Posts Tagged Congress

The generational mirror

I really need to stop being so nosy.

“The world has changed, and not for the better,” I heard an older gentleman say to one of his friends while waiting online for takeout. He was discussing how he never does anything online, because “they always ask for your credit card.”

“It’s not just that, the fundamental moral fiber of the country has changed,” the friend said in agreement.

I’m not saying that I disagree with them, but I do think it’s interesting how people of a certain generation can decry society’s moral degradation when their peers are the ones that caused it.

“Millennials” are often described as feckless denizens of their parents’ basements, willing to sacrifice any freedom in the pursuit of technological connectivity.

That simply isn’t true. While the younger generations are the first to come of age with smartphones in their hands, this situation–and the concept that digital “smart” technologies are a catch-all social savior–was created by the Baby Boomers, who count Steve Jobs and Bill Gates among their ranks.

It’s the same story in politics. It’s easy to reminisce about the good old days of Jacob Javits, and blame Millennials for not being more politically active, when you forget who’s actually in Congress now.

Society has a lot of problems, but idly criticizing it without acknowledging where those problems came from won’t solve anything.

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A victory for government, and adulthood

US CapitolNormally, I use this space to rant about things that are wrong with the world; I don’t always follow up when things go right.

I am immensely relieved that the government shutdown is over, and that Democrats were able end it without defacing the Affordable Care Act.

I tend to give less emphasis to these types of events because, right or wrong, I feel like this is simply how things should work.

The Republican healthcare-for-hostages scheme was completely unreasonable; the GOP was trying to block a law that had already been approved by Congress, and vetted by the Supreme Court and the people’s votes for President Obama in last year’s election.

Republicans may not like the law, but that’s not a reason for shutting down the government. Wednesday’s solution was the only logical way for this to end.

I say that not as a supporter of Obamacare gloating over a hard-won victory, but as someone who has faith in the mechanisms of the Federal government.

In a democracy, not everyone will agree 100 percent of the time, but our system of government has always been able to contain those disagreements (with the exception of the Civil War). Over the past couple of weeks, that system was tested by a group that simply wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, and it passed.

The American people passed the test too.

We stood up for that system of government, not letting concepts of “fairness” or “compromise” become transmuted into a tyranny of the minority, realizing that adults need to be able to handle not getting their way.

Many people assume that constant fighting is an inherent part of how Washington works, but the government shutdown has shown that obstruction by a few shouldn’t be misconstrued with overall incompetence.

Now that we’ve gotten a taste of how government is supposed to work, maybe we’ll be less lenient the next time Republicans conjure up a crisis to advance their agenda.

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On Syria and being confused

As I write this, President Obama appears committed to launching a limited military strike against the Assad regime in Syria, in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people. The fact that this seems inevitable is troubling.

While the President does have some latitude to use military force without consulting Congress (especially since Sept. 11), but this is not supposed to be the default.

People seem to realize that; there’s been plenty of unease expressed regarding an attack on Syria. However, unease isn’t the same as discussion, or action.

Thanks to the Internet, the idea that Americans should pay attention to Syria has almost become a self-parody. People advocating for a frank discussion about Syria are characterized as elitists and blowhards while the rest of the country continues to analyze Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance.

Regardless, now is an appropriate time to decide what to do with Syria. And that won’t be an easy decision.

On the one hand, the Assad regime has been oppressing its people, something the United States cannot abide. The Obama Administration claims it has intelligence showing that Assad ordered the chemical attacks, and that a limited intervention to enforce international statutes banning chemical weapons is justified.

On the other hand, no one outside the White House has seen the intelligence, although select members of Congress were briefed on it. It’s also unclear what effect the attacks will have: until now, the U.S. has avoided taking sides in Syria’s civil war because the situation is so ambiguous.

Americans are also weary of being drawn into another Middle Eastern war. The United Kingdom, United Nations, and the Syrian people are also opposed to U.S. intervention.

Clearly, there’s a lot to talk about, and Americans should be eager to talk about this.

People often complain that Obama leaves Congress and the electorate out of the loop when it comes to foreign policy, that only finding out after the fact that a terror suspect has been blown up by Hellfire missiles isn’t good enough.

