Tag Archives: congress

Historical Tradition

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I’ve read and heard about the “standard procedures” of the US Congress in its early days, especially during the time leading up to the Civil War. Some members (and COngressional staffers) carried pistols and almost all had walking sticks.  Being carried unconscious form the hallowed chambers was not unheard of, since fistfights were not uncommon, they used their walking sticks as clubs, and the ubiquitous spittoon was often thrown or poured on “my distinguished colleague from [fill in the blank]” as a First Amendment protected expression of free speech.

You do know what a spittoon is?

Think about it. Ewwwwww!

While you might find their deportment while in office vile and disgusting, these are our roots, and it might be well to return to them. Don’t forget, in our early days, the Vice President came to the capital to be sworn in, then headed back home.

I propose bringing back these proud American traditions.

First, since, in the formative years of Congress, there was no television, I propose that all speeches may only occur when the Congress has a quorum. That means that a majority of the members of that house of Congress must be present even if they have to listen to a colleague’s drabble. The CSPAN cameras (God love ’em) are great, but do not constitute a quorum.

Second, elected congressmen and senators should be allowed–nay, encouraged–to bring the weapon of their choice with them, just as they did in the early to mid 1800s. Let’s see how that affects gridlock. (Don’t worry, there are damned few who would have the guts to actually use a weapon, and most couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. I’m not including those few military veterans, who would not only hit their target, but do so with a precise grouping.)

Third, insist that members of Congress experience what the FOunding Fathers did. The British do so at least to a degree in their courts. In Congress, this would call for stockings, instead of trousers, heavy woolen clothes year-round and, no screens on the windows, much less air conditioning.

I’d bet that this would have some impact on gridlock–not to mention an increase in special elections as a few members of Congress were killed or injured and many of the others fled for their lives.

Just kidding–everything is working just fine as it is.

Educational Cause and Effect

I realize that people in general, and Americans in particular, have never been genteel when it comes to discourse. Throughout history we attributed it to our pride in rugged individualism and the Protestant work ethic. Anyone can be president; I can achieve anything I set my mind out to do; we celebrate Edison, Bell, Fulton, because those individuals invented things to change the world.

We claimed territory, as our right under “Manifest Destiny,” without regard to who or what stood in our way. Passenger pigeons? Bison? Native Americans? Forests? These speed bumps were quickly removed.

We settled our differences by swordfights or pistol duels. Our politicians—those we elected to represent us—settled arguments by shouting, spreading lies, and even bludgeoning one another with walking sticks in the very halls of Congress.

Not much has changed. Today, if you disrespect me, there’s today’s version of a duel—I drive 60 miles per hour through the neighborhood blasting away and hope that you are one of the people I hit. It doesn’t matter that: a) the bullet most likely will hit someone other than the intended target, and b) there’s a high likelihood that one (or more) of the gazillion security cameras will catch me and be used to send me away for twenty-five-to-life.

Today, there’s a lot of shouting, with nobody listening. It’s far more important that I get my position clearly stated—”I’m right and you’re not only wrong, but also an idiot—not to mention that your mother was ugly and you have terrible taste in clothes!”

Although I just clearly stated my position (the paragraph above, you buffoon!) you can’t tell me what it is. I can’t either, but that doesn’t matter, does it? The fact remains that I’m right and you’re wrong.

[Okay, let’s all take a deep breath, grab a cold one—if you like, and smoke ’em if you got ’em—assuming you can afford to pay eight dollars a pack.]

A theory—presented for you to think about and challenge in a professional, factual manner. Perhaps, when we began to focus on standardized testing, the school systems were forced to teach the correct answers, not how to arrive at a correct answer. What to think, not how to think. Ideas are no longer the raw material used for thinking; they are pre-packaged and ready to serve. No human interaction required.

There are parallels—in a world in which our youth do not know how to interact with others except via social media, we no longer teach etiquette or how to write a letter. They are not taught to introduce their friends to their parents or when a thank you note is appropriate. Civility is at the bottom of the required skills list.

Teachers didn’t make the rules and probably dislike them more than anyone although they have to abide by them.

But we all can teach. What if each of us added the following to our more contentious discussions:

  1. “Why?”
  2. “Tell me more.”
  3. “How would you solve it?”

Then listen—actively, intensively listen.

This just might prove interesting.

Founding Fathers vs Today’s Leaders

In my many years, I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.

John Adams

The Founding Fathers, for all their myriad imperfections, did manage to design a workable form of government. The operative word is “work.”

The Congress was tasked with making laws, the President with either signing or vetoing those laws—although the President’s veto could be overridden with a two-thirds majority of Congress—and the judiciary with interpreting how the laws should be applied.

