Stormy Monday, 9/22/14

StormyMondayThe Secret Service’s Office of Professional Responsibility will undertake a procedural review following Friday’s disquieting incident involving a knife-carrying man jumping the fence and actually gaining access to the White House.  Through a spokesman, the President has since expressed “full confidence” in his security detail, a presidential statement I sincerely hope is a bald-faced lie.

Also helping shut the barn door after the horses have bolted, Congressman Peter King told Fox News Sunday he’s “sure” that the House Homeland Security Committee, on which he sits, will launch its own investigation into the incident. Which actually makes the whole thing even scarier…

Accompanied, presumably, by the most hyper-vigilant Secret Service detail ever mustered, the President and Mrs. Obama head for New York City on Tuesday for the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly. After addressing the 2014 Climate Summit at the UN, the President will speak at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. Wednesday, he’ll address the General Assembly, then chair a Security Council summit on terrorism. The First Lady will give the keynote address at Wednesday’s meeting of the UN Global Education First Initiative. Thursday, the President will speak at a special UN meeting on the Ebola epidemic, before the Obamas return to Washington in the afternoon.

Speaking of the Ebola virus, Sierra Leone yesterday ended a three-day lockdown intended to stop the spread of the epidemic among the country’s six million citizens. The lockdown enabled collection and safe burial of over 70 highly infectious bodies of Ebola victims; Ebola has claimed 560 lives in Sierra Leone during the current outbreak. If the large-scale containment attempt proves effective, expect it to be replicated in other parts of western Africa.

Is it that time again already? Sadly, yes. The 2014 Values Voter Summit descends on Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel Thursday evening, with two and a half days of trash talk and trashy ideas to follow. This year’s theme is “Defending the Dream, Defining the Future,” which, translated from Hyperbolese, means “Liberals hate America.” In other words, pretty much the same theme as the previous eight annual iterations of the event. Someone named Sarah Palin will be speaking at this year’s shindig. If that’s insufficiently loathsome news, the 2014 version of the conclave also features Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Any way you look at it, that’s an impressive amount of pure suckage. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/22/14

Friday Talking Points [320] -- Congress Briefly Interrupts 3-Month Vacation to 'Work'

FTP3Congress followed up their recent five-week vacation with almost two whole weeks of actually doing their jobs, so to reward themselves they’re now going to take off on another vacation. Until mid-November. The American people will show their disgust at this pathetic work ethic by returning upwards of ninety percent of them to office, if this year is anything like a typical one. The big question on everyone’s mind is whether the Democrats will hold onto control of the Senate, which will mean two years of gridlock with the Republican House, or whether Republicans will gain control of the Senate, which will mean two years of gridlock with both the Tea Party and the president.

Sorry to start off on a negative note, but there is indeed little positive to be seen in the biannual frenzy of congressional campaigning which is about to begin in earnest. There is one bit of comic relief to be found in this midterm dance, and it is coming from an unexpected state: Kansas. The Democratic Senate candidate just won a court case which will keep his name off the ballot. The Republican official in charge of elections, after arguing in this court case that he legally needed to print the ballots starting today, is now saying he’s going to wait a week so that the Democrats can call a convention and name a replacement to the ballot. Democrats are not going to do this, however, so like I said we’ve got at least one more week of amusement from the heartland in store. The “What’s the matter with Kansas?” jokes just write themselves, don’t they?

Little noticed outside of Baltimore, we just celebrated the bicentennial of our national anthem. I wrote about this earlier in the week, and last weekend the anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore (or the Battle of Fort McHenry) was celebrated in the city, even if the rain put somewhat of a damper on the day.

The coalition against the Islamic State began to come together this week, although (amusingly) both Syria’s Assad and Iran tried to join, but were rebuffed. Insert your own witty “enemy of my enemy” quip here.

An act of terrorism happened against a United States congressman, and the suspected perpetrator was quickly arrested. You’d think this sort of thing would attract more media attention, but, sadly, you would be wrong.

