in the name of heaven do you think north korea ended up with nuclear bombs? we promised them a nuclear power plant. there is no peaceful atom and once a country -- you know, they enrich uranium, they enrich it a bit more, they make bombs so we've got to go back to recognizing that atomic energy is an awesome threat. the good news is i had the pleasure of discussing this with president carter the other day, i'm 90, he's 91. we said we never thought we'd live long enough to see solar power cheaper than nuclear
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power. that's what we have today but we're out of our cotton picking minds if we continue with nuclear power with the awesome danger it poses. how can we tell the iranians not to make a bomb and -- if we continued a separating nuclear power plants. we just don't have a decent mirr mirror. then there is the -- not only the danger of the power plant itself melting down but they generate waste that after 50 years we haven't figured out what to do with it or where to put it and it stays radioactive for centuries and centuries and centuries. and there's a moral issue about continuing to make waste that we don't know how to handle. there's only one answer, it's called birth control. we need to stop making it and we need to bring the nuclear issue up to the forefront on par with
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climate change. it's something that we need to get under control and the great news is that a modern day edisons have learned how the harness the sun and harness the wind to where we can do that and actually cheaper than nuclear power or the fossil fuel plants. it's kind of breaking my heart to see on the technical side we have invented the answer and we don't have the intestinal fortitude or the common sense to override the power of the entrenched industry to require that it be used. and that gets me to my basic point about energy policy. if the threats are even half as awesome as i describe them -- and they are -- we have to believe the scientists and we have to understand the nuclear probl problem, we face these threats
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to eliminate the one home we have, mother earth. frankly, we don't have the money to send everybody to mars and i don't think if we all went up there, there are resources on mars to enable us to live. we don't have any other option. our only home is not yet burning up but it's heating up and it's about to catch on fire to the point where it will be uninhabitable if we don't get blown up first. all this is going on and we are relying on the marketplace to solve this. now, give me a break. [ laughter ] we could pass all the carbon taxes in the world, which we've been trying for 40 years to pass, and it would not electrify the railroads, it would not require detroit to start making all greenhouse gas free motor vehicl
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vehicles. you know, when a problem is tough, like getting rid of ddt, we just freaking outlawed it. if we had lead in toys we didn't have a lead tax, we just outlawed it. why in the name of common sense, it's not any of the so-called liberals or our president even advocating something as straightforward and simple as a one sense law. everything new must be greenhouse gas free. [ applause ] why are we going to all these indirect measures kind of hoping that maybe it will happen when the threat is described as the most awesome thing that ever happened. if your family doctor called you up and told you that your kids were eating a poisonous diet and prescribed a different diet and
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it really didn't even cost anymore, i think 99 out of 100 people would switch diets. that's what we have on our hands we've got 30 years left according to the scientist, and they could be wrong way or the other. they could go down to zero in the use of fossil fuels. we don't need to be an expert to figure out that if we reduced fossil fuels 3% every year it wouldn't be that awesome a task. if we mandated it to happen it could happen. my suggestion is that we pass a law reporting live from a 3% a year reduction in fossil fuels and to the extent that someone doesn't comply, then they are taxed a large amount of money
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per unit of carbon by the internal revenue service and it is a non-bypassable tax that the company has to absorb that they can't pass on. the problem with the so-called carbon tax is the people pay. they just pass it on and it doesn't necessarily require the right behavior my idea would be to require the right behavior and to the extent the company doesn't obey then they have to pay a tax out of the corporate profits and that now -- now, i know what you're thinking, all those ideas, freeman, they sound real good but they won't pass the congress. well, hell, i know that. nothing will pass the congress right now. if that's the test of what we're for, we're doomed. i mean, there's one sure way of failing and that's not trying.
