Tag: Congress

When is a Religious “Principle” Not a Religious “Principle”? When It’s Politically Inconvenient

GOP Presidential hopeful Jeb! (no-last-name-needed) hides behind his adopted Catholicism to defend his position on marriage equality but declines to take his Pope’s teachings about the environment at face value. In doing so, he follows in the grand tradition of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church which has long displayed a kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” (a term I borrowed from American Conservative columnist Rob Dreher).

But if he reserves the right to disavow Pope Francis’ teachings on climate change as revealed in the Pontiff’s release last week of a major encyclical on the subject, then he can’t justify his opposition to gay marriage solely on the basis of Church teachings. He simply can’t have it both ways without revealing a kind of political pragmatism that defies any claim to political principle.

In a story posted on Grist, columnist Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “the candidate seems to follow Catholic teachings when they align with the Republican Party — and dismiss them when they don’t.” Furthermore, he denounced the climate change encyclical even before it was released and, therefore, clearly without having read it. Good, practicing Catholics are not required to agree with or follow the Pope’s teachings as embodied in his encyclicals, but they are required to give those views thoughtful and careful consideration, according to this article from the Catholic News Agency.

Nearly one-third of Congress is Catholic. If all of these politicians were good, practicing Catholics, they would be expected to give serious consideration to Pope Francis’ well-researched and incisive (as well as insightful) teachings on this complex subject. (Yes, I have in fact read the 180-page document in its entirety, which I suspect few if any of those in Congress have done.) If they did that, I suspect it would dramatically shift the tenor of the debate in Congress on climate change policy.

I Clearly Don’t Get It With Netanyahu

If the United States and Israel had Facebook pages, the status of their relationship would certainly be, “It’s complicated.”

Is it ever!

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is engaged in what appears to be a tough re-election fight coming up next month, has committed the diplomatic equivalent of a turd in a punch bowl. He accepted an ill-conceived and hugely insulting (to the Administration and standard diplomatic protocols) invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress. The invitation was extended by John Boehner and his House Republicans rather than the usual and expected State Department.

As haughty as it sounds (diplomacy often does), this kind of thing just isn’t done. Not in civil society. But then, civil society is something about which the current crop of conservatives in power in the GOP continually demonstrate they neither understand nor care about. So I guess I sort of understand their invitation to Netanyahu, an increasingly isolated ruler in his own country.

What I really don’t understand is his acceptance of the invitation. I guess there’s some domestic political edge that he perceives but he risks alienating his main protector and big brother without whom the Israeli state would likely not last a year, at least without launching nuclear missiles.

Secretary of State John Kerry has openly questioned Netanyahu’s judgment. He and VP Joe Biden have deliberately (it seems) planned to be out of the country while the Israeli chief is in the U.S. for his undiplomatic mission. President Obama has made it clear he won’t meet privately with Netanyahu. Senate Democrats declined an invitation to meet separately with him. A growing number of Democrats plan to boycott his speech to the joint session. It’s almost as if he was a saber-rattling warmongering outcast of a leader. Which increasingly seems to be his desired public perception.

Netanyahu certainly knows he won’t suffer any loss of support among American Jews who have always stood by Israel through thick or thin, regardless of how much of a rogue state they’ve been and completely irrespective of international sanctions and condemnation, including by the United Nations. Many of them will probably see this latest act of poor manners to be some sort of statement of courage and independence.

But my guess is that the Israeli leader may be underestimating the negative impact his ill-considered decision — to make Americans draw partisan lines in their overall support of his nation — will have on future support for his tiny country. At some point in the future, the realpolitik of the Middle East will strike some American president and his team as being skewed far too much in Israel’s favor. If and when that day comes, Israel will be forced to concede that Netanyahu’s planned unofficial U.S. visit was the beginning date for the deterioration of relations that will force Israel to play a more sane and cooperative role in world affairs.

I hope but do not expect that Netanyahu will yet have a change of heart and cancel this very bad plan.

Typical of Congress: NOW Let’s Give VA More Money

One of the major reasons, perhaps the most significant, for the recent difficulties in the Veterans Administration, has been Congressional inaction. Over the last several years, Congress has refused to allocate sufficient funds to the VA to keep up with the increased demands of two massive,ill-timed wars.

Even though the department’s budget has increased in recent years, Congress has refused to recognize the incredibly important role of post-combat trauma care for our nation’s veterans.

Now that the director of the department has been forced to step aside, Congress finally steps up and says that perhaps it is time for it to own up to its responsibilities.

Suddenly, Senators seem to be able to find the money to propose constructing numerous new facilities and significantly increasing medical staff, both of which are steps the Obama administration had been asking for over the past year or two.

Meanwhile, the career of a dedicated and professional public servant gets shattered. The one word that will never be applicable to General Shinseki’s career, but that deserves to be applied to every single member of Congress who opposed real funding for veterans support over the last several years, is coward.