The United States Air Force very quietly changed a rule last October, to mandate that anyone enlisting or re-enlisting use the phrase “…so help me God” in their oath. When the matter was noticed and legal action begun, the Air Force last week very quietly reversed their position and brought it back into line with every other branch of the armed services — meaning the phrase is now optional (as it should be).

A court down in Florida ruled that it was OK for schoolchildren to be given religious books, so the Satanic Temple announced it would be joining in the fun and handing out copies of The Satanic Children’s Big Book Of Activities. Hey, fair’s fair — if it’s OK for one side of the debate, it has to be OK for everyone, right?

In other church/state news, a teenager in Pennsylvania is facing two years in jail for desecrating a statue of Jesus — not by physically harming or altering it, mind you, but merely by taking (and publicly posting) a photograph of him in an amusing (to him, obviously) position with the statue. I could have sworn America decided “blasphemy” laws were unconstitutional a long time ago, but I guess I would be wrong. In related “teens posting stupid stuff online which comes back to bite them” news, a 19-year-old Republican candidate for state government in Wisconsin had to withdraw from his race after disgusting and racist comments were uncovered from his past online postings.

Moving back to politics, Hillary Clinton went to a steak fry in Iowa, followed by 200 “journalists” who were there to report on the experience for the rest of the world. Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post has a hilarious write-up, which is well worth a read if you want a chuckle. I had to follow up on his column yesterday, by proclaiming Hillary the perfect Schrödinger’s candidate, for those who enjoy a bit of quantum physics with their political commentary.

Republicans have been busy little beavers in Washington, during their two weeks of “work” in the midst of three solid months of vacation, by conducting all the important business of the nation. Ha! Not really — instead, they found time to vote on a bunch of bills they had already passed, and to also tackle the important issue of the handful of people who have withdrawn federal dollars inside a marijuana shop in Colorado. No really — that was more important than voting on whether President Obama had the legal authority to start another war or not. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.

The best example of “our tax dollars at work” from last week, though, had to have been the group who attempted to turn in a half-million signatures in support of restoring the Voting Rights Act. The civil rights group thought they’d turn it in to House Speaker John Boehner’s office, since he’s the one who could make such a thing happen. On Wednesday, during business hours, they could not turn in their signatures, because Boehner’s office door was locked and nobody responded to a knock.

Nice work if you can get it, eh?

 

Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

A few weeks ago, this column came out strongly for providing all cops with body cameras to record every interaction they have with the public. At the time, there was a petition on the White House website asking President Obama to come out in favor of the idea. We are happy to report that the White House has now done so. This is an idea whose time has come, and what studies have been done seem to show that members of the public and cops themselves both act a lot better when they know that their actions are being filmed. Seems like a win-win all around, so President Obama deserves at least an Honorable Mention for getting behind the idea.

While not technically a Democratic organization, we are going to bend the rules (as we are wont to do, at times) and hand out an Honorable Mention to the Marijuana Policy Project, for their recent advertising campaign in Colorado. Colorado has already legalized recreational marijuana use, but M.P.P. has now begun an ad campaign to educate people (tourists especially) as to what marijuana will actually do to you. This is most important when it comes to “edibles,” or marijuana products that are eaten and not smoked. While many people have had some experience with smoked marijuana (and therefore are able to regulate their dosage), the world of edibles is currently unregulated and unrestrained — meaning strength varies wildly from one candy bar to another. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [320] — Congress Briefly Interrupts 3-Month Vacation To ‘Work’

Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

WillinoisIllinois’ most embarrassing Congressman, John Shimkus, faced an outraged backlash for pro-fracking statements he made on Facebook. He’s already well known as a climate change denier and conspiracy theorist on the fringe of the energy debate. Although there’s a long tradition of coal mining in his district, fracking is very controversial.

Shimkus has a steady stream of constituents who regularly respond to his misleading and foolish Facebook posts. But several posts supporting fracking attracted unusually strong pushback.

