Dear GOP: Boehner quit you, not the other way around

"Goodbye, nut jobs!" -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

“Goodbye, nut jobs!” -What John Boehner quite possibly could be thinking right now. (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

Alright, the headline is slightly misleading, since outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, didn’t actually quit the Republican Party, but his surprising resignation, nonchalant attitude at his press conference, and subsequent trashing of fellow Republicans and conservative groups, like Texas Senator and GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, seemed to indicate a man who could no longer stand what’s become of his beloved party. The Republicans are in disarray, helped by a huge swing to the far right, allowing fringe elements to infect the party at almost every level, leaving establishment members like Boehner little choice by to take a lifeboat to safety.

Boehner isn’t the first high-profile Republican to essentially jump ship in recent years. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell–a lifelong Republican–famously endorsed President Obama not once, but twice, and chastises his party (he still considers himself a Republican) often on television. Longtime Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties not long after Obama’s election, and others are sure to follow. Not all will take the same or similar routes pursued by moderates like Powell or Specter, but Boehner is not the first and nor will he be the last big Republican name to call it a day.

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Eliminate the debt ceiling

Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman ...

Official portrait of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Raising the debt ceiling gives the government the ability to pay its existing bills. It doesn’t create new deficits. It doesn’t create new spending.” ~ Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman

Once again, the full faith and credit of the United States was brought to the brink of default by political posturing. This most recent debacle has Americans assigning the majority of the blame to the GOP, and most especially to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is more concerned with self-promotion than doing what is in the country’s best interest. He is now one of the most unpopular men in the Congress, not to mention in the country, except for a small contingent of right-wing zealots bent on destroying American government. These folks think Cruz is just dandy. He is their hero.

This month’s showdown is guaranteed a replay after the holidays. The political theatre we witnessed over the past month will no doubt take center stage again. The same battles will be fought and the country’s financial stability will be further jeopardized.  In addition to the debt ceiling circus, the 16-day government shutdown left 800,000 federal workers furloughed, resulting in lost wages and decreased purchasing power, further hindering already tepid economic growth. The cost of the shutdown by some estimates is as high as $24 billion.

Conservatives, especially Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives, were adamant about using the debt ceiling issue to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act. Neither the President nor the Democrats were going to allow that to happen, nor should they. When this attempt failed, conservatives tried other bargaining chips. Congressmen Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) even said, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Seriously? How old is he? That statement alone reveals how uninformed and incompetent some are in the House.

The long-term debt is a concern. It has risen significantly over the years, but paying our debts should never be used as a bargaining tool. Congress should instead work during their legislative sessions to determine the country’s budget priorities—how we raise revenue and cut spending. And yes, we must do both. We cannot only raise taxes nor can we only cut spending. Congress holds the power of the purse. It is their job to set the budget. It is irresponsible to repeatedly push America toward default just so a minority party can get its way. Moody’s put the US on credit ratings watch in 2011 because of such a stunt, while S&P actually did downgrade the rating from AAA to AA+. One would think that these supposed “free marketers” would understand that uncertainty is no friend to the economy, domestic or global.

Most Americans, even some legislators, do not understand the difference between the national debt and the budget deficit. Here is a good resource if interested. Raising the debt ceiling does not open the floodgates to new spending, it merely allows the U.S. government to pay the bills Congress has already approved. This is why the rating agencies have threatened, and a couple have, to downgrade the U.S. credit rating, which would have dire consequences for our country’s borrowing capability.  China has even suggested replacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and who can blame them when they witness our governmental dysfunction?

Furthermore, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” Do Ted Cruz and his Tea Party buddies not realize this? They prefer to ignore it while wrapping themselves in the flag and the Constitution, claiming they are the only “real” Americans. As Norm Ornstein writes of this situation: “To begin, this is entirely an engineered crisis perpetrated by House Republicans with Senate allies, hatched, as we now know, by outside individuals and groups including Ed Meese, Heritage Action, and the Koch brothers. We know that John Boehner really did not want a shutdown, and that he had agreed to a clean continuing resolution after Senate Democrats capitulated in entirety to his party’s demands on appropriations—meaning a continuation of the sequester and the much lower overall spending numbers of the Ryan budget (including higher spending for defense.)”

