Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On this Veterans Day, One of Our Greatest Generals

This is one of the most memorable speeches ever delivered by a member of our armed forces: Douglas MacArthur's farewell speech to Congress in 1951 (this is the final, most well-know part). I think it is one of the most appropriate clips I could post here today - a great speech with some great photographs.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Politics 101 with Professors Carville and Gingrich

This is a fascinating two-part video from earlier this year, when James Carville invited Newt Gingrich to speak to his "2008 Presidential Election" class at Tulane University. They are both masters in their respective fields, and the exchanges between the two are as interesting as their lectures to the class.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hey Nobel Committee! What About Bill Clinton?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to do something that is far out of the norm for me. I am about to defend Bill Clinton.

Yes, Bill Clinton - the man who one email (reported by Politico) said is today the angriest man on the planet. For once, I have to agree with his anger (assuming he is in fact upset about the news that broke earlier today).

If you haven't heard - and at this point I don't know how anyone couldn't have heard - President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, barely two weeks after taking the oath of office in January, he was nominated for his efforts in ...

Shoot, I forgot; what was it he did? Ah, yes; now I remember. It waas awarded for - and let me get this right - his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." That's a helluva lot he accomplished there in his first 12 days, isn't it? It's incredible what a catchy phrase like "Yes we can!" can get for someone. Rodney Dangerfield had his "I get no respect" line, but nope, no prize for him; George Burns had his "Say goodnight, Gracie" closing each episode of the old "Burns and Allen" show, but no, the Nobel Committee ignored him; Elton John had "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" - oh, wait; the title of that song exempted him from consideration.

Seriously, folks? Nominated after two weeks in office? I don't care what anyone says about how much he deserved this and how much he accomplished in his (snicker) 12 days in office before the nomination. This is a reaction not to what Obama did, but is another rebuke of Bush. We get it: the international community wasn't thrilled with what Bush did and decided to knock his Administration down a few pegs by giving the Prize to someone who talked about change, restoring our standing in the international community, and bringing the nations of the world together in a spirt of kumbayah where we can all sit at the table of brotherhood, a round table on the patio where a black professor and a white cop can share a beer.

And so I go back to - gasp - Bill Clinton. Clinton has done more in his post-presidency to deserve a Peace Prize than either President Obama or even Al Gore (Side bar: I want speed bumps on my street so that cars will slow down and pose less of a threat to the neighborhood children. Can I have a Prize?); he worked with President George H.W. Bush to raise astounding amounts of money and aid for the folks devastated by the Asian tsunami. His Clinton Foundation has raised untold amounts of money to help poor and impoverished nations and regions around the globe. He should even get credit for the work he did in trying to bring peace to the Middle East and to Central Europe. I think that even Bono merits consideration for the tremendous amount of good works he has done.

So why didn't he win? Was he even nominated? He's gotten passed over for his former vice president. He's gotten passed over for the person who knocked his wife out of running for the White House. Is Bill Clinton angry? I'd put good money down that he is - and I can't really blame him. I'm a bit angry that it takes so little to get the Prize nowadays - Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel worked for years before they were recognized. Guess it doesn't take much now to amaze the Nobel Committee other than excited crowds, a catch-phrase, and the promise that you'll try to do something.

So based on the new criteria, I'm off to pick up trash off the front curb, get a cat out of the tree, get folks to chant "Look what I did!" and help my neighbor carry in her groceries.

Oh, and I'll expect my Peace Prize in the mail tomorrow.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don't Want Health Care Coverage? Get Out Your Check Book

Let's for a moment assume that health care reform - in some shape or scope - manages to be passed out of the Senate, is successfully conferenced between the two houses of Congress, and is signed into law by the President. It's not necessary for purposes of this post to discuss whether it incldues either a public or single-payer option, or how many of the 30 million uninsured in this country will be covered. (Side bar: Hold on, Mr. President. I thought it was 47 million; why are you and the congressional leadership now saying 30 million? Did the other 17 million move, or did you miscount? Is this what we can expect to see in next year's census? End side bar.)

Now let's assume that you decide that you are okay with not having coverage, and you take a pass. I don't find that beyond the realm of possiblity, especially if you are young; the risk of illness is always there, but maybe you think you'll be okay and don't need the coverage.

It's your choice, right?


If you don't buy into the system, you could get a fine as high as $1,900 - and the Internal Revenue Service will make sure you pay. As Politico reported on September 24, "Americans who fail to pay the penalty for not buying insurance would face legal action from the Internal Revenue Service, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. The remarks Thursday from the committee's chief of staff, Thomas Barthold, seems to further weaken President Barack Obama's contention last week that the individual mandate penalty, which could go as high as $1,900, is not a tax increase. Under questioning from Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Barthold said the IRS would 'take you to court and undertake normal collection proceedings.'"

Later, as was reported in the same publication, "Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) received a handwritten note Thursday from Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Tom Barthold confirming the penalty for failing to pay the up to $1,900 fee for not buying health insurance.
Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail or a $25,000 penalty, Barthold wrote on JCT letterhead. He signed it 'Sincerely, Thomas A. Barthold.'"

Hold on a minute. A person exercises their individual choice not to buy health insurance coverage, and they get slapped with a nearly $2,000 penalty? What if the person can't afford to buy insurance? How are they supposed to pay the penalty - and taken to its logical conclusion, what about the $25,000 in fines?

Penalty. Surcharge. Fee. Tariff. Cover charge. Whatever you want to call it, this is another way of raising revenue and represents - wait for it - a tax. It also represents a way of penalizing the choices we make. I have a family, so insurance coverage isn't a question for me; my wife and kids need to have it. But what about the 23-year-old intern fresh out of college with no dependents and no responsibilities?

The President may be correct in saying this bill will not raise taxes. But let's pull out the thesaurus and ask the same question by substituting every possible synonym for the word tax and see what answer we get.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Democrat Math on Unemployment and Jobs: It Doesn't Add Up

The unemployment numbers for the month of August were released today, and the news was not good. With 466,000 new unemployed men and women last month, the total rate jumped to 9.7% and 14.9 million people are now out of work. This is the highest level in 26 years - and it raises several questions in my mind.

First, how honest are Democrats being about the total number of folks who lost their jobs last month? The Bureau of Labor Statistics press release said that 216,000 non-farm payroll jobs were lost and a total of 466,000 people became unemployed. Yet in a press release just issued by House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, he states that only 216,000 jobs were lost. Well, which is it? BLS gives the total number, and House Democrats are only focused on part of that? Forgive me, but I thought that through all of the last eight months of discussion by Democrats about being concerned for all Americans they were genuinely concerned about all Americans. Why aren't they including all of the unemployed in their figures? Are they only concerned about non-farm workers?

