Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category
Politicians who cannot comment on climate change because they are “not a scientist” speak out about Ebola
Inconsistency, thy name is Politician. Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:
On Saturday, political blogger Lee Papa made an interesting observation about Republicans who widely recommend panicking about Ebola. “Does any Republican talking about Ebola say, “I’m not a scientist” like they do with climate change?” he tweeted, referencing the long list of political figures who claim to not know the science behind climate change, even though they actively oppose any policy to fight it.
On Monday, Papa answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” As might be expected, most prominent Republican politicians who are not willing to talk about climate change because they lack qualifications are willing to talk about Ebola, despite the fact that they lack qualifications. As might also be expected, all those politiciansfavor strict policy measures to deal with the disease, even though most scientists say Ebola is not easily transmittable and does not pose a widespread threat to Americans.
“Republicans are glad to tell you that either the evidence is inconclusive or that they are too dumb to understand the science when it comes to climate change, so they think it’s wrong to act like it’s a crisis and refuse to do anything to slow or halt it,” Papa writes at his blog Rude Pundit. “However, they will go bugnuts crazy and try to cause panic when it comes to the science around the spread of Ebola, even when they have it wrong.”
The list of perpetrators is long. . .
Years ago (1964) a book was written about Congress titled Congress: The Sapless Branch, and that title rings true today. We have reached the point now where Congressional action contrary to the interests of large corporations seems increasingly difficult. T. C. Sottek writes in the Verge:
Here’s what’s happening right now on net neutrality:
- The FCC is still deciding whether to completely cave and ruin the internet as we know it
- Americans are pretty mad at the FCC about it
- Congress is twiddling its thumbs
The FCC’s comment period is over and 3.7 million people weighed in — that means even more people are concerned about net neutrality than Super Bowl XXXVIII: Wardrobe Malfunctiongate. And, yes, America, it’s totally reasonable and appropriate to be mad at the FCC. It has screwed up on net neutrality for years from cowardice and simply by using the wrong words. But Americans who want to protect net neutrality should also start being mad at Congress.
It’s Congress that has largely turned net neutrality regulation into a partisan charade that occasionally results in threats to the FCC’s budget and authority via Congress’ telecommunications benefactors. The FCC’s dithering on net neutrality has been enabled for years by this nonsense and it’s now reflected even by the agency’s bench, which seats some commissioners who have advocated stripping themselves of power to avoid going against corporate interests. Even the FCC’s chairman is intimately familiar with those corporate interests; Tom Wheeler is a former telecom lobbyist and was appointed by a president who promised that lobbyists wouldn’t run his administration in a distant magical time called “Before He Was Elected.”
If you want a clear example of Congress’ ineptitude on net neutrality, look no further than a letter sent to Comcast today by . . .
The Social Security office of judges who hear appeals for disability benefits is 990,399 cases behind
One of the things that happens with a dysfunctional Congress is that government begins not working—services seize up, benefits fail to be delivered. Given that this is exactly what one party—the GOP—wants to happen, it’s hard to see how to fix it. For a long time, the role of Congress had been to make sure the government worked. Now a good part of Congress wants government not to work, and they strive mightily to that end. What’s weird is that they accept no responsibility for their own actions: they starve the CDC, for example, cutting its budget drastically over a decade, and then they blame the CDC when the cuts leave it unable to respond. This drives good employees from the government—but that’s the idea. The GOP is working continuously and with determination to destroy the American government because that government is the sole remaining obstacle to corporations being able to get away with whatever they want. We are assured that this state of nature for corporations will improve our lives, not because corporations care about anything other than profit but because the invisible hand of the market will clean up the toxic spills and oil pollution, it will ensure that insurance companies honor their contracts and do not sell deceptive plans, it will repair our roads and provide good schools for all citizens, and so on. Only in fact the invisible hand of the market seems to slap consumers and caress corporations.
David Fahrenthold writes in the Washington Post:
In an obscure corner of the federal bureaucracy, there is an office that is 990,399 cases behind.
That is Washington’s backlog of backlogs — a queue of waiting Americans larger than the populations of six different states. It is bigger even than the infamous backups at Veterans Affairs, where 526,000 people are waiting in line, and the patent office, where 606,000 applications are pending.
All of these people are waiting on a single office at the Social Security Administration.
Above: Patrick McGarvey, 48, pets his cat Marco at his house in Riegelsville, Pa. McGarvey, who has debilitating back pain, waited seven years, including appeals, to get approval for his Social Security disability benefits. “Some nights my back pain is so bad that my animals are the best company when I’m up,” he said. McGarvey has two cats and a dog. (Kevin Cook for The Washington Post)
Social Security is best-known for sending benefits to seniors. But it also pays out disability benefits to people who can’t work because of mental or physical ailments. And it runs an enormous decision-making bureaucracy to sort out who is truly disabled enough to get the checks — and who is trying to game the system.
Within Social Security, this backlogged office handles appeals of appeals. In most of its cases, the applicants have already been turned down twice by lower-rung officials who didn’t think they were disabled enough.
WHERE GOVERNMENT FALLS APART
Fifth in a series examining the failures at the heart of troubled federal systems.
If they appeal to this office, they can plead their case in person, before a special kind of Social Security judge.
The judge is supposed to read the applicant’s medical records and ask questions about medications, limitations and levels of pain. There are 1,445 of these Social Security judges, which means its in-house legal system is larger than the entire regular federal court system — district and appeals courts and the Supreme Court put together.
When they make a ruling, they must decide whether someone is truly unable to hold any job.
