Sunday, December 27, 2009

Backbencher of the Week

Matt Yglesias points us to this article in the Washington Post about possibly endangered Democratic congressmen. One of the most endangered is this week's Backbencher of the Week. Rep. Tom Perreilo(D-VA-5) represents a districts that leans strongly Republican, and in the 2008 Democratic tidal wave election Perreilo won by 727 votes. Despite being vulnerable, Congressman Perreilo voted for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and the healthcare bill.

When asked about his vulnerability, Perreilo said "My ultimate goal is not to get reelected, It is to know that I did the best damn job I could representing the people of the 5th district and making a difference. That's just a different litmus test then some of the powers that be are used to working with."

For understanding the nature of his job, and working to do as much with his time in Congress as he can, we are pleased to award this week's Backbencher of the Week to Rep. Tom Perreilo.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

White Christmas 09

The Backbencher no longer has to dream about a White Christmas because he has now experienced one.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Difference Between a Moderate Republican and a Conservative Democrat

However much it stinks to high heaven, and it stinks a whole lot, there was a deal that could get Sen. Ben Nelson to vote yea on the healthcare bill. With her refusal to back the healthcare bill because she feels the bill is being rushed, Sen. Olympia Snowe(R-ME) makes it clear that no deal could be reached to earn her vote.

The incentives(political, partisan, and individual) were always structured in a way that Sen. Nelson would feel pressure to support the bill but Sen. Snowe would feel strong pressure to oppose.

The difference between a conservative Democrat and a moderate Republican is the difference between finding a way to get to yes and finding a way to get to no.

Backbencher of the Week

Though serving less then a year, Sen. Al Franken(D-MN) has already managed to garner a substantive accomplishment.

Back in October, Sen. Franken purposed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill. Based on the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, the amendment prevents the department of Defense from contracting with companies that do not allow victims of sexual assault to pursue their case through the courts. Despite opposition from the Defense Department, and Republican men, the bill President Obama signed included Sen. Franken's amendment.

For a substantive accomplishment that stands up for women, and attacks the practices of military contractors, we are glad to award Backbencher of the Week to Sen. Al Franken.

Cleveland 41 Kansas City 34

The joy of watching two bad teams play each other.

Monday, December 14, 2009

San Francisco on the Buffalo Bayou

I wonder if Liturgygeek will like Texas a little more bit because of this?

Uganda and Grassley Update

The Republican Senator from my state, Sen. Chuck Grassley(R-IA), came out over the weekend and condemned the Ugandan homosexuality law.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Ivy League Education

Yale University, through their Open Yale program, offers the chance to listen to lectures that Yale professors give to their classes. You can go to the above link or download the lectures through iTunes. Besides the lectures, it is also possible to download the syllabus and reading lists.

Right now I am listening to Dr. David Blight's lectures on the Civil War and Reconstruction. I am planning on listening to lectures on European civilization, the modern American novel, Astronomy, and Old and New Testament.

Other colleges offer lectures and other presentations through iTunes U.

Springtime for Elections in England

Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are preparing for the possibility of an early election. The reports all say that there is a growing likely hood that soon after the new year Gordon Brown will call for an early election scheduled for March 25.

The Tories have maintained a constant lead in the polls since the last half of 2007 but recent polling indicates that Labour is closing the gap. This strengthening of Labour's position is leading many Labour MPs to push for a March poll.

I don't think Labour can close the gap enough to win but they are pushing the polling into hung parliament territory. If that is the case then the Liberal Democrats become king makers and Labour might stay in office through Lab-Lib coalition.

Tom Said Stop Talking

Sen. Tom Harkin(D-IA) is talking about resurrecting an idea he had fifteen years ago. Back in 1995, Sen Harkin teamed up with Sen. Joe Lieberman(I-CT) to introduce a bill that would curtail the filibuster. The proposal would have instituted a gradual threshold for ending debate. The first vote would require 60 votes for cloture but each successive vote would lower the threshold until it only required 51 votes to end debate.

After watching Max Baucus and his "gang of 6" drag out their deliberations on healthcare reform to the point of almost killing the bill, it is clear that there are plenty of ways for Congress to stop a bill from becoming law. The filibuster is a holdover from a bygone era and its use to stop progress, especially progress on civil rights, is evidence that the filibuster has long outlived its usefulness. The Senate recognizes this fact and instituted the process of reconciliation that allows bills related to the federal budget to pass with 51 votes. If 51 is good enough for budget votes then it is good enough for al bills the Senate considers.