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and harry truman didn't think that health care would pass when he first proposed it. if we don't give the young people an energy policy worth fighting for, what good are we? it might take a while to get it passed. it might be that we can get it passed in a number of states first and then it will be shown to be enforceable without hurting anybody. in fact, prices will end up being lower. but unless we give the -- if i might put it this way, the bernie sanders folks an energy policy worth fighting for, then it's never going to happen. and we need to stop having a test of what the existing congress or the existing president will pass because this democracy can't function unless we have something worth fighting
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for. fight for it and get people in congress and in the white house in the years to come that will enact it. but i think there are enough green states in this country right now that if we go together on a program of saying, no, we're not going to rely on adam smith to cure the most awesome problems on earth, we're going to accept the fact that we must start now. you know, the politicians will tell you and announce we have a great goal. in 2050 we're going to do such and such. in 2040 we're going to reduce pollution 40%. ask them what are they doing in 2016, in 2017, in 2018? because the scientists are telling us that that we have got to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases on a steady path downward between now and 30 years. and right now it's still going
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up. and, you know, it's -- it's an applause line to say you're for 100% renewable but then the question is, what are we doing to get there? and i say that when something is really important, why what do we have a government for? it's to do the things that you can't do individually. if there was ever an issue that required governmental action, it is the climate issue and the nuclear issue. and it's really not that hard. i mean, i think we have the luxury of being able to make a transition. so we could pass laws that in effect said by 2025 every car made -- sold in america has to be greenhouse gas free. we could say in a few years every new building has to be greenhouse gas free. and the technology is there to make it happen. we know how to make electric cars. we even can make hydrogen fuel
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cell cars. we know how to put heat pumps in buildings and use that renewable electricity to heat our homes. we sure the lord know how to electrify the railroads. they're electrified in every civilized country in the world but america but the railroads don't have the capital. we need a green bank to finance all this. money is cheap now. this is a time that we did it. we electrified rural america with 2% loans back in the 30s, a program of a green bank and 2% loans would electrify the railroads, would give people the loans to retrofit their homes, to become all electric and all renewable. this could create not thousands of jobs but millions of jobs and it could be the greatest adventure this country undertook in a long, long time. but incidentally, it might save our homes from getting burned up and that is what is under way
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now. so my -- i know i'm probably speaking to the converted here and we spend too much of our time talking to each other. my request to this audience and the people that see this talk is to find nab is not concerned and get ahold of them and make them concerned and every time you see a member of congress or anyone in public life, tell them our house is on fire, by gosh. and we need to put it out. and the nuclear threat, all it takes is some terrorist stealing a tiny bit of plutonium out of some place in the world and blowing up new york city, the indian point nuclear point 25 miles from new york city is a far greater throat that city than isis is. and yet nobody hardly even knows it exists.
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we've got to start making this the very highest priority we have because if we don't all of our other priorities are really not going to matter. thank you very much. [ applause ] >> thank you, david freeman for that humorous yet sobering, sobering yet humorous account of the dangers facing us in climate policy. our next speaker is a former tax lawyer from washington, d.c. and a visiting professor at mount holyoke college, where he taught winners and losers, a seminar on u.s. tax policy as well as a seminar on poverty. he's in the process of preparing materials that will be free online which will be for high
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school teachers to teach students about the federal income tax, the federal corporate income tax and one on social security and medicare. he is the author of "if americans really understood the income tax" as well as "ten tax questions the candidates don't want you to ask." john fox, welcome. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. i'm delighted this conference is going on. i want to talk to you about a topic dear to my heart that strikes fear in the hearts of most americans, taxation. and i want to tell you about talks i've been giving the last two years which may lead you to think, john, are you really
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serious? but i am. for the last two years, i've been giving talks to high school juniors and seniors in u.s. government and economics classes about how to think about a fair and sensible individual income tax. okay, now you can smile but the fact is that the teachers find it very useful. they tell me they wouldn't have any idea what to teach and yet they learned that so much of my talk is relevant to what nay do teach. best of all, they tell me that most of the students, not all, of course, but most of the students get it. and the other thing is, it's really fun to do. now, i've been giving these talks because i'm convinced that the dreadfully low level of political discourse and debate about tax issues is attributable in good part to the failure of
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our education system to address it. and this has left the public uninformed and so vulnerable to almost anything the politicians say about it. and i believe this is more than just a major failure in our civics education, i believe it's dangerous. so in the few minutes i have with you, here's what i tell students in the course of an hour. taxes fund the agencies and operations of the federal government, but they do much more. federal tax policies help shape who we are as a nation and what we will become. they touch upon nearly every aspect of our lives. just think about all those provisions in the tax laws. health care. housing, education, jobs and businesses of every kind. marriage, divorce, death, children, child care, charities, charitable giving, the
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environment, on and on and on. in my view, except for the u.s. constitution, federal tax policies collectively represent the most comprehensive expression of american values. i tell students the well-being of the nation depends upon sensible tax policies and i tell them if you pay attention you will know more about tax policies than 99.7% of all americans. maybe 99.4%, i'm not sure. so why focus on the individual income tax? for two reasons. first of all, it by far produces the greatest revenue to fund all government programs other than social security and medicare. what about the corporate income tax? no, the individual income tax produces more than four times the amount of the corporate income tax for all sorts of reasons that you can imagine.
