[ Random Image ]
Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Archive for October, 2013

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

5938796728_63d4816b74Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing

And so, after 16 days, after a $24 billion loss to the economy, and just hours before the United States was about to pass through its federal debt limit, with potentially catastrophic global consequences, the Senate (81–18) and House (285–144) have approved a budget deal that could have been voted on weeks ago—months ago, really. The bill will keep the federal government operating through Jan. 15, 2014, and extends the debt ceiling only until Feb. 7. None of the GOP’s demands were met.

In effect, 162 of 278 Republican members of Congress—that’s 58 percent—voted for the United States to default on its debt for the first time in the nation’s history.

If You Vote Republican, Don’t Expect Functional Government

GOP representatives did, however, sing all three verses of “Amazing Grace” in a caucus meeting on Tuesday before voting, again, not to reopen the government.

We have observed often before that Republicans nowadays do not seek office in order to govern, as Democrats and independents understand the term, but rather to hold power—power to dismantle government. Republicans in the generations of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon had different governing philosophies from their Democratic brethren, but at least they all agreed that the point of holding public office was to serve what they regarded as the public good (which, for both parties, usually included portions of private and corporate good, too). President Eisenhower, for example, pushed Congress relentlessly to pass the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 that authorized what is today a 47,000-mile system of interstate highways throughout the United States, widely regarded as the single greatest public works project in the nation’s history. President Nixon, though he is remembered for darker accomplishments, oversaw the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and his progressive legislation included the earned income tax credit, Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s Republican party, such as it is, is motivated by no such constructive purpose. Having purged moderates and what the true believers call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) from their ranks, and now living in fear of primary challenges from fervent, purer-than-thou Tea Party radicals, surviving GOP officeholders seem able only to obstruct and stall the normal operations of government on the federal level—while being paid $177,000 per year. At the state level, however, the GOP has shown great energy and ingenuity in rolling back hard-won voting rights, women’s access to reproductive choice and birth control, cutting further the taxes of the rich and striking down taxation and regulation of industry, and helping the spread of guns in bars, restaurants, schools, playgrounds, churches, etc.

9880045165_92902a4cd9Senate Republicans have used the filibuster against President Obama’s proposed legislation and nominees with a frequency never seen before in American history. Robert Draper, author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives (2012), has written about a once-secret meeting the night of Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 in which Republican leaders gathered to plot an all-out obstruction of all of the new president’s initiatives. This while the nation and the world were plunging down an economic abyss brought on largely by Republican laissez-faire economic policies and “fiscal stewardship” of tax-cutting and massive privatization. (If the GOP had had its way, the Social Security system would have been privatized . . . before the 2008 financial meltdown.)

*

Shutdown, with No Exit Strategy, Shows GOP’s Governing Style

And so, just as the Republicans were helping drown the U.S. economic recovery in every way imaginable, giving not a single vote to the new president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus) of 2009, and blocking from even coming to the floor for a vote the American Jobs Act that Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress two years ago, so their most recent, 16-day, shutdown of the federal government contained in concentrated form all the destructiveness of their regressive, anti-democratic, and truly job-killing (in)activity of the past several years.

We have also written at times about Democrats’ weaknesses (there are many), but if Americans want functional government—from passage of legislation that benefits the public, and roads and bridges and levees in good repair, to food and drug inspections and air traffic safety, not to mention the social safety nets of Social Security and Medicare and unemployment insurance—then remember that voting for one party results in a fairly functional government, imperfect, but moving toward broader coverage of people’s rights and benefits. The other party—well, the past two weeks have shown that even when they manage to hijack a plane, they really do not know how to fly or bring it in for a landing, and, in any case, they would have already cut funding for paying the flight training school instructors, air traffic controllers, and turned out the lights on the pot-holed runway.

*

What Are the Democrats Saying?

President Obama after the Shutdown’s End:

The key now is a budget that cuts out the things that we don’t need, closes corporate tax loopholes that don’t help create jobs, and frees up resources for the things that do help us grow—like education and infrastructure and research. . . . 