Congress is made up of two houses; the House of Representatives, with 435 voting members elected for two years, who represent the states and 6 non-voting members, who represent the US territories. The House focuses on the latest legal or social fad.

Each state has two senators, who are elected for six-year terms and are expected to be more deliberative and sophisticated. However, the Senate has spawned members like Joe McCarthy, who are generally dangerous to the country.

Sometime in the last century, Congress decided that certain laws would be unpopular, meaning that a member might not get re-elected and have to get a real job, so many laws were made by virtue of the decisions of the Supreme Court. This gave the members of Congress more time to pontificate and profess their principles without actually doing anything, other than raising campaign funds and running for re-election. Since this gave them more time to talk, even (if you ever watch C-SPAN) if most of their colleagues were not in attendance, they were happy. They rarely had to do anything, except talk, talk, talk. Making sense was optional (and rare).

On those occasions that Congress did pass a law, the law was prepared by lobbyists and most members of Congress were ignorant of most of its content (except for pork barrel amendments inserted to get them re-elected).

Eventually, the President wanted to get in on the action and began to issue Executive Orders. Even though the Constitution stipulates that Congress has the power to declare war, it has not done so since 1941. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War—and the sequel to the Gulf War, and the War in Afghanistan were not wars but “police actions” initiated by various presidents. While it may have been war to those who fought, were wounded, or died, Congress maintained plausible deniability by not declaring them as actual wars.

Executive orders worked so well that presidents began issuing them for whatever issue caught their attention at the moment. Some were good, some were not. The problem with executive orders is that they can be issued by one president and cancelled by the next.

How do we fix it? All we have to do is follow the US Constitution. If you haven’t read it within the last year, please do. It has been amended 27 times to reflect changes in society and its needs. For a copy, go to https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CDOC-110hdoc50/pdf/CDOC-110hdoc50.pdf.

They’re Baaack!*

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A few thoughts now that Congress is back in session:

  1. The skills and capabilities needed to be an effective elected official have nothing in common with the skills needed to get elected.

    During the campaign, voters are attracted to a combination rock star and rich uncle,

    But a good public servant is closer to a Benedictine Monk (complete with vow of poverty) who is also a Certified Public Accountant.

  1. Our servicemen and women gain our respect because they are willing to die for our nation;

    Our politicians, on the other hand, earn our disdain because they are prepared to sell out the rest of the nation to benefit their own congressional district.

    *and you put them there.

Thinking Out Loud

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Sometimes ideas in my mind sound totally different when I say them out loud.

Often, I’ll have a great idea when in the shower, and after getting to work I excitedly share it with someone.

But once I say it out loud, it sounds like the stupidest thing I could have ever said.

That’s why I like working as part of a team. Bad ideas can be dispensed with quickly, or better yet, someone will respond with something like, “That’s stupid, but if we turn it sideways and paint it blue, it just might work.” That’s how ideas grow.

Yesterday on my way home from work, I was talking with my father on the telephone. Like everyone else who works for the government, I’m less than enthralled with Congress. As we were talking, I blurted out that even though it was disruptive to be furloughed again, I’m still blessed to have a job when many of my chronological peers are not so blessed.

It’s easy to forget the good stuff.

My advice – Don’t.

Phone Transcript from the NSA

tapping

 

(Ring) “Hello?”

“Bob, it’s Sam. How are you enjoying your vacation?”

“Sam! My esteemed colleague and fellow member of Congress. Good to hear from you.”

“Thanks, Bob. Before I forget, I need a little favor from you. If you should happen to speak with my wife, you and I were fishing yesterday.”

“Sam, you dog. What did you catch? A blonde?”

“Actually a redhead, Bob. She was wild! She had tattoos in places I didn’t know they could put tattoos.”

“Whoa, Sam! No details! If I don’t know nothin’, I can’t spill nothin’! However, we do need to talk business. You got any hot issues we need to look at when we get back in session?”

“Nothing major, Bob. I owe the environmental lobbyists a bill to celebrate ‘National Snail Darter Day.’ The bankers want another bailout so they can give each other big bonuses. Just the usual.”

“Now tell me honestly, Sam, are you planning on doing anything about the budget?”

“Hahahaha! Bob, you slay me. Why in hell would I want to do that? The stalemate has made my base solid. You’ve never seen a happier bunch of cranky old white guys. The campaign contributions are rolling in and the PACS are already working on new issue ads. I sure don’t want to derail that gravy train.”

“I hear you, Sam, but my party needs to make it look like we’re really trying to solve the financial crisis. I going to have to lay it on thick that your party is only capable of saying,’No!'”

“Bob, we’re big boys. We both know how the game is played. I don’t take it personal any more than you do when I accuse you of being a ‘Tax and Spend’ advocate. The battles aren’t important. It’s the war we want to win and when both sides are after the same end, it’s a wonderful thing. Everything else is just showmanship!”

