If Congress decides to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, keep tabs on who gets it

The grades are in. The nation’s infrastructure is close to failing.

aging-infrastructureThe 2017 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers, posted today, gives the infrastructure on which America depends for commerce, defense, recreation, flight, food, water, waste — almost everything — an overall grade of D+.

From the ASCE report:

The 2017 grades range from a B for Rail to a D- for Transit, illustrating the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. Three categories – Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit – received a decline in grade this year, while seven – Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater – saw slight improvements. Six categories’ grades remain unchanged from 2013 – Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads.

The areas of infrastructure that improved benefited from vocal leadership, thoughtful policymaking, and investments that garnered results.

Scholars & Rogues has long considered addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs essential for the nation’s economic, cultural, resource, and domestic security (see here, here, here, and here). Continue reading

President Donald’s already shrunken government

The Trump transition team has yet to name all its executive branch officials, moving to fill only about 4 percent of positions needing Senate approval.

trumpPresident Donald has yet to flesh out the rest of the executive branch despite Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that “We’re wrapping up this transition on schedule and under budget,” according to Politico’s Influence newsletter.

The heat of media scrutiny has fallen on top-level Cabinet posts, and deservedly so. But President Donald as of yesterday, when he was still president-elect, has moved to fill only 4 percent of the 690 executive branch appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

From an analysis by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein:

Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Congressional honor? A breeder of hope? Hold not your breath …

As honor dwindles, so does hope.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 10.02.11 AMIs hope a descendant of honor?

If if is, perhaps a little hope can be derived from recent statements of members of Congress in response to the lunacy of the GOP candidate for president. Donald “I am your voice” Trump has rashly criticized two Americans who lost their son to combat in a foreign land. Trump did this, apparently, because Khizr and Ghazala Khan are Muslim Americans from Pakistan.

Some Republican members of Congress have repudiated Trump’s remarks.

From Sen. John McCain of Arizona: “While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”

From Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who is seeking re-election: “I am appalled that Donald Trump would disparage [the Khans] and that he had the gall to compare his own sacrifices to those of a Gold Star family.”

Continue reading

You want this job: 150 days off in 2016!

Pssst. Hey, have I got a few sweet jobs for you.

In the first, you’ll only have to work 111 days in 2016. You’ll be off — yep, off! — for 150 days.

There’s this job, too: You’ll only have to work for 149 days and get 112 days off.

dome-night2I know — it sounds too good to be true, right? Well, get this: In either job, you’ll be paid at least $174,000. You’ll be able to earn about 15 percent more in “outside income,” too.

You’ll get an allowance of almost $950,000 to hire staff to help you cope with your arduous schedule. You’ll get money for office expenses and have postage for your official mail paid for you, too. You’ll get great health benefits (including an “attending physician” in case you need emergency care), a gym and workout facilities, and a terrific retirement plan. Continue reading

Wanted: Part-time job with $174,000 salary — and plenty of perks

Pssst — have I got a few sweetheart jobs for you.

In one, you’ll only have to work 111 days in 2016. You’ll be off — yep, off! — for 150 days. There’s this job, too: You’ll only have to work for 149 days and get 112 days off.

I know — it sounds too good to be true, right? Well, get this: In either job, you’ll be paid at least $174,000. You’ll be able to earn about 15 percent more in “outside income,” too.

You’ll get an allowance of almost $950,000 to hire staff to help you cope with your arduous schedule. You’ll get money for office expenses and have postage for your official mail paid for you, too. You’ll get great health benefits (including an “attending physician” in case you need emergency care), a gym and workout facilities, and a terrific retirement plan.

And more perks: Free parking at D.C. airports. Your staff will have dedicated phone lines to airlines to make reservations for you. You won’t have to publicly disclosure your stock trades and any insider knowledge, too. Wow! You’ll get to fly back and forth for D.C. to your home state, paid for by taxpayers!
Continue reading

Where there’s political smoke, there’s the oil and gas lobby

CATEGORY: CongressWell, isn’t that special: Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill before heading off for a three-week holiday vacation. (You get that much time off?) Brinkmanship is avoided; threats to shut down the government over (this time) Syrian refugees or the Puerto Rican debt crisis are avoided (or, more likely, postponed).

But it’s a bad bill for any president serving in the next few decades. Those presidents, irrespective of party, will have to deal with the physical consequences of human-induced climate disruption as well as the political repercussions of not meeting the Paris accords.