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secondly, the individual income taxes become something of a monster an ideal income tax would be reasonably fair and simple and reasonably sound. our income tax is unfair, unimaginably complicated as you know an an excessive drag on the economy. americans need to understand why and the imperative to fix it. why is it such a monster? because it attempts poorly in most cases to do much more than collect taxes on our income. now, while it imposes progressive tax rates that run from 10% to 39.6%, those tax rates apply only to taxable income the fact is, and you won't hear this, only about half of all income is subject to tax. more than 100 -- well more than 100 tax breaks shelter the other
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half of all individual income and that means that last year close to $7 trillion of individual income went untaxed. and i did say "trillion." and in general those tax breaks don't make social or economic sense. now, when i refer to income, i'm referring to any form of economic gain, whether direct, such as salaries or fringe benefits at work which i will be talking about in a month. when i refer to a tax break, i'm not talking about the ordinary and necessary expenses that businesses are entitled to in order that they be taxed appropriately on their profits. i'm talking about special relief involving our personal lives unrelated to any trade or business. now, a fair tenet -- a basic tenet of a fair tax is one that taxes people in accordance with their ability to pay. and that would mean that people in households of equal size with
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equal incomes would pay roughly the same. but far too often our tax burdens depend on our ability to avoid taxes not on our ability to pay them. you see, under our tax system, your actual tax liability, whether you are a winner or loser, depends in good part on the number of tax breaks and the size of those tax breaks that you're entitled to. so here are three principle examples. we'll have winners and losers. and they're somewhat simplified. but winners work for employers who pay all sorts of fringe benefits for them. health insurance premiums, life insurance premiums, disability insurance premiums, contribution for child care and handsome contributions to retirement plans for them. thousands and thousands of dollars never appear on their tax return even though you know they have real economic value. the loser works for an employer
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who pays perhaps the same total compensation but all his salary, so all of it appears on her tax return. second, a winner owns her own home or his own home and perhaps a vacation home as well and deducts the interest on both homes. for example, the winner might own a principal residence that he bought for $650,000, borrowed $350,000 for the ski condominium. deducts the interest on that, also deducts the property taxes on any number of homes, even five or six vacation homes. the loser rents. rents her house or apartment. and the loser doesn't even get a deduction for any part of that rent. third, the winner receives a good deal often of his income from investments. from investments in stocks and mutual funds which receive a favored tax rate.
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the loser, she works. her income is from salary and all of that income is subject to progressive tax rates. now, just because it's a tax break doesn't mean it's bad. but it does mean that we ought to ask why is it there. who benefits from it? who doesn't? who are the winners? who are the losers. what are the social and economic costs? what are the outcomes? indeed, most of these tax programs, most of these tax breaks, are the equivalent to government programs, they're simply channelled through the tax laws. now, here's a major difference. if a government program exists, it has a budget and it must be review eed annually by the fedel government by the particular congressional committee. tax breaks have no budget and they never have to be reviewed unless some committee requires it. notice the relationship between tax breaks and tax rates?
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the more income that escapes taxation, the higher tax rates have to be for everyone. simple example. if the government needs to raise $20 of revenue for every $100 of income, a flat 20% rate would suffice if all $100 were eligible for the tax h. but if only half of our income, $50, is subject to tax, you need a rate of 40%. so this is so important because the vast majority of tax breaks provide the greatest tax savings for people with the highest income. let me demonstrate this with two major examples. these are things that we take for granted and we all tend to believe in them. health insurance premiums paid at work. as so many of you know, those
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premiums, no matter how high for the most cadillac of all policies, are not subject to income tax or social security tax. even though they are clearly a form of income. you know that if the employer paid you that amount of money and you pay the insurance company it would be the same economic result. but they're off the charts. they never, no matter how large, appear on your tax returns. so listen to this. over the next five years, estimates are that something like $740 billion of tax savings will result from the exclusion just of health insurance premiums at work. now, that's a big program. and i think we should be asking who benefits most from it, who doesn't benefit, and what are the other costs? well, the math is simple, and this is something the students get right away. for every $1,000 of premiums that are not going to be taxed, if you would have been taxed and
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you think about tax rates running from 10% to 39.6% today, if you had been taxed at the 39.6% on that $1,000, you saved $396. if you would have been taxed at the 10% rate you save under $100. and if that premium had been added to your income but your income is so modest you wouldn't have been taxed any way you save nothing. so that's the dollars and cents. but employers typically provide, as you know, much larger policies for the executives. for top management. i wrote an op-ed some years ago about goldman sachs, it provided by premiums of $40,000 a year. i think if they felt they were going to sneeze they were covered. $40,000 a year for their top 400 managers. these are the top income earners in the world, among the top. and they each saved at the time roughly $14,000 a year in taxes,