The first recent post linked a radio interview in which Shimkus says fracking, “isn’t really new. Its been around since the ’40s.” This is a common talking point industry propagandists use to confuse people.
Some forms of vertical fracking have been around for decades. Recent debates and regulation are focused on horizontal, high-powered fracking, which people in the industry know was developed in the ’90s. Shimkus then says with no irony that “it’s difficult to separate what’s fact from fiction these days.” That’s especially true when someone’s Congressman is lying to them.
Shimkus then posted a picture of a fracking operation with the comment, “Looking forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois” that generated 85 mostly brutal responses from downstate residents.
  • Great idea! Let’s frack away our future! Goodbye geological stability. Hey…we’re going to need more lawyers, doctors, and environmental remediation services in the area to deal with all of the negative impacts of fracking. What a short sighted plan.
  • Southern Illinois has beauty beyond compare. Crystal clear water to drink. Clean air to breath. Why in the world do you think God would want you to do any more to this area than has already been done by strip mining and underground mining? Piling shale on the ground making our highways nasty. Please rethink this highway of thinking. You’ve been there for us in the past, please think of our future.
  • Proof we have the best congressman money can buy.
  • I’m not looking forward to such ruin of our region. Ban fracking. Put your support behind wind, solar and energy efficient design please, Otherwise, you do not have my vote.
  • Can we put one next to your house?
  • Yeah, because that well is so much more beautiful than Shawnee National Forest and the surrounding land. Idiot.
  • They are fracking in Central Illinois bypassing the Regulatory Act by staying under the volume that would cause them to wait for the rules to be finalized and by using fluids other than water to frack. See what they can get away with in this state! The Regulatory Act is going to be useless against these companies.
  • In 2012 the State of Texas reported $1.5 billion in revenues from all fracking activities. That same year the Texas Department of Transportation determined that fracking truck traffic was causing $4 billion in roadway damages statewide annually. http://www.FrackingRoadDamage.com
  • You support this you will condemn us all .It is your obligation to get the facts. Remember John we live on two fault lines.
  • “this” should be NOwhere near Southern Illinois. Trashing the land, air and using precious water to frack the earth? Oh also fracking near New Madrid fault….are you so out of touch you don’t see that?
  • So, will the first “test” sites be in YOUR backyard, contamination affecting YOUR family? Most folks boosting southern Illinois look forward to seeing forests, rock formations, lakes, and… Wineries… This picture does none of those justice. It also makes me want to move for the sake of my baby boy!!!!!!!
  • You are totally wrong about this issue; Illinois is one of the most beautiful states in the union with some of the best water anywhere. Now you want to ruin it? What the hell is wrong with you? We intend to fight this fight to the end!
  • You can’t restore ruined buildings from earthquakes, and you can’t restore polluted water once it has made people sick. You are gambling with people’s lives, to make a few dollars for a few people, most of whom don’t need it. Shame on you.
  • Fracking destroys. Fracking destroys wildlife. Fracking destroys tourism. Fracking destroys drinking water. Whoever is for Fracking has no empathy for our planet.
  • You are either incredibly stupid, incredibly uncaring, or a combination of both if you look forward to seeing this in Southern Illinois. Do you also look forward to the earthquakes that will devastate Southern Illinois? Do you look forward to the land and water being destroyed? What is WRONG with you politicians? Is that almighty dollar that you’re getting from all of these people destroying our planet going to be worth it when you also don’t have decent air to breathe, water to drink, or constituents to vote for you? I hope all politicians supporting fracking are ousted from office as soon as possible. Fracking in Southern Illinois is a terrible, terrible thing and the fact that you don’t know this makes me sick.
  • With all due respect, Congressman: ABSOLUTELY NOT! No way are the people of southern Illinois prepared for the noise, traffic, and pollution this will create. Take fracking to Chicago!
  • NO! This is *not* a sight I want to see in Southern Illinois, now or EVER! We live on two active faults. I have friends in many areas that have allowed fracking. They have constant earthquakes. No job, no income, is worth endangering millions of lives. Please re-think this.
  • why weren’t we considered for the Tesla Plant, you have any idea what 6500 decent jobs would mean to this district, well are you trying to bring long term development here? oh and talk to folks in Ohio about fracking jobs, transients living in hotels and apartments leaving on Friday, lots of work for restaurants, bars and gas stations and when the crews move on so do those crappy jobs…

I could copy dozens more.