Let’s work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government. You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That’s not being faithful to what this country is about.

Remarks by the President on the Reopening of the Government, Oct. 17, 2013

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

I am NOT celebrating tonight. . . . the reason we were in this mess in the first place is that a reckless faction in Congress took the government and the economy hostage for no good purpose and to no productive end. According to the S&P index . . . $24 billion has been flushed down the drain for a completely unnecessary political stunt.

$24 billion dollars. How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?

The Republicans keep saying, “Leave the sequester in place and cut all those budgets.” They keep trying to cut funding for the things that would help us build a future. But they are ready to flush away $24 billion on a political stunt.  

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), e-mail to supporters, Oct. 16, 2013

*

gop_demands1

*

Top two illustrations by Chamomile Tea Party. ‘Republican Demands’ chart by The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

*



Positively Giddy

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

The Only Thing They Have to Fear Is . . . Government Itself

Pre-Existing Condition

“We’re very excited. It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.” —Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)

*

“The mood in the Capitol on Saturday, at least among Republicans, was downright giddy. When Republican leaders presented their plan in a closed-door meeting on Saturday, cheers and chants of “Vote, vote, vote!” went up. As members left the meeting, many wore beaming grins.” —NYT 9/28/13

*

“[Economists] make all sorts of predictions. . . . Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions. —Rep. John Fleming (R-LA)

*

“There is no such thing as a debt ceiling in this country. I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling we will default on our debt. We won’t.” —Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on CBS This Morning, 10/8/13

*

They’ve Been Planning a Shutdown for Years

Isn’t it delightful that they are so pleased with themselves? The 80-odd members of Congress known as the Tea Party caucus who insisted on this government shutdown and repeatedly refused to negotiate a budget with the Senate—these distinguished members of Congress continue to be paid from their $174,000-per-year salary. (Congressional salaries have come to $2.6 million as of Oct. 10; see chart below.) Meanwhile, 800,000 “nonessential” federal workers from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Hurricane Center, the Centers for Disease Control, inspectors at the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission; staff at NASA, EPA, FEMA, and the National Park Service, and other federal agencies and departments are made to stay home with no pay, or to work with no pay. (See “Five Ways the Government Shutdown Is Threatening Our Health and Safety.”)

These distinguished members of Congress who style themselves “fiscal conservatives” and rail against federal debt, who recently voted to cut $4 billion per year from programs that feed the needy, are costing the nation $1.6 billion every week while the government is shut down. That’s $40 million per hour. The shutdown is now in its second week, and, other than insisting on getting their way, and issuing new demands daily, the House Republicans have no plan to restart the U.S. government.

US deficit 2013[ Republicans speak constantly of “this growing federal deficit,” but ignore the fact that in the Obama years, the deficit has been steadily shrinking, and ignore the fact that in 2001 George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton, and (aided by their votes) left Barack Obama with a $1.3 trillion budget deficit. The bar graph here—click for a closer look—shows the years 2008–2013 (projected). See the bars getting smaller? ]

From Think Progress and The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, here are  just a few of the immediate consequences of the government shutdown:

Food and Nutrition: Food stamps will still be available, but the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, a service meant to help new and expecting mothers and their young children get nutritious foods, will not. Roughly 9 million Americans depend on WIC.

Housing: The nation’s 3,300 public housing authorities will stop receiving payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Disaster Relief: In preparation for a potential shutdown, the Utah National Guard is holding off on sending a team to help rebuild areas in Colorado devastated by massive floods last week.

Health Care: The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients and delay or stop clinical trials.

Financial Services: The Small Business Administration will stop making loans, federal home loan guarantees will likely go on hold, and students applying for financial aid could also see delays and backlogs in applications.

Think Progress notes, “All this will come at a price. The last two shutdowns during the Clinton era—one lasted six days in 1995 and another stretched 21 days at the end of 1995 and beginning of 1996—cost the country 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and more than $2 billion (in today’s dollars) in unnecessary expenses—as government employees abandoned their jobs to prepare for the shutdown.”