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which was the cost of a basic policy. essentially the government giving them a basic policy through this exclusion. now, this also produces a concept that i think is really important of double losers. who are the double losers here? well, these are employees who work for companies -- and millions of americans do -- who don't provide any health insurance at work, they make a little too much money to get medicaid, and they have to go out in the marketplace and buy their health insurance but because the huge exclusion for health insurance drives up the price of health insurance and the cost of all health care, they have to pay more for that because others get the benefit of this enormous exclusion. now the affordable care act as helped but it's only temper it had outcome. so here are a couple policy questions i leave with you. why should the government provide the greatest tax savings for health insurance premiums, for the people with the highest incomes who could afford buy
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those policies without any government assistance? secondly, why should the government ever subsidize a health insurance policy other than a basic one? so now let me turn the second. the mostsy credit deduction. and you all know it and you know it's in the constitution, it must be, the home mortgage interest deduction. somewhere in the second amendment it must be there. [ laughter ] now the home mortgage interest deduction allows people to deduct the interest on up to $1 million of loans to buy a principle or build a principle residence and/or a vacation home. so you could borrow $650,000 to buy your principle residence, $350,000 to buy a vacation home and deduct the interest on that. now, the public is encouraged to believe that the home mortgage interest deduction is essential to increase the number of homeowners, particularly ordinary homeowners, and that it strengthens the economy. but as in "the wizard of oz"
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let's peek behind the rhetorical curtain and look at this decision which is the third rail in congress. they won't touch it. the deduction is expected to save certain taxpayers over the next five years $400 billion. that's a big program. so let's imagine -- you all have a big imagination, that's why you're here, that congress -- oh, you can't hear. so imagine i'm over there. [ laughter ] imagine congress eliminated the deduction but it authorized hud -- housing and urban development -- to issue $400 billion of checks tax free to all the people who would have got the deduction in exactly the same amount of their tax savings. so they end up in the same position the government is out $400 billion. and imagine that it's a monday mo morning, this morning, and i'm
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the chair of the house ways and means committee, something i always wanted to be and i'm going to tell you how proud we are for the distribution of that $400 billion. and down middle will be the bottom half of all taxpayers. i apologize you you on the right, from you're on the top half. and the five of you, including mr. freeman, you're included, you're in the top 5%. and the top 5% always smile, you can see it, and the people over here always look grim. in any event, here's how the $400 billion is allocated, and i'm happy to tell you. 2% goes to the bottom half of all taxpayers. you get $8 billion. the other $392 billion goes the top half of all taxpayers. and to you five -- and he's putting up his thumb -- to you top 5%, you get 40%, or $160
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billion over the next five years so you can buy or build that house of your pleasure. that's 20 times what the bottom half of all taxpayers get. now, if this were on television you would think maybe it's "saturday night live." but it isn't. that's exactly how, approximately how, that $400 billion will be distributed over the next five years. it has real repercussions. there's the myth it creates more homeowners. in fact, england, canada, and australia have no home mortgage interest deduction, nothing like it, and they have roughly the same ownership of homes as we do. in fact, some have a higher percentage. secondly it helps people buy and build bigger homes than they would do otherwise, not a basic homes. it drives up the prices of homes. you know if you lost your home mortgage interest the price of
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your home would go down so you're paying for it. it isn't free money. and most interesting, both liberal and conservative economists say that our economy would be stronger, not weaker, if less of our capital were allocated to homeownership, particularly expensive homes, so that more capital would be available at lower interest rates to new businesses, to existing businesses, to expand, to add jobs, etc. [ applause ] now, who might be the double losers? well, how about renters? now, there's not a lot of research on this, but just think of the common sense. if so much capital is allocate it had homeownership, then less capital, presumably, is allocated to apartments, to places that you can rent. now, renters absolutely have much less income than homeowners on average. so they effectively have to pay higher rent than they would otherwise pay because of these huge subsidies for homeowners who have much more income to
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begin with to pay for their housing costs. so as mr. freeman says, what should dong do? well, the leading tax commissions under the bush administration and under the obama administration have concluded that we should reduce many of them, eliminate the really inefficient ones, the unfair ones. and expose more income to tax and make more sense out of all this. you know what happened. congress ignored it. but as mr. freeman said, a fair and sensible income tax is worth fighting for. such reforms should be done over time so not to totally disrupt the economy, but if congress moved in that direction, more people would pay in accordance with their ability to pay. and they would save and work and invest in ways that produce the greatist economic return rather than focusing on their tax savings. and assuming the government -- and there's some things that should be in the tax laws, the earned income tax credit is


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