GOP House to Military: Pay No Attention to the Crisis Behind the Curtain

The U.S. House of Representatives, in one of the greatest feats of legerdemain since Houdini died, has voted to instruct the United States military not to take climate change into account as a strategic threat to our nation. Folks, you can’t make this kind of stuff up! As Huffington Post said in its incredulous lead to this preposterous story:

The House passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill on Thursday that would bar the Department of Defense from using funds to assess climate change and its implications for national security.

pentagon_climate_change_bushIn the twisted, conspiratorial, anti-anything-Obama-likes minds of the GOP House, this amendment will “prohibit the costs of the President’s climate change policies being forced on the Department of Defense by the Obama Administration,” according to the amendment’s principal sponsor, West Virginia Republican Rep. David McKinley. In other words, this is not about the reality of climate change. Nor is it about the possible strategic significance of those sweeping changes to our military posture. It’s only about opposing President Obama’s agenda, regardless of how much sense it makes. This is the 21st Century equivalent to telling the military to ignore the hordes of Chinese troops coming over the hills into Korea because “we can’t give them the satisfaction of acknowledging their existence.” (No, that didn’t happen. But it might have if that were happening today, only the excuse would be that we have a trade deal with them.) In what universe should the House of Representatives be allowed to dictate to the military what threats it can and cannot consider in its assessment of our nation’s strategic defense? Does this mean that if, e.g., the major technology companies could buy enough Republican Congress Critters, it could dictate that Congress pass a bill telling the military not to worry about cyberwarfare? Or to refuse to buy any virus software that might interfere with some company’s market planning? I am actually aghast that such a ridiculous proposition could get serious floor consideration, let alone  that it could be passed by a House that can’t take effective action on any actually meaningful legislation. Four Democrats voted in favor of this bill and ought thereby alone be disqualified from continuing to claim to be Democrats: John Barrow of Georgia, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, and Nick Rahall of West Virginia. The inmates really are in charge.

Climate Change Roundup March 3, 2014

Global-Climate-ChangeI’ve decided to start this new feature on my blog where I troll the Web and look for news and commentary about global climate change every day and bring you succinct summaries and links so you can pursue whatever aspects of the crisis interest you most. Please feel free to send me links to pieces you think I should showcase here.

Here are some of today’s best.

 GOP Congressman Ed Rogers spews ignorance in WaPo.

One of the staunchest climate change deniers in the Congress, Rogers offers up some choice bon mots in the Washington Post revealing his ignorance and his 100% politicized agenda on the subject.

“The problem is that many reasonable voters find it hard to know whom to believe.” Yes. Precisely. And it’s because of nut jobs like you that they are confused. For some reason they trust your views on a subject where they should be listening only to the 97% of scientists in the world who agree that global climate change is real, happening now, devastating in its impact, and at least largely caused by bad human behavior.

Retiring Demo Congressman Takes GOP to Task for “Inane” War on Science.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) is an actual scientist. He’s a plasma physicist who’s spent more than 50 years being interested in and following climate change. As a degreed plasma physicist, he at least understands science and the scientific method well enough to know how it should be applied to diagnosing and resolving issues of a scientific nature.

In this piece on Salon.com, he bemoans the lack of progress during his 16 years in Congress, for which he blames fellow Congress critters who don’t understand science, don’t think they need to, and wouldn’t agree with its findings even if they did understand it because, you know. Politics.

Apple CEO Tells Investors to Dump Shares if They Don’t Like His Plans to Combat Climate Change.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, bluntly told investors in his company that he intends to continue to double down on investments in clean energy. He told climate change suspects responding to a right-wing think tank report questioning the value of such investments to sell their shares.

He told one particularly nettlesome questioner, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.” He compared investments in clean energy to those in making devices accessible to the blind and disabled.

200-Year Drought Destroyed Indus Civilization, Scientists Say.

According to an article in Scientific American, the Indus civilization — Bronze Age cultures in Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia — was ultimately destroyed by a 200-year drought caused by a hiatus in monsoon activity. It is, of course, precisely that kind of long-term weather shift (aka climate change) that is at the very heart of our present crisis.

What is that old saw about people who refuse to learn the lessons of history being doomed to repeat them?

 Climate Change Could Produce Millions of New Crimes in U.S.

A newly released study by an environmental economist at a London think tank suggests the U.S. could be in for some significant increases in the level of crime as a direct result of very small upticks in global temperatures.

Matthew Ranson, an environmental economist at Cambridge-based Abt Associates, a public policy research and consulting firm, predicts that over the remainder of this century, rising temperatures in the United States will lead to an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, and 1.3 million burglaries, among other crimes. He bases these projections on current crime data which show that when temperatures rise, so does crime. This phenomenon is well known among law enforcement officials.

Australia Has Warmed Another Degree in 60 Years, Continues to Be the “Burning, Drying Continent”.

A study by Australia’s national science agency says that continent has heated up by a full degree Centigrade in the past century, most of that in the past 60 years. Australia is earning a global reputation as the “burning, drying continent.”

The country has five times as many very warm days and one-third fewer very cold days and fire hazard weather is on a steep rise, the report continues.