Shimkus got cute with his response and posted a graphic of outdated and out of context quotes from former and current Obama administration officials. Then another of academics who have worked for the industry claiming there has been no water contamination from fracking.

I added my own comment this time that got 14 likes.

243 cases of drinking well water contaminated in Pennsylvania. Does it bother anyone else to have their Congressman lie to them?
http://triblive.com/mobile/6696428-96/wells-released-gas

Plenty of others chimed in with more stories, studies, and facts to correct Shimkus’ attempt to mislead his constituents. Continue reading Congressman Shimkus gets backlash to deceptive fracking comments

In the Fight Against ISIL, Going Beyond Either/Or

DDA big part of the American legacy is to reduce things to a simple either/or. It creates the illusion of being willing to make tough choices, of moving forward with decisive shows of strength while leaving piddling details unexamined.

Often this preferred way turns out be a stumbling block; America trips over details and consequences patience would have allowed the nation to foresee. Barack Obama’s mighty effort to restore the nation to the security and values of patience has been met at every turn with resistance that insists on immediate either/ors. But his patience is not incompetence, as America is soon to find out in the fight against ISIL.

Rush in, says John McCain. Despite being the Senate’s senior war hawk, his state’s Republican Party voted last January to censure their senior Senator for a voting record insufficiently conservative. Send troops, “think of an American city in flames,” Lindsey Graham cries. The terrorists have already occupied space in his mind.

But the criticisms of the President continue, this time from sources who attended a recent off-the-record press meeting and a White House invitational dinner. At both, the President reportedly said he would not rush to war. He would be deliberate. “I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater,” sources quote him as saying.

But the Wall Street Journal used these sources to speculate about his motivation rather than applaud the President’s principles. Richard N. Haass, an invitee (a former Bush official and president of the Council of Foreign Relations), said the President has been “forced to react to events here.” Haass goes on in the Wall Street Journal article:

“… attention to nuance is a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”

In this scene from Apotheosis of the US Capitol, armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, with a helmet and shield reminiscent of those on the Statue of Freedom, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt.

In this scene from Apotheosis of the US Capitol, armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, with a helmet and shield reminiscent of those on the Statue of Freedom, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt.

Haass is wrong. Patience provides you with a better perception; it prevents the errors that come from a rash rush to judgment. But Haass has assumed his conclusion and made it fit the circumstance. He has reduced the President’s incredible strength to wait without wasting resources into a waste of time. He deliberately denies that patience is an investment of time, rewarded by its unique benefits of resolve and understanding—a special quality of the President’s keen insight, tied to his clarity and force of intellect. For some, the President is always on the wrong side of their either/or. Likewise, the either/or of “boots or no boots” (to use US combat troops in Iran and Syria or no) is distorting the military argument and misleading strategy by failing to focus on choices outside the forced choices that neocons like Haass embrace and take comfort with in their sleep. The purpose of forced choices is to create limits. They do not enhance freedom; they tighten restrictions. They ignore options.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014.

