13 December 2013

Time for Constitutional Convention

There's a pretty good article in the current New Yorker about just how dysfunctional the Constitutional system has become, and how political theorists on both the left and right (in totally incompatible and opposing ways) want to reform it.

I used to think a Constitutional Convention would be too dangerous, etc. etc., but I now think our Constitution has devolved so badly that it is a serious impediment to the basic functioning of our society, and that it pretty much obliterates any pretense of democracy at the national level. I will cite but one of many, many examples.

Statistics were just published today that show that my state, California, has 38.3 million people, very nearly one-eighth of the nation. In 1789, the largest state, Virginia, was, if memory serves, about 15 times the size of Delaware. Today, California has 1/8 of the nation's people but only 1/50 of the senators. And it is more than 250 times larger in population than Wyoming, which also has 2 senators (and 3 electors in the Electoral College), even though it doesn't have enough population to fully justify even one member of the House on population alone.

The Connecticut Compromise (opposed by Hamilton), which gave us our undemocratic Senate, may have had its justifications at one time. But no more. We cannot pretend that our government is even approximately democratic in the face of this gross distortion.

And, again, it's undeniable: this is only one of many, many serious Constitutional issues that are hobbling our country's public policy.

The time has come to agitate for a complete overhaul.

12 December 2013

Failure to include extension of long term unemployment beneifts in budget deal: Cruel, Indifferent, and Stupid

It seems to me if you concur with the vast majority of reality-based economists (a necessary qualification since the dismal science is not a science at all and many of its practitioners are about as irrational as the average witch doctor), that public spending that puts money in the hands of poor and marginally middle class people has a great multiplier effect, whereas cutting such public spending has a multiplying depressive effect on the economy, then it is impossible to conclude otherwise than that the recent budget deal represents the triumph of public policy characterized by that unholy trinity of the Right Wing: Cruelty, Indifference and Stupidity.

09 December 2013

How Republicans are Evil (Health Care Edition)

There's a good article in Slate today about the 5 million or so under-poverty line Americans in non-Medicaid expansion states, who are basically left out in the cold under the actual rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
Just to be clear, this was not the way the law was written. In the original law as passed, these people would have been automatically eligible for an expanded Medicaid. But thanks to the actual and palpable cruelty and indifference of (100% Republican dominated) state governments in 25 states, this option is not available (even though it would have been paid for entirely by Federal funds for the first three years, then at a 90% level, and even at that level would have saved the states money that would have to be spent on Federally mandated emergency medical care anyway).*

And thanks to the obstruction of (100% of the Republican majority in) the House of Representatives, it has been impossible to modify the law in any way to take care of these people. Of course, the reason this problem exists in the first place (as many have already forgotten), is because of the short sighted, cruel indifference of the ideologically motivated (Republican) majority on the Supreme Court, which overturned this part of the law in open defiance of any reasonable legal logic. (OK, it's a bit more complicated than that: four of them actually voted to destroy the health law altogether, which was even more cruel, indifferent, and irrational; but the Chief Justice wouldn't vote to save the law without this cruel, indifferent, and irrational provision).

So 5 million of the poorest Americans who would have been eligible for health insurance for the first time in their lives won't, thanks to Republicans.

This is why I maintain that Republicans (not individually, necessarily, but institutionally), are evil.  I just find it amazing that so many of them who hold these views claim to be Christians.

*Not all Republican dominated states, either. Notably, Kentucky and Ohio have embraced Medicaid expansion and are making "Obamacare" work.

19 November 2013

A crucial scientific question: finding another biosphere

Paul Davies (noted astronomer and popular science writer) published an article today in the NYT, of which I will essay an executive summary.
We really do not know anything about the probability of the origin of life, given accommodating environments, because we have a sample of only one, Earth, which tells us nothing about probability.

So, recent analyses that suggest that watery worlds somewhat like Earth may be relatively common in the Galaxy (and all other similarly situated galaxies, which may well number in the trillions in the wider universe), actually don't give us any information about whether life in the universe is common, rare, or even unique to Earth.

Of course, most scientists have a "hunch" that life is common, but the truth is we just don't know. The origin of life is an intractable problem; it has not yielded to experimental investigation and there is no well-worked out a priori theory that predicts from first principles that life must evolve from non-life. Again, we just do not know, however "sure" we may feel about it.

So, what then? 

To me, this is a very strong argument for the extreme importance of searching for signs of life. There are very promising research projects being worked on and proposed to investigate the chemical signatures of life in the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars. I would like to suggest that, after research into ameliorating and correcting the effects of climate change, including the development of renewable energy sources and sustainable methods of food production, etc., this is the most significant scientific question of our time.

Because, and this is a critical point, as soon as we have strong evidence of a biosphere anywhere other than Earth, it can then be accepted as a near certainty that life has originated in multiple locations in the universe; and if we find more than one; we can even come by some kind of estimate as to just how common it is.