That is slow work, made slower by a pileup of outdated rules and oddball procedures. The judges’ official list of jobs, for instance, is a Depression-era relic last updated in 1991. It still includes “telegram messenger” and “horse-and-wagon driver” — not exactly growth industries. It doesn’t mention the Internet at all.
These judges fell behind when Gerald Ford was president. And they never caught up. Along the way, their office has become a bureaucratic parable — about what happens when the machinery of government cannot keep up with its good intentions.
In this case, the system became, in effect, too big to fix: . . .
Like he wants to fix the frequent flier programs run by airlines, programs that share some scam-like characteristics. Christopher Elliott reports in the Washington Post:
Frequent-flier programs are rigged to favor airlines, deceive passengers and cost consumers billions of dollars. At least that’s the contention of one Florida frequent traveler named Alan Grayson.
But it just so happens that Grayson is a member of Congress. And as such, he can ask the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General to investigate airline loyalty programs.
That’s exactly what Grayson, a Democrat, did this summer, and now an audit is underway. It will take about a year for the inspector general to determine whether airline loyalty program practices are unfair and deceptive. But when the dust settles, the DOT might be closer to cracking down on one of America’s favorite addictions: collecting points and miles.
Public opinion on the issue is split. While some frustrated passengers side with the congressman, others vehemently disagree that the government ought to get involved in regulating their points and miles. A new survey by market research firm Colloquy reflects this deep division. It found that 54 percent of U.S. loyalty-program members are “unhappy” with their reward options. Also, 48 percent say that they’ve been “frustrated” by the reward redemption process.
Grayson didn’t respond to requests for a comment on the audit. But in a letter to DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel, he presented his arguments for tighter regulation. “Frequent flyer programs are prone to manipulation by the airlines that control them,” he wrote, likening the estimated $700 billion worth of miles to an unregulated currency. “Airlines establish the rules, the terms, the value, expiration dates, and the sales pitches.” To earn more money, airlines are constantly devaluing this de facto currency, which is “profitable for the airlines, and costly for the consumer,” wrote Grayson.
The congressman zeroed in on federal laws that seem to prohibit the kind of behavior airlines are engaging in, and correctly pointed out that the DOT has some authority to regulate them.
But some say that his critique misses the biggest problem with these schemes. Thanks to loyalty programs, airlines have completely separated their most valued customers from the rest. They lavish top spenders with perks while forcing the less valuable passengers to sit in shrinking seats and pay fees for services that should come with every ticket, such as a seat reservation and the ability to check one bag without paying extra for the privilege. Frequent-flier programs have widened the airborne caste system to the point where it’s hard to believe everyone’s on the same plane. They’re making air travel worse for all but a few privileged elites, according to critics. . .
Wow! That’s a game changer. I would bet the coal industry is sending pallets of money down to Washington to get that report killed. Look for US government-funded counter-studies within months if not weeks. (And the GOP will of course dismiss it out of hand: it’s European, and physics and chemistry and so on are very different over there… metric and stuff.)
Elias Isquit has a very good column in Salon:
A few weeks back, Yahoo!’s Michael Isikoff broke a story that inspired feelings of bitter vindication among U.S. foreign policy critics, but went mostly unnoticed by the population at large. In a statement to Isikoff, the White House acknowledged for the first time that the civilian-protecting restrictions on drone strikes President Obama announced to great fanfare last year were not being applied to its new anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria. Translated from the purposefully anodyne language of a statement to the press, the White House’s message to civilians near ISIS targets was simple and clear: You’re on your own.
To critics of U.S. policy in the greater Middle East, Yahoo!’s report was an unwelcome confirmation of a nagging suspicion and fear. Namely, that Obama’s 2013 drone speech — during which the president outlined a long list of reforms his administration would implement to the drone program — was little more than presidential lip service, and that the U.S. was still running its counterterrorism like a game of Calvinball, the imaginary sport from “Calvin and Hobbes” whose only real law is that player/creator Calvin gets to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to do it.
It’s no longer a surprise, of course, to find Obama upholding Bush’s legacy on national security policies. What’s troubling, though — and what the new war on ISIS has made even more clear — is that despite being nearly six years through the Obama era, our famously cautious, rational and legalistic president has done little to clean up and clarify the legal and political counterterrorism framework left to him by his predecessor. The war on terror is bigger and more entrenched than ever, and it’s still being waged according to secret rules.
For experts in the field of human rights, the Yahoo! report was both disappointing and unsurprising, with some seeing it as just the latest manifestation of a dynamic that’s been present throughout Obama’s years in the White House. In conversations with Salon, members of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch shared concerns over the White House’s statement to Yahoo!, but emphasized that they were unable to weigh in more authoritatively due to the administration’s insistence on keeping secret much of the law supporting targeted killings and other uses of force against terrorist organizations.
“The fact that we’re even having this conversation stems from the decision by the administration to not be clear about what law governs,” said Human Rights Watch Deputy Washington Director Andrea Prasow after noting Obama’s 2013 drone speech “was clearly policy, not law” and therefore non-binding. ”The Obama administration has used targeted killing in circumstances that may not be an armed conflict,” Prasow said, “and in those cases, human rights law is the law that governs. If the [ISIS] decision was to apply … to those situations,” she continued, “the policy is illegal.”
If all that sounds quite hypothetical, it’s because it is. “We don’t know if particular strikes are part of the armed conflict which Iraq requested the U.S. join, or if they’re strikes against al Qaeda as part of the administration’s claim that it’s in an armed conflict with al Qaeda and its ‘associated forces’ around the world,” Prasow said. “It’s difficult to know how to analyze [drone strikes] and how to figure out which law governs. We don’t know what’s actually happening.” The president’s 2013 address was supposed to answer many of these questions and provide greater. It hasn’t. . .