Oh, wait - I know (and it brings me to point 2): it undercuts their claims of having saved or created 750,000 jobs since the stimulus bill was signed into law. You remember - the stimulus bill that was going to save or create millions of jobs and keep unemployment below 8%. Vice President Biden was touting that fact in a speech earlier this week, but with today's news it seems to fall flat. As I commented on another site, my math is not great so I'm having a difficult time figuring out how the saving and creating of 750,000 jobs since the stimulus was passed stil results in a 9.7% rate and nearly 470,000 additional jobs lost in just the last month.

Either we're creating a helluva lot more jobs that are balanced out by the jobs lost - ending with a net of 750,000 - or the recovery folks are as bad at math as I am. My money is the latter.

So how do we fix the problem and get folks back to work? 14.9 million unemployed is 14.9 million too many, but under-reporting numbers in press releases and running fast and loose with the statistics in speeches doesn't help. If we don't truly know - or if at least members of Congress and the Administration only say what they want us to hear - how bad things are, then we won't be able to determine how large the solution needs to be. Obviously, the vaunted stimulus bill wasn't the answer. Democrats get points for effort, but it's not something they can solve alone - a fix is going to take efforts at real bipartisanship and real cooperation, not simply using the words to impress constituents back home.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Here Comes Jimmy T!! Traficant, That Is...

Politics has been too drab and boring lately - no catchy lines, no heated arguments, no controversial incidents. Okay, so that's not true, but it's never too late to liven things up even more, just to keep us all entertained.

Enter Jim Traficant. Those suits (denim)! That hair (which he claimed was cut with a weed whacker). Seven years after being expelled from the House of Representatives and sent to prison for various and sundry forms of corruption and abuse of power, he's back!! Later today, he'll walk out the prison doors a free man, ready to tackle the world once again. I for one hopes he does not go gentle into that good night; he's too much of an entertaining character to deprive the world of his wackiness and incredible quotes.

Forgotten some of what he said over the years? Here's a stroll down memory lane.

"We are not playing monopoly down here. These are taxpayer dollars. Enough is enough. Last I heard it was Uncle Sam, not Uncle Sucker. I yield back the balance of the hard-working jobs that the steel industry is losing." - discussing IMF bailouts with American tax dollars, October 5, 1998

"The last I heard, NATO did not work for the Western Union. It is time for NATO to do their job. It is time for France to step up once in a while. It is time for Europe to help us out, and it is time for independence in Kosovo. One last thing, Mr. Speaker. Milosevic must be stopped. It is about time for France to do their job, too." - commenting on the genocide in Kosovo, October 1, 1998

"Washington does not need more lobbyists and lawyers to advise Congress. I honestly believe that a proctologist is in order down here. I yield back whatever common sense is left." - talking about fast track procedures, September 25, 1998

"Mr. Speaker, I have one question for these wise guys to constipate over: How can some thing come from no thing? And while they digest that, Mr. Speaker, let us tell it like it is. Put these super-cerebral master debaters in some foxhole with bombs bursting all around them, and I guarantee they will not be praying to Frankenstein." - discussing scientists believing in God, August 3, 1998

"Free trade my ascot, Mr. Speaker. This is a free ride and a free for all for China, who is gobbling up our national security secrets faster than the President can down a Big Mac and a box of fries. Think about that." - talking about China, free trade, and security, June 24, 1998

And finally, one of my personal favorites, uttered after he was expelled from the House: "I will take with me a file, chisel and a knife. I'll try to get some major explosives to fight my way out. Then when I get out, I'll grab a sword like Maximus Meridius and as a gladiator, I'll stab people in the crotch."

Speaker Pelosi, the Democrats need Jim Traficant. Congress needs Jim Traficant. The American people need Jim Traficant (even if it is just so that we have something further with which to amuse us). Something tells me when he gets in the car and drives away from prison today, it won't be the last we've heard of the, umm, distinguished gentleman from Ohio.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pointing the Finger on Health Care Reform

There's an old saying that you shouldn't ever point the finger at someone, because you'll have three other fingers pointing back at you (not counting the thumb, of course). I thought about that this morning as I considered all of the arguments flying back and forth over who is to blame about the delays in implementing health care reform.

Here's the finger being pointed: "Obama in recent days has shifted directly attacking Republicans, portraying their opposition to his health initiative as little more than a political attack designed to destroy his presidency... In remarks Tuesday, Obama continued to hammer home the theme that his opponents were driven by political motives, but he refrained from mentioning the Republican Party or referring to any specific Senator." - Roll Call, July 22, 2009

And today, here are the fingers pointing back at Democrats:

As the pressure increases to cut deals on health care reform, nerves are starting to fray among Democrats. Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and his top legislative aide, Phil Schiliro, traveled to the Capitol on Thursday to try to sort out an impasse between Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and seven fellow Democrats in the centrist Blue Dog Coalition. But they emerged after three hours in the speaker’s office without a breakthrough.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) conceded that House Democrats had held a “contentious” closed-door session on Thursday morning, the day after Obama increased the pressure on Congress to get something done on
health care.

And in the Senate, Democratic Finance Committee members not directly involved in the bipartisan talks warned Baucus that their votes could not be taken for granted as he works toward a deal with Republicans.

“Don’t think we are so desperate. We are not going to fall into line,” Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, describing the message Democrats delivered to Baucus. “I’m not allowed into the meetings, the real meetings they have, what they call the coalition of the willing. It is a really, really bad way to try and develop support and ideas. So the whole philosophy is, if we can get these three Republicans, we can call it bipartisan, but I don’t think any of you [in the media] are going to think it is particularly bipartisan.” - Politico, July 24, 2009

Why did Obama not name any specific Senator or identify the opponents driven by political motives? Because that would entail identifying members of his own party - the members of the Senate who are opposed to the route this reform legislation is taking, and the 50-plus members of the House Blue Dog coalition who could block any bill that they see increasing taxes on their constituencies.

So I ask Democrats in Congress and the Administration, "Can you tell me who's really to blame here?" Let me state that I am not opposed to all Americans having access to health care; what I am opposed to is trying to jam a massive bill through the process in less than two months between the time the legislation was introduced and the time a final vote is held. What you're seeing here are members that recognize a fix needs to be made - a fix that is affordable and doesn't drive the country even further into a debt that we've succeeded in building up over the past several years - as well as recognizing that this vote could make or break their careers.

Be careful where you point the finger on this issue - and remember that one of the three pointing back at you is the middle one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Game Demonstrates Effects of Card Check

I'm sure that many of you by this point have heard of the Employee Free Choice Act, more commonly known as "card check." Passage of this legislation - which President Obama indicated last year he would sign if it made it to his desk - would dramatically strengthen the ability of organized labor to unionize business and industry throughout the country, force management to accept binding arbitration in all negotiations over contracts and benefits, and increase the amount of money flowing to union coffers through mandatory deductions from workers' paychecks to cover the cost of dues.

