John Nichols on a bipartisan resolution on Syria, Eunji Kim on LA’s plastic bag ban


A BIPARTISAN CHECK ON WAR-MAKING: When Congressman Peter Welch traveled to the Syrian border last spring, he came away with the impression that “there’s an enormous risk that we ‘Americanize’ what is a civil war. So anyone, politicians foremost among them, who likes to suggest as an armchair general that there’s [an] easy and definitive way to provide a military solution to this festering civil war…is mistaken.” So it is that the Vermont Democrat is working with Republicans Chris Gibson and Michele Bachmann on a bipartisan effort to restrict direct military aid to Syrian rebels by the Obama administration. “Congress must accept its responsibility, not abdicate it,” says Welch, a key player on the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security.

The legislation is part of a broader move to restore checks and balances on military policy. Like its counterpart in the House, the Senate version—sponsored by Democrats Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, as well as Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah—would block military aid to Syrian rebel groups and US support of military operations in Syria unless authorized by a joint resolution of Congress. While both bills allow nonlethal humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, they would require the administration to report to Congress every ninety days on precisely what assistance is being provided to specific groups, organizations, movements and individuals.

This is not a radical proposal. Rather, as Welch recognizes, it’s a re-embrace of the 226-year-old constitutional provision stating that the country’s war-making power rests with Congress.   JOHN NICHOLS

LOS ANGELES BANS PLASTIC BAGS: Starting next year, Angelenos should not expect to carry their groceries home in store-provided plastic bags. On June 25, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance banning the bags, which have cost the city millions of dollars to dispose of as waste, and which take the environment centuries to break down. Slated to go into effect in January 2014 for some stores, the ordinance requires customers either to bring their own reusable bags or to buy recyclable paper bags for ten cents each. Stores that don’t comply may face fines of up to $500 a day if the violations continue.

The second-most-populous city in the nation, Los Angeles uses over 2 billion plastic bags annually. Its ban may turn out to influence public opinion more broadly across California, which unsuccessfully attempted to pass a statewide ban on plastic bags in May. Some state senators representing Los Angeles opposed the bill, but things may be different next year when many of their constituents will already be subject to the ban.

Some activists say the impact might even reach far beyond the West Coast. It could trigger “a healthy competition between the large metro areas” such as New York, Chicago and Washington, argues Mark Murray, the executive director of Californians Against Waste. “I see the large cities on the East Coast taking a look at this for the first time. This is Los Angeles—this will send signals across the country.”    EUNJI KIM

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