Sequestration and GOP Candidates Defense Gutting Comments

I find it interesting when politicians and leaders try very hard to load blame on someone else. The rule of thumb is take credit for good things, even if you had a little do with it, and lay blame on others when it does not fit your narrative when you or your party did have a hand in it. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s blaming others for the Flint water crisis is a good example. Another is the Republican led Congress blaming the President for the Phoenix Veterans Administration disaster, when the problem has been festering for years and that same Congress just two months before did not pass a $60 Billion plus funding bill to shore up the VA.

On the Presidential circuit, GOP candidates are blaming the President for “gutting” defense, when they seem to forget this unusual word “sequestration.” First off, the military was not gutted and the cuts were based on military leader recommendations given a tighter budget, as a result of the sequestration cuts. But, the Republican led Congress played a huge role in sequestration to cause these cuts to occur, which the Republican Presidential candidates fail to mention.

Back in the summer of 2011, the debt ceiling needed to be increased. Speaker John Boehner and the President worked hard to reach an agreement, but Boehner could not deliver the votes from his strident conservative members. So, they agreed to lift the ceiling, but there had to be a bipartisan committee formed to come up with some plans for budget cuts. If the committee failed to agree, Boehner and Obama set up larger across the board cuts called sequestration that would automatically go into effect.

The two major players felt that if they made the sequestration cuts so onerous, no one would let them happen. Even they underestimated the inability of Congress to do much of anything. The bipartisan committee failed to agree on any actions being split by party lines. So, the cuts went into effect with the military leaders making recommendations based on the reduced budget. Members of Congress had varying degrees of reactions to these recommendations, especially when they realized it meant people in their states and regions being impacted. Yet, they are the ones who set this in motion as they had numerous occasions to stop the sequestration train.

I am not writing this to let the President off the hook for his role. Yet, to assign him the blame alone and overstate the cuts saying they gut the military is a little over the top. I do want people to know that the lack of collaboration and strident views of members of the Republican party in Congress had a huge role in the sequestration. In fact, for most of his tenure as Speaker, Boehner usually got “must-have” legislation using more moderate GOP members to vote with Democrats. In this instance, Boehner did not want to move in that direction to stop the full sequestration cuts on the military spending.

So, when candidates are blaming the President for every so-called bad thing that has happened, you may want to take that with a grain of salt. And, you may want to ask those candidates for a truthful answer on how the economy, stock market, jobs growth and unemployment has all fared under this President.

 

 

Former Senator Hagel Deserves a Chance

My friend Barney in www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com (his Views from the Hill) wrote a nice piece on the “Chuck Hagel Nominating Circus – updated 2/1713.” I was reading an article this morning by Donna Cassata of the Associated Press called “GOP vs. Hagel is personal, business.”  For those who try not to keep up with the circus called politics, Hagel is a former GOP senator from Nebraska who has been nominated for the Secretary of Defense, but his confirmation has been held up by GOP senators who want to make some sort of statement. While he should get approved in the near future, he did not serve his efforts well, when he had a less than stellar performance at his confirmation hearing. Yet, the AP article brought home a few points I would like to highlight which, to me, say he deserves a chance, not the opposite as touted by the Republicans.

Hagel served his country well in the military. That is known and appreciated, even by the GOP senators lined up against him. Yet, one of the criticisms is he does not appear to be hawkish enough. When people who have never fought criticize someone who has for not being “hawkish enough” then that should give you pause. But, let’s set that aside for now. Senator John McCain, a former veteran and POW, led the charge against his old friend, but now begrudgingly supports his candidacy. On Fox News, McCain said:

“There’s a lot of ill will toward Sen. Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said the surge (of US troops in Iraq) was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which is nonsense, and was anti-his-own-party-and-people.”

Others have said Hagel’s past opposition to unilateral penalties against Iran, comments about the influence of the “Jewish Lobby” in Washington, and support for reducing the nation’s nuclear arsenal give them concern about his support for Israel.

Let’s look at these comments to draw a better picture of Hagel and those advocating against him. First, his comments about President Bush jive with historians’ view of the former president. They have rated him the 39th worst president out of the 43 who have completed their terms. Plus, Bush’s own party has disowned him by not inviting him to join the 2008 GOP Convention (McCain’s nominating one, by the way) making the sitting president participate by video and not inviting him at all to Mitt Romney’s nominating convention in 2012. It seems like Sen. Hagel called it early.

Second, I am always tickled by Bush taking credit for the surge. You see, the surge is what his generals told him to do when we invaded Iraq in the first place, advice he ignored. General Shinseki, his lead commander, told him that we needed the extra troops to stabilize the region. After the advice was ignored, Shinseki resigned over this issue as he felt we were doing a disservice to our troops. So, when we had problems and later did the surge, people said what a great idea this was after it seemed to help matters. I don’t know the specifics around why Hagel said what he said, but since he was going against the party line, he must have had a good reason. Yet, people need to remember the whole history and not just part of it.

The comments about the Jewish Lobby was a poor choice of words, but I believe many in Washington believe this to be true. I think we should support Israel, but that does not make everything they do right. We can’t even get our government to do things right consistently, so why should we blindly support everything Israel does. On the related issue of unilateral support of penalties against Iran, I don’t think any issue can be treated as black and white. Economic sanctions punish the wrong people. The people trying to feed their families are the ones who suffer. So, not supporting any issue unilaterally, is not by itself a bad thing. It shows the person is thinking and trying to discern the right course of action. This is tough stuff and I don’t know if anyone knows 100% what the right course is.