This time, the White House is keeping the People in the loop. Obama is telling us what he plans on doing, not what he’s already done. Secretary of State John Kerry implored the people to examine the Administration’s evidence in his speech earlier today.

I’m not saying that bombing Syria is right or wrong; I’m saying that the country needs to have a discussion about whether it’s right or wrong.

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Political perspective

US Capitol“Our political life is becoming so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men that the idealist who dreams of independent statesmanship is rudely awakened by the necessities of election and accomplishment.”

I guess it’s good to know that some things never change. Then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote the above description for his book Profiles in Courage, which was published in 1956. As we wait to experience the fallout of the Sequester, it seemed especially timely.

Kennedy could have easily been describing the political madness of 2013. The “necessities of election and accomplishment” seem to take precedence over government.

As Kennedy says, that kind of political life is indeed expensive and mechanistic. Candidates have to spend millions and billions of dollars on ads in a seemingly never-ending election cycle, inviting special interests and rich backers to gain undue influence. Every appearance and statement is tightly choreographed, making our representatives seem like walking lists of talking points.

Of course, things have changed since 1956. Kennedy goes on to mention the Cold War and how the rigid ideology it spawned was also affecting American political discourse. It’s also hard to compare the party dynamics of the 1950s Congress to today’s without doing some more research. Perhaps another day.

Regardless, the government Kennedy worked in, as both a Congressman and Senator, and later led as President, was able to muddle through several international crises and the Civil Rights Movement. Have our leaders done everything perfectly over the past 57 years? Nope. Yet the government, and the United States itself, is still here.

Political strife may have reached an all-time high, but parties and individuals have been arguing with each other since this country was founded. Just look at the stories of the eight Senators Kennedy profiles, or watch Lincoln.

Past Congresses have had to enact the founding principles of the United States, fight wars, and bring about social change. All this Congress had to do was pass a budget. Its members may not like each other, and they may need to get their priorities in order, but that didn’t stop their predecessors.

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History, uranium particles and all

Manhattan Project Trinity testAccording to a recent NPR piece, certain parts of Los Alamos National Laboratory are on their way to becoming a National Park. In case you slept through high school history, Los Alamos was the key site of the Manhattan Project; the park would include the building where the “Little Boy” atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was assembled.

Obviously, Manhattan Project National Park could generate controversy, and where there’s controversy, there’s Congress. The bill to create the park was shot down in the House of Representatives in September.

“We’re talking about the devastation of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — hundreds of thousands killed, $10 trillion Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons which today threaten the existence of the world — and this is something we should celebrate?” Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said at the time.

Kucinich may have (gloriously) tried to impeach President George W. Bush, but this time he’s not seeing the big picture. Aside from the obvious logistical issues inherent in opening a former nuclear test, and current weapons lab, to the public, Los Alamos would be an incredibly valuable educational tool.

The atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II were the most destructive weapons ever unleashed by humankind, and constant recognition of that fact is what has kept the United States and other countries from using them again.

Seventy-one years after Pearl Harbor, Americans still remember World War II with reverence and respect for the people who fought and died. Ignoring how it ended because it might not make the country look good would be a bit silly.

The bombs may have killed thousands of people and started the Cold War, but they are still a part of our history. So while we shouldn’t celebrate the deaths of our former enemies, we should acknowledge them.

If it is true to the story of the Manhattan Project, this park should do just that. It won’t depict mad scientists gleefully working on a weapon of mass destruction, but the most brilliant minds of a generation trying to end a war while expanding humanity’s scientific knowledge, and knowing exactly what they were doing.

This is the kind of thing that sounds like a political or moral issue only if you don’t think about it. American national parks commemorate the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, and expose the exploitation of slaves and sweatshop workers.

In fact, there are already publicly-funded museums that already discuss the atomic bomb. The United States Miliatry Academy’s museum includes a replica “Fat Man” bomb, like the one dropped on Nagasaki. Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb, is one display at the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center.

History isn’t pretty, and sanitizing it won’t change that. Atomic weapons killed many people, but they were the weapons that ended the Second World War. Trying to teach people about those events has nothing to do with glorifying them, it’s just an acknowledgment of the truth.

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The 2012 election is over… Now what?

Obama victory speech 2012If anyone actually reads this, sorry for the missed posts. It’s been a busy week.