The good news is that the legislation is showing few signs of progress in the Senate at this point in time, and senators are at an impasse over possible compromise language which would draw the support of 60 senators (with the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives, passage in that chamber is guaranteed). The bad news is that it continues to be the number one priority of organized labor, and as such they are pushing hard to get a compromise bill through - provided it doesn't touch the mandatory arbitration issue that would be so harmful to American business.

The Alliance for Worker Freedom has been very active on this issue, and earlier this week unveiled their new interactive online card check game. "Card Checked: The Game" allows the user to experience first-hand a scenario in which they are pressured to sign an authorization card to allow for unionization of their business. In a format similar to the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, you have the option of how to act at each stage of the game and witness the repercussions of your actions. The game is also heavily documented with real-life incidents relating to some of the pressure techniques used by labor to force unionization.

I encourage you to visit and explore this game and the supporting documentation for yourself. You can play the game by going here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Grief and Struggle of Robert McNamara

“’Terribly Wrong’ Handling of Vietnam Overshadowed Record of Achievement.”

“Robert S. McNamara, Architect of a Futile War, Dies at 93.”

“Vietnam War Architect Robert McNamara Dies.”

“Architect of Vietnam War Later Revealed His Regrets.”

“A Onetime ‘Whiz Kid’ Brought Low by Vietnam.”

Yesterday’s death of former Secretary of Defense and World Bank President Robert McNamara naturally made the front page of countless newspapers across the country, and you really only had to look at the headlines (such as the ones above from, in order, the Washington Post, New York Times, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal) to get a sense of what slant the different writers would be taking. No matter the angle, however, Vietnam was the centerpiece of each story (and of the numerous personal reminiscences run on the op-ed pages of each paper) – surpassed only by the focus on the internal struggle McNamara faced from the time he stepped down from his post in the Johnson Administration in 1968 until the day he died.

Even though I was born during the height of the Vietnam War, I’ve never really considered myself part of the Vietnam generation. Thankfully, the war by and large bypassed my family – my father missed on having to go because of a previously-broken ankle, and my father-in-law was a C-130 pilot in the Air Force who flew several tours there in the 1960s before returning safely to the United States. Despite that, Robert McNamara was someone with whom I have always been familiar, at least peripherally. I haven’t read his 1995 memoir (yet), and I haven’t seen the 2003 documentary “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara” (yet), but I do know that he fought mightily to come to grips with the role he played in the war.

Among all of the stories, analysis and recollections that I’ve read today, one passage from the Washington Post story really jumped out at me. In it McNamara is quoted as saying: “We burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo – men, women and children,” he told [Errol] Morris [producer of the 2003 documentary]. “[General Curtis] LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost,” he added. “But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”

What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?

It’s a new way of looking at the old saying about history being written by the victors, and I think it’s a glimpse – albeit a small one – into the intellectual and emotional struggle in which McNamara found himself during the past four decades. Looking at the Tokyo raid in World War II, as well as the horrific raid on Dresden during the same conflict, people have acknowledged these were tragic occurrences – but not much else. Had we in fact lost the Second World War, would we view these any more differently? And don’t you think that the Japanese and Germans view these under a different lens as well?

Not having known McNamara and not yet having read his book or seen the documentary, I can only guess that his statement about the morality or immorality of the Tokyo bombing was a reflection of his deeper internal struggle about this country’s role in Vietnam – and the tremendous cost in both in lives and national morale that we had to endure and which lingered for many years. The loss of 56,000 Americans in Southeast Asia was a tremendous tragedy, and I can only surmise from what I do know that McNamara deeply felt the loss of each one of those men and women every day for the rest of his life.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Why Sarah Palin Just Torpedoed a Shot at 2012

In keeping with our recent spate of astounding, amazing, and downright shocking news stories, Sarah Palin has provided us with yet another. In order to enable herself to do more for the nation than she could if still governor, Palin announced today that she will not seek reelection for a second term - and to seal the deal also stated that she will be resigning effective the end of this month.

If this is her way of setting the stage for a 2012 run for the White House, I think this was a horrible move to make. During the election last year, the McCain-Palin team had a difficult enough time convincing the electorate that her time as mayor of Wasilla and brief period in the governor's mansion qualified as legitimate, national-level executive experience. But in all honesty, I don't think she can use that argument any longer, considering she wasn't even willing to finish out her first (and apparently only) term as Alaska's chief executive.

Unless she is about to sign a major deal with Fox News Channel or announce a potential run for Senate against Lisa Murkowski, this accomplishes nothing (other than giving her time to finish the manuscript for her soon-to-be-published memoir). The attention span for presidential primaries doesn't even really take hold until February or March of the actual election year, meaning that it's going to be the beginning of 2012 before anyone will - or should, for that matter - take a serious look at the contenders. Name ID certainly won't be an issue for Palin, if that's what she's thinking - anyone who hasn't heard of her by this point has been living under a rock.

And at the risk of offending my much more Conservative friends, I don't see Governor-for-28-more-days Palin as the savior of the GOP. I think she has potential at some level - Senate, perhaps, or maybe even a cabinet-level position like Interior secretary - but I just don't see her being the one crowned nominee at the 2012 Republican convention. Trying to determine a front-runner at this point is a useless exercise, and trying to make yourself a front-runner is even more pointless; people will get tired of you now long before your campaign even starts up.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tom Friedman and Dan Becker: Has Climate Change Made Their Memories More Selective?

In his latest New York Times column, "Just Do It," author and environmentalist Tom Friedman accuses Republican members of the House of Representatives - along with, to a lesser extent, President Obama and the American public - of being one of the major reasons that the Waxman-Markey bill arrived in the Senate in its current, weakened form. To be precise - and here he quotes comments made by Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign - he refers to the version that was passed last Friday on a 219-212 vote as being "too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others" and being "watered down to bring them [coal-state Democrats] on board."

(To say that the bill is weakened isn't going to matter much to the folks who will be paying higher electricity costs, higher costs on commodities, higher costs on goods and services, and on and on and on. I don't care if the CBO assessment of $175 per year or the Heritage Foundation prediction of several thousand dollars a year is correct, or whether you prefer the word "tax" or "free." More money is more money, and we're going to be spending more. How much could we be paying if the bill wasn't "watered down?")

To further buttress his argument about Republicans not supporting this bill (while, oddly, not mentioning at all that no compromise on earth could convince the 44 Democrats who voted against it to change their minds), Friedman again quotes Becker, who said "every House Republican voted against the bill and did nothing to try and improve it." I don't know what's worse: citing someone who doesn't know what he's talking about, or not thinking independently on this issue.

A few examples:

1. Becker says that every House Republican voted against the bill. Um, sorry Dan, but you're off there. Apparently you didn't check the vote tally - eight Republicans actually voted for the bill (much to the consternation of the conservative base). For your argument, I suppose that's not important.

