Why so many speeches at these hearings?

This is not exactly a scoop, but I thought I’d ask it anyway: Why do members of Congress have to make speeches when they’re assembled to seek answers to questions from key government officials?


It’s happening as I write this brief blog post.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is quizzing Secretary of State John Kerry about the U.S. plan to defeat and destroy the Islamic State. But without fail, from senators on both sides — Democrats and Republicans — are embarking on long-winded soliloquies before getting to whatever question they want answered from the nation’s top diplomat.

Kerry, of course, knows the score. He served in the Senate for nearly three decades and engaged in some tiresome speechmaking while grilling witnesses before the very committee he once chaired.

Many of out here in the Heartland know what gives, too. Politicians by definition usually are in love with the sound of their own voices. So they want to hear themselves being heard, yes?

I’m reminded of the time during Senate confirmation hearings to decide whether Samuel Alito should join the U.S. Supreme Court. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee gave each senator 30 minutes to “ask questions” of the nominee. Then it came to Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. CNN put a clock on Biden, who then pontificated for more than 28 minutes.

Biden eventually asked the question and Alito had less than two minutes to respond. Time ran out and the chairman called on the next senator.

I’d much rather hear what a witness has to say hear for the umpteenth time what a senator of House member thinks about this or that issue.

Benghazi hearings actually can be constructive

Here we go.

A congressional select committee of House members has convened a series of hearings on Benghazi, which has become shorthand for “How do we derail Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations?”

The committee chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., is going to replow some ground that’s been tossed, turned and examined to the hilt on what happened on Sept. 11, 2012 when terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

The event occurred when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. It’s been a talking point ever since among right-wing critics of the Obama administration — and that includes conservative mainstream media.


What will the committee learn that it doesn’t already know about what happened? Probably not a damn thing.

Here, though, is where the hearings can prove constructive.

They can ascertain whether we’ve done enough to improve embassy and consulate security in the two years since that horrible attack.

I hope that’s the goal. I hope that we can determine if we’ve learned from the mistakes committed during that horrible fire fight.

Gowdy opened the hearings with this statement: “We do not suffer from a lack of recommendations. We do not suffer from a lack of boards, commissions and blue ribbon panels. We suffer from a lack of implementing and enacting those recommendations. That must end.”

OK. Then find out what needs to be implemented, make a recommendation, file a report and put it on the record.

The longer this matter remains a political talking point, the more it will take on the appearance of what some of us believe already: a witch hunt.

Vikings make right call in Peterson case

Adrian Peterson was supposed to play football this weekend for the Minnesota Vikings.

Now he’s out of the game.

The All-Pro running back has been indicted on child brutality charges involving injuries suffered by his 4-year-old son when dear old Dad took a tree branch to him while disciplining him.


This case has me vexed. Does it rise to the level of domestic violence acts being committed by other pro football players? No, but it’s serious and potentially tragic nonetheless.

I’m beginning to tilt more toward tough sanctions against this guy.

Think about what happened here: A 220-pound man takes a piece of wood to a 4-year-old boy and inflicts bodily injury on him. Does that constitute spanking the way most of us understand the term? Hardly.

I was spanked twice — I think — by my mother. Both times she used her hand. One incident I remember vividly occurred in the back seat of a car in which she actually “turned me over her knee” and gave me a serious walloping.

Peterson’s use of a tree branch goes beyond what I understand to be spanking.

The Vikings now have placed him on some sort of “exempt” list, which bars him from all team activities while this case is being investigated. Sponsors are pulling their endorsements from the team, costing the Vikings considerable amounts of money. Fans are protesting against the team; I suspect there might be a fan boycott if the Vikings reinstate Peterson too soon.

Yes, this is a serious matter that deserves serious attention.

The Vikings are giving it all the attention it deserves, which is a lot.

Syria aid is on its way

Well, it looks as though the United States of America is going to enter the Syria conflict after all.

Congress likely will approve President Obama’s request for authorization to train and equip “moderate” Syrian rebels as they prepare to take on the Islamic State — and the government forces led by Bashar al-Assad.


Yes, it will come with some complaints from both sides of the aisle.

Obama was right to ask for authorization. Congress is right to grant it.

Is it the right call to equip the rebels? That remains to be seen.

The Syrian civil war is getting complicated in the extreme. We don’t yet know fully who the “good guys” are in this fight. We’ve identified some definite evil forces — two of whom are fighting each other. ISIL is battling the government led by the dictator. We hate the dictator, but we hate ISIL even more, given the gruesome murders the terrorists have committed against two American journalists and a British aid worker.

