Democracy Arsenal

October 30, 2007

Capitol Hill

Linking Environment and National Security: Law of the Sea
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last week I had breakfast with a friend who works in the Senate as a national security staffer. In years past, we worked together in Congress and frequently schemed to get issues like climate change onto the national security agendas of staff and Members. Given Al Gore's Nobel Prize, the fact that the Pentagon had released a study linking the two issues, plus the discrediting of much of Bush foreign policy, I asked him about the recent turnaround in perceptions about the seriousness of climate change: was it having an impact on framing the urgency of the issue on Capitol Hill?

He said climate change has bumped up the environment a little bit...but that linking the two essentially remains a tough sell. It helps that the House now has a climate change panel, and that our overdue obsession with energy issues brings the environment in on the margin....but that it was hard to make headway given oversight logjams on issues like military privatization (which was basically ignored for a decade) plus the constant soundtrack on Iraq. Plus the learning curve is made even more steep by the lack of a clear vocabulary, including local anecdotes, linking the environment with national security.

Although the traction is improving, progressives need a long term plan that includes both policy options and a communications strategy that will link environment with security. Like many challenges that involve the common good and extended public deliberation, nothing can be taken for granted since the Right has filled the quiet spaces with an intentional misinformation campaign. We have a chance this week to reverse this situation:

The Law of the Sea Treaty will be considered in the Senate on Wednesday. If you care about broadening the definition of security to include global issues like climate, health, migration or water just to name a few-- then pay attention...

Continue reading "Linking Environment and National Security: Law of the Sea" »

July 12, 2007

Capitol Hill

Internet helps Congress: Bushco hates Congress
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I just listened to CSPAN radio's coverage of the Senate Judiciary Hearing today.White House political director Sara Taylor testified. Poor thing, so young to have lost so much of her memory. Harriet Miers didn't show up (taking a page from the Rumsfeld playbook?) and only one Republican Senator was in attendance. A citation for contempt of Congress is in the works...but it has been pretty obvious for the past seven years that today's Executive Branch disdains the fundamental tenets of democracy. We just hear about it now because the Dems have a few microphones turned on.

When I worked on the Hill in the 1990s, the internet was just getting traction...(like many federal agencies, most people had a hotmail or yahoo accounts to circumvent the clunky federal system) Many offices stayed on Word Perfect until this century! It has always been a challenge to manage information on Capitol Hill...After the 9/11 attacks, that became even more dysfunctional, as mail had to be irradiated, messengers were not allowed into the building and the place was not set up for the onslaught of emails that began pouring in. It was like a big vortex of data with no search engines.

Today, electronic communication presents endless opportunity to help Congress in nearly every way, from basic communication to oversight responsibilities.

Check out this new blog that follows climate change on the Hill.
Here's one that uses a wiki technology to compile information and events of the day.

I also ran across a post today at OpenLeft speculating about why only one of nine women congressional candidates challengers won last fall, while nearly all the male challengers did (twenty out of twenty one). I suspect that perceptions on national security has something to do with this.

May 23, 2007

Capitol Hill

Is the supplemental debate for naught?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Before tempers flare about the Democrats backing down from deadlines in the war supplemental (a story with dubious origins btw) the following makes one pause:

OMB Watch has just put out a report on a little-known law -the Feed and Forage Act- that seems to give the President broad powers to fund war efforts- even without an enacted appropriations bill.

So even if the negotiations over the war funding supplemental drag on, the President could meet the needs of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Read it here.

December 13, 2006

Capitol Hill

Congress: the Progressive List
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Here is the post from last week that I skipped because technology failed me while I was in New Orleans:  But first my weekly rant:

This article at Oneworld  makes the depressing case that the Dems will not change much on defense--that their ideological clinginess will keep those monster Cold War weapons programs in the budget.  Has anybody else noticed the over the top  Lockheed Martin, "We Never Forget Who We Work For" ads lately?  I can almost see the slobber on my TV set after they play.

One more thing and I'll hush.  I was at an event last week that included a Defense Department speaker who was asked about the future of the military in peace and stabilization type missions (the implication being that today's military is lacking and or not really interested).  He said that we need to "incentivize" these new missions so the defense industry would be interested.  Um.  WHAT?!!!!  How about telling these corporations--who live on the taxpayer's dime--to do what you tell them to do?  hmmmm...civilian oversight. What a concept.  Keep in mind, World War II was won and the Air Force was created through a helpful partneship between industry and government.  Where is that corporate patriotism today? Skiing in Aspen, I suppose.  Or maybe clipping the topiary on the Fairfax County farmette.  You can bet its somewhere they can forget who they are working for.

Okay, back to my post. We need to continue to make the case that last month's election were a progressive victory. My fellow political junkie Darcy Scott Martin  recently sent me a list of victorious candidates categorized by progressive potential. I'm going to be keeping an eye on these folks and hopefully finding an angle on their national security (I'm not kidding about the wiki ) platforms. Will they be new strong voices or, will they take the path of least resistance and stay away from the issue? Approximately a third of the newly elected members coming in are full fledged progressives.  They are:

FIRST CATEGORY: PROGRESSIVES......

