Our hardworking folks in Congress: more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs

When voters elect members of Congress, they are hiring them to do a job. Voters, through their taxes, compensate those politicians well — $174,000 a year, and more if they have committee or leadership roles.

Many, if not most, voters — unless they are among the 12.5 million without jobs — work about 35 hours a week for a median income of about $32,000. They get perhaps two weeks of paid vacation each year. But a member of the House of Representatives this year was scheduled to show up for only 89 days from January to November. He (and it’s generally “he,” not “she“) is taking off a week in February, another in April, still another in May, and — get this — the whole of August and the first week of September. “It’s too hot in the city in August,” he tells you, then takes off for week-long conventions in the hot, humid Deep South before working only eight days in September. That’s 89 days out of the 172 days voters will be at work (minus a few paid holidays) before Nov. 6. Continue reading

A Senate re-election announcement you'll never hear

A make-up woman brushes a small lock of my hair so it drapes slightly over my forehead. That errant wisp tested well with focus groups of women. I glance at the TelePrompter, reciting silently the first few lines. My administrative aide, a former K Street lobbyist doing a two-year turn of “public service” before returning to her high six-figure income, reminds me to at least act humble. The director raises his hand: “five, four, three, two …” and points to me. I begin to speak to the many millions of registered voters in my state whom I have deluded and misled for three terms.

Good evening, my fellow Americans. I’m here tonight to announce that I will seek re-election to another term as your United States senator. I’d like to tell you why it’s important that you return me to a fourth term in office.

I have accumulated power on the Hill. Continue reading

Filibuster reform and the zombie apocalypse

Once I was a believer in the time-honored Senate filibuster tradition, although by “believer” I don’t necessarily mean that I loved it or revered it, exactly. I was more like a guy worried about a zombie apocalypse stocking up on 12-gauge shells. In case things go to hell, at least the good guys have the filibuster to slow the lumbering herd of dead meat down a little, right? So, I believed in the filibuster the way a B-grade horror flick protagonist might believe in ammunition.

The main difference between the Senate and a zombie apocalypse, of course, is that zombies aren’t real but the Senate is very much upon us. Also, in neither case does it look like we have enough ammo.

The last few years have changed the equation significantly. Continue reading

Senate procedure: it's not a three-ring circus, it's full-tilt clown war

I think the educated, informed and politically active electorate on all sides get the three-ring circus metaphor for our government. There just needs to be more of them, on all sides. Let’s see what happens, though, when I look, with beginner’s eyes, at the nuts ‘n’ bolts under the hood of the the Klown Kar in the lead-up to the featured act. For this exercise, I’ll use a bit of legislation currently up for debate, S.1726, Withholding Tax Relief Act of 2011, a bill to repeal the imposition of withholding on certain payments made to vendors by government entities.

I first became aware of this issue by following Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on Facebook. Continue reading

NSF clears Mann of misconduct implications made by Sen. Inhofe (updated)

Second in a series.

[See update to the conclusion below]

In February, 2010, Pennyslviania State University (PSU) cleared Michael Mann of three allegations of research misconduct (and cleared him of the fourth in July 2010). In response, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wrote a letter in February, 2010, to the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) asking them to conduct their own, independent investigation of Professor Michael Mann. Inhofe requested two specific things – that the OIG look into supposed research misconduct according to the NSF’s definition instead of PSU’s, and that the NSF determine whether or not Mann had violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), information quality guidelines, the Federal False Claims Act, and/or the Federal False Statements Act.

On August 15, 2011, the OIG closed the investigation after concluding that there was no specific evidence that Mann had violated any of the rules, regulations, or laws Inhofe asked about. Continue reading

'Oh, Congress! Oh, Congress! God mend thine ev'ry flaw'

When the national anthem is sung, I place my hand over my heart. I didn’t always. But I’m old enough now to appreciate, to be grateful for, what being an American citizen has afforded me.

If I wish, I can own a firearm. I can assemble peaceably with others. I can criticize the government. I can practice a religion — or not — without governmental dictation. The Constitution protects me from unreasonable search and seizure (Patriot Act not withstanding). When I was a journalist, the government could not abridge the freedom of my press. I can own property. I can depend on contracts being enforced. I have more constitutionally guaranteed rights as an American than any citizen of any other country.