2. Becker also says that Republicans did nothing to try and improve the bill. Again, I'm not sure at all where he's coming from on this. During the markup of the Waxman-Markey legislation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, minority members offered countless amendments in an attempt to try and make the bill better - and an overwhelming majority of them were defeated. Later, when the bill was handed off to the Rules Committee, the committee chair allowed a grand total of ONE Republican amendment to be considered on the House floor. And then Speaker Pelosi broke her pledge of allowing at least 24 hours between announcing a vote on a bill and holding the vote for members to read the bill, giving - as Minority Leader John Boehner said during his remarks on the floor - a total of five hours of debate.

I don't think the bill is in its current form because Republicans didn't offer any help. Truth be told, Democrats don't want their help - they're going to ram it through, come hell or high water, with or without Republican votes. I won't say that a more conservative columnist and the head of a more conservative think tank wouldn't tilt their explanation more to the right; it's just the nature of the game. No, my concern here is the selective memory displayed by Becker, and the reliance on those comments by someone who I thought had more sense than that.

Not everyone watched the debate or fully understands what's going on, and to read this slanted explanation leaves out much of the story.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Waxman-Markey: Continuing Fallout and Analysis

The fallout over the Waxman-Markey vote in the House of Representatives last week is continuing, both politically and environmentally. Attack ads are already in the works which will be used against some of the vulnerable first- and second-term Democrats who voted in favor of the bill, with many more certain to come in the future. Politico also ran a good behind-the-scenes piece today on the steps taken by Speaker Pelosi and Democrat leadership to round up enough votes for passage - and the lengths that some members took to avoid having to talk to her on the House floor.

Along with that, the number of stories on the cost and impact of this bill (in its present form; it's almost guaranteed to be altered significantly by the Senate in the weeks and months ahead) continues to grow with each passing day. One of the more interesting ones I've read today is found on the DigitalRules blog and concerns how the requirements in this bill will dramatically affect the sectors which provide 90 percent of the nation's electricity. Here is a brief excerpt:
In the U.S., electricity is produced from these sources. If you are reading this on a handheld and can't read Wikipedia's wonderful pie chart, here is the breakdown:
48.9% -- Coal
20% -- Natural Gas
19.3% -- Nuclear
1.6% -- Petroleum
Got that?
A tick over 88% of U.S. electricity comes from three sources: coal, gas and nuclear. Petroleum brings the contribution of so-called "evil" energy--that is, energy that is carbon- or uranium-based--to almost 90% ...
The Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House on Friday by a 219-212 margin will punitively tax energy sources that contribute 90% of current U.S. electricity (or 71% if you want to leave out nuclear). The taxes will be used to subsidize the 10% renewable contributors (but really just 3% after you leave out hydro).
In other words, Waxman-Markey is betting the future of U.S. electricity production on sources that now contribute 3% or supply 10 million Americans with electricity. That's enough juice for the people in Waxman's Los Angeles County. Or, if you prefer, for Nancy Pelosi's metro San Francisco plus Markey's metro Boston.

I encourage you to read the entire piece, and to continue reading anything you can on this legislation. Continuing to educate yourself on this matter will be crucial as the Senate takes up this measure in the weeks and months ahead.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More on Waxman-Markey and a Classic Boehner Moment

Less than 24 hours after yesterday's vote on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, I'm still thinking a bit about what I watched transpire on the floor of the House of Representatives.

(Sidebar: Wait! Less than 24 hours? Huh - I've actually been thinking about this for just a few hours longer than members of Congress had to even read the bill! I'm so glad Speaker Pelosi promised she would make all bills available 24 hours in advance of a vote so that the American people could read them. Perhaps she meant that over the course of her entire speakership, she would collectively make all bills available a total of 24 hours in advance - 5 or 10 minutes here, 30 minutes there.)

First, I would be willing to put good money on the table that most of the 219 members who voted for the bill did so despite the wishes of their constituents - not because of them. As a result, I think that over the next several days you're going to see a lot of outrage and some potential backlash against these folks. Already, several groups to which I belong have started posting the telephone numbers and contact information for the eight Republicans who voted in favor of the bill. One of them, Mark Kirk of Illinois (a potential candidate for Senate in 2010), is apparently having a town hall meeting in his district today; I would love to be a fly on the wall for that one.

Next, I think John Boehner had one of his finest moments as Minority Leader when his turn came to speak on the House floor yesterday. As one of the privileges for being Minority Leader, the time that he is yielded in order to speak really isn't confined just to the one or two minutes he received; the Speaker, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader are able to speak a bit longer. Boehner started and immediately attacked the addition of a 300-page section into the Waxman-Markey bill at 3:00 yesterday morning and - saying that the American people have a right to know what their congressional representatives are voting on - practically started to go page-by-page through the entire addition. Roughtly 20 minutes in to his comments, Henry Waxman (Democrat Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and lead sponsor of the bill) made a parliamentary inquiry as to whether there was any maximum time that Boehner would be allowed to speak; much to his chagrin, he was told it was the tradition of the House that the chamber would listen to the Leader's remarks in their entirety. It was not the answer Waxman had wanted. And when he tried to object because of how much time Boehner was taking, Boehner responded with a classic Boehner line which you have to actually watch to fully appreciate.

Steve Milloy at his Green Hell blog posted a video clip of this classic moment, which had initially been posted by Boehner's office on YouTube. Here, for your enjoyment, is this great 90-second moment in congressional history:

So what next? Well, it's off to the Senate - more than likely, Barbara Boxer (chairman of the Environment and Public Works) will have first crack at it. The Senate is going to be a much more difficult place for the bill since the House - 100 much more independent minded folks, regardless of party affiliation. Timing is also up in the air; all Harry Reid has committed to is bringing it up for a vote later this year - which could be next month or at 11:59 on New Year's Eve. With that in mind, there's still a lot of work to be done - both in the Senate and by the general public.

What will you do in this time ahead? Will you leave it to the Senate and trust they will do the right thing, or will you educate yourself - about climate change, about the interests of your district and state, and about what your senator will be doing when it comes time to cast their vote?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Waxman-Markey Passes - See How Your Congressman Voted

The Waxman-Markey bill just passed the House on a 219-212 vote - much closer than I'm sure Pelosi was expecting. I'll be blogging more on this later, but wanted to post the vote tally here.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) Hawaii Democrat YEA
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) New York Democrat YEA
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) Alabama Republican NAY
Rep. John Adler (D-N.J.) New Jersey Democrat YEA
Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) Missouri Republican NAY
Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) Lousiana Republican NAY
Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) Pennsylvania Democrat NAY
Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) New Jersey Democrat YEA
Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) New York Democrat NAY
Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio) Ohio Republican NAY
Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) California Democrat YEA
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) Minnesota Republican NAY
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) Alabama Republican NAY
Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) Washington Democrat YEA
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) Wisconsin Democrat YEA
Rep. J. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) South Carolina Republican NAY
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Search Total(s): D - 256 R - 178 I - 0 Y - 219 N - 212

Sunday, June 21, 2009

More from Iran - Early Look at Voting Returns

A story that has been posted within the past few hours on the Times of London website cites an early review of election returns in a handful of provinces in Iran. This review, conducted by a group of British academics, revealed some surprising facts, including:
  • Liberal candidate Medhi Karoubi's home province of Lorestan gave him over 440,000 votes in the election four years ago; this time, he received just 44,000.
  • In two provinces, the number of ballots cast exceeds the number of eligible voters.
  • Some provinces had a voter turnout of 100 percent.