“Great, Sam. I hate to see my vacation come to an end, but I guess that’s the way it is.”

“And don’t forget that we were fishing yesterday.”

“Right, Sam. I won’t tell your wife what you caught – only the one that got away.”

(Connection terminated)

Who’s In Charge?

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Today’s world is unsettled and unsettling. Sometimes we have an unrealistic expectation as to how life should be.

First off, war is a terrible thing. It is not like the video games or movies. It hurts. It kills. There is no such thing as a surgical strike. You can’t shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand. Smart bombs may be better at hitting their target, but innocent men, women and children are still going to die. War is making things so terrible that the other side will do absolutely anything to make it stop.

Second, intelligence is an equally nasty business. The way to find out what the bad guys are doing is to make a deal with some of the bad guys. This may mean paying them, or blackmailing them. It means the “good guys” must stoop to their level, no matter how slimy. You don’t learn anything talking to respectable people.

If the intelligence is good enough, it may be possible to avoid or shorten a war. To save lives. To stop destruction. If you know the bad guys up close and personal, doing this only makes sense, even to the point of doing things that other people might not do.

Which is worse, to spy on everybody or let terrorists kill another 3,000 innocent people? It’s a difficult question.

We select people to oversee and control such complicated issues. The Constitution give Congress the power and responsibility to raise an army and to declare war.

The House and Senate committees on intelligence are responsible for oversight of intelligence practices. Members of Congress are not required to have security clearances, so the key committees have broad access to whatever information they need. This is so they can make good decisions on complicated issues. The expectation is that we trust them and they in turn act in our best interests.

I’m not postulating an opinion, merely explaining how the process works.

This is one of the many reasons that we, as citizens, have such an important responsibility as well as a duty to elect people we trust. When you hear all the negative campaign rhetoric, keep that in mind.

You Should Be Fired

I intentionally try to avoid political topics – Lord knows our nation is divided enough. From time to time, though I feel I need to point out the obvious.

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If I contract with somebody to build a house for me, and after selling my existing home, I find that my new home is not only not complete, but barely started, what will I do? I don’t care if the electricians blame the plumbers. I don’t care if the plumbers all say it’s the carpenters’ fault. I hired a contractor to build me a house, and there’s no house.

If we send people to Congress, we likewise expect that they are going to do what we sent them to do. I don’t care if the Republicans blame the Democrats, the Democrats blame the Republicans. The Congress has not done their job.

People who don’t do their jobs should be fired.

Do we have a workable budget? No.

We’re sending money to countries that don’t even have a government while we’re making the employees of our government take time off without pay.

Except, of course, for Congress.

Therefore I suggest that we call Congress on the carpet and fire them. Every one of them.

Yes, I know your Congressman was able to get his/her district funding for [Insert your pet project here]. I don’t care, and neither should you if your project is at the expense of the nation as a whole.

We’re not a series of independent and competing congressional districts. We’re a nation. “One nation, under God, indivisible.”

Send an letter/e-mail/whatever to your senators and congressional representative and tell them that based on the performance of Congress as a whole, unless things change you’re going to vote against all incumbents at the federal level in hopes that the next Congress understands for whom they work, and what is expected.

No Gridlock Here

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I’m not exactly a liberal, so sometimes NPR rubs me the wrong way. However, NPR does in-depth coverage of issues that only get sound-bite treatment from other sources, so I’m a regular listener.

(Yes, I’m a member, and have been donating for years.)

Occasionally NPR will cover some issues that no one else seems to want to cover.

Recently they investigated why the number of people receiving Social Security Supplemental Security Income (SSI – also known as disability payments) nearly doubled over the past 15 years. It turns out that there’s a whole industry dedicated to getting people disability payments. Who’s a big customer? State governments some of which pay thousands of dollars for each person moved from welfare (a state funded program) to disability (a federally funded program).

Thought provoking – the link is http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/490/trends-with-benefits?act=2#play

Today NPR had a piece describing how in a matter of 30 seconds Congress (the same Congress who can’t seem to agree on anything) passed a bill and got it signed by the President. Of course, this was a SPECIAL bill. A VERY SPECIAL BILL. This bill canceled many of the provisions of the law that made congressional financial trading more transparent. The original bill made it possible to see how lawmakers invest their largesse. Did Senator Whatsisname own stock in the pharmaceutical industry before voting on a bill that benefitted drug companies? The original law was intended to make it possible to find out. The thirty second bill fixed that.

If you’re interested in the details, here’s the link. http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2013/04/16/177496734/how-congress-quietly-overhauled-its-insider-trading-law

In the recent past I wished Congress could get along and get things done. Now, I’m not so sure.