Author Archive: Congressman Rush Holt

Extending the PATRIOT Act: Why I Said No

Update: Patriot Act extension fails in the House.

– promoted by Rosi

The powers of intelligence and enforcement are the most important powers of government – but also the most fearsome. These powers must be wielded very, very carefully.

For decades, our government has routinely collected information on potential foreign threats through various forms of surveillance.  These intelligence collection activities enjoy broad, bipartisan support in our country because of their value in helping to protect America’s citizens and interests.  However, in the 1960s and 1970s, these collection capabilities were turned on the American people, and executive branch agencies engaged in spying on the American public – sometimes even for political purposes.  

How Much “More Science” Needed about Climate Change?

Gov. Chris Christie says he’s skeptical that global warming is caused by humans. Rush Holt, physicist and congressman, has a few words to say about that. – promoted by Rosi

This year, Republican candidates up and down the ballot questioned the science of climate change and opposed any policies to address it. This widespread platform was summed up well by the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia who spoke about the “myth of global warming and the other myth that man is causing global warming.”

Doubting or even denying the scientific consensus about climate change evidently now is a “must-do” for all ambitious Republicans, right up there with such Far Right orthodoxies as There’s Never a Bad Time to Cut Taxes for the Wealthy (or pay for those tax cuts), Keep Your Socialist Government Hands Off Medicare, and Drill, Baby, Drill.

I was disappointed to see Governor Christie join the growing list of prominent Republicans giving voice to skepticism about climate change and its causes. As quoted by the Associated Press, the Governor told a town hall audience that he believes “more science” is needed to convince him. He added that he’s not a scientist and doesn’t know what’s true on the issue – only that nothing has been proven.

If the Governor doesn’t know much about the subject, maybe he shouldn’t talk about it. The reason science is regarded as reliable is because it’s not subject to the political winds. We should look to evidence, not ideology.

In this instance, the overwhelming consensus of science in the world – including 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences – is that climate change is real and that human activities are contributing to it. According to NASA data released last month so far 2010 has been the hottest year on record so far.

We need “more science” to convince us that climate change is real as much as we need more science to convince us of the realities in Newton’s Theory of Gravitation, or Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Instead of trying to tear apart the science and engage in a false debate largely driven by corporate interests, we should be discussing how we can address the reality of climate change.

Tyler Clementi and the Fight for Civil Rights

Rush Holt attended last night’s forum on the Rutgers campus in the wake of Tyler Clementi’s suicide. The Trevor Project Lifeline and other help numbers are listed after the jump, if you know somebody who might like to have them.  – promoted by Rosi

The fight for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals is the next front in America’s struggle for civil rights.

The milestones of America’s progress have marked fights for equal rights, liberty, and justice for all.  The enduring struggle – to grant women the right to vote, to end Jim Crow, to provide opportunity and accessibility to individuals with disabilities – helps define who we are as a nation.

The tragedy of Tyler Clementi’s death – like the suicides of three other teens in three other states whose deaths reportedly are linked to anti-gay bullying and abuse – is part of that struggle.

Obstructing Equality

promoted by Rosi

The relentless and unprecedented obstructionism of the Senate minority claimed a new victim Tuesday, as 43 Senators denied a historic opportunity to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Tuesday’s vote to obstruct debate of the National Defense Authorization Act – which also has the effect of blocking such priorities as preventing military suicides and increasing military pay – continues to delay the inevitable day when this policy ends and gay men and women will be able to serve openly in our armed forces. It would be best for our nation that we end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell sooner, not later.

Overturning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not simply about providing equal rights. It’s about preventing the hemorrhage of critical military talent from an already-overstretched American military engaged in two wars. When I travel to meet American servicemen and women in the war theater, no one discusses their personal lives. Nobody should because it doesn’t matter. What matters is what they are doing to complete their missions and that they come home safely.

The real question is why are we depriving our armed forces of some of their most important resources? Why are we discharging skilled Arabic linguists, fighter pilots, and weapons officers? Why have we discharged more than 13,000 service members since 1994?

Is it because it would damage morale, as some continue to argue? In fact, gays have served in our military since the American Revolution. The supposed ‘damaged morale’ didn’t lead to our losing to the Redcoats or surrendering to the Germans in two World Wars. Allowing gay Americans to serve openly won’t weaken morale in our armed forces.

There is no good reason for this policy to continue, as leaders like Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have made clear.

Just as President Truman was right to desegregate the Armed Forces more than half a century ago, it is time we ensure that LGBT soldiers finally can serve openly.

The obstruction must end.

 

For Sgt. Coleman Bean of East Brunswick

I asked the congressman to write this, because I have a military suicide in my family, many years ago during Vietnam, and because as parnell44 put it, Rush Holt cares about closing cracks so people don’t fall through them. I added the photo of Coleman, from The Sentinel, exec. editor Greg Bean, Coleman’s father. – – Rosi Efthim

Sgt. Coleman BeanSergeant Coleman Bean of East Brunswick served two combat tours in Iraq.  In between and after those tours, he sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Because Sgt. Bean was a member of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR)-a pool of Reserve soldiers not assigned to any unit but available for mobilization if needed-he could not get treatment for his condition because the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs refused to take ownership of Sgt. Bean and the thousands like him.

Sgt. Bean’s father, Greg Bean, described what happened next in an eloquent column published as a Veterans Day 2008 tribute to his son:

He fell through the cracks. He had no advocate, no Army machinery to help him find his way through the system. He felt he was literally on his own. He made appointments with the VA to have an ulcer treated and to obtain treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Those appointments were postponed. He was still waiting when he took his own life Sept. 6.