This is only a small sampling of what has been discovered to this point - and undoubtedly of what will be revealed (potentially) in the time ahead. The entire story can be read here.

America's Dollars and Middle Eastern Terrorism

In his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman brings up a point which has stuck in my mind during the events of the past several days:

Finally, through out energy purchases we are funding both sides of the war on terror. That is not an exaggeration. To the extent that our energy purchases enrich conservative, Islamic governments in the Persian Gulf and to the extent that these governments share their windfalls with charities, mosques, religious schools, and individuals in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Dubai, Kuwait, and around the Muslim world, and to the extent that these charities, mosques, and individuals donate some of this wealth to anti-American terrorist groups, suicide bombers, and preachers, we are financing our enemies' armyies as well as our own. We are financing the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps with our tax dollars, and we are indirectly financing, with our energy purchases, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. (p. 80)

During the extensive commentary and analysis about the situation in Iran which I've watched over the past several days, one point that I've heard made numerous times is that a change in the political situation in that country could potentially destabilize such organizations as Hamas and Hezbollah. Additionally, there has been conjecture over a number of years that the Iranian government has been helping to fund and provide manpower for the ongoing insurgency in Iraq, so there is the potential that a shift in the political winds could potentially (but not necessarily) calm the situation in Baghdad and allow the new government there to get its feet underneath.

Assuming Friedman's assessment is correct - and there is no reason to believe it isn't, because his comments aren't the first time I've heard someone assert that it's our money that keeps things going (in a certain manner of speaking) in the Middle East - how much hope should we have that a regime change in Iran will really alter things in a significant way? Any move towards lessening the grip of these terrorist organizations would be an improvement, but it would be overly optimistic to think that it will change things in dramatic fashion. No, it seems to me that if the financial support network is really to take a hit, the United States really needs to rethink its relationship with other oil producing nations.

I have always been a supporter of the notion that we as a nation should look inward when it comes to potential sources of energy (excluding for purposes of this discussion renewable sources). It is a well-known fact that there are tremendous untapped areas of oil and natural gas in both continental and coastal regions of the United States, but numerous groups over many years have blocked repeated efforts to reduce our dependency on foreign resources and become more self-sufficient. However, we haven't done anything to reduce our reliance on other nations, despite repeated admonitions of American presidents, Republican and Democrat alike.

Where do we stand now? According to the website of T. Boone Pickens and his Pickens Plan, we as a country currently import 65% of all the oil we consume to the tune of $475 billion in 2008. Friedman cites a report from the Centre for Global Energy Studies predicting that in 2008, OPEC nations could expect to receive $600 billion (as it turned out, they earned $645 billion in the first half of 2008 alone). Of the 11 OPEC nations, two - Iraq and Libya - were at one time on the official list of state sponsors of terrorism - from them, in 2008 we imported roughly 266 million barrels of oil; two others that are rumored to provide terrorist assistance - Saudi Arabia and Syria - were the source of an additional 562 million barrels that same year.

Using the 562 million number for Syria and Saudi Arabia, at the current price of $70/barrel, you're looking at roughly $39 billion handed over to nations with alleged links to terrorism. Operating off of Friedman's statement I cited at the beginning of this post, how much of a dent do you think we would make in the operations of terrorist organizations if we quit buying oil overseas and started buying American instead? How quickly would these nations rethink their support if one of their biggest customers started shopping elsewhere? If it was a choice between keeping the Western-type lifestyle they have adapted with the flood of oil revenue or keeping ties to terrorist organizations, which do you think these governments would choose?

Optimistically, I would like to say they would choose the former rather than the latter. Realistically, it's difficult to say...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

History in the Making in the Streets of Iran

I have a vague recollection of the time 30 years ago when the regime of the Shah of Iran was overthrown, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to take charge of that nation, and employees of the United States embassy in Tehran were taken hostage and held for over a year. I can also remember - and I don't know whether it is a legitimate memory or whether it stems from having seen similar footage over the years - the news broadcasts night after night showing tens of thousands of Iranians out in the streets celebrating the new supreme leader and cursing the United States.

Now, three decades letter, history is once again being made in Iran - except this time the tens of thousands of people marching in the streets are protesting their current supreme leader, their president, and the results of what can only be assumed at this point to have been a sham, fixed presidential election. Equally as significant, the Iranian people are now reaching out to the very same Western nations that were being cursed in the late 1970s. Could we be watching the birth of a new democracy, or will the protests which seem to be growing larger each end - God forbid - in the same manner as the protests in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago?

The entire situation is fascinating to me for a variety of reasons. First, the sheer number of reports found on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook is absolutely amazing; just in the past few days, I have started following some very interesting folks on Twitter that are providing near-constant news bursts, video clips and photographs of many of the major events that global news networks have been prevented from covering. I think that citizen reporting provides a much more direct impact and sense of what's going on than any news network here in the U.S. could give us. Second, this is the first time I can recall that a potential revolutionary change is taking place in front of the world; with the 2003 Rose Revolution in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, I don't remember there being nearly this much coverage of the events as they unfolded.

Look at just a small sample of some of the Twitter comments that I'm seeing pop up at a very fast pace:

- FB report: shouts of Allah o Akbar in holy city of Mashhad "explosive" -- loudest it has ever been.

- WHOLE city is shaking with very loud screams from rooftops. Their loud voices calling only for God is filled with fear, hatred, and hope.

- Change has already started. Only part of this change is about winning the elections. The other part will continue.

- Guards tried to stop people by using fire truck & high pressure water, then used tear gas, started to attack and beat people.

Of course, what we're seeing in Iran right now could end up impacting the entire Middle East. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer just ran through a list of points demonstrating how a regime change in Iran could undermine Hamas and Hezbollah and cut off a major supply network for terrorist organizations and activities throughout the region. A new democratic government could change the entire dynamic in the area, the same way the new government in Iraq is giving freer forms of citizen rule a foothold.