We see how the forced choices of either/or set limits on the domestic front. Voting rights, women’s rights, fracking, education standards, taxes, healthcare, immigration are all discussed without nuances—which prevents using the overlooked details to find a path that is reinforced and refined by answering its objections and working in its strengths; instead, Haass and his ilk double down on win or lose and participate in the giddy exercise of shutting down the government or the repetitive stupidity of voting 54 times to repeal a healthcare bill without a chance of success and with no alternative. Continue reading In the Fight Against ISIL, Going Beyond Either/Or

Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

StormyMondayFresh from hastily scheduled trips to Turkey and Saudi Arabia, John Kerry begins the week in Cairo, where the Secretary of State hopes to get more countries onside with efforts to fight Islamic State extremists. In case Kerry doesn’t get his fill of truculence, skepticism and outright intransigence overseas, he has a backup plan: he’s returning to Washington to testify Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The President will be in Atlanta Tuesday for a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he’ll receive a detailed briefing on both the West African Ebola epidemic and the enterovirus-related respiratory disease outbreak in the US Midwest. The visit comes several days after a direct appeal for US assistance from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Watch for Republican demands this week that both viruses be bombed into submission and the operation paid for with a Social Security benefits clawback.

Thursday, Scots go to the polls for a historic vote on independence from the United Kingdom. Well over four million people have registered to vote, while another 800,000 or so have signed up to vote by mail. That represents roughly 97% of eligible voters, a percentage the Democratic and Republican Parties alike can only view wistfully just weeks ahead of the typically anemic midterm electoral turnout stateside. Recent polls suggest momentum building for the “No” faction, but it’s likely to be close whichever way it goes.

Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi holds its, uh, long-awaited first hearing. Think they’ll discuss the August 1 report by the House Intelligence Committee, which found absolutely zero malfeasance by the Obama Administration? Neither do I.

Timed to coincide with a UN summit on climate change, a huge march in Manhattan is planned for Sunday. Organizers of the People’s Climate March are aiming for a turnout of 100,000 or more. The following day, the sixth annual Climate Week NYC gets underway, with scores of events planned around the city. The climate may be screwed, but I hope at least the weather is nice for the march.

On a related note, new efficiency standards for refrigerators begin Monday, amid cheerful forecasts by the Department of Energy that post-regulation models will use about 25% less electricity than existing models, with a projected 30-year savings to consumers of $36 billion. No word yet on whether the new models can be readily converted into seaworthy craft to deal with rising ocean levels. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/15/14

Sunday Talks, 9/14/14

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough will be on ABC’s This Week to discuss the administration’s plans regarding ISIS. Senator Tom Harkin ( D-IA) will give his thoughts on Hillary Clinton’s first trip to . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 9/14/14

Friday Talking Points [319] -- Slouching Off to War

FTP3This is a special edition of this column, for a number of reasons. The first is that we’re back after a one-week vacation hiatus, but the most special reason (to us, at least) is that this is the seventh anniversary of the launching of the “Friday Talking Points” column, which first appeared both on my site and the Huffington Post on September 14, 2007. The more mathematically-astute among you may notice that 52 times 7 equals a lot more columns than 319. This is true. Twice a year we are pre-empted by our year-end awards columns, and then the rest of the time we were just on vacation or otherwise doing something else. Like last week, for instance. This has led us to count the column’s birthdays using the calendar, rather than the metric of “every 52 columns.”

Back in 2007, I thought it would be a good idea to write congressional Democrats a memo, in the hopes they could begin to learn a skill Republicans seem to be born with: the ability to stay on-topic and present your political ideas and agenda items succinctly and memorably to the public. I had grown tired of watching the Sunday political shows where Republicans all sang off the same songsheet while Democrats were easily led into the weeds with long rambling tangents to what they should have been saying that particular week. This early effort grew, in the following weeks and months, into the format we now use weekly: a quick rundown of amusing items in the political news of the week, the awarding of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week and the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, and then seven numerated talking points suggested for all Democrats to use to explain the Democratic position to all and sundry (especially on Sundry morning talk shows… so to speak…).

Since that time, I cannot with any hard data prove that Democrats have gotten better at this skill, but on a purely subjective level, it seems they have made at least some steps in the right direction. Being in the minority in the House once again seems to have sharpened the Democratic edge a bit. But the column keeps going because there are still improvements to be made, and so it’s my humble duty to try to help in the only way I can, every Friday.