Continue reading "Congress: the Progressive List" »

November 09, 2006

Capitol Hill

Speaker Pelosi: Heal the Institution
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

For the last several years, I have been riding my bike home, out of the Rayburn Building, down the Mall and then along the river to Adams Morgan, the neighborhood in DC where I live. Every evening, I'd stop my bike, turn around at the reflecting pool and say to the lit and glowing Capitol building, "Just hold on, it's going to be okay"

My love affair with the US Congress has existed since I was a teenage intern. And halleluja, we now have the chance to make things right again.

I'm sure I speak for many when I say that those of us who have been working on the inside of Congress over the past decade feel a special gratitude for what happened on Tuesday. Our poor beleaguered legislature  has been so tormented, its processes so polluted, that to simply re-establish basic rules of oversight and participation will seem revolutionary.

I watched the returns come in on Tuesday with a statistics scholar who specializes in the US Government. Like two civics-weenies I lamented about the erosion of the legislative branch while he chimed in about the agencies. All of which--after 6 years of the Bush
Administration-- look like the institutional equivalent of swiss cheese.  From intimidated bureaucrats to over-privatized responsibilities, our government is hurting badly. Many election autopsies had two things in common: 1. that this victory is owed to the
conservative swerve by Democrats and 2. that there is no mandate but lots of opportunity.  I think the first is bunk, this was a progressive victory. But I do agree with number two: The situation is rich with opportunity. With or without the White House, Congress can now establish a governing philosophy that carries on the American tradition of progressive leadership.

Opportunities for Congress:

Get busy repairing the Spirit of the Law while working to restore the letter of the Law: The Pelosi principles of integrity, civility and accountability are good starting points. This imperative is the difference between the moral obligations and the legal obligations of elected leadership. As we've learned, Congress doesn't HAVE to be truly representative. (locking your colleagues out of rooms, denying recognition, not allowing dialogue on the House floor).  The first rule of conflict resolution is to be as generous and inclusive

Continue reading "Speaker Pelosi: Heal the Institution" »

November 08, 2006

Capitol Hill

Five Things Congress Could Do in Six Months
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

further to what Shadi and Suzanne have written on what next (ok, maybe we couldn't pass an energy transformation bill in six months, but it'd sure be worth trying):

1.  Homeland Security.  9-11 Commission recommendations, especially (finally) creating stronger standards for chemical plants and other hazardous-material facilities.  If they can't be passed, it'd be clear why.  And oversight, oversight, oversight.

2.  Reinvigorate a real non-proliferation agenda.  The US has been absent or outright hostile to efforts to re-invigorate the global non-proliferation regime for the 21st century.  It's time to turn that around, because the global consensus has never been under more threat, or more needed.  Various experts have put forward ideas on how to create verification and enforcement mechanisms that are relevant to the 21st century. Congress should, as Senator Clinton proposed last week, hold hearings that spotlight the problem and air possible responses.

3.  Energy Transformation.  I don't under-estimate the difficulty of this, but quite a few Senators, D and R (Lugar, Obama, Lieberman, Kerry, Clinton and more), have put forward thoughtful proposals about how to move forward toward a cleaner energy future and away from our dependence on oil and the resulting deformation of our foreign policy.  Several of them are thinking of running for President, so it ought to be in their interest to move something through Congress.

4.  Global Warming.  While they're at it on #3, direct the Administration to re-engage in international climate talks and come up with a next phase proposal.  Have some hearings to start acquainting the public with what that might entail.

5.  Europe.  I'd start thinking now about making sure we send really strong, well-briefed delegations to the various winter security conferences in Western Europe, with the message that partnership is back in business, that we want to listen to our allies but we also have some clear priorities and ideas about how we can move forward on neglected common interests.

Three other, less well-formed ideas:  high-profile inquiry into what more we could be doing to support democracy in Latin America; go back to the many good initiatives on Iraq that got partway through Congress earlier this year, maybe starting with mandating more specific progress reports and benchmarks from the Administration; invite new UNSG Ban Ki Moon down to Congress and have three well-publicized reform priorities to give him (betcha Suzanne could come up with those in a heartbeat).

Oh, and overturn the "global gag rule" that has made our international family planning assistance a nightmare for small rural clinics that are all-in-one shops offering women's health, family planning and abortion services.

November 02, 2006

Capitol Hill

"When Congress Checks Out"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

My inbox is just full of goodies today...  I try very hard not to act as a pass-through for press releases, but I'm making an exception for this Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann article which is to appear in the next Foreign Affairs.  The red-and-blue political analyst duo make an extensive and thoughtful case for the assertion that

congressional oversight of the executive across a range of policies, but especially on foreign and national security policy, has virtually collapsed. The few exceptions, such as the tension-packed Senate hearings on the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib in 2004, only prove the rule.