In light of all this, some have suggested eliminating the debt ceiling. The United States government’s ability to pay its bills should never be held hostage by self-serving politicians bent on manufacturing a debt crisis in order to achieve their ideological goals. And yes, Democrats have voted against raising the debt ceiling too—even President Obama when he was a senator. However, in the past, whether from Democrats or Republicans, these votes were mostly taken by a few to show opposition without an actual threat of government default.

Below are several articles advocating for debt ceiling elimination. The PDF of Congressional Research Service’s report on The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases can be downloaded here. It’s not the most riveting material, but it does provide important information about the federal debt.

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Birtherism Lives On

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...

Section 1 of Article Two of the United States Constitution sets forth the eligibility requirements for serving as president of the United States:

“No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

Guess who just released his birth certificate? Canadian-born Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). He did this as a proactive step should he decide to run for president in 2016, which looks more likely by the day. However, because his mother was an American citizen, he automatically received American citizenship status as well as Canadian. I don’t know. I’m not convinced. I think we need much more proof, especially since Mr. Cruz was born in Canada. (Of course, I’m joking.)

220px-Ted_Cruz,_official_portrait,_113th_Congress

However, it does point to the fact that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and his mother was an American citizen, so even if he weren’t born in the country, which he was, because his mother was a citizen (like Mr. Cruz’s mama) he has always been an American citizen. President Obama has released the short and long-form versions of his birth certificate. (FYI – My birth certificate is less detailed than the President’s short-form one.)

There is further proof of Barack Obama’s American citizenship in Honolulu newspapers published in 1961: his birth announcement. Yes, there is a public record. Still, it is highly annoying that even today there are those who just won’t let up and see his election as some vast conspiracy orchestrated fifty years ago. Where do people come up with these ideas?

Interestingly, “natural-born citizen” was not defined in the Constitution written in 1787, though its meaning has been debated over the centuries.  From Wikipedia: The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that “the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens”. (Act to establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, 1st Congress, 2nd session, March 26, 1790, 1 Stat.L. 103 at 104, 2 Laws of the U.S., ed. Bioren & Duane (1815) 82 at 83.) This act was superseded by the Naturalization Act of 1795, which did not mention the phrase natural born citizen.

If one were to adhere strictly to the Constitution, utilizing the term “natural born citizen” in its most basic form meaning to be born in this country, Mr. Cruz is disqualified from the presidential electoral process and stands no chance of becoming president.  If he were to run in 2016, this could be a huge barrier for him to overcome. Yes, that previous statement is a joke because in reality, we know there will be no push back regarding his citizenship unless his Tea Party pals scrutinize him the way they have Barack Obama, which is highly unlikely. Furthermore, Democrats won’t have the stomach for that fight, knowing it is an inane path to pursue anyway.

I thought that after the 2012 election this nonsense would disappear, and it seemed to for a while. However, recently the question of President Obama’s validity as the leader of our country has arisen again from the fringe right. Protestors in Florida held birther signs greeting the president during a recent visit to that state, and the ever classy, erudite Ted Nugent is back spewing his anti-Obama attacks as well.

For some real fun, visit Birther Report.  I had some laughs. Sadly, these people are dead serious. Oh, well, this is what makes America, America: we have freedom of speech and because of that, we can espouse views and publish information as facts no matter how outlandish or untrue.

Oh, and by the way, last night, Ted Cruz announced he would be renouncing his Canadian citizenship. Oh, the pressure…

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Two Decades and Counting…

I recall quite well when the military first addressed sexual misconduct in the ranks: Tailhook, 1991. I recall because I was in the Navy, in an aviation squadron, located on then-Naval Air Station Miramar, home of the ever-popular Top Gun. Yes, the pilots on Miramar had a bit of extra swagger, so this unfortunate occurrence was more than a little annoying to them.