In any case, join us in some virtual birthday cake as we celebrate our seventh anniversary!

birthday cake

This column is also going to be an unusual one because we’re not handing out awards this week, nor are we providing our usual talking points. Instead, as we are sometimes wont to do, we are going off on a rant.

This is not a week for politics. This is a week to discuss America at war. That is about as serious as it gets, and because of this we’re not going to give a rundown of all the other events from the past two weeks, and we feel our normal Democratic-slanted awards and talking points are not germane to the discussion this week. So, just to warn everyone up front, this is going to be a very different column. We will return to our usual format next week, have no fear.

 

Friday Talking Points

Volume 319 (9/12/14)

America is slouching off to war, again.

We have already been dropping bombs for a month, but President Obama appeared on primetime television this week to announce to the American people that we’re about to be dropping a whole lot more bombs in the coming weeks. This is serious stuff.

However, you wouldn’t know it from within the halls of Congress. Which is beyond pathetic — it is downright unpatriotic. Congress is shirking its clear duty, and putting their own jobs and political rear ends before the country’s needs. If that isn’t unpatriotic, I don’t know what is.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not here to either advocate for or speak out against this war (at least, not today). And I am certainly not saying every member of Congress should immediately vote for full-on war or be labeled a traitor. Far from it. What I am saying instead is that every member of Congress should stand up and be counted no matter what their position is. Pro-war? Fine. Anti-war? No problem. But “we don’t want to hold a contentious vote right before an election” is nothing short of political cowardice. And unpatriotic, to boot.

A true patriot would right now be forcefully advocating for whatever position they held — either pro or con. A politician who loved his or her country and was doing the duty voters had elected him or her to perform would either be debating how this war is necessary and just or why it is a gigantic mistake. Either way, we should be having floor debates on the subject in both the House and Senate. Right now.

But we aren’t. Not really. Congress is attempting to pass some sort of mealy-mouthed “we’re kinda behind the president” bill, but they are not debating a new “Authorization for Use of Military Force” (A.U.M.F.). Even an A.U.M.F. is only a halfway measure, looked at constitutionally, and Congress can’t even be bothered with that, it seems.

If you think I’m being a bit too harsh on Congress, I would direct you to a rare moment of candor from a House Republican, Jack Kingston of Georgia. He was quoted, in response to the president’s speech, talking about the political realities both for his own Republican Party and for Democrats:

A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, “Just bomb the place and tell us about it later.” It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him [President Obama] so long.

What he is describing is nothing short of unpatriotic political cowardice, on both sides of the aisle. But Democrats aren’t really much better. Here is Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, also being a bit more candid than he probably realized, talking about the difference between the timing of voting some money for some rebels versus voting on an actual A.U.M.F. (emphasis added, to note his timetable):

I think at some point in time, when we come back from the elections, I think there will be a consideration of a larger authorization for the use of force. I think you’re going to see a very robust discussion of exactly that exact issue, among the American people, and that after the election, we’ll come back into session better informed of the public’s view and our constituents’ attitude about what they think ought to be done.

In short: once we’ve performed our real job — getting re-elected — then we’ll come back and maybe hold a vote on a possibly-endless war. I said it before and I’ll say it again: this is unpatriotic political cowardice of the first order.

The only way to cure such craven shirking of duty is to expose it and demand better. Some in the media have taken up this banner. Hopefully more will do so, from both the left and the right. Here is my favorite (and seriously snarky) example, from Salon:

Many members of Congress don’t want to vote on authorizing war powers for President Obama in Iraq and Syria before the election. The objections are twofold.

1) A vote on anything meaningful? Yikes! *Sweats, looks sideways, tugs collar*

2) A vote would entail co-ownership of the strategy, meaning that if/when things go bad, members of Congress could be held responsible. Sure, it’s fun to throw around cartoonishly hawkish rhetoric about how “we’re in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation” or how ISIS represents “an existential threat to America,” but that’s just the thing: It’s rhetoric! Rhetoric is cheap — it costs nothing, in fact — while having to back up that rhetoric with actions is like a whole other thing.