No one knows at this point where this will all end. For the time being, we can only watch and wait - and as much as I would like our government to say more about this than the very bland "The world is watching" remark from the President, there is nothing else we can do; even I have to admit that I agree with Obama's comment that anything we do will give other Middle Eastern governments cause to accuse us of meddling in their affairs. That, of course, doesn't matter to many folks here in this country - as I write this, a pro-Iran protest is forming in front of the White House (and Obama is home, so I assume he sees it), and apparently similar protests are forming across the country.

I only wish my daughters were old enough so that they could see this for themselves and learn a bit about how what is happening now could easily change the world in which they are growing up.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Following the Trail of Carbon Footprints

Carbon footprint.

Carbon offsets.

Green houses.

Green jobs.

Energy efficiency.

Global health.

If you haven’t had at least one of these phrases thrown at you – by television commentators, op-ed and editorial writers, or by someone with whom you’ve been having a conversation – during the past week, then you are one of the fortunate ones who must be isolated from the rest of civilization. (Side bar: If you are, please let me know how to get there so that my family and I can escape the insanity that resides inside the Beltway.) The cap-and-trade side of things has certainly been a big issue for my place of employment, and I can tell you that after having read all 900-plus pages of the Waxman-Markey bill (H.R. 2454 for all of you policy wonks out there), there’s some scary stuff on the horizon – and I hope folks take the time to educate themselves before it’s too late.

I finally caved and took some time today to use one of the multiple on-line tools to determine the level of environmental destruction that my family is thrusting upon the earth (or at least our little portion of Northern Virginia). The first one ( calculated, after I answered a series of questions on energy usage and recycling and shopping habits, that we are responsible for 6.44 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Based on the cool little “footprint” graph on the results page, that’s less than half of the national average and more than twice the world target.

Moving on, I tried a second calculator developed by the Nature Conservancy ( and after answering very similar questions was told that we are responsible for 55 tons of emissions per year.

Say what? Well, which is it? My habits didn’t change between the first and second calculator (unless my wife burned down the George Washington National Forest during those four minutes), and yet the Conservancy holds us accountable for 49 more tons of emissions each year. This itself presents the first problem: how, if the government is going to try and restrict (sorry; “cap” – there you go, Chairman Waxman), will they calculate who is responsible for what? I can honestly say I don’t have much confidence at all in the scientific data that will be used o the methodology for gathering this information – particularly if an organization like the Nature Conservancy is going to blame me for nearly 400 percent more emissions than your average group.

Next, I was given the option of offsetting the natural disaster that my wife and kids and I have unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Yes, long before industry will be required to do so through auction, I can purchase my very own offset credits. Here are samples of what I can spend (just for my 6.44 tons; I didn’t bother looking for the 55 tons):

Certified Emission Reduction - fully verified by Kyoto/United Nations standards and used to support Clean Development Mechanism projects. Cost: $174.39

Clean Energy Portfolio – supports clean energy generation projects around the world. Cost: $90.20

Americas Portfolio – supports reforestation projects in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. Cost: $95.67

Reforestation in Kenya – supports “the planting of broad leaved trees in the Great Rift Valley” (sounds glamorous). Cost: $89.15 (for seven trees)

UK Tree Planting – does just what it says, although you get to pick the region of the UK that you’d like to reforest. Cost: $145.61 (for seven trees)

This brings up question two: who’s administering this money, and what guarantee is it that in our effort to mitigate our personal environmental destruction this money will actually even go to whom and what they claim it will? Here’s an interesting quote from Steve Milloy in Green Hell:

The CO2 offset marketplace is pretty shady. According to an August 2008 report by the General Accounting Office, carbon offsets have no uniform quality assurance mechanisms or standards of verification and monitoring. “Participants in the offset market face challenges ensuring credibility of offsets,” the GAO concluded. In other words, buyers have little idea whether the offsets they buy actually reduce CO2 emissions.

Milloy continues, “Former Clinton administration official Joseph Romm bluntly summed up the situation, writing that ‘the vast majority of offsets are, at some level, just rip-offsets.’”

So to review: we need to adjust our carbon footprint, but no one can accurately calculate our footprint; we need to buy personal offsets to mitigate our footprint, but no one can assure us the money is going to where it is intended – or how much of it is actually going anywhere other than the pockets of those administering the program.

Are the sorts of changes we would need to make even feasible? Milloy says, “Based on my carbon footprint profile, to meet this goal I’d have to driving, flying, using electricity, and heating and cooling my home.” All cases may not be as extreme, but how much will you have to scale back your life and habits to compensate?

Moreover, are you willing to do it?

Monday, May 25, 2009

On the Republican Ship, Am I a Valued Passenger or Relegated to Steerage?

Over the past several years, the core of my Republican ideology has undergone a shift. Fiscally, I’m still extremely conservative, but I have become much more moderate when it comes to consideration of many social issues. So naturally, in the midst of the ongoing debate among the two wings of the GOP, I began to wonder – depending on how many more moderate members are driven out in the weeks and months ahead – what place there would be for me in the “big tent.”

A few days ago, I posed that question to an acquaintance that is much more conservative on every issue than me. This is the response I got: "What you're saying doesn't make any sense. You're either a Conservative or, you're a Liberal. You are for sale to the song & dance that makes you feel warm & fuzzy."

This was not at all the response I expected, and I certainly didn’t think that he would take that opportunity to insult me and accuse me of being for sale. The positions I hold were ones that I developed after a lot of careful thought, not because it was the “cool” thing to do. What this person did do, whether he realizes it or not, was reinforce to me the difficulties that the party is facing – and will face well into the future if certain self-proclaimed party leaders continue to drive folks away. Rush Limbaugh is certainly not the person to whom I hold allegiance, and it had come to the point where I was really feeling a great deal of sympathy for what Colin Powell has been put through in recent month.

The future of the party was a big topic of discussion on the Sunday talk shows yesterday, some of which I am still in the process of weeding through (thank God for iTunes and podcast subscriptions!!). However, I was pleased to see Secretary Powell, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and Newt Gingrich all address the issue directly. Here are excerpts from their remarks:

Powell: I have always felt the Republican Party should be more inclusive than it generally has been over the years. I believe we need a strong Republican Party that is not just anchored in the base but has built on the base to include more individuals. And if we don’t do that – if we don’t reach out more – the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. And you can only do two things with a base: you can sit on it and watch the world go by; or you can build on the base. And I believe we should build on the base.

Ridge: It’s a matter of language and a matter of how you use words. It does get the base all fired up and he’s [Rush] got a strong following. But personally, if he would listen to me and I doubt if he would, the notion is express yourselves, but let’s respect other opinions and let’s not be divisive.

Gingrich: The Republican Party has to be a broad party that appeals across the country. To be a national party, you have to have a big enough tent that you inevitably have fights inside the tent.

Powell also raised some important points, some of which the right-wing of the party tends to be overlooking.