Yes, I have duties as well. I must pay taxes for the general welfare and the common defense. I must be willing (and able) to stand in judgment of a citizen charged with a crime by the government. I ought to be sufficiently knowledgeable and intelligent to vote wisely.

I love my country. Most of us do. But I no longer have faith that my elected leaders love it as much as they love power and the ability to demean those they oppose. I don’t like, respect, or trust my elected leaders any more, and their public personae and political actions show they don’t give a damn about me in any way beyond my ability to cast a vote.
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Canadian Embassy emails reveal Canadian, US lobbying on tar sands-derived oil

Recently released emails written by employees of the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC and other Canadian government workers show that the Embassy directly lobbied the Bush Administration and Congress in an attempt to influence regulations and legislation that could restrict exports of Alberta tar sands-derived bitumen and petroleum. The emails further reveal that the Bush Administration had asked the Canadian Embassy to lobby Congress and to use its influence with key oil companies to convince them to lobby on Canada’s – and the Bush Administration’s – behalf. Continue reading

Yo, GOP: Slash regulation? Or spend up to $27 million to save a life?

Many of the seats the Democrats lost in Congress can be attributed to a tea-party and GOP-influenced desire to shrink the size of the federal government. Presumed goals of conservative and GOP winners: Reduce federal spending. Shrink the deficit. Lessen government’s intrusion into people’s lives.

Well, let’s see what these make-government-smaller politicians do with a cost-benefit analysis of this proposal to further intrude into the lives of people who drive.

By 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants every passenger vehicle sold in the United States to have a rear-view camera. That’s available now as an option for many vehicles. The camera displays what’s behind the vehicle on the navigation screen in the dashboard.

Reason: The agency says back-up accidents kill 228 people a year and injure 17,000. More significant reason: About 100 of those killed are children.
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Opposition to New START pits Republicans against traditional allies

It’s not just the Obama administration against which Republican senators under the guidance of Jon Kyl pit themselves when they oppose New START. In fact, perhaps bewitched by Tea Party-style incoherence, they’ve also placed themselves in the unlikely position of bucking the national defense establishment, to which traditionally they’ve been joined at the hip. New START, of course, enjoys the support of Secretary of Defense Gates and the Pentagon.

There’s no love lost on New START by this author, in part because its cuts are token, but, more to the point, because it’s come at too high a cost – a commitment to spend $86.2 billion on maintaining current operations of the nuclear weapons complex along with modernization of the stockpile and infrastructure. The Republicans and the Obama administration, in fact, are making it more and more difficult to pin the label “paranoid” on left-wing disarmament advocates who suspect New START is just a smokescreen that they’re both using to ensure that the nuclear weapons industry continues in perpetuity. Continue reading

Republican go-to guy on nukes keeps Obama administration twisting in the wind on New START

Along with Richard Lugar (R-IN), Jon Kyl, the Republican Senate whip from Arizona, is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (KY) go-to guy on nuclear issues. We wrote yesterday at Focal Points:

After Republicans picked up six seats in the Senate earlier this month, prospects for the passage of the new START began to diminish (not that this author minds). Barron YoungSmith at the New Republic writes that last week “chief of staff to Senator Bob Corker — a key vote on the treaty — said that it should not be considered during the lame-duck Congress, and the Republican Policy Committee released a memo urging a similar delay.”

Kyl is known as a staunch supporter of nuclear weapons who made his mark as a freshman senator in 1999 when he blew up passage of the Comprehensive (nuclear) Test Ban Treaty. But, writes YoungSmith in the article I cited yesterday, “bizarrely enough, he seems to want [new START] to go through.” I continued: Continue reading

Hopes for today's elections

There’s a big difference between what I expect to happen during today’s elections and what I hope will happen, with most of my expectations focused on the federal elections and my hopes on the local and state elections here in Colorado. Here’s a quick rundown. Feel free to add your own hopes in the comments. Continue reading

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

For a political rookie, a devolution to abhor and avoid

A young Afghan war veteran, whose family has lived in my district for eight generations, wishes to be my next representative in Congress. He would succeed the imploded former Rep. Eric Massa, whom I supported, and who taught me the bittersweet consequences of commingling voter naїvete with false hope, as did candidate-turned-President Obama.

