Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Back in the saddle

January 31 - I'm back in the US, and fired up. When you go to places like Kenya, get your hands dirty, and see things as they are, you can't help but be fired up. To get a glimpse of what can fire a person up, go to, and read about the most recent Kenya experience.

So, this morning, as I started to get my bearnings again, I checked in to the House proceedings while out of the country. I'm a real novice at close monitoring of Congress, so what I was most surprised at is the amount of crap that Congress spends its time on. Many of the actions were re-naming Federal buildings, and honoring sports teams and personalities (Muhammad Ali for turning 65, Boise State for an undefeated season, Florida State for National Championship, Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy for being the first pair of African American Head Coaches in the Super Bowl, Louisville Cardinals for their Orange Bowl Victory, but where's the honoring of Rutgers - they beat Louisville!). Hey, Congress - Where's the Beef?

Now to our man in Washington, Rep. Roskam, how did he do? I didn't even bother to check the roll calls on the above-mentioned motions. It's not worth my time, and for the most part shouldn't be worth Congress' time and money. But, there were three bills that are of interest: HR476, HR6, and HRes65. First to HRes65, as this is where Roskam "done good". This bill, which was passed with Roskam joining about 5 dozen Republicans, is to lower the Student Loan Interest Rates. The obvious - making education more affordable. After all, Jefferson said Democracy can only succeed when the population are educated and informed. So, congrats, Peter, you got that one right.

Now to the hypocricy; Mr. "I will represent change in Washington" Roskam continued to show an easy willingness to vote for the status quo and the interests of big business (especially the oil industry) and the influence of lobbyists. HR6 is a bill that calls for investing in the development of clean, renewable and alternative energy. 36 Republicans joined the Democrats in passing this bill, but not one of our local reps (Biggert, Roskam, Hastert - the ethanol man). Are these people serious? Haven't they yet noticed the impending energy problem? Haven't they noticed that even if fossil fuels were plentiful, the environment is suffocating. Now that Henry Waxman is finally having the opportunity to hold hearings with some teet to them about the Bush Environmental policies and records, scientists IN the government are feeling safe enough to speak out about the "cherry-picking/denial" approach the Bushies have taken (see today's NYTimes for more on this). But Roskam falls right in line with big oil and votes against finding alternatives?

The other bill mentioned (HR476) is just as troubling. This bill limits the retirement benefits for Members of Congress "convicted of any certain offenses committed that member while serving as a Member of Congress". Roskam joined EVERY REPUBLICAN in voting against this bill (that was passed by EVERY DEMOCRAT). Now, I can understand why the incumbent Republicans voted against this - many of them probably could be at risk of losing their retirement benefits. But for just about the only Rookie Republican to join them in continuing to protecting themselves from any consequences of being corrupt shows that he actually has little interest in cleaning up Washington. For most of us, if we are caught and convicted of a crime related to our work we stand to lose everything. For many, it's what makes the work force more honest. But Roskam - if he had his way on this one - would have had it so people could violate laws in Congress AND keep their benefits, creating a huge win for them, and a huge loss to the taxpayers. Thankfully, the Dems passed this one.

Someone said to me recently that by the time 2008 rolls around, all of this will be ancient history, and slick Pete will campaign as squeaky clean. I say "Let's prove them wrong". Let's keep the heat on him; let's write to him and to the papers, and talk, talk, talk about his record. It seems clear that there is very little "consciousness" to Peter's early voting trends and unless there is a dramatic change in his record, we should start gearing up now for a dramatic change in who represents us.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Roskam's Second Week

So, how did Peter do this week? A review of the votes shows that he voted against raising the minimum wage, against empowering Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, and against funding stem cell research (this one is no surprise and fully in-line with his campaign promises). In all these cases, he was on the losing side of the votes. He did cross party lines and joined 68 other Republicans in voting to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 commission (Rep. Hastert voted against this - probably to save face as much as anything since he did little when he had the power to bring this forward).

And now a bit about my week: in various meetings and gatherings, the topics were devastating cuts to social service programs; decreasing affordable housing not just in DuPage County, but in Illinois; County and State budgets that are broke and in big trouble; US military strikes in Somalia; and, of course, a pledge from our President (with the backing of many Republicans) to "surge" in Iraq which is increasinlgy looking like an expansion and unspoken declaration of war with Iran. On top of this, I am preparing to leave for Kenya with a heightened awareness that current US efforts to fight terrorism are making the world not safer, but far less safe. An Al Qaida leader was quoted as encouraging expanding their presence in the poverty-stricken parts of Africa because the desparation is great fertile ground for converts. Hmmm; perhaps this is something the Democrast should consider instead of cutting funds for Global poverty-relief programs. In fact they might do well to bring that up once in a while as they consider voicing opposition to war expansion: the first line of attack to truly end terrorism is poverty eradication.

But back to Peter: he did manage to send out a glossy e-mail about the excitement of his swearing-in the previous week. That's great, but we've got some serious problems that are going to need some serious bi-partisan solutions. If our congressman is going to be a part of the solutions, he probably should get busy finding some common ground with his Democratic allies in Congress and his progressive constituents at home.

I'm off now until early February, and will catch up then.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Roskam's First Votes

Newly sworn-in Representative Peter Roskam presented himself during the recent and very close elections as someone who operates with integrity, who can reach across the political aisle with ease, and who will represent a change in the culture of how things get done in Washington. Now, after a squeaker of an election in which cleaning up the corruption of Washington was absolutely one of the main reasons for the Democratic takeover, Roskam’s talk now needs to walk, but already his true colors are starting to show. One of the earliest resolutions on the House floor (HRES6) represent the first of what will be many bills to clean up the sleaze and corruption that led to the downfall of Tom DeLay and now jailed Randy (Duke) Cunningham. This bill requires disclosure of earmarks, so that members of Congress could no longer slip in pet projects without attaching their name to them. 49 Republicans joined Democrats in voting for this non-ideological legislation; many conservative commentators hailed this legislation as a step in the right direction and lamented that their own party did not have the guts to pass it in the last session. But right there, for all to see, Rep. Roskam voted against this legislation.
Thankfully, he was on the wrong side of this. But as a constituent, I have to wonder what change Roskam felt he could represent if he could not even find his way to vote to clean up Washington. This was an easy test, and he failed. Many of us will be watching closely for exactly how we will be represented over the next two years, and we expect better