Filibuster Follies – Nothing Changed… or did it? (No it didn’t)

Daily Kos says The filibuster is dead, long live the filibuster and okay, you could say nothing changed because of today’s deal where the filibuster stays intact and the President gets what he should have had in the first place in seven of his nominees debated. Although even that was compromised as two of the nominees for the NLRB will be retracted and replaced. However – 

In recent years, Republicans have treated the filibuster as if it were an irrevocable Constitutional right, and not a simple rule that can be changed. Today, Democrats—whether they realize it or not—have killed the GOP’s interpretation of the filibuster as a perpetual, immovable feature of the Senate meant to be used on routine matters of business.

Also, it could be noted that if the GOP really thought they were going to get the Senate back in 2014 as Nate Silver suggests, they might have called Reid’s bluff.

It’s just sad that you have to go to such lengths just to get something that should have been done in the normal course of business. And what of the judicial nominations?

Wonkblog lays out the 10 facts that explain the entire stupid problem.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. – We’re Surrendering Our Civil Liberties

The always read worthy Leonard Pitts, Jr.:

It will not be with guns.

If ever tyranny overtakes this land of the sometimes free and home of the intermittently brave, it probably won’t, contrary to the fever dreams of gun rights extremists, involve jack-booted government thugs rappelling down from black helicopters. Rather, it will involve changes to words on paper many have forgotten or never knew, changes that chip away until they strip away precious American freedoms.

I feel that Mr. Pitts is like me in that the particulars of the NSA programs are troubling but maybe not run to the ramparts troubling. More troubling is that so many Americans are not troubled at all. It’s all okay, nothing to see here, don’t even have to think about this one. That includes the Republicans that were okay when Bush did it and the Democrats that are okay now with their guy in the big chair.

Having watched the HBO documentary on Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band/performance artist /provocateurs that were arrested on charges of “giving offense” and “hooliganism”, two of whom  languish in a Russian jail today, one gives thanks for our Bill of Rights, system of justice and tradition of civil liberties. The 1st and 4th amendments were revolutionary when they were written and adopted and above everything else in the new Constitution and the soon added Bill of Rights, instrumental in making America the land of the free.  It’s at least worth a little consideration, a little time away from the NBA Finals or the Voice to make sure we’re not eroding one of the very real bulwarks given us against real-ass tyranny (as opposed to fake-ass tea party tyranny that is as easy to summon as banning Big Gulps).

Maybe it’s because we’re so used to these freedoms that we take them for granted. Watching three young Russian women go to jail, for years, for performing a song in a church is a reminder of what the architects of the Constitution had seen as routine in the world in their time and wanted to change.  

Maybe we don’t even know what civil liberties are any more.  I realize now that the idiot reflexive Obama defenders on Twitter who keep calling Glenn Greenwald a “libertarian”, which he is certainly not, have mistaken that term for “civil libertarian”, which he and many of my heroes most certainly are!  Have we completely lost the idea of fighting to defend the Constitution against the erosions of “precious American freedoms” that will always be attempted by the powers that be?    

We should know this, yet we fall for the same seductive con every time: We are afraid, but the state says it can make us safe. And all it will take is the surrender of a few small freedoms.

It makes you want to holler in frustration, especially since the promise is so false. Yes, the state can interdict a given terrorist plot, but even if it took every last freedom we have, it could not guarantee complete security. That is a plain truth with which we must make peace.

We will never be “safe.” But we just might, if we have the courage, be free.

So yeah, sigh, what Ben Franklin said: Those who can give up Essential Liberty to obtain a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

The “Tyranny of the Minority” is a lot more real than the opposite in the U.S.

54-46 means the 54 lose. Even casual sports fans get that there’s something wrong there. Anybody with basic math skills or possibly the entire population of 3 year olds who have casually watched Sesame Street would look at that and puzzle. Then you add in that the 54 represented the opinions of 90% of the country, and… they… lost! and it’s even more crazy making. But it goes further.  There’s an institutional problem here.

Yes, the drafters of the Constitution were very nobly interested in protecting the rights of minorities and that has been one of the things that made our democracy so great. It’s worked more in theory than in fact, but still, on paper (that paper called the Constitution) it’s still one of those things that Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, etc. got right. But the inability of a majority to actually rule has reached a ridiculous state. The Senate is in a state of dysfunction that makes the Lohan family took like the Brady’s.

Despite broad support from the American public, the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey amendment to extend background checks died in the Senate, six ‘ayes’ short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. But party divisions were only one reason why the gun vote failed. More important was the institutional structure of the Senate itself, which by its very design (two senators per state) gives disproportionate representation and political power to small populations in large, rural states.