As is the tradition in the military, copious training ensued; most of it directed at the Enlisted sailors, none of whom were present at Tailhook. A military-style investigation was launched, which resulted in the ominous conclusion that the entire incident was caused by junior pilots who were not adequately supervised. That’s right: men who were regularly “given the keys” to multi-million dollar weapons platforms could not be trusted to behave themselves standing in the corridors of a hotel. There were also aspersions cast upon the whistle-blowing victim: she knew The Gauntlet was being staged there: she did not have to go that way. Never mind that she was the Admiral’s aide, and The Gauntlet lay on the only path from the elevators to the Admiral’s suite. Even more disappointing was the investigation’s finding that the Admiral knew absolutely nothing about The Gauntlet, though he had traversed that corridor not much in advance of the aide. And even giving him the benefit of the doubt that perhaps this Gauntlet had sprung up spontaneously in his wake, the investigation clearly showed that The Gauntlet was a long-standing tradition of the Tailhook Association‘s Symposia, and this was most assuredly not the Admiral’s first time at this particular rodeo. Once again, it became all about women making trouble in “This Man’s Navy.”

While this type of behavior was originally termed “Sexual Harassment,” there was evidence – however guarded – of sexual assault at least as early as 1996. The first official recognition of the occurrence of sexual violence in the military came in the form of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response Policy, issued in the wake of the 2003 Air Force Academy scandal, but the giant was not fully awakened until OEF/OIF and the increased presence of women across the full spectrum of combat operations. And while we now know that sexual assault is far more prevalent in the armed services than we ever imagined, we also know that too much of what is being done to address this violent and criminal behavior has been PR efforts and Norman Rockwell programs. Because now we know 80% – 90% of all military sexual assaults go unreported, and 62% of those who have reported the assault have been victimized a second time through retaliation.

I – among many others – was hopeful, if not skeptical that this situation had hit critical mass and something truly constructive would finally be done. However, this rather disappointing NPR interview with the new Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response director, Major General Margaret Woodward, shows that the prevailing attitudes are so ingrained in military culture that even this female Major General defends the status quo of leaving the adjudication of sexual assault allegations in the hands of Commanders – exactly where it does not need to be. Commanders are human. Some do not want a scandal to mar the reputation of their organization, or fear such a scandal will put their career in jeopardy.  And some Commanders are just loathe to ruin the career of a fellow warrior. The one important reality these attitudes fail to address is that these predators choose to commit these offenses. Year after year, the message is drilled home. By this time, it should be obvious to the most casual observer that some people will never grasp the concepts of “No means no” and “Keep your hands to yourself.”  In these cases, more training is not better; it is futile.  But it affords the painfully traditional and out-of-touch military leadership an excuse to continue to fool themselves that they are actually doing something.

Following the most recent rash of events, the Department of Defense announced a Sexual Assault Stand-down. During a stand-down, all operations cease and intensive training and re-training occurs. The agency for which I presently work decided to take a rather curious angle: instead of addressing the issue of sexual assault head-on, they chose to frame the entire day’s discussion in terms of “equal opportunity.” Once again, DoD opted out of an opportunity to “man up” and make its mess its message.

Luckily, there is hope on the horizon in the form of The Military Justice Improvement Act, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y), and backed by a bi-partisan group of 33 Senators provides some hope for change, but in an historically do-nothing Congress, chances of any meaningful legislation being passed remain slim. This act would remove the chain of command from the adjudication process and place it in the hands of specially trained, impartial personnel. Is it a perfect solution? No. Military leaders are loathe to yield any of their dominion to civilians, many of whom have no military “cred,”  and if the system is set up so that the civilians adjudicating the cases are former military, there is the distinct possibility outcomes will be no different. However, at this point, it seems to be the best we have. I highly encourage you contact your Senators and Representatives and encourage them to support this bill and ensure its passage. Our men and women in uniform deserve the chance to serve honorably. One way to ensure this is to maintain a Military Justice system that provides equal protection to all servicemembers in all cases. This may well be the next big National Security threat, as it significantly and adversely affects the morale of our military. It’s not just their problem. It’s our problem. And the time to act is now.