I am especially glad to see that Sen. Harkin is leading the charge. As a longtime Senator, Harkin would usually be expected to jealously guard his prerogatives. Instead Sen. Harkin is to be commended for putting the good of the country, and the Congress, above his own individual prerogatives.

Backbencher of the Week

Over in the UK, there is an investigation going on about how the British government decided to join the U.S. in the Iraq war. One of the strongest critics of the decision to go to war to emerge during the investigation is the Conservative MP Adam Holloway. Holloway represents the constituency of Gravesham and he sits on one of the parliamentary defense committees.

This week Holloway claimed that one of the biggest pieces of evidence the Blair government used to make its case for war came from an conversation a Baghdad taxi driver overheard. The Blair government claimed that Saddam Hussein could launch WMD in 45 minutes. According to Holloway, an intelligence report debunks the claim and note the intelligence communities belief that the report was not reliable.

It is always heartening to see politicians on the right of the political spectrum speak out against war. Rep. Ron Paul(R-TX-14) and Rep. Walter Jones(R-NC-3) due valuable service in the U.S. when they criticize the Iraq War from the right. Holloway is doing the same in the UK and for that reason he is this week's Backbencher of the Week.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stepping Up

It is good to see that Rick Warren and Sen. Tom Coburn(R-OK) both speak out about the bill the in Uganda that strongly curtails the rights of gays and lesbians.

I wish my Senator had the moral sense the Rev. Warren and Sen Coburn possess.

The Nobel Prize for War and Peace

President Obama accomplished the rare feat of accepting the the Nobel Peace Prize while in the process of escalating a war. The President used this occasion to articulate his particular interpretation of the "just war" theory.

He starts by acknowledging his debt to Martin Luther King but also says that as President he can't "be guided by their [King's and Ghandi's] example alone." Fair enough. However, I wonder if King's words about his country being the largest purveyor of violence in the world makes any impact on Obama's view point. Obama is right is that there is nothing naive or passive in King's methods but I wish Obama also recognized that King was spot-on in his view of the U.S. It appears that Obama's position limits his ability to see.

To defend the idea of 'just war," Obama states "a non violent movement cold not have stopped Hitler's armies." Pulling out the Hitler card is a cheap sot by the President; especially by cherry picking the date. A non-violent movement could not have stopped Hitler on September 1, 1939 or on June 6, 1944. However, Hitler did not come from out of nowhere. Hitler had been a force since the early 1930's and a non-violent movement might well have stopped at an earlier date.

Obama's big idea is that it is possible to fight a war on humanitarian grounds. I believe the President is sadly mistaken. First, when a country decides to go to war it makes a decision to commit resources that would be allocated in a different manner towards the war. The New Deal died at the hands of World War 2; President Franklin Roosevelt admitted as much when he had Dr. New Deal give way to Dr. Win the War. President Johnson's Great Society died at the hands of the Vietnam War. With a military budget of nearly 670 billion dollars, it is worth asking what kind of humanitarian projects at home are being starved at the expense of our war machine. What kind of humanitarian action continue to allow millions of people to go without health insurance or only sluggishly attempts to address the fact that 1o% of Americans are unemployed.

During his speech, Obama continually cites the war in Afghanistan as an example of the kind of war the fits into his paradigm. It's hard to see how that can be the case. Obama calls the war in Afrghanistan a "war we did not seek." This is a limited view of what precipitated the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. There is nothing in the 9/11 attacks that made a military response inevitable or necessary. the attacks on Pearl Harbor, which are the closest cousin to 9/11, were a strictly military attack. The Japanese Navy attacked U.S. military installations in the Hawaii. The surprise and shock of the attack does not diminish the military nature of December 7, 1941. 9/11 was not a military attack and should be viewed as a crime against humanity. Nothing suggests that a military response was required. Instead an international law enforcement effort could have accomplished much of the same thing. When the use of Guantanamo, black sites, and the Prison at Bagram are factored in it is impossible to see the military solution as being in any way "humanitarian."