  • Lost the presidency by 10 million votes.
  • Both houses of Congress are more solidly under Democrat control.
  • Whole areas of the nation that were traditionally Republican have switched Democrat, including Virginia, Florida and Nevada.
  • The GOP is losing ground in every demographic: north; south; east; west; men; women; black; white; Hispanic.
  • The number of those who identify themselves as Republicans has fallen into the low 20s, and many of those are moderates and right-of-center Republicans who are concerned about the right wing of the party.

I recognize the fact that those who are looking to take the GOP further right are no less committed in their ideologies than I am in mine. What they seem to be overlooking, however, is that the harder they work to move the party to the right and exclude more moderate Republicans, the less relevant the party will become in the years ahead. Powell is right: the party does need to take a hard look at itself. I don’t think that flashy new public relations campaigns and listening tours are the way to do it; if party leadership was listening, they would already know where the concerns can be found and who the ones who are concerned are.

There are occasionally rumblings of a third party comprised of the moderate/independent segment of this country developing in the not-too-distant future; if this is the attitude the hardcore conservatives are going to take, then the creation of such a new party would not surprise me in the least.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Are You in the Market for a State?

Could a federal government bailout of the state of California be charging at us full speed? Put another way: are you and I about to pay for the financial mismanagement of that state’s legislature and governor?

There’s no firm answer at this point, but the warning signs are there. Voters in that state just rejected (overwhelmingly, I might add) a series of ballot initiatives that would have among other things significantly raised a variety of tax rates in order to compensate for the financial shortfall. The state’s ability to raise short-term funds as they do each year to make up for budget gaps looks to be in big trouble, as there is a significant level of discomfort over the security of their bonds. A budget proposal offered by Governor Schwarzenegger offers the possibility of significant cuts in education funding (with the accompanying layoff of thousands of teachers), reductions in health care funding, and turning the jurisdiction of state prisoners over to federal authorities.

And I’m sure the list of “we may have to” options doesn’t end there. So what happens now?

In his column today in the Washington Post, columnist George Will offers a possible scenario of what would happen if control of California’s finances is turned over to the Obama Administration:

These factions [unionized public employees and other parties responsible for these problems] will flourish if the state becomes a federal poodle on a short leash held by the president. He might make aid conditional on the state doing things that California Democrats and their union allies would love to be “compelled” to do: eliminate the requirements of two-thirds majorities of both houses of the legislature to raise taxes and pass budgets, and repeal Proposition 13, which voters passed in 1978 to limit property taxes. These changes would enable the legislature (job approval rating: 14 percent) to siphon away an ever-larger share of taxpayers’ wealth and transfer it to public employees.

Let’s review: massive, multi-billion dollar gifts to Chrysler and General Motors to help right those sinking ships, and yet they continue to sink. “Gifts” seems to me to be a very appropriate word, since part of any bankruptcy filing would be forgiveness of those debts. As one person said this week, why would you expect repayment from a company that you own?

Massive, multi-billion dollar injections into our banking institutions, and no sign that things are getting better. In fact, all we hear is Secretary Geithner saying that there are promising signs.

We’ll never see one dollar of any of these amounts returned. Are you willing to foot the bill for another potential takeover – not of a corporation, but of a state? And with a history of recall elections in California, where is the outrage of voters over the performance of those they sent to office and a threat to recall them and try again?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Waxman-Markey and Senator Kennedy

The Waxman-Markey climate change marathon markup is underway, and I have to admit that between reading the bill in its entirety and listening to the day’s worth of amendment debate I’m tapped out (or is it capped out?). It’s been an interesting session – sometimes heated, sometimes entertaining, but always educational for me, particularly since (as I’ve alluded in previous posts on this blog) the entire issue of climate change is one which I’ve only come to in recent months.

I have to applaud the members of the committee for their overall civility and – at this stage – a surprising amount of bipartisanship. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have expected any of the amendments to be approved on a 50-4 vote, and I would like to think this bodes well for the spirit, if not the content, of the debate in the coming days.

Or is that coming weeks? Earlier this afternoon, during debate on one of the amendments, I did a quick bit of math. There are roughly 440 amendments remaining, and Chairman Markey stated he intends to work well into the evening each day (so, figure 16-hour days). Debate on each amendment has been averaging roughly an hour. Taking all these factors into account, at its present rate the committee should be done with markup in about 27 days.

Granted, debate at this point is still focusing on Title I of the bill. The more contentious issues relating to allowance allocation, a potential border adjustment program, regulation of the allowance market, involvement of hedge funds and financial institutions, and many other areas are still to come. Although many folks (a recent poll had the number I believe at 72 percent) feel something needs to be done about the climate, and done soon, I’m sure that by and large they don’t understand the ramifications of what’s being done.

Is it a jobs-generating bill? Is it a jobs-killing bill? Will it result in higher taxes? Will it result in lower taxes? Is your power bill going up? Is your power bill going down? There are a lot of questions remaining, and depending on who you ask there are just as many answers. I’ll be posting my random thoughts here in the days ahead.
As an aside, there was a report this afternoon that Senator Kennedy’s brain cancer is in remission and that he will be returning to the Senate after the Memorial Day recess to take charge (in person; I think he’s always been in charge) of the upcoming health care overhaul legislation.

I’m no fan of his policies, but I am an admirer of his tenaciousness and his desire to see health care reform through to the end – and his desire to continue representing his constituents. I don’t know if I’ll like the bill, but I applaud his return and pray for his continued recovery.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cap-and-Trade - Can Someone Explain This Week's Rush?

Ah, cap-and-trade legislation – the very mention of it brings a smile to my fa…. Oh, wait; no it doesn’t!!

Yes, I agree that the planet is an extremely important asset worthy of protection. Yes, I agree that perhaps we’ve waited far too long to address the major issues involving climate protection, greenhouse gases, energy intensive industry, green jobs, renewable energy – you name it.

But we’ve waited this long, so I ask, “Why the rush to push a flawed bill through so quickly?” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman rolled out his “compromise” bill (“compromise” meaning that he got most if not all of the committee Democrats on board, but no Republicans) last Friday afternoon at 3:00, after members were headed to their districts. Just a short time ago, the planned five-day markup began with opening statements by committee members, with the actual amendment process beginning tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. And by God, he’s going to get this thing done by close-of-business on Friday.

How many people could have possibly read a 932-page bill since Friday night? I have a copy of it on my desk to read (for my job, not as someone who loves a ripping good piece of legislation) and have included two photos here so that you can see how large it is.

932 pages. A stack of paper four inches in height. Nearly two reams of paper just to print it out for review in-house.

Once again, Congress is about to vote on something they haven’t read – and that’s something at which they’ve gotten very good. Economic stimulus bill? Auto bailout legislation? TARP legislation? And now cap-and-trade?

I know; vote now, ask questions later. The problem is, it’s all of us who will be asking the questions…..

