Editorial September 9, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

One of the things we hear frequently in the presidential debates comes from GOP nominee Donald Trump who typifies the US military as in dire need of expansion in a dangerous world. The candidate would defeat ISIS and increase the US military role in the World.

His conclusions are accurate; the military, particularly the Navy are suffering but it is not a weakening that can be placed on the back of the President despite the President being blamed for everything Trump thinks is wrong with the country. The President has supported spending for a strong military.

The use of the US military world-wide and the increased spending to expand it is something Trump wants and, if elected, says he will do. But defense funding is clearly on the backs of some Republicans in the House who have drawn the purse strings so tight that much of what government does can’t be done.

The reason why money for defense has shrunk is the Sequester; a result of unsuccessful budget negotiations going back to 2011 that closed the government for some 16 days. Largely, the effort was the result of the House Freedom Caucus using its 30 to 40 members to deny Leadership a majority vote on budget matters and a pointless committee charged with finding sufficient budget cuts to satisfy those budget hawks that it never found. More so the Sequester remains in place through 2023 unless something is done to change it. The impact of the Sequester on the military is now obvious.

In the February edition of Proceedings, the magazine of the US Naval Institute, an article by Eric J. Labs makes it clear that Navy’s future plans to expand the force are at risk. Labs writes that Navy most wants to expand the base of Ohio-class submarines to 12 bringing the Navy’s procurement wishes to 178 vessels between now and 2035 at the cost of $18.7 billion per year but will need $20.8 billion to include refueling aircraft carriers, outfitting and post-delivery duties as well as new ship building. As Lab sees it the Navy may have to try to meet its priorities with $16 billion per year resulting in a smaller force.

Labs also notes that the matter is not if the expansion will be funded but where the money will come from highlighting Congress’ mysterious contradiction; we are in a dangerous world and need a stronger military but we don’t plan on spending money to achieve that goal.

That Congress’ ability to fund defense at historic levels has been severely curtailed by the Sequester indicates a blind eye to the problem and contradictions with dealing with it. We look at the record of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) who has dedicated more legislative energy to his concerns about foreign countries including several South American countries than his own State’s problems. Rubio’s agenda requires an expanded military while he supports reduced spending across the board. Another contradiction comes from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-7) who regularly offers amendments to spending bills to cut spending across the board by 1% even though that approach was proven in 2005 not to work as intended.

It is a dangerous world and we do need a strong and well-funded military to deal with it. Unfortunately, back in 2011 Congress took action that blocked the initiative and has not found the solution.


 

Hamilton on Congress

The Media’s Responsibility to Our Democracy

By Lee H. Hamilton

Politicians spend a good bit of their time complaining about the media. But why should they have all the fun?

I’m going to join in, though I tend to get upset about different things than most sitting politicians do. You see, I don’t actually mind when journalists – whether in print, on television or online – treat what politicians say with skepticism. That means they’re doing their jobs.

But this doesn’t happen nearly as much these days as it should. The media today is less objective, more ideological, and much showier than it once was. What you see can be eye-catching – both the graphics and the personalities – but it is also brash and relentlessly self-promoting. A lot of journalists don’t just want to report the news, they want to be players and affect policy. They see politics as a blood sport, often exaggerating the differences among players.

As one observer said, the media is drawn to “superficiality, sensationalism, scandal, and sleaze.” They’re all too happy to seize on small points of contention and fan them into major points of discord. They make building a consensus – the key task of the democratic process – much harder.

The field has been moving in this direction over decades, and there’s a reason for it: all these changes have been well received by the public. They draw viewers, readers and clicks. And they’ve encouraged consumers to pay attention only to the sources that reflect and broadcast their own viewpoint.

I don’t want to be a fogey here. Yes, I grew up in the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and I still think they were solid journalists, but what I miss is not the voice-of-authority-from-on-high that’s so often associated with them. Instead, what I too often find lacking now is the spirit that drove the profession in those days. I think the news media had a sense of responsibility to make representative democracy function. Journalists imbued their work with a palpable sense that they were involved in a public service.

There are still really excellent journalists out there who are doing their best to serve both their profession and the country. Every day they struggle to make sense of enormously complex events. What they understand – and what I wish more of their colleagues believed – is that democracy demands journalism that improves its workings. Properly done, journalism can bridge differences, help consensus emerge, improve the knowledge and judgment of voters, and sharpen the performance of public officials and government as a whole.

In the end, the democratic process is about overcoming disagreement. This is virtually impossible without a solid base of information and analysis.

Governing well is immensely difficult, and good journalism can keep government open and honest – which serves not just the voters, but politicians who are trying to resolve the problems facing the country. Journalists can and should be watchdogs, keeping a watchful eye on politicians – what they do, what they say…and what they don’t do or say. They should serve not just the elites, but the underdogs and have-nots in society.

The independence of our press was hard to win, and it’s vital that we sustain it. People must have sources they can rely on in order to make our system work. Our democracy needs well-informed citizens making decisions based on facts about both policies and politicians.

This means that the model of the journalist that seems to be going out of fashion – reporters who were reasonably objective, independent of outside groups, and even independent of their company’s owners – is actually crucial to representative government. Curious, skeptical journalists who point out inconsistencies, draw attention to mistakes, call out misleading statements, and identify outright lies serve a larger purpose: they provide citizens what they need to know in order to be a good citizen, and public officials what they need in order to do their work well.

This is quite an ideal, especially in this age of economic turmoil within the media universe. But I don’t think it’s too much to hope that as the profession sorts out its future, it takes seriously its leadership role in advancing the public good, and doesn’t sacrifice its part in making representative democracy work properly.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


On the Issues

Zika

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued emergency authorization for a Zika diagnostics test from Swiss drugmaker Roche, skirting normal approval channels as the regulator moves to fight the disease’s spread. NY Times.

Bombs Left in Laos

It was a complete coincidence that Larry Zimmerman’s lecture Tuesday to the Military History and Veterans Discovery Group took place on the very same day President Obama was in Laos announcing $90 million in U.S. aid to help clean up millions of unexploded bombs the United States dropped nearly 50 years ago. Washington Post

North Dakota Pipeline

The governor of North Dakota has activated the state’s National Guard ahead of a U.S. District judge’s decision Friday morning that could inflame protesters who have been gathered here for weeks in an effort to block a pipeline project. LA Times


Foreign Affairs

ISIS

Two Syrian siblings with muscular dystrophy managed to escape the advance of ISIS earlier this year despite being confined to wheelchairs for much of their harrowing journey through Iraq, Turkey, and Greece, according to Amnesty International. NBC News

Syria

On July 31, Syrian opposition factions launched a fierce attack on Aleppo in northern Syria. In a first of its kind, the attack involved all of the opposition factions and groups. The residents of Aleppo try to get on with their lives in the early morning hours as warplanes hover in the sky. Al Monitor

Turkey

The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), which has expanded its operation in northern Syria by sending tanks to al-Rai, needs a win. Just as important, the Turkish government needs a story about how the balances have shifted since the TSK’s intervention and how the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the Kurds are about to disintegrate. Al Monitor

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