Obama does touch on some meaningful goals. He continues to tout the idea of complete nuclear disarmament and the idea of diplomacy with unfriendly nations. However, I find myself disapointed with Obama's address. He speaks to having to dal with the world the way it is and I understand that. However, part of engaging and changing the world is changing the tools we use to engage the world. President Obama inherited a way of engaging the world that was strongly biased toward the military. Instead of siezing the opportunity to change out direction, Obama chose to embrace and defend it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why the Senate Doesn't Work

The Democrats have to get the vote of of a Senator who is opposed to adding to the deficit to pay for health care but would issue war bonds, which are nothing but another form of debt, to pay for the war of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Backbencher of the Week

The Backbencher is a fan of Sen. Bernie Sanders(I-VT) and his type of Democratic Socialism. We recognized Sen. Sanders earlier this year for his work on healthcare reform, and now we recognize his work on the issue of reforming the financial system.

On Wednesday night, Sen Sanders placed a hold on the nomination on Ben Bernanke's nomination for a 2nd term as Chair of the Federal Reserve. Joining Sander with the hold, and also as Backbencher of the Week, is Sen. Jim Bunning(R-KY.) Bunning hold a warm place in the Backbencher's heart because he is a curmudgeonly old coot who is a constant pain in the rear to his fellow Kentuckian Sen. Mitch McConnell(R-KY). Also joining the Coalition of the Holders, and the winners of Backbencher of the Week, is Sen Jim DeMint(R-SC). These three will probably never be celebrated together again on this blog, but attention must be paid when a bi-partisan group of Senators forms to look at changes to the Fed.

Most of the reading I have done regarding the financial crisis indicates that Bernanke did as good a job as anyone given the circumstances. However, there are real questions if he is the right person to rebuild the economy. During Senate hearings this week, chairman Bernanke called for cuts to Social Security and argued against further measures to stimulate the economy and raise employment. Even though part of the mission of the Federal Reserve is maintain high employment, Bernanke is opposed to doing anything that might raise the employment level.

As Ezra Klein points out, the Fed Chair is to be insulated from day to to politics but he is not an independent actor. Politicians appoint and confirm the Chair, and their decision is an expression of the policy they want to see the Fed enact.

As a good government liberal, I would like to see Senate policy(including the use of holds) changed. However, the correct use of political power on the Fed is worthy of this week's Backbencher of the Week. Congratulations to Sens. Sanders, Bunning, and DeMint.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Christian Nation?!

When theocrats in the U.S. talk about wanting the U.S. to be a "Christian Nation," this is what they are talking about. Ugandan politicians with connections to U.S. evangelicals like Rick Warren and the the political/religious group the Family(the people who are responsible for the Stupak amendment) are pushing a bill that make Homosexuality a crime punished by life imprisonment or in some cases the death penalty.

Theocrats would like to bring the same type of bill to the U.S. but are prevented by our strong tradition of tolerance and by the idea of the separation of church and state. Groups fighting to uphold our grand traditions of tolerance and the separation of church and state include more secular based groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, religious groups like the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and groups with feet in both camps like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

The Backbencher encourages you to clink on the above links to learn about these groups, support these groups, and find ways to join in the fight to keep church and state separate.

I Will Send Them 15,000 by 15,000

President Obama decided this week to send an additional 30,00 troops to Afghanistan. I oppose this move because I think it prolongs the attempt at a military solution where there is no military solution to be found. The position which John Kerry took in the 2004 election is I believe the right one; Terrorism is a law enforcement issue much more than a military one.

The correct way to defeat international terrorism is to increase use of law enforcement methods, and that includes the use of civilian Federal Court system. Increased international cooperation among police and intelligence agencies are also important tools in the arsenal against international terrorism. The best way to combat international terrorism is to invest in resources for 1st responders and capabilities to rebuild, increase the use of law enforcement and criminal justice resources, and reduce the use of the military. It would also be very beneficial to stop taking actions (like invading countries for no reason) that increase the risk of terrorism.

I remember when the purpose of going into Afghanistan was to capture Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive." Somehow that has turned into a long term effort to stabilize Afghanistan. I am afraid that this mission creep will cause the Obama administration to lose sight of the goal, which as far as I am concerned as been to bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice. The hijackers can not be brought to justice because they died in the attacks, and the alleged mastermind will brought to trial in a New York courtroom. That leaves only bin Laden as the last real Al Qaeda leader remaining. Since the safe house for the planning of the 9/11 attacks was in Hamburg, Germany, occupying various Afghan provinces does not really make us safer and it might be harmful if this "surge" keeps the government's focus away from Al Qaeda.

I do not feel betrayed by Obama because this is what he said he was going to do. However, I do feel like a moment that could have been used to reorient our policy had been lost. President Obama could have moved towards a more law enforcement approach. Instead he continue the imperial project and increased our military presence, and I do feel very dispaointed about the opportunity missed.