Strict constitutionalists have been demanding actual war resolutions pretty much ever since World War II ended, but no Congress since has passed one. The Constitution is pretty clear on the subject, in fact. The president, as commander-in-chief, is allowed to react swiftly to military attack and order troops into the field without Congress authorizing it beforehand. Congress, however, is supposed to hold up its end of this power-sharing, by formally declaring war for long and open-ended conflicts.

In modern times, the A.U.M.F. has stood in for a declaration of war. But an A.U.M.F. is even better than what the Constitution asks, because it can be written in all sorts of ways — very narrowly-targeted or wide-reaching and open-ended. In other words, Congress doesn’t just have to vote “yea” or “nay” on war, they can micromanage it to a certain degree. This is what they are now refusing to do — until, perhaps, after they get re-elected… if there’s time, that is. Continue reading Friday Talking Points [319] — Slouching Off to War

Who Is Our Neighbor?

DDThe story of the Jericho Road is well-known to many; a man traveling down the dangerous 17-mile old world passage that climbs between Jericho and Jerusalem; it is winding, steep, remote. Historically known as the Bloody Pass; in the one biblical story from the Gospels, a man is jumped by a gang of marauders and falls injured, unable to help himself. Several men of supposed good will—including a priest—pass him without offering aid. They see him and ignore him. Who knows why? One thing is clear: the victim is not their neighbor.

Not only in the sense of a person who is not of their community or one whose identity is unknown, but also in the sense of ethical action—a willingness to offer a hand to someone in need in times when danger threatens even good intent.

The ethical will which fails or is abandoned has a political and social side. Ethical choices have powerful consequences that quickly grow complicated and cover a broad range of actions. Immediate reflection shows the idea of the neighbor is at the center of our domestic politics. And the idea of the neighbor and ethical action is a paired “who and what” that underscores the immigration crisis that carried tens of thousands of children to our borders, our school lunch programs and the fight against obesity, the school-prison pipeline (middle school children in handcuffs taken out of school), our support for affordable healthcare (ethical actions of costs, coverage and value) and violence against women (perpetrator and societal victim blaming). The answer to “who” identifies the persons and communities, the victims we are ethically tasked to love and help, to take risks ourselves in order to render aid, to challenge the inherent dangers by our actions. As our national resolve weakens or gives in to hate and fear, the list of  ”who” grows short.

The Jericho Road.

The Jericho Road

Who we see as our neighbor positions us on the political spectrum. It often determines the laws we support and social action we engage in (California communities illegally stopping government buses of immigrants from entering government facilities weren’t met with militarized policing as has been seen in protests elsewhere). Who we see as our neighbor often shapes the attitudes that are the milieu of society and define the bottom line of survival. It determines who we look up to and down on, the level of anger and respect we have for individuals and institutions. It separates us into friends and enemies.

So on the verge of US military engagement, as the world is rife with hot spots, as US domestic officials’ and pundits’ sound bites call, without clear specifics, for Presidential impeachment for high crimes (an echo that also engulfs Hillary Clinton’s unannounced run for President!), who is our neighbor? Is the President right to patiently, stubbornly push Iraq to create an inclusive government (making neighbors of distrustful clans) before increasing military aid to resist ISIL? ISIL, the well armed and financed jihadist extremists who control oil production facilities, and at one point held Iraq’s major dam, and whose fighters are only a short drive from Baghdad? Do the beheadings of two Americans change the equation? What should the good neighbor do?

Surprisingly, President Obama foresaw these choices. He wrote about them in the The Audacity of Hope, pointing out the many advantages of coalition building as a pillar of foreign policy and as an answer to global threats (among the advantages: improved skill sets in intelligence gathering, analysis, tactics, strategy, execution, weaponry, sanctions, coordinated isolation, diplomatic dialogue).