A few weeks after Coleman took his life, the VA called to confirm his next appointment.

There is a serious gap in our military prevention efforts, a gap that needlessly cost the life of Sgt. Bean. Earlier this month, I introduced bipartisan legislation – named in honor of Sgt. Bean – that would close that gap.

My bill would require the Defense Department to ensure that members of the IRR who have served at least one tour in either Iraq or Afghanistan receive a counseling call from properly trained personnel not less than once every 90 days, and determine the emotional, psychological, medical, and career needs and concerns of the IRR member.  Any IRR member identified as being at risk of harming his or her self would be immediately referred to the nearest emergency room for immediate evaluation and treatment by a qualified mental health care provider.

Last year, this bill was included in the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.  Unfortunately, an anonymous Senate conferee objected to this provision during the conference report negotiations on the grounds of costs-even though no member of the Senate ever requested that the Congressional Budget Office score the provision.  Indeed, CBO has confirmed that it would have no impact on direct spending or revenues.  How anyone could believe that our government can’t afford to make suicide prevention phone calls to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is baffling.

Two federal agencies charged with helping prevent suicides among our returning troops utterly failed Sgt. Bean and his family.  We cannot allow another family to lose a son or daughter, a father or mother, a husband or a wife because of bureaucratic buck-passing.

This Friday, the House again passed a Defense Authorization Act, and again it includes my amendment.  I now urge members of the Senate to join us in taking a simple step to help all our Ready Reserve soldiers get access to the suicide prevention counseling and support that they need and deserve.

 

No Good Reason for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Promoted from the diaries by Rosi

For those who believe, as I do, that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is a horribly misguided and discriminatory policy that has done a great disservice to our armed forces, this has been a remarkable week.

During his State of the Union address, President Obama reiterated his intent to end the 17-year-old policy, leading to a standing ovation that included Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Yesterday, at a Senate hearing, Secretary Gates said “I fully support the president’s decision” and announced a working group to produce an implementation plan for repeal. At the same hearing, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a strong appeal for repeal, saying that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.” The current policy, he said, “forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

In 2006, John McCain said, “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility.”

At yesterday’s hearing, he said he was disappointed in their testimony. Apparently, the advice of military leadership doesn’t count for much now.

It should be evident that it is a matter of when, not if, DADT is repealed and gay men and women will be able to serve openly in our armed forces.  I hope we see that day sooner, not later.

Overturning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not simply about providing equal rights. It’s about preventing the hemorrhage of critical military talent from an already-overstretched American military engaged in two wars. When I travel to the Middle East to meet American servicemen and women in the war theater, no one discusses their personal lives. Nobody should because it doesn’t matter. What matters is what they are doing to complete their missions and strengthen American security.

The real question is why are we depriving our armed forces of some of their most important resources? Why are we discharging skilled Arabic linguists, fighter pilots, and weapons officers? Why have we discharged more than 13,000 service members since 1994?

There is no good reason, as Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen made clear.

This week’s developments are encouraging, but, although Executive Branch action would be good, what is needed is Congressional action that would make equality the law. The bill I support – sponsored by my colleague Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, a Veteran of the War in Iraq – has more than 180 cosponsors. We should not wait to pass it.

No one would agree to deprive our military of ammunition or armor, so why deprive it of its greatest necessity, highly talented servicemen and women?

Preview of the State of the Union Address

At tonight’s State of the Union address, President Bush will face a markedly different audience than he ever has for his annual appearance before Congress and the American people.  Not only will he have a Democratic-led House and Senate in the chambers, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi looking over his shoulder, but he will also be addressing an American public that has never been more skeptical of his ability to lead our nation to a sensible solution in Iraq, the most important moral and political issue of our day.

President Bush’s proposal for a way forward in Iraq is not promising.  He has notified the American people of his intention to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.  For the past several years, as casualties and dollars have mounted and our international prestige has declined, President Bush has exhorted Americans of the need to “stay the course” in Iraq.  Now, astonishingly, he has found a way forward that is even worse than “stay the course.”  It is now, “stay the course, but put even more American lives at risk”– with no more security for Americans at home and with no better future for Iraqis.

The American people could not have made themselves more clear in November.  The opposition in Congress to President Bush’s escalation is overwhelming and bipartisan, and includes former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John Warner (R-VA), a thoughtful and experienced mind in military affairs.

In the coming weeks, Congress will take action to show disapproval of President Bush’s proposed troop escalation in Iraq.  Rather than increasing the number of American troops in Iraq, we should be implementing a responsible withdrawal (starting immediately), encouraging Iraqis to take control of their own security, and implementing an aggressive diplomatic offensive with regional interests and others.  The American people and the brave members of our Armed Forces deserve no less.

The Surveillor in Chief

Tonight the President suggested again that if only he had tapped all Americans phones he would have prevented the 9/11 attacks.  That’s why, he says, he needs this nationwide surveillance program.  You’ll remember that for years he has been saying “no one could have foreseen the attacks.”  In fact, maybe we would have been better off if the President had been reading his Daily Intelligence Briefs the summer before the attack, which had more specific warnings.  He wants us to believe that only bad guys will be watched and listened to.  The kind of police states where the government knows no restraint begin with the government saying it only restrains bad guys, but who decides who are the bad guys– a functionary at the NSA, or worse, a political appointee at the White House?  That’s why we no to demonstrate probable cause before a judge, but the President refuses to do that.  Because suspects are always suspect– until they later turn out to be completely innocent– law enforcement, investigative, and intelligence forces must be subject to careful constraints.