For more on how the shutdown will affect day-to-day life, click here and here. The NBC News chart below was published on Oct. 10, ten days into the shutdown.

ShutdownChart

The Shutdown Is Not (Only) about “Obamacare”

“We need to make sure that you are going to be with us when we shut down the government, which we will do if we win the majority this year.” —Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), addressing Faith & Freedom Conference, 2010

The tactic of shutting down the government, threatened or promised in 2010, as it was carried out by House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995, was originally intended to enforce fiscal restraint. The hardline Tea Party caucus of some 80 members pivoted to apply the threat of a shutdown as a way of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which they call, pejoratively, “ObamaCare.”

“We urge you not to bring to the House floor in the 112th Congress any legislation that provides or allows funds to implement ObamaCare . . .” —Aug. 21, 2013, letter from Reps. Michele Bachman, Jim Jordan, and about 80 other Tea Party caucus representatives to Speaker John Boehner

6th Congr.Distr-LAIt is important to understand that the Republican members driving this thing have been not only threatening but also promising to shut down the government at least since they were running for office in the 2010 midterm congressional elections. These radical congressmen—and they are not “conservatives,” as they like to call themselves, but are extremists, anarchists—are mostly white men from gerrymandered districts who are largely safe from any electoral consequences: they won’t have to pay a price for their brinksmanship and shenanigans in the next election because everyone in their district (which may look like the 6th district of Baton Rouge’s Bill Cassidy, M.D., shown at right) thinks very much the way they do. Either they do not have many poor people, people of color, immigrants, or college-educated liberals in their districts to worry about, or those minorities who do live, or try to eke out an existence, in their districts will most likely have a harder time voting, if they’re still on the list, next time around.

“Cut It or Shut It . . . We Want Less”

Before the current shutdown, Congressional Republicans have threatened seven times to take the government down, or take the economy over a cliff (remember the fiscal cliff?), just since early 2011. They have been looking for excuses to “cut it or shut it.”

As Steven Benen wrote in “A Series of Near-Death Experiences” at the Maddow Blog:

In April 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In July 2011, congressional Republicans created the first debt-ceiling crisis in American history. In September 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In April 2012, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In December 2012, congressional Republicans pushed the nation towards the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ In January 2013, congressional Republicans briefly flirted with the possibility of another debt-ceiling crisis. In March 2013, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. 

And now . . .

Why John Boehner is allowing a comparatively small group of representatives in the House to control the agenda is beyond our understanding, though we can imagine he wants to keep his position as Speaker of the House. At least it was beyond comprehension before a front-page article in the Sunday, Oct. 6, New York Times, “A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning,” reported that the billionaire conservative activist Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch, had put some $200 million into fighting the Obama healthcare law, funding such groups as Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and Heritage Action, a close relation to the Heritage Foundation. These groups ran media spots against some 100 Republican members of Congress who declined to sign on to the Tea Party letter to House Speaker John Boehner mentioned above.

Cracks Appear in Republicans’ United Front

Business, and even some conservative action groups, worried that this has gone on too long already, are beginning to back away from the hardline House Republicans. On October 9, the Koch brothers sent a letter to Congress stating that Koch Industries “has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution [for funding the government] to defunding Obamacare.” Similarly, on the same day, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham gave essentially the same message to reporters.

“We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” —Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

photo-tea-party-shut-it-down1The Republicans have no plan to end the standoff. They have dug themselves in too deep to pull back out. They insist that the president and the Democrats must compromise. But the Senate passed a continuing resolution some six months ago, and at least four times the House Republicans refused to join in a conference to work up their own budget proposal (as happens in a functioning Congress) because that would have required some compromise. Further, the “clean” budget bill that the Senate has been trying to get the House Republicans to vote on is billions below what the White House requested. The House Republicans held off because they wanted to drive this up to the very brink—they wanted leverage to make demands for further cuts, and then, with the Tea Party caucus’s urging, for defunding and repeal of “Obamacare”—and then, if necessary, over the cliff. Now the car is falling, falling, and they don’t know how to repeal gravity, either.