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Attention on the Environment - But at What Cost?

Don't let the title of this post fool you; there is no new global focus on environmental issues. No, the new interest in the environment is now my own - as you'll note by the new "Environmental Blogs" section on the right side of this page.

Historically, my interest in politics has been much more focused on the campaigns and the backroom deals and the impact of the good-old-boys system of doing things. The environment was never one of those sexy topics that drew my attention, despite all of the interest brought to the topic in recent years by such folks as Al Gore and his "Inconvenient" book and documentary and lecture series. With the new political makeup in Washington, however, and the push for the new Waxman-Markey climate bill - which will have an impact on me both at my job and in my home - I decided that perhaps the time for increasing my knowledge on environmental issues was starting to pass me by.

Putting away the competing opinions and the disparate research and all of the opposing views on whether global warming is real and whether we are to blame or not for the current state of the environment, I do agree that it is our duty to protect the planet. However, Waxman-Markey is far too ambitious a plan to try with the economy in its current state. It's taken decades to get to this point, and while I can understand the idea of striking while the iron is hot I think that a 648-page bill to address everything all at once is the wrong approach - particularly when the bill isn't even complete, no one can agree on what it should include, and the financial impact on consumers and businesses could be disastrous.

Problem number 1: the cost to families. Depending on the extent to which high-emitting companies are subject to either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, their increased costs will most likely be passed on to consumers. Power company X, for instance, pays a $15 tax for every ton of emissions; the increased costs are passed on to each of us in our monthly power bills. This won't even just apply to power companies; concrete manufacturers, as another example, will also incur increased manufacturing costs as a result of environmental fees, driving up the cost of those products to anyone looking to do construction and utilize their products. Where will the additional money that we need come from?

Problem number 2: additional cost to business. Aside from the potential for increased costs passed on to their consumers, businesses will also be forced with some difficult operational decisions. The amount of money they will be required to spend in taxes, the purchase of emission allowance certificates, and emissions monitoring equipment will have to come from somewhere - and after passing on the costs to others, the next place to look will be inward: employee salaries and benefits. How many jobs will the current bill end up costing? Some estimates indicate numbers as high as 2.5 million new unemployed by 2015.

I certainly believe that there are changes we can all make - simple things like keeping power usage to a minimum, replacing light bulbs with new eco-friendly brands, and any number of other things that are recommend to reduce our carbon footprints. I also believe that we should be looking for alternative sources of energy; wind is already used in certain areas, hydroelectric power is in use, and even nuclear power remains an option. Getting off foreign oil should be a priority - not a campaign promise; even the new President has echoed that argument in recent weeks, but I have a feeling that he - like all of his predecessor - will not necessarily rush to do so.

But is this legislative gamble worth it to make up for the decades of talk that we've heard but action that we haven't seen? Are the jobs and costs to American families worth having Congress push through a bill that at this point isn't even complete? I've read the bill, and I can't begin to tell you the number of places that are incomplete - places that essentially read "fill in later." In the past few days alone, Chairman Waxman has indicated that he will consider bypassing subcomittee markup and moving straight to full committee - and thus bypass all of those from both sides of the aisle, representing a diverse set of constituencies, who have great concerns about where the bill is headed and the impact it will have.

Again, we need to be concerned, but we need to be prudent and make sure that what we do to save the environment doesn't destroy the economy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Does Specter's Switch Really Make a Difference?

Today's announcement by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter that he was switching parties and running as a Democrat in the 2010 primary didn't come as much of a surprise to me, and truthfully I was expecting him to make this move long before now. Even though he has been flying the Republican banner for the past 30 years, he has voted with Democrats on quite a few occasions - one of the most prominent being the recent vote, along with Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to support the President's $787 billion economic stimulus bill. The more he has voted with his colleagues across the aisle, the more he has turned off the conservative base of the Republican Party.

Now I recognize that there are many situations in which bipartisanship is needed, and as such there are many members who are put in a difficult situation - vote with the party, or vote with your constituency. I'm not entirely familiar with the politics of Pennsylvania, aside from the fact that it is a heavily unionized state with a large blue-collar voter base. Specter has managed to get reelected in this demographic four times for what I can only assume has been voter satisfaction with his moderate stance.

This year, however, more conservative challengers are being run in primaries against Republican moderates in an effort to punish them for their efforts to reach across the aisle. Pat Toomey, who came close to upsetting Specter in the Republican primary five years ago, was polled recently with a 47-21 lead in advance of next year's race. And with such major issues as card check legislation looming on the horizon, Specter found himself walking a very fine line. In the case of card check, does he vote for cloture and lose his Republican support, or does he vote against cloture and birng about the wrath of the unions and Democrat voters.

His course of action? Change the initial behind his name and avoid Toomey - and many of the other issues - until the general election, when he stands a better chance at winning a sixth term. This seems like a baseless accusation at first hearing, but in his afternoon press conference Specter plainly stated that he was doing this because he couldn't win as a Republican.

Consider that for a moment: HE couldn't win as a Republican, so he switched parties. Is he looking out for his constituency, or himself? To me, he's only got one thing in mind - political survival - and it appears he's pretty much guaranteed that.

You'll recall that Senator Lieberman made a similar decision in his last race in Connecticut, but I see a very big difference in what others are trying to paint as a parallel. Lieberman, despite losing the backing of major-league Democrats, continued with his fight in the primary, and when he lost, he took it to the people again and ran as an Independent. He didn't switch parties; he took his moderate views into the center and left it up to all the state's voters, who sent him back to the Senate. I hardly see a parallel with Specter; he saw he couldn't win, but instead of running the race to the end and possibly considering taking the same route as Lieberman he jumped ship. Personally, I see that as a much more cowardly route than that taken by Lieberman.

After the announcement, Specter told the President, "I will be a loyal Democrat." That really shouldn't engender much confidence in either party. First, as a Republican, he supported legislation on several occasions to which his party was opposed. Now, however, as a Democrat, he is saying that he will not change his views and will in fact continue to oppose cloture on such issues as card check - a view opposite that of a majority of his new party mates. As one person commented today, why should the Democrats now trust Specter any more than the Republicans have in recent years?

Another question was raised by consultant Kevin Madden as a Twitter post this afternoon: with Specter's jump, what will this mean for Senators Snowe and Collins, who tend to be as moderate as him? Will they feel mounting pressure to change affiliation and cross the aisle? If so, what will it mean for their reelection chances in their own races in the next few years?

Over the next few days, despite ongoing conversations about Harry Reid drooling over the potential of a filibuster-proof majority, this story will start to wind down. However, the Minnesota race is drawing to a close (pending a state Supreme Court ruling), and the story will be revived at that point. I'm sure that Al Franken is doing his own drooling right now about the fact that he is this close to bringing Democrats to that magic number.