That’s because provisions buried in the spending resolution hamper the ability of future presidents to cope with a warming climate. And that’s because your representatives caved (as usual) to the oil and gas industry lobby.

As Bill Moyers and Michael Winship report, each $1 the oil and gas lobby spent in 2013 and 2014 returned $103 in subsidies. The industry spent $326 million to lobby Congress. In return it received $33.7 billion in government favors.
Continue reading

Aderholt, King, Rohrabacher, Sessions, Wicker make incorrect statements about Global Warming Petition Project

11 current members of Congress have made wrong and/or misleading statements about the Global Warming Petition Project, including Robert Aderholt and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Dana Rohrabacher of California, Steve King of Iowa, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Comparison between total Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 employment and Global Warming Petition Project data derived from the Qualifications of Signers page (accessed 8/22/2015)

Comparison between total Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 employment and Global Warming Petition Project data derived from the Qualifications of Signers page (accessed 8/22/2015)


For other posts in this series: click here for data and debunking, here for GWPP mentions by US politicians, and here for conservative/libertarian media references.

The Global Warming Petition Project (GWPP), organized by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and published most recently in May 2008, is an attempt to counter the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate experts that climate change is occurring, is largely driven by industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, and will be disruptive to ecosystems and human society.

In the previous article of this series, S&R described how two former members of Congress, Representatives John Linder of Georgia and Ron Paul of Texas, made wrong and misleading statements regarding the GWPP that could have been easily fact checked (Linder) or that were overly influenced by personal relationships between the Representative and the GWPP’s organizers (Paul). In this article, S&R investigates five of the 11 current members of Congress who have also referenced the GWPP in congressional hearings and floor speeches, Representative Robert Aderholt and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, Representative Steve King of Iowa, and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Continue reading

Senator Schumer: Be a statesman.

iran-us-states-deal-sanctions

photo courtesy of rt.com

Senator Schumer,

I studied your position on the Iran Deal, which was posted on medium.com. It seems well reasoned and thorough, proceeding logically from point to point. However, there is one key flaw which runs through all the arguments. There is a false premise, an unstated assumption that Iran not only intends to build a nuclear weapon, but that they intend to use it. It is beginning from the position that we are and always shall be mortal enemies, that one of us must be destroyed. Continue reading

Lost our way morally? Like hell, Mike.

In Huckabee’s America, all who fail to believe as he does are morally bankrupt

From Mike Huckabee’s announcement of his 2016 presidential campaign:
“But we’ve lost our way morally. We have witnessed the slaughter of over 55 million babies in the name of choice, and are now threatening the foundation of religious liberty by criminalizing Christianity in demanding that we abandon Biblical principles of natural marriage. Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law and enforce it-upending the equality of our three branches of government and the separation of powers so very central to our Constitution. The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and they can’t overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.”

Continue reading

Yo, Bernie: What you gonna do as prez that has teeth?

Sanders’ presidential campaign needs to detail specific measures to bend a corrupt, self-centered Congress into effective action on his agenda

Bernie Sanders, he who regularly tilts at NSA windmills and shouts at the hot air emitted by billionaires, says he’s running for president. In his 10-minute announcement, he displayed the media acumen of an irritated porcupine — prickly and impatient. He didn’t even have red, white, and blue balloons soaring patriotically into the sky.

No matter. The liberals and progressives disenchanted with all-but-nominated Hillary have gleefully fled to their new standard bearer. Trouble is, what’s Bernie’s standard to bear? He announced before crafting a website that clearly articulates what actions he would take to address domestic, economic, foreign, military, wealth inequality, and [insert your beef with Obama and Congress here] issues. The site touts only an apparent promise that something will appear soon — “Coming 5.26.15.” All that’s there now is, according to Bernie’s Facebook page, an email sign-up opp for “an unprecedented grass-roots effort.” The site notes that it’s “Paid for by Bernie 2016 (not the billionaires).”

But no matter. He’s got a strategist: “Tad Devine, one of the Democratic Party’s leading consultants and a former high-level campaign aide to Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis.” (Wait a minute: Didn’t those three guys lose?)

Continue reading

Politics

The Kennedy assassination: from Camelot to Clusterfuck

Yes, I know precisely where I was when someone murdered John Fitzgerald Kennedy. No, I do not want to hear where the hell you were. Nor do I want to read or watch any “retrospectives” on his assassination. Nor do I want to read or watch orations on what might have been had the shot or shots missed. I’m only concerned with what the hell actually happened in and to America since Kennedy died.