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, N.H., Feb. 2, 2010.

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, NH, Feb. 2, 2010

His Nobel Prize acceptance speech later identified the looming threat of intra-national violence (violence within states by non-state insurgencies and movements operating across borders) and the heightened risks to civilians. He foresaw the dramatically increased demand for refugee services. He is well acquainted with how the mass movement of people escaping violence places destabilizing pressure on regional governments and local communities not engaged in conflict.

Right now, more than 50 million people are displaced and living in refugee camps, according to the UNHCR (the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; created in December 1950, the worldwide agency coordinating refugee assistance; it won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1954). President Obama knew the effect disruptions have on generations of children who would be denied education and families denied income. He understood how violence set back peace and prosperity by indirect means felt and experienced by refugees and by their host countries,who are often ill-equipped and under-resourced to receive those fleeing violence. In the President’s world view, our neighbors were any global citizens of good will who sought a concord with the American Promise—prosperity and peace in mutual association.

In all of his writings and speeches about how we help our neighbors, the President has argued for minimum military force over maximum force. He was aware of the paradox of maximum force: in the long run, it often expands the threat it is intended to crush. Continue reading Who Is Our Neighbor?

Sunday Talks, 9/7/14

ABC’s This Week has Senator Ted Cruz (R-I’m-the-Chosen-One) on to talk about President Obama’s response to ISIS. (Translation: I will smite Obama for not taking ISIS out with his bare hands.) Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 9/7/14

All in the Family Values

freehandIf members of any political party can lay legitimate claim to the ill-defined moral high ground represented by wooly catchphrases like “personal responsibility” and “family values,” they sure as hell aren’t Republicans.

Amid all the cataclysm and calamity of this summer’s news, the spectacle of the Bob and Maureen McDonnell trial has stood out garishly. Good God, I hate being embarrassed for Republicans, but it’s impossible to read coverage of Virginia’s former First Couple having their turgid day in court without blushing on their behalf. The trial has been a cavalcade of cringing.

Maureen was described by her chief of staff, under oath, as a “screamer” and a “nutbag,” who once accused the chef at the Executive Mansion of sabotaging Christmas with “bad shrimp.” Bob, once considered a future Republican presidential contender, has been portrayed by his defense team as a well-meaning but hapless boob who couldn’t have conspired with his wife to do anything because, darn it all, she only spoke to him when he pissed her off, so he mostly kept his mouth shut to avoid ugly scenes. An e-mail from the then-Governor to his wife in September 2011 was trotted out in court to bolster this narrative:

I know I am a sinner and keep trying to do better. But I am completely at a loss as to how to handle the fiery anger and hate from you that has become more and more frequent. You told me again yesterday that you would wreck my things and how bad I am. It hurt me to my core… I admit that I do keep away from you sometimes and don’t talk to you about important things or problems to avoid confrontation.

Of course the McDonnells are just following a trail – if you’ll forgive the metaphor – blazed by their former counterparts in South Carolina. The meltdown that was the marriage of Mark and Jenny Sanford first came to public notice with a weird episode where nobody could find the then-Governor, who had his own cheering section drooling at the prospect of a future White House run. Despite claims that he was impulsively hiking the Appalachian Trail, it turned out he was merely hiking the skirts of his Argentine mistress. But that was only preamble.

Sanford’s fall was swift, but so was his political resurrection. Despite Jenny Sanford filing a trespassing complaint against her estranged husband in February 2013, in which she alleged “a pattern of entering onto Plaintiff’s property, both at her former and current residences, without her permission and against her wishes,” voters in the SC 1st District nevertheless saw fit to elect this clod their Representative in DC in a special election three months later by a margin of almost 9% over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Of course, given the utter pointlessness of the 113th Congress, as scurrilous and useless as any in American history, maybe that’s exactly where he belongs. Continue reading All in the Family Values