I was very pleased by the results of Tuesday’s election, but they do put the country in an interesting place. As Jon Stewart pointed out, Obama is still president, the Democrats still control the Senate, and the Republicans still control the House, so America’s billionaires apparently wasted their money. So how do we keep from repeating the mistakes of the past four years?

Bipartisanship seems to be the key, and it is, but not all the time. If both parties put aside their differences, forgot the ugliness of this decidedly ugly campaign, and compromised to create practical policies, it would be a major achievement for rationality. However, it might not solve every problem.

I’m a fan of Matt Taibbi, but when he wrote, on the morning of the election, that there was essentially no difference between the candidates, I had to disagree.

“When push comes to shove, we all should know most Americans want the same things, but just disagree on how to get there, which is why it should be okay to not panic if the other party wins,” Taibbi wrote on the morning of November 6. That’s true, but sometimes Americans disagree. What then?

The vitriol and plain bullshit slung by both politicians and the media in this election was awful, not just because it made compromise harder, but because it obscured real issues that Americans genuinely disagree about.

Could a woman really believe that Romney had her interests in mind, even after he talked about banning abortion, or after his “binders full of women” comment? If one of the two main presidential candidates make a threat to one’s rights a part of his platform, there is no reason to assume that he will not act on that. Otherwise, why bother having elections?

So the solution to America’s problems isn’t blind compromise. Politicians and their constituents should stop the name calling, and generally recognize their opponents’ humanity, but both sides have the right and obligation to try to enact their policies.

Some might argue that this is what caused the ongoing deadlock in Washington: both parties pushed to get what they wanted done, and tried equally hard to obstruct their opponent.

However, we just had an election, where the majority of the country chose a Democratic president, that seems to point things in a certain direction. The Democrats shouldn’t ignore the Republican constituency, but the Republicans need to acknowledge that, in the White House and Senate races, they lost.

After a major Republican upset in the 2010 midterm elections, Mitch McConnell said that, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Someone really needs to call the Republican party on this counterproductive behavior.

When Mitt Romney is accusing President Obama of being anti-coal, and the President is accusing the former governor of being a corporate raider, some people think that all the parties care about is defeating each other. However, we need to remember that this all started with the Republicans and, now that they’ve lost the presidential race, they need to be stopped from continuing to obstruct the functions of government.

A maxim of journalism is that there are always at least two sides to every story. That’s true, but not every side is equal. In politics, compromise is important, but the job of politicians is to serve the people, and the people have spoken.

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Civil disobedience 2012

On Monday, 76 people were arrested after they occupied the Capitol rotunda. Isn’t that amazing news? Demonstrators, including actor Noah Wyle, from Americans with Disabilities for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT) filled the rotunda to protest proposed cuts to Medicaid services. It’s easy to be cynical about today’s politics, but demonstrations like this show that Americans are willing to fight for their rights.

Most disabled Americans require expensive care that the average person cannot afford. Insurance coverage is usually unavailable, and the bureaucracy of the insurance industry often prevents treatments from being administered in a consistent fashion. Some Americans may cringe at the idea of government-funded healthcare, but that’s exactly what the government has been providing to the nation’s Medicaid patients. So, it’s worked pretty well.

However, Republicans in the House of Representatives are trying to cut certain Medicaid services, in order to trim perceived fat from the federal budget. ADAPT’s stated goal was to convince House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) to require that states fund alternatives to nursing homes and institutions, the default for state-managed care in many areas.

Conservatives, especially “Tea Partiers,” fear government intervention in their lives. That is exactly what the people represented by these 76 protestors face, all at the hands of the GOP. Having to fight to live independently, instead of being forced to live in an institution, is a real crisis of freedom. Don’t people have the right to live in their own homes, instead of being forced by circumstance to have their lives run by others.

Does the happiness and freedom of a small minority outweigh the crushing national debt? That point will surely be debated on talk shows and from pulpits, but the point is that these people took action. They didn’t hold a rally and congregate with like-minded people, and they didn’t tell the President to suck on a machine gun. Instead, they went right into the proverbial belly of the beast and forced the politicians to listen.

The protestors were arrested, but that’s part of the game. This was an important matter and they were willing to make sacrifices for the cause. Monday’s protest may not achieve what it needs to, but the people involved tried their best. It was civil disobedience at its finest. We could all learn something from this.

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