A half century has passed since my infatuation with Camelot. Fifty years have passed since the naïveté of my youth promised me wars will end, peace will reign, and society will be equitable. Even after the brutality of Daley’s thugs disrupted the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Camelot sang as my siren. Even after gunfire from the National Guard killed four students at Kent State, I still believed in what the precisely cultivated mass mediations of JFK presented to me while he lived. Even after Nixon and his protect-me politics of Watergate, I had faith in process, politics, and people — even some politicians.
Continue reading

The Republican response to healthcare exchanges – oblivious and shameless

Oblivious and shameless – two observations about Tea Party Republicans and healthcare exchanges.

I’ve had two minor epiphanies recently, both brought to me by (mostly) Republican-led states and the Tea Party-dominated Republicans in Congress.

First, many Republican governors and/or state legislatures refused to implement health care exchanges in their own states. As a result, these conservatives gave up their state’s right to form a healthcare exchange and forced their citizens to use a big government federal program, all supposedly in the name of “small government” and “states’ rights.” Irony or hypocrisy? You decide. Continue reading

Arts and Literature

Our psychopath Congress

Government shutdown, debt crisis reveal how much GOP has in common with other sociopaths…

Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris?

I believe Philip K. Dick had it right in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Technology had, in that not-so-distant future, created androids that were nearly indistinguishable from humans. The one thing people had that the Nexus 6s didn’t, the quality that made them essentially human, was empathy. Continue reading

Slate’s gerrymandering puzzles

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3Earlier this year I got into a debate with one of my fellow Scrogues about how best to stop gerrymandering. While we didn’t come to any agreements as to a solution due to my lack of time to continue, we were in violent agreement that gerrymandering is a problem that simply must be solved.

Today Slate was kind enough to publish a graphic way to learn just how screwed up the entire gerrymandering thing really is. Chris Kirk created six puzzles using actual state Congressional districts as a way to demonstrate how both Democratic and Republican state legislatures are gerrymandering district lines to ensure that the dominant party controls the state’s Congressional Representatives. It takes about 10 minutes to do all six puzzles and read the information that pops up after each puzzle is completed.

Some states (like Iowa, the tutorial puzzle) have strict anti-gerrymandering laws, but most states don’t. Barring such laws, it should be the job of the federal government to step in and prevent gerrymandering. However, both parties benefit from gerrymandering, and so it’s highly unlikely that an anti-gerrymandering federal law could pass out of Congress. And while the courts are more willing to address issues like this, the Supreme Court just overturned the part of the Voting Rights Act that was specifically crafted to prevent minority-based gerrymandering (rather than party-based, although the two are similar in large parts of the South). As such it’s not a foregone conclusion that the courts would be any more receptive to ordering states to stop gerrymandering than Congress would be.

Still, there’s little question that gerrymandering in the modern age is so bad that it’s risen to the level of being unconstitutional according to the “general welfare” standard – having a gridlocked Congress incapable of passing laws isn’t good for the country, however much big business and think tanks might say otherwise.

h/t Alex Palombo

Work half time, earn $179K — welcome to Congress

… I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job. — President Andrew Shepherd in The American President

After the 2012 elections, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leaders called in the freshmen for “orientation.” Leaders told the plebes how they were expected to spend their time. They would be “on duty” nine or 10 hours a day, they were told. Half of that time would be spent raising money. And lots of it.

A PowerPoint presentation obtained by Huffington Post outlined their day. Here’s the sked.

So, it appears, freshman legislators plan to spend half their time trying to keep their jobs instead of doing their jobs.

When you considered which candidate to support last year, did any congressional candidate tell you — at a “town hall” meeting, in an print ad, in a robocall, in a TV ad, on a campaign website, in a tweet, on Facebook — that he or she planned to be a representative in Congress who would only work part time on behalf on constituents and the good of the Republic?

Look at that schedule. They will be making four hours of phone calls every day to raise money. They will spend an additional hour in “strategic outreach” (perhaps that’s when they meet with the lobbyists). They’ll be on the house floor or in committee hearings for two hours. (That’s bullshit; unless a hearing will generate considerable — and favorable — news coverage, staff will attend those.) In fact, staff will read necessary documents (even proposed bills running hundreds, if not thousands of pages), and reduce them to a briefing paper of a few pages for the boss — including instructions on how to vote.