Why is Congress Setting Defense Policy?

Yet another one of my pet peeve stories is developing in Washington, a veritable pet peeve breeding ground these days.

This happens so often.

The military has an obsolete fleet or weapon system or aircraft wing that it wants to get rid of to make room in the budget for other expenditures or just to reduce the budget outlay. Congress refuses to allow the system to be abandoned, ostensibly because of its strategic value but always — and I mean always — because some or all of the system is built or housed or staged in their states and districts.

The latest example is the Air Force’s ancient, creaking and obsolete A-10 Warthog ground support aircraft. Designed in the 1970’s, the Warthog no longer fits into modern military strategy and the Pentagon has proposed eliminating it and closing the portions of bases where it’s housed. Project savings: $3.5 billion over 10 years.

But Congresscritters like the retiring Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) are insisting that the A-10 not be on the chopping block. They’d rather waste $3.5 billion on a boondoggle. In Levin’s case, it’s because there are 24 of the clunkers based in his district.  Ayotte’s case is truly pathetic; her husband flew the aircraft and she has some sentimental attachment to it, though she claims it’s strategically important.

Who’s in a better position to determine strategic importance of defense strategies and material, some Congress person with an axe to grind or the Pentagon with a budget to keep and a peace to maintain?

A large part of the blame for this lies at the feet of the defense establishment. After all, that $3.5 billion is being paid to someone. Contractors have a history of making sure, when new weapons systems are funded, that the contracts are scattered throughout enough states that Congressional opposition to their elimination will be all but guaranteed.

This is really dumb, people. I don’t know how, but we really need to take this power out of the hands of Congress. Letting them decide such matters is the equivalent of letting them write specs for the computer system to be used by one of the government agencies providing services to the public. They’re unqualified and biased.


Could We Create a Semi-Partisan Boehner?

House Speaker John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner

This is an unlikely scenario but I can’t get it out of my mind.

There is no reason the Speaker of the House must be a partisan political leader. (In fact, there’s no Constitutional requirement  he/she even be a member of the House!) That has become tradition but that’s all it is: tradition.

If Speaker John Boehner is concerned about his legacy, what if we could talk him into becoming the first Speaker for the entire country rather than just for Republicans? If he made a deal with the Democrats for their support for him as Speaker in exchange for ignoring the insane minority of his own party who might otherwise provide a margin of defeat for him if he had to stand for re-election? He needs a majority of the House, not a majority of Republicans, to remain Speaker.

This would enable him to make history in a major way and ensure his legacy as an effective bipartisan legislator. And it might set a precedent for future Speakers that could go a long way toward making Washington work across political lines. Someday, maybe it would take a non-partisan Independent to win the job.

Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Suspend Congressional Pay & Benefits as Part of Shutdown

Since the government shutdown engineered by the House Republicans is supposed to do away with all but essential government services and since they have admitted themselves that they are not essential — in fact they are inimical — to the successful functioning of government, how about we suspend Congressional pay and benefits for the duration of the shutdown?

I mean Congressional pay, compensation for their aides and staff, rent on their district and state offices, phones, postage, office supplies, medical benefits…the whole nine yards.

How long do you suppose the shutdown would last then? Or do you suspect it would ever get imposed in the first place?

While we’re at it, let’s lay off all the janitors and maintenance staff, clerical pools and copy center staff, security and parking attendants at the Capitol.

Simple Fix for the Debt Ceiling: Eliminate the Fiction

The House Republicans are at it again. Having participated to one degree or another in the approval of a bunch of new spending over the past year, they now want to refuse to allow the Treasury to actually pay the bills they’ve already run up. In the guise of treating the act of raising the debt limit as new spending that must be curbed at all costs, the Right demands reductions in spending (in places other than where they’ve approved new expenditures of course) in exchange for the simple act of giving the go-ahead to sign the checks they’ve already written.

There’s an easy way to fix this.

Do away with the ludicrous fiction of a debt limit. Instead, require that every bill that appropriates money include a provision authorizing the Treasury to pay the bills it incurs as they come due. In effect, make the raising of the debt limit automatic with each new expenditure that requires it.

This is a simple procedural rule change that only has to take place in the House. If the GOP is serious about bringing spending under control, this gives them a great tool. Every time a new appropriations bill comes up they get to call attention to how much it increases the debt. And any Congresscritter who is opposed to raising the debt that much can simply vote against the bill.

I don’t expect a simple, common-sense idea like this to catch on. But it would be nice if it did, wouldn’t it?


The Senate is Taking Another Week Off?!

The United States Senate is broken. It’s dysfunctional. It passes almost no meaningful legislation. It shelves action on dire problems of the nation. Its members are paid $174,000/yr. plus all the graft they can cram into their carpetbags.

And they’re taking another freaking week off next week.

They have 58 weekdays this year when they are not in session. They get every weekend off. Meanwhile the country’s business isn’t getting done.

Wonder why so many are calling for radical reform of democracy? Look no further. The inmates are in charge of the asylum.