Image

That map and Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog makes the case that the background check bill failed because “the Senate is wildly undemocratic.” The filibuster was not in the Constitution, it came about several decades later, but the idea of two senators per state,no matter how large or how small was part of the bicameral bargain hammered out over cheesesteaks in 1789. At that time Virginia, the most populous state was 12 times larger than Rhode Island, the smallest state. Today California is 66 times the size of Wyoming, but still have the same number of Senators! The Senate is 5 times less proportionate that it was at the founding.

Drill down into the numbers more and you have a mind boggling disproportionality of representation noted by Cohn and Kingsbury in the New Republic:

And the supporters’ majority was even bigger than it seems. If you assume, for sake of argument, each senator represents half of his or her state’s population, then senators voting for the bill represented about 194 million people, while the senators voting against the bill represented about 118 million people. That’s getting close to a two-thirds majority in favor of the measure.

And again, those are just the numbers representing representation. This doesn’t count that 46 Senators voted against something that majorities supported in their states. There is no poll that had ANY state underwater in backing the expanded background checks.  

So there’s the practical everyday question of how do we overcome the gun lobby and the cowardice of so-called “representatives” to vote scared. As Gabby Giffords noted in her NY Times op-ed. these 46 Senators ran away from what they perceived as danger rather than doing what heroes do, what great Americans have always done and run towards it for the benefit of our fellow citizens.  2014 has to be a year when the cowards, the NRA toadies, are shown the door and people more dedicated to the will of the people (on ALL issues) are elected. But what can we do to make our government more representative on the macro level given the evolving disproportionate nature of our government today?

Is it enough to get money out of politics?  Would all 100 senators from all 50 states vote their constituents’ interests then? Maybe. But factionalism and regional interests that were a huge issue in 1790 have only been exacerbated by time. If Virginia had been 66 times larger than Rhode Island at that time their representatives in Philadelphia would have been insane to agree to such an equalization of their rights as 2 senators each and reliance on the population driven House of Representatives.  How do we evolve our system to better represent us?

To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.

The System Isn’t Broken the GOP Is

Jonathan Bernstein in Salon explores some recent ruminations (especially election law expert Rick Hasan’s) on fixing our ridiculously gridlocked system but asserts that it’s not the system that is broken, the GOP is.

Hasan notes that our constitutional system was set up so it was difficult to pass legislation unless there was consensus, yes. And yet we always got things done, albeit usually in a way that was too late or too compromised to be real justice or effective government. Bernstein argues that the insane stasis we live under today isn’t really about the system, even the abuse of the filibuster, but rather the dysfunctional Republican Party and their perverse adoption of a confrontational style of discourse that comes with the conservative marketplace – the industry that includes talk radio, Fox News, fund raising, book sales – that actually incentivizes bomb throwing over compromise.

 Simply put, a large portion of the party, including the GOP-aligned partisan press and even many politicians, profit from having Democrats in office. Typically, democracies “work” in part because political parties have strong incentives to hold office, which causes them once they win to try hard to enact public policy that keeps people satisfied with their government. That appears to be undermined for today’s Republicans.

Except that while in the past such extremism was unsustainable, through gerrymandering and a constant propaganda drum beat the GOP has profited from behavior that should have had them rooted from power.  

What Bernstein and others do not take into account is that 30 years of such propaganda has created an entire generation of politicians, pundits and conservative voters that have been indoctrinated in lies and are immune to facts. So yeah, they should be out of power, throwing bombs, being a pain in the ass to the Democrats trying to govern. But they’re not out of power on the sidelines, they’re in power in Congress, in the courts, in state houses, acting out as if they were on the sidelines with no responsibility for governing.

From the GOP primary voter to the Speaker of the House they exhibit:

  • An aversion to normal bargaining and compromise

  • An inability to banish fringe people and views from the mainstream of the party

  • An almost comical lack of interest in substantive policy formation

  • A willingness to ignore established norms and play “Constitutional hardball”

  • A belief that when out of office, the best play is always all-out obstruction

Without a third party for rational traditional conservatives to go to, the present GOP is hell bent on shutting down governing. I don’t know how they will survive. The question is whether they can be stopped before we all go over the cliff together. 

Fast and Furious and Benghazi, the sequester and the various fiscal cliff fights, they all point to a party that is all about the outrage that used to just be the bailiwick of talk radio:

Republican politicians who believed that the job of a member of Congress is to be outraged, and once they’ve done that, they can pretty much go home.

I agree with Bernstein to the extent that our constitutional system is probably not as much to blame as some think. But our political system has been waylayed by the dysfunctional GOP. One of two things should have happened by now (or should happen soon):

1. The GOP moderates based on their failures in 2006, 2008 and 2012; or

2. The GOP is sent packing because of their failure to moderate and disdain of actual governing.

But what actually happened is they did not moderate after 2006 and 2008 and were rewarded for it in 2010. They got spanked again in 2012, but show every sign of having a short term memory problem that forgets everything except 2010. If they do not get spanked again in 2014…