In his weekly “Stories I’d Like to See” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Protecting the Homeland .in New Zealand
Is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano completely on the sidelines? And has she not gotten the memo about limiting government travel? How else to explain that on May 2 she began a trip to New Zealand and Australia? May 2 was the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, when we were supposedly on high alert for possible al Qaeda attacks; and it was also when the prostitution scandal involving the Secret Service - which is part of Napolitano’s department - was raging. A Department of Homeland Security press release described the trip this way:
In Wellington [New Zealand], Secretary Napolitano will meet with Prime Minister John Key, and participate in bilateral meetings with New Zealand counterparts to discuss a variety of issues including information sharing, combating transnational crime and human trafficking.
In Australia, Secretary Napolitano will lead the Presidential delegation to the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea, the World War II battle that marked the start of the U.S.-Australia security partnership. While in Canberra and Brisbane, Secretary Napolitano will deliver remarks on security, privacy, and strong international partnerships at the Australian National University, and meet with Australian counterparts to discuss the ongoing partnerships to combat transnational crime, counter violent extremism, enhance information sharing, and work to ensure a more safe, secure, and resilient global supply chain.
Sure, some of this sounds vaguely relevant to her job, though it’s difficult to put the “Commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea” in that category. And while human trafficking is an important issue, as with a recent trip Napolitano took to Miami Beach to participate in a panel on the dangers of online dating, it’s probably not what comes to mind when most Americans think of the mission of the person running the country’s third-largest cabinet agency - the one that is supposed to be focused on protecting us from terrorism.
What did this New Zealand-Australia sojourn cost us? (Probably a lot, if she had to take a government plane equipped with secure communications. Did she?) How much has her travel cost us in the last year? What about overall travel and conferences for her and her agency this year? And can’t somebody demand a log of her schedule and tell us how many days in the last year she’s been out of town and what those trips tell us about how much she’s engaged in the job we hired her for?
2. De-routinizing the filibuster:
I wish someone would do a piece explaining that the most prominent artifact of today’s Washington gridlock - the 60 Senate votes now routinely required for anything to pass because it has to overcome a filibuster - wasn’t always routine. I remember how in the ’60s a filibuster was an extraordinary event, replete with photos of senators having to bring cots on to the Senate floor, because to prevent a cutoff of debate, some senator or another had to stay on his feet and keep debating, while the others had to be present for a potential vote to cut off debate.
In 1975, the rules were changed to reduce the number of votes necessary to cut off debate from 67 to 60, but the requirement that debate actually continue was also scrapped. Democrats made some encouraging noises about filibuster reform in late 2010 and early 2011, but those efforts fizzled.
At a time when it’s clear that politics are so polarized as to make it impossible for 60, let alone 67, senators to agree on anything, someone should ask the Democrats, as well as those Republicans who would like to restore the Senate to a working body, why they don’t want to ditch the cloture threshold altogether, or at least insist on that talk-till-you drop spectacle to dramatize the gridlock?