I remain concerned deeply about whether we should send in troops while bombing the daylights out of ISIL military positions in Iraq. That discussion has been broached by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, who today said he’d consider sending in special ops forces if the need arose, pending approval by the commander in chief, Barack Obama.

Congress has a role to play here. Its members need to sign on and take ownership of a conflict that is beginning to take on the look of a new war.

Heaven help us.

GOP saying ‘yes’ to Obama

Hey, what gives here?

Congressional Republicans, those guys and gals who made it their mission to make Barack Obama a “one-term president,” are starting to sound accommodating to the president.


They’re set to extend the Ex-Im Bank charter, approve a budget next year without a fight and they appear ready to approve a request to authorize U.S. air strikes while arming and training rebels in Syria, according to Politico.

It might be that Republicans are sensing they’re going to win control of the Senate after the mid-term election. So perhaps they’re feeling a big magnanimous toward their foes on the other side of the aisle.

I’m not holding my breath that the GOP will start to actually govern rather than obstruct the president’s efforts at crafting an agenda.

Here’s how Politico reports it:

“The forthcoming deals represent a big swing on Capitol Hill. Just a year ago, House Republicans were locked in a bitter battle with Obama over repealing his signature health care law, leading to a 16-day government shutdown that left both sides bruised.

“Now — with less than 50 days until the midterms — Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise want nothing to do with Washington and its potential drag on Republicans’ sunny electoral fortunes.”

So it appears to be a pragmatic turn. Whatever the case might be, Republicans seem to grasp the political risk associated with continuing the gridlock that shuts down the government that is supposed to serve the people who send them to Capitol Hill.

Oh, how I miss Molly Ivins

Watching the unfolding Texas political campaign for statewide office — and seeing how it mirrors the intense partisanship that divides the nation — I keep thinking of Molly Ivins.

I wish she were around to see and hear the things coming out of politicians’ mouths.

Ivins died in 2007. She was just 62. She could skewer a politician — usually conservative and Republican — with the kind of skill that hasn’t yet been found since her death.

She coined the term “Gov. Goodhair” when referring to our lame-duck governor, Rick Perry. She wrote with flash, panache and she packed a tremendous rhetorical wallop.

I found this link from Mother Jones looking back on Miss Molly’s career. The folks at Mother Jones were anticipating the presidential campaign of Gov. Goodhair and thought they’d share some of Ivins’s pearls with their readers.


With Texas politics leaning ever more rightward, Lone Star State pols needed someone who could hold them accountable for their silliness and outright frightening policies. Ivins was the one to do it.

In all the years I worked in daily journalism in Texas I was proud to publish Ivins’s work in the two Texas papers where I worked. One was in Beaumont, the other in Amarillo.

You know what I learned about readers in both communities, even with their disparate political leanings and demographic composition? Her fans loved her and her foes loved to hate her.

It’s that latter category of readers that fascinates me.

If she didn’t appear in either paper — for whatever reason — on a given day, my phone would ring. The conversation would go something like this:

Me: Hello?

Caller: Yeah, where’s Molly today? I missed her column in the paper. I don’t agree with her, but I sure like reading her work. She makes me laugh.

Me: She’s taking a break. She’ll be back.

Caller: Good. She’d better be or else I’m cancelling my subscription.

There aren’t many journalists who can count “fans” among those who disagree with their commentary.

Former Sen. Phil Gramm visited us in Amarillo once years ago and we asked him to comment on a biting criticism Ivins had made about him. Gramm laughed and said, “Oh, Molly probably cried when the Berlin Wall came down.”

Well, she wasn’t a godless communist. She was as patriotic as any American I’ve ever met.

Her brand of patriotism doesn’t wear well in some circles these days. Her biting humor, though, would go a long way in the midst of what passes for political discourse these days.

Iraqi slope getting slippery

That slope that leads into Iraq is getting more slippery all the time.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said it is “possible” that American ground troops will be brought back into Iraq to fight the Islamic State.


I believe this is the kind of thing the commander in chief, President Obama, said won’t happen.

“To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Gen. Dempsey said in a testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Will the president heed the advice of his top military adviser? Therein lies the stickiest of wickets possible for the president.

His critics say the United States cannot defeat the Islamic State with just air power. They also suggest that our coalition-building, which worked pretty well in advance of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, is insufficient as well.

So, does the president act on his instincts and stay the course, which means “no boots on the ground” in Iraq? Or does he follow the advice of a team of four-star military brass — all of whom have substantial combat experience — and send “advisers” in with Iraqi troops to root out ISIL terrorists?

Can you say “conundrum”?

It’s my fervent hope that whatever “boots” hit the ground in Iraq remain on the feet of advisers and not on those of infantry or other troops trained in the combat arms.

Meanwhile, keep dropping bombs on the bad guys.