The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 24, 2013

Earmarks can help Congress get groove back


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Americans have little faith left in Congress. There is mounting evidence that members of Congress have developed a similarly low opinion of themselves (Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas emphatically excepted). What everyone needs now is a confidence booster.

To break the cycle of failure, partisan recrimination and stalemate on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans need something that looks, smells and feels like bipartisan success. Congress could make a structural change that would both please members and grease the wheels for future cooperation: Bring back earmarks.

With no earmarks to dole out, leaders have a harder time maintaining order in the ranks, and legislators have an incentive to pressure executive branch agencies behind closed doors to fund pet projects.

So one good way to jump-start a stalled Congress would be to resurrect earmarks — complete with the 2007 reforms and an extra bipartisan twist. Any legislator who proposes an earmark should be required to enlist a sponsor from the other party. The earmark would have to have sufficient merit that a partisan opponent would be willingly associated with it. At the very least, this would spur bipartisan horse trading, building valuable working relationships — and, who knows, maybe even a little trust — across the partisan divide.

Bloomberg Views

Dems too dumb to exploit tea party's insanityEven many Republicans agree that they lost the battle over the shutdown and the debt ceiling. The tea party walked the country to the edge of economic ruin and their party to the edge of political catastrophe until Republican leaders in Congress flinched.

Democrats, though, have little to celebrate — and I'm not talking about the shambolic rollout of the health-insurance exchanges. Republicans saw their approval numbers sink with the debt-ceiling standoff, but not nearly as badly as you might have guessed. This should be making Democrats think.

One theory to account for the mildness of the backlash against the Republicans' irresponsibility — and this rival explanation, much favored by their critics, is actually a big part of the Democrats' problem. It's the idea that voters are just so stupid. One of the things that strikes me as a foreigner living in the U.S. is that American metropolitan liberals despise every kind of bigotry, except the kind directed at the dumb hicks who inhabit the middle of the country. I mean, those people vote Republican!

If Democrats could bring themselves to respect the people they say they want to help, the Republican Party would be in deep trouble. On this, the tea party has no cause for concern.

Clive Crook, Bloomberg News

Punish virtual war crimesYou might think the International Committee of the Red Cross would have plenty to do just providing humanitarian aid to people in war zones. And so it does. So why is the organization poking its nose into the debate over violent video games?As it turns out, that's also a pretty good use of its time.

Among the millions of young people who play such games today — virtually capturing, torturing and killing enemy combatants — are some of the soldiers, military officers, government leaders and opinion makers of tomorrow. That is reason enough to argue, as the ICRC does convincingly, that their games ought to follow the international laws that protect victims of war.

The ICRC isn't looking to ban, regulate or censor such games — which would be futile anyway, at least in the United States where courts have ruled their content is protected by the First Amendment. Instead, the organization encourages manufacturers to build in penalties for virtual war crimes.

Game makers can market the changes as providing greater authenticity and challenge, requiring virtual soldiers to accomplish their mission while causing the least damage to civilians and their property. Just as actual soldiers are called upon to do.

Bloomberg Views

Why did America fire missiles at a grandma?

WASHINGTON — Two new reports out last week cast a disturbing light on America's drone war. One by Amnesty International focuses on recent strikes in Pakistan. Another, by Human Rights Watch, assesses U.S. targeted killings in Yemen. Most discomfiting, in the Amnesty report, is the story of Mamana Bibi, a 68-year-old grandmother killed by hellfire missiles while tending her garden on Oct. 24, 2012:

“Before her family's eyes, Mamana Bibi was blown into pieces by at least two Hellfire missiles fired concurrently from a US drone aircraft.”

A second strike hit the field nearby a few minutes later, badly injuring one of Mamana Bibi's grandsons who had run to the scene of the first explosion.

The authors write that the "evidence indicates that Mamana Bibi was unlawfully killed," according to international humanitarian law, and suggest that whoever is responsible be "brought to justice in fair trials."

The reports come at a time when the administration is signaling its intention to shift away from the use of drones toward other counterterrorism tactics. However, as the report argues, President Barack Obama's few statements on the topic indicate that he favors a policy shift away from drones rather than legal guidelines on when and how they can be used. The possibility that officials could be held responsible for incidents like the one that killed Mamana Bibi was always remote. It also seems inevitable that they will happen again.

Joshua Keating, Slate