Where in these nine- to 10-hour days will these idiots members of Congress learn to negotiate and compromise with their colleagues, whether of same or opposing party? When will they actually legislate?

The fundraising efforts are more lucrative that you can imagine. Freshman representatives seek membership on the “cash committee” — the House Financial Services Committee. It is a committee on which one freshman, Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky, “has raised nearly as much money this year from political action committees run by major banks, credit unions and insurance companies as longtime lawmakers like Speaker John A. Boehner and other party leaders.” Barr has brought in $150,000.

Membership on the financial services committee is incredibly lucrative in terms of fundraising, reports Eric Lipton of The Times:

Political action committees — set up by lobbying firms, unions, corporations and other groups trying to push their agenda in Congress — have donated more money to Financial Services Committee members in the first six months of this year than to members of any other committee. The $9.4 million total is nearly $2 million more than the total for the Armed Services Committee, the only House panel with more members.

So many people want in, writes Lipton, that the “cash committee” has grown from 44 to 61 seats since 1980.

If criticized, every one of these clowns members of Congress will utter a daily mantra duly reported by the stenographic media: We are here to do the business of the American people.

Again, bullshit. We’re paying them $179,000 a year (and the average net worth of members of Congress is about $6.5 million for representatives and $11.9 million for senators).

So, according to their “model daily schedule,” they’re only working for us half time. As a collective of individuals, I doubt that the welfare of their constituents — or the good of the country — ranks high on their list of priorities.

Lipton’s Times story is illuminating. I highly recommend it.

I hate handguns, but I have still considered owning one

On my way into work this morning I was listening to an NPR story about how there’s now an ammunition shortage because Americans are stockpiling it. Many are afraid that the government will be taking away the right to own guns, or certain types of guns, or certain types of ammunition, or they’re convinced that an armed rebellion against the government will be necessary soon, and so they’re buying ammunition left and right. The story reminded me of the reason why I might be willing to learn how to use and own a handgun.

I might need one to protect myself from the kind of people who stockpile ammunition and think that they might need to overthrow the government.

I hate handguns. With vanishingly few exceptions they exist for one purpose – killing people. And they’re very good at fulfilling that purpose in the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, and poorly-trained private citizens. I think handguns and ammunition should be regulated and taxed so extensively that they’re too expensive to own and operate even for most criminals. I think that everyone who wants to own one should be licensed, both to ensure that he or she knows how to properly carry, wield, clean, and store their deadly weapon and to ensure that criminals and the mentally ill can’t get their hands on one. And I think that owners should be held criminally liable for the actions of anyone else who uses the handgun except under a very small set of exceptions (shooting ranges and self-protection).

But even with all that said, I no longer think that they should be banned outright like I once did. While I firmly believe that most people are better off learning some basic unarmed self-defense techniques than relying on a weapon, that doesn’t work for everyone or in every situation. So I appreciate that people should be allowed to own and carry handguns, albeit under the restrictions I mentioned above.

I also used to be afraid of handguns, or more specifically what I would do with one. I used to fear that having that kind of easy life-and-death power in my hand would be too likely to turn me into a monster. But that fear was burned out of me when, in November 2010, I briefly considered owning one myself.

There’s nothing like cognitive dissonance to clarify what you really believe, and in this case I came to the realization that as much as I hate handguns, owning one wouldn’t turn me into a monster any more than owning a sword or knowing how to kill someone with my bare hands would.

The NPR story today reminded me of what it was in November 2010 that got me to this point. It was the fact that my fellow Americans voted so many Tea Party politicians into Congress. I’m not afraid that the government is going to come and get me. But I don’t trust the significant percentage of the American population who are apparently terrified of the government. Terrified people tend to make really, really bad choices. And form mobs. And there’s not a self-defense technique that exists that can save me or my family from a terrified mob armed with handguns.

I’m not sure that owning and wielding a handgun myself would protect me and my family from a mob either, for that matter, which is one small part of why I still don’t own a handgun.

Every time I hear about how my fellow Americans are stockpiling ammo because they’re terrified the government will come and take their guns away, I think about owning a handgun again. Every time I read about how 29% of my fellow Americans think an armed rebellion may be necessary in the next four years, I think about owning a handgun again. Every time I read about how Republican Congresscritters killed sensible federal gun safety bills in Congress that the vast majority of my fellow Americans supported, I think about owning a handgun again.

I truly hope to never own a handgun. But if I do, it won’t be because I’m afraid of my government. It’ll be because I no longer trust too many of my fellow Americans.