The issue on nuclear arms reduction is interesting as well. I agree that since there are too many extremists in the world, being armed is important. Do we need as many? That is highly questionable. Recognizing that Nagasaki and Hiroshima saved American and Japanese lives that would have been lost in an invasion, we always have to remember that our country is the only one who has made a God-like decision to kill many people to save more. The fact a leader is questioning this issue and sensitized to what it means to use nuclear weapons, makes him a better leader not a worse one. My friend Hugh Curtler (www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com) has written an interesting piece around the use of drones, which is a similar issue on a smaller scale when civilians get killed.

The final issue may be the one that gets in the GOP senators’ craw. He broke ranks with his party and was critical of issues the party supported. Last time I checked, Hagel’s title was Senator of Nebraska, not Senator of the Republican Party. Like many, I am very tired of the “party jingoism” that is pervasive in politics. Like many, I want collaboration and willingness to consider ideas from all sources.

So, with all that said, I think former Senator Hagel deserves a chance to be the Secretary of Defense. And, if you want to question someone’s judgment, why not ask Senator McCain why on earth he would think Sarah Palin was a suitable running mate. If he won and passed away, then he would be putting our country in the hands of an adolescent driver without driver’s education. So, Senator McCain, give the man a break.

Two Stories that Frame our Eco-Energy Future

There were two stories this past week on PBS Newshour and 60 Minutes which provide some interesting framing of our fight to address climate change and get to better solutions. I want to add my appreciation for PBS Newshour who provides routine coverage of climate change issues, which some networks seem to ignore or pretend is not happening. Earlier this week, PBS Newshour highlighted the major concerns and planning efforts going on in Norfolk, VA which is nearly surrounded by water that continues to encroach on the city even without hurricanes.

This story is of even greater importance as Norfolk is home to a major naval base, so the rising sea level impacts national defense, which the Navy takes very seriously. A fellow blogger, www.vincentmudd.wordpress.com, has blogged about the Navy’s concern over global warming and sea level rise in the San Diego area. The bad part of the story is Norfolk has been flooded three times since October and none of these floods is due to hurricanes. They are due to the encroaching sea, which leaves water when the tides subside. Mayor Paul Fraim has noted there are parts of the city which may become unlivable in 15 years. Please note he said 15 years, not by the end of the century.

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said Norfolk is the second most vulnerable city in the US behind New Orleans. Yet, to their credit and that of the State of Virginia, they are endeavoring to do something about it. I have noted in an earlier post that Virginia did accept a scientific study that said sea levels will rise by 39 inches by 2100. This is important as they accepted this study along with a few other states. On the flip side, the State of North Carolina refused to accept such a study even after it was revalidated, and would only accept an extrapolated backwards looking version which said the sea level would only rise by 8 inches. Stephen Colbert very appropriately lampooned the ostrich-in-the-sand leaders in the NC legislature.

Norfolk’s Mayor Fraim is working with businesses, the State of Virginia and Department of Defense (DOD) to plan ahead. There are rebuilding fourteen piers to the tune of $14 million apiece to withstand the sea level rise occurring now. They are shoring up barriers along the water and rebuilding houses that will be in a better position to withstand the tides. They are not building in areas that would be futile to build in. They are also working diligently on evacuation plans for hurricanes which would leave even greater damage with a direct hit. Plus, the groups are talking monthly about this issue.

I found it interesting that they could not get anything passed in the conservative led State legislature which had the term “sea level rise” in it and had to use “flooding” instead. It should not be a surprise that the NC legislature which would not accept a similar report on sea level increase is also conservative led. As an aside, Norfolk is very close to the NC/ VA border. Folks, we are well beyond the climate change deniers and they need to get their head in the ball game or go sit down on the bench and watch. This is a major issue and for you to deny it is happening is extremely poor stewardship and a disservice to your country and fellow citizens on earth.

The other story to frame this discussion was on 60 Minutes Sunday night. Bob Simons did a piece on the Solar Impulse, a solar-powered plane that can now fly by night. In fact, it just recently returned from a flight from Switzerland to North Africa and back. The genius behind the plane is Bertrand Piccard, who partnered with Andre Borschberg. Piccard is the idea creator, while Borschberg is the designer and pilot. Piccard’s father invented a deep diving bathysphere, while is grandfather piloted a tethered balloon which went up to the lower reaches of space.

The plane has solar panels which bend to form a very large wingspan. It has a lightweight battery pack which harnesses the power from the solar panels to facilitate night flight. The plane is very light, but the wings are wider than those on a normal jet. They plan to fly it across America soon and eventually fly it around the globe. The fact that the creator is not American I hope will resonate with American industry. This is the future. If we can do this with airplanes, why can we not do it with cars and other means of transport and power?

What we are already seeing in the US and abroad is the deployment of small-scale solar projects than can power manufacturing plants, data centers and small towns. Apple and Google are building small 15 – 20 megawatt sites in NC to power some data centers. And, small portable solar packs are being used in remote villages in Africa by doctors to power lighting and medical equipment. By itself, solar is not the panacea, but it is an increasing part of the solution and along with wind energy can free us more and more from fossil fuels.

I found these two stories to be book ends of what we need to be doing more of around the planet. The US has executed a confederation of good ideas – big and small – but has to hide them from our conservative voters. That needs to stop as we must have a bi-partisan, eco-energy plan that lasts well beyond a current president’s term in office. Denmark has done so and its long-range plan survived an election which brought the opposition into power. I do not want us to have to start and stop planning based on who won, only because the fossil fuel industry has such a stranglehold over one party in the US. To be a broken record, this is a key reason why I left the Republican Party in 2006.

So, check these stories out. It is great to see people doing something about our problems rather than pretend every thing is OK. It is not and as Mayor Bloomberg of New York City noted in his Bloomberg Report in October, “it’s global warming, stupid.” Let’s start listening  more to the people who do not have a vested interest in where to invest energy dollars and less to those who financially benefit from some decisions. Well done Mayor Fraim and Messrs. Piccard and Borschberg.