This young Democratic candidate has sent me three letters (I’m sure thousands of other District 29 voters received them, too), saying, in effect, this: “I need your help.”

All across America, as savvy political incumbents and their often hapless, outspent challengers belly up to the fundraising trough, they reach out to folks like you and me – the so-called little guys — asking for $10, $25, $50, whatever we can spare to set this country back on the right path. They’re all saying, with false modesty: “I need your help.” (They want our little donations for less than $200, the amount at which candidates must report them to the Federal Election Commission, so they can say they’re supported by real people, real voters, not PACs and pass-downs from the national parties.)

This young man from my district fought in a war with real bullets, bombs, and IEDs. He faced menacing threats each day in theater. Now that he’s home, he’s filed for entry into another war. For that, I commend him – and feel sorry for him. I don’t know if, despite a pair of master’s degrees, he’s sufficiently trained for this kind of warfare.
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The nation's 120,000 dams: Much more inspection, repair needed

As Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin sang solo in the nearby Dodge Theatre, 750 million gallons of water from the 16-foot-deep Tempe Town Lake near Phoenix roared through a burst dam at up to 15,000 cubic feet per second. Fortunately, no one died; no significant property damage occurred.

Eight dam sections made of inflatable rubber constrained the lake, four at each end. The $4.4 million dam began receiving water from the Central Arizona Project in 1999. In 2002, one of the 40-foot-long, foot-thick rubber bladders (covered by a 10-year warranty from Bridgestone Industrial Products) failed, requiring a repair. Tempe and Bridgestone officials have disagreed on how to prevent deflation and enlarging buffer zones around the dam. UPI reported that “[a] design flaw made it impossible to use sprinklers to keep the rubber cool and wet, which likely hastened its deterioration.” Also, said UPI:

Mayor Hugh Hallman told the Arizona Republic that work had been scheduled to start Wednesday on replacing the dam. He added the maintenance crew could have been killed if the collapse had occurred while the work was under way.

This dam was small and young. The average age of tens of thousands of dams tracked by a national database is 51 years old. Because state and federal budgets are fiscally challenged, dams in America are not inspected as often as law and common sense requires. That must change.
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Nota Bene #113: Seth's Near-Death

“Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Who said it? Continue reading

Drive with care over those 151,394 obsolete, unsafe bridges

Each day that I drive the 11 miles from my house to the university, I cross nine of America’s 601,396 bridges (as of 2008). Those nine are not likely to collapse. I have seen each replaced or rehabilitated in the last 10 years.

But you may not be as fortunate. You may need to drive across one or more of the 151,394 bridges the federal Department of Transportation lists as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. That’s 25 percent of American bridges. But fear not: Bridges are becoming safer. There were 3,930 fewer such bridges in the United States in 2008 than in 2007.

Whew. That’s a relief. At this rate, America will have no unsafe or obsolete bridges in only 153 years.

The repair and replacement rate of deficient or obsolete U.S. bridges is rising, however. According to DOT statistics, the number of lousy bridges has been reduced by 14,087 since 2000, an average of only 1,565 a year. So maybe (you remember, of course, all that talk about those shovel-ready stimulus projects?) that repair rate will increase, and we will have licked our bad bridge problem in only 100 years.
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Nota Bene #112: GOOOLLLLLLLL

“Freedom of any kind is the worst for creativity.” Who said it? Continue reading

Climate scientists still besieged

S&R interviewed Martin Vermeer, first author of a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper on sea level rise, about how much context the published CRU emails contained. In addition to answering questions about the emails’ context, Vermeer pointed out that some of the context “bears the mark of a scientific community under a politically-motivated siege.” Gavin Schmidt, climate researcher at the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences, agreed with Vermeer when asked. As a result, S&R examined interviews conducted with climate scientists and critics for evidence that climate scientists and climate research were besieged at present. Not surprisingly, there was a great deal of evidence that climate scientists remain besieged today. Evidence includes false claims made against scientists for work done on the IPCC Third Assessment Report, erroneous and/or unsupported claims made against several scientists involved in the writing of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, and unreasonable claims of bias against the CRU email inquiries performed to date. Continue reading