(This appears, by the way, to be drawn from a broader book they've done on Congressional oversight.)  Interestingly, they trace the beginning of the decline to the GOP's re-taking of Congress in the 1990s.  Somewhat counter-intuitive.  It certainly felt to those of us inside the Clinton Administration that we were been foolishly but extensively overseen by Congress.  But I'll look forward to reading the whole thing -- and, more important, seeing how a closely-divided Senate opts to mend its ways starting in January...

October 05, 2006

Capitol Hill

Congress and Iraq: The Lying and the Dying
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

"Predatorgate" and the self-immolation of Congress has swept the headlines for the fourth straight day. In that same amount of time, we've lost a 22 Americans in Iraq and civilian carnage is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, tomorrow is the fifth anniversary  of the war in Afghanistan and Congress has slashed funding  for veterans with brain injuries.

Having worked in Congress for the past 8 years,I can say I'm not completely surprised at the majority's undoing. This is a situation where old tropes explain a lot, like absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I have still never found a better report on the degeneration of our legislature than this Boston Globe series  from 2004. It sets the stage for what is happening today.

Until and unless there is a balance of power in Washington, this kind of covering-up, lying and trying to circumvent both laws and ethical conduct will persist.  Speaker Hastert should resign out of embarrassment for what he has presided over. Add to that the extraordinary corruption of the Iraq contracting process, the Katrina contracting process, the selling off of "earmarks", the arrest and jailing of a series of top Congressional staffers turned "lobbyists," the creation of a K street goon squad, shaking down business interests for campaign contributions, the systemic buying off of journalists, the degradation of the committee and budgeting process, the zero oversight, the acceptance of torture, warrentless spying on American citizens. This is a shameful period in our history.   

What's happening today isn't an accident, but an outcome. It points out why liberals need to include a new vision of government--one that unifies us and protects the public--in their message for a changed direction.  No more running on that aw-shucks libertarian platform of the government as the bad guy.

Today's leadership has done far more damage than is evident on the evening news.

Continue reading "Congress and Iraq: The Lying and the Dying" »

September 07, 2006

Capitol Hill

Bolton vote pulled
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

This from Reuters, posted at 10:20 am today:

(Latest is that Lincoln Chafee is leaning toward a "no" vote)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
on Thursday scrubbed a planned vote on President George W. Bush's bid to keep
John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, did not explain why
the vote on whether to send Bolton's nomination to the full Senate was removed
from the day's agenda and did not say if or when it would be taken up again.

July 13, 2006

Capitol Hill

National SecurityTradeoffs--Its not Just the Left Anymore
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last month, Congress weenies got excited when the Senate unanimously voted to make supplemental spending for our ongoing wars part of the regular budget --and several House Armed Services Members agreed that this was an important discussion. This news is good and bad. Good because it will improve the oversight process (which has nearly broken down completely in the realm of national security)  Bad because, barring new revenue sources (like taxes)  we will completely bust out of our budget caps with war spending stuffed in there (it could be hundreds of billions of dollars more in coming years).  Supplemental spending is deemed emergency, so doesn't have to be offset by reductions in other federal spending.  If this comes to pass and the current gang stays in power--a distinct possibility given gerrymandered districts, sketchy voting machines and astonishingly--citizens who would continue to vote for them--we can kiss every other piece of public service and infrastructure that we take for granted goodbye. Its the government hater/public sector privateer dream. (short aside, I just received an invite  from Heritage Foundation  about "moral reconstruction" post Katrina--the blurb posits that derelict human spirit was responsible for the hurricane's aftermath. Um. No. How about a stripped and demoralized federal government staffed by fraternity cronies?)

But a new and unusual voice has thrown down the glove on national security priorities.  Rep. John Murtha, a "pro-defense" Democrat and hawk has put forward a formidable statement of priorities.  This might be the legitimizing action that will create the sort of guns vs. guns debate we've been waiting for. His July 11th letter to Capitol Hill Colleages begins:

We are spending $8 billion a month in Iraq.  That equates to 2 billion dollars a week, or 267 million dollars a day, or 11 million dollars AN HOUR.

Attached are some comparisons between what we are spending in Iraq as we "stay the course" indefinitely and what those funds could be used for instead.

Here are some of the first tradeoff items:

$33.1 billion/yr    Department of Homeland Security FY 07 budget
(4 months in Iraq)       

$10 billion (1-time)    Equipping commercial airliners with defenses against shoulder fired
(5 weeks in Iraq)        missiles    

$8.6 billion/7 years    Shortage of international aid needed to rebuild Afghanistan
(one month in Iraq)       

Read the rest of the document and dollar comparisons here .  Just as Murtha's statements on Iraq last winter changed the flavor of the debate on ending the war, this sort of document might really help jump start the discussion we need to look at real threats and resources for the post 9/11 world we're in.

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