What worries business leaders and Wall Street is that vocal members of congressional Republicans apparently do not believe that blowing through the debt ceiling (around November 1) is anything to worry about. Economists across the spectrum see a default on the national debt as insane and catastrophic, with global repercussions that could dwarf the financial meltdown of 2008, but even Republican senators are blithely unconcerned. On Oct. 9, the ninth day of the shutdown, Fidelity Investments sold off its U.S. Treasury bonds out of concern that the government may indeed default, and the U.S. government’s borrowing costs have risen sharply—another unnecessary addition to the national debt brought to us by the “fiscal conservatives.” (“Deadlock Worry Jolts the Market for T-Bills”)

The Huffington Post has been running a list of Republican members of Congress who say they are willing to cast an up-or-down vote on a budget without “repeal Obamacare” strings attached. These members of Congress should be encouraged (contact information here) to stand up, speak out, and implore their likeminded members to vote with Democrats to restart the government. Perhaps this has gone on long enough?

*

Geography of Inhumanity Posing as Fiscal Discipline

Below are two maps, the first (by The New Yorker) showing the congressional districts of the “suicide caucus” of Tea Party Republicans who pushed for the government shutdown. Almost every district has been made into an impregnable fortress where the representative can be as extreme as he or she wants to be without worrying about having to pay an electoral price.

Note the geographical similarities with the second map (by The New York Times), which shows the areas of the United States where poor and uninsured Americans live. The two maps are essentially the same: the hardline conservatives pushing the shutdown largely represent the states whose governors and legislatures refuse to allow expansion of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), even though they have high populations of poor, unhealthy people.

•  “Where the Suicide Caucus Lives” (The New Yorker, 9/26/13), showing districts of Republicans who signed a letter demanding that Speaker John Boehner pass legislation to defund Obamacare

•  “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law” (The New York Times, 10/2/13)

SuicideCaucusCongressDistricts_final_big-01

*

Where Poor and Uninsured Americans Live

*

Top illustration by Chamomile Tea Party.

*



Elvin R. Heiberg III, General Who Took Blame for Hurricane Katrina Failures, Dies at 81

