Mutiny on The Bountiful
Last week I counseled mutiny. You could call it The Mutiny on the Bountiful. I suggested, and not lightly, that senior members of both houses of congress form a legislative coalition, a government within the government. That they effectively wrest control of the key domestic and military functions away from what is now clearly a dangerously dysfunctional executive branch.
The damage this administration has already inflicted on this nation and the world will take decades to repair. And, of course, there can be no repair or compensation for the lives they have cost, first abroad and now here at home. This administration has proven itself careless, thoughtless and clueless to a heretofore unthinkable extreme. Allowing them a free hand for three more years must become equally unthinkable.
American politics has been woefully short of statesmen of late -- men and women capable of seeing past the partisan game of political Monopoly indulged in by fat, lazy and corrupt imperial states in the early stages of decline.
But I believe there may still be some, laying dormant among senior leaders in Congress, people like, Warner, Leahy, Sanders, Leach, Hagel, McCain, Byrd, Durbin, Waxman and Fienstein. Public officials who still have within them a small bit of glowing ember of regard for the public good. And it's that ember we must count on to rekindle the fires in their guts that led them to public office in the first place.
For the past five years they have done all they could to douse that ember within with buckets selfserving connivance and near-criminal neglect. Journalist/columnist David Broder noted this weekend that George W. Bush has enjoyed an "imperial presidency," in no small part because of historic "congressional acquiescence."
Since Republicans have taken control of both the White House and Congress the number of congressional oversight hearings has dropped to an historic low. The administration's handling, or more precisely, mishandling, of matters of war, peace, homeland security, terrorism, poverty, trade, unemployment, have all gone largely unexamined, unchanged and unchallenged. The majority party's slogan has, in practice, become, "Hey, not to worry. We're in charge now. What could go wrong?"
Even the largest terrorist attack on the nation would not have been investigated by congress had it not been forced down their throats by furious 9/11 families. Even then we had to impanel an independent commission do the job because no one trusted congress to do a thorough or fair job of it.
So that leaves us no choice but mutiny. Our congressional crew returns from summer shore leave this week and I can only hope that there's a Fletcher Christian and twelve stalwart crew members among them. That they meet, form a bipartisan bound and take control of our ship of state. Once they have Captain Bush and first officer Cheney safely and securely confined to their cabins, it's time to get down to business.
The Mutineers should quickly set forth a three-year congressional action plan that includes the following:
* Shelve any further tax cut legislation indefinitely, including the estate tax.
* Begin closing the budget deficit by scaling back Bush's tax breaks for top earners.
* Pull FEMA out of the Department of Homeland Security, reinstating it as independent agency and making it a cabinet level agency.
* Empower and fund HUD to replace low-income housing in lost in the hurricane -- and require HUD to work in cooperation with proven NGO's like Habitat for Humanity.
* As federally-funded rebuilding of hurricane damaged areas begins, require that the departments of Homeland Security and Immigration assure that construction work in the affected areas is given to unemployed residents of the area and not illegal aliens. Any employer found knowingly hiring illegal aliens would face both stiff fines, and jail for subsequent offenses.
* Pass emergency reconstruction laws that make the top officials of any corporation granted federal reconstruction contracts personally responsible if their company is caught cheating, lying and stealing. Under this law such top officials would be subject to fines and jail time – real jail time, no mansion arrest or ankle monitors. (And, yes, I have serial offender Halliburton, which has already bagged at least one half-billion hurricane relief contract, in mind.)
* Pass legislation requiring that 10,000 US troops a month be withdrawn from Iraq starting this November 1, beginning with members of the National Guard. As regular-duty troops return home, reassign some of them to assist the Border Patrol in securing our national borders.
* Use the lessons learned by this disaster to formulate and budget for a long overdue upgrade of our national infrastructure, levees, dams, electrical transmission, highways and bridges.
* Launch a thorough review of the Department of Homeland Security, particularly whether the creation of that department actually weakened national security by uprooting existing agencies from their traditional departments.
* Finally, form a commission along the same lines as the 911 Commission to investigate the federal response to Katrina. Charge that commission with finding out who screwed up, how and why. Then, as part of this report, insist that the individuals who dropped the ball be fired – and no Presidential medals this time.
That would be a good start. Of course, even confined to his quarters, the President would still wield a veteo, which is why our Mr. Christian and his merry band of mutineers must also round up enough crew members to consistently override those vetoes.
Mutiny is not for the faint of heart, especially for those who once among the captain's darlings. For those members this is when the patriotic rubber really hits the road. This is when they find out what they are really made of. Do they stand with their party, right or wrong, or stand with those risking all by following a higher calling?
There you have it. If you are onboard with this plot rally your neighbors and friends, call or email member of congress. Attach this column if you want. Then, in the subject line simply write:
Commentary of the Day
If nothing else, Hurricane Katrina has returned some of our mainstream media to us. Here is an example. I haven't heard the likes of this out of a network anchor since Walter Cronkite editorialized at the end of an evening CBS news cast in 1967 that: . "It seems now more certain than ever," he said, "that the bloody experience of Vietnam is a stalemate." Historians say those comments were a major factor in President Lyndon B. Johnson's decision to offer to negotiate with the enemy and not to run for President in l968.
On Sunday another CBS anchor, Bob Schieffer, had this to day on Face the Nation:
"Finally, a personal thought. We have come through what may have been one of the worst weeks in America's history, a week in which government at every level failed the people it was created to serve. There is no purpose for government except to improve the lives of its citizens. Yet as scenes of horror that seemed to be coming from some Third World country flashed before us, official Washington was like a dog watching television. It saw the lights and images, but did not seem to comprehend their meaning or see any link to reality.
"As the floodwaters rose, local officials in New Orleans ordered the city evacuated. They might as well have told their citizens to fly to the moon. How do you evacuate when you don't have a car? No hint of intelligent design in any of this. This was just survival of the richest.
"By midweek a parade of Washington officials rushed before the cameras to urge patience. What good is patience to a mother who can't find food and water for a dehydrated child?
"Washington was coming out of an August vacation stupor and seemed unable to refocus on business or even think straight. Why else would Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert question aloud whether New Orleans should even be rebuilt? And when he was unable to get to Washington in time to vote on emergency aid funds, Hastert had an excuse only Washington could understand: He had to attend a fund-raiser back home.
"Since 9/11, Washington has spent years and untold billions reorganizing the government to deal with crises brought on by possible terrorist attacks. If this is the result, we had better start over."