Friday, October 4th, 2013

FEMA2

Former Head of Army Corps of Engineers Regretted Not Fighting for Storm-Surge Gates
As Tropical Storm Karen approaches the Gulf Coast, and FEMA employees, furloughed by the latest GOP Government Shutdown, are called back to work without pay, The New York Times reports the death of Lt. Gen. Elvin R. Heiberg III, “who rose to the top of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and decades later expressed regret for failing to fight hard enough to build floodgates that he believed might have protected New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.” Gen. Heiberg died last Friday, Sept. 27, in Arlington, Va. He was 81. In June 2007, the Times reports, “nearly two years after Katrina, General Heiberg wrote a letter published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that ‘As too many continue to rush around to find someone to blame for the Katrina engineering failures, they can blame me. I gave up too easily.’ ” After Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conceived a plan to build flood-surge gates at the eastern edge of Lake Pontchartrain at the Chef Menteur and the Rigolets passes to be lowered in case of an oncoming hurricane (map below). Environmentalists worried that the presence of the floodgates would make it easier for developers to drain areas for development and that the flow of water would be blocked.Luke Fontana, executive attorney for Save Our Wetlands Inc., filed a lawsuit to block the floodgates. In 1985, twenty years after Hurricane Betsy, the Corps gave up the plan. (The plan and its defeat—“death-by-environmentalism,” we call it—is discussed in detail in Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid’s excellent 2006 book Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms. See our interview with Schleifstein here.) In an interview cited by NPR online, Gen. Heiberg said, “I think that’s probably the biggest mistake I made, quitting instead of fighting. . . . I think Katrina proved that.” (See “Why Did the 17th Street Canal Levee Fail?” NPR, May 19, 2006.)   1965CorpsFloodgatesPlan The New York Times obituary in full appears below.
Elvin R. Heiberg III, General Who Took Blame for Hurricane Katrina Failures, Dies at 81
04heiberg-popup Lt. Gen. Elvin R. Heiberg III, who rose to the top of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and decades later expressed regret for failing to fight hard enough to build floodgates that he believed might have protected New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, died last Friday in Arlington, Va. He was 81. The cause was cancer, said his daughter Kay Bransford. In June 2007, nearly two years after Katrina, General Heiberg wrote a letter published in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans that read: “As too many continue to rush around to find someone to blame for the Katrina engineering failures, they can blame me. I gave up too easily.” He explained that in the 1970s, when he commanded the New Orleans district, the corps planned to protect the city by building gates at the east end of Lake Pontchartrain. Environmentalists opposed the project, and local interests objected to sharing the costs, as federal law requires. A federal judge blocked the project and called for a more thorough analysis of its environmental impact. In the 1980s, when General Heiberg was commander of the corps, or chief of engineers—the youngest man to head the corps since the 19th century—the fight over the so-called barrier plan was still going on. “I was discouraged and decided to stop fighting for the barriers any longer,” he wrote in The Times-Picayune. “In retrospect, that was the biggest mistake I made during my 35 years as an Army officer.” In lieu of the barrier, the corps turned to raising levees and floodwalls around the city. It turned out to be a patchwork project that was still not complete when Katrina hit 20 years later and many segments of the floodwall failed. The official corps report on the disaster called the hurricane protection system “a system in name only.” General Heiberg’s letter fed an argument that had begun circulating soon after the storm that had blamed environmentalists for the destruction of the city, accusing them of blocking efforts to protect it. The conservative FrontPage Magazine called their tactics “Green Genocide.” But the barrier envisioned by the corps would have been ineffective, said G. Paul Kemp, an author of Louisiana’s official report on the disaster and an adjunct professor at the Louisiana State University department of oceanography and coastal sciences. Much of the water that inundated New Orleans, he said, had flowed in from a corner of Lake Borgne, which lies to the south and east of the city and which would have been outside the barrier’s reach. Alfred Naomi, a former senior project engineer for the corps in New Orleans, agreed that the barriers “might not have made a difference for Katrina,” though he argued that some areas might have suffered less damage had the barriers been there and that the project would have improved safety overall. He expressed admiration for General Heiberg and his public stand. “That showed integrity and moral certitude that you don’t find a lot in today’s society,” he said. “Right or wrong, he took the hit — and took some responsibility.” Elvin Ragnvald Heiberg III—he went by “Vald”—was born on March 2, 1932, at Schofield Barracks, the Army installation on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Like his father and a grandfather, he joined the Army and attended the United States Military Academy at West Point; the grandfather served as military attaché in Rome and died when he was thrown by a horse while visiting the Austro-Hungarian front in 1917. Vald III graduated from West Point in 1953 and earned master’s degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University. His career in the Army and Corps of Engineers took him to wartime service in Korea and Vietnam and to Saudi Arabia, where he oversaw $14 billion in corps-led construction projects for the country’s national guard. He led the corps’ cleanup and rebuilding effort after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State in 1980, and ran the Army’s Ballistic Missile Defense Program, a precursor to the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” plan. General Heiberg’s many decorations included the Silver Star Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross from his Vietnam service; he twice earned the Distinguished Service Medal. After retiring from the military, he worked with a number of companies, including Dawson & Associates, a consulting and government relations firm with expertise in water resources, where he was a senior adviser. In addition to Ms. Bransford, General Heiberg’s survivors include his wife, the former Kathryn Schrimpf, whom he married in 1953; another daughter, Kathryn Heiberg-Browning; two sons, Walter and Elvin IV; and a sister, Dorethe Skidmore. Contacted by a reporter last year to discuss the old barrier plan, General Heiberg said, “I haven’t changed my mind on any of that.” New Orleans is now protected by a $14 billion ring of walls, levees and gates, including a two-mile barrier at the northwest corner of Lake Borgne, and gates that can close the city’s drainage canals to block any surge from Lake Pontchartrain. Barriers for Lake Pontchartrain are again under consideration. #