Why is this important? Well, it just is. If you don't have enough of a sense of wonder to see that, I can't convince you.

18 November 2013

Further Free Trade Deals are Bad Deals for America

One hears much recently about the near desperation of the Administration to conclude a framework for the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement before the end of the year. I'm a Democrat, but I oppose this agreement completely. I hope they fail spectacularly. 

The Obama administration, like every administration since at least Carter, just doesn't get it that global trade agreements do not enhance America's geopolitical interests, and have, in toto, harmed the economy, especially the jobs of ordinary working Americans. The Europeans are righteously ticked off about the NSA wiretaps of their negotiations on the TransAtlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the works, and I say, although that's a whole lotta crocodile tears coming from them, good. We don't need a trade agreement that further drains jobs from America. 

The "tilt towards asia" seems to be taking the form of an agreement that would undermine US internet openness, further erode US trade deficit, and undermine US economic interests in a whole host of ways, all the while accomplishing very little, since almost all the countries who are being courted to join in are also parties to a similar agreement with the Economic Hegemon of the region, China. So on balance, those who really have looked into it (like Clyde Prestowitz; check out ianmasters.com for 11/17), have concluded that the TPP is a bad deal for America, and so is TAFTA.

Afghanistan: a very different realpolitik

There's a lot of buzz (Huff.Post) about Karzai supposedly rejecting a key provision of the proposed long term US Security arrangement in Afghanistan.
Look, I realize that this is important to the Administration, for whatever reasons they have. But I believe Christine Fair, the expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan at Georgetown University, has it right. There simply are no significant US interests, and the fact is that we have been played for years and years by the governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our only major foreign policy objective vis a vis Pakistan should be dicincentivizing nuclear proliferation and brinksmanship on their part (they, not Iran, are the nuclear threat in the region that we should be worried about, and their attitude towards the US is arguably worse than Iran's). As for Afghanistan, there is no good outcome. We should cut our losses and get the hell out of there.

We should just tell Karzai, if you don't like it, we're taking our toys and going home. And mean it. And if we can't (as we probably can't) remove our military equipment, it should just be destroyed in place.
The American people are sick and tired of failed wars in Central Asia. Time to pull the plug, and to make clear to would be little Machiavellis like Hamid Karzai that we don't really care what he thinks or what his country decides to do in the aftermath; if they don't play nice, we're just going to leave, full stop.
In the meantime, the countries that are really benefiting from our presence in Afghanistan, which are China and Russia, should be told, hey, game's over. You want to ensure your interests in that country, the clock is ticking on whatever pax Americana there may be, and you better ramp up your own investments and presence in that country if you want the status quo.

15 November 2013

Ironies and Dangers of the Fiasco of Health Care Rollout

The fiasco of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act is fraught with ironies. The Republicans, of course, are gleeful: they blame the president and Democrats for problems which are, admittedly, largely the result of inexcusable kludginess, mainly on the part of government contractors. And any administration must take the blame for that. But that's the first irony: the kludgy awfulness of the implementation (website, etc.) is largely because of the Right Wing-forced contractor market system enforced on our system of government, which practically guarantees outrageous overrun of costs and woeful inefficiency.

But the even greater irony, which is so galling to Progressive Democrats like myself, is that the failures of the health care reform system itself-- its complexity, its lack of fundamental fairness, its inefficiency, its excessive profits to insurers (still there from the old system)-- these things are the result of the fact that in order to achieve any sort of reform of a badly broken system, Democrats, and in particular the Obama administration, chose to adopt the Republicans' proposed solution: namely market based reform, even though for 35 years before that Democrats had by and large been saying that the way to reform health care was a government insurance program, something like Medicare for All, because ... exactly what we see happening... the Republican idea of a market reform system would be very complicated, very expensive, and not very effective at achieving the goal of universal health care at reduced cost. But we went along, only to have them meet success in achieving their stated goal with betrayal and enmity: they turned against their own idea, and wedded Democrats to its failures.

So here we are. The party that has done absolutely nothing, literally nothing, to address America's problems in the last six years now points the finger at Democrats for the failure of their idea, and, here's the worst part. It's working for them. Already the debacle of the shutdown they caused is all but forgotten, and the "generic" lead that made Democrats just a few weeks ago think it might just be possible to retake the House next year has all but evaporated.

These problems are not unfixable, and the Republicans are likely to do themselves plenty more damage early next year when the fiscal can-kick expires, but Democrats need to remain as united as possible, and the administration has to perform whatever Herculean tasks are needed to get this damn thing working, because we do know from history (Massachusetts) and from what is happening on the state level (California, New Hampshire, Vermont, for example), that once people can buy regulated health insurance, which, however bad, is always better than what the insurance industry offers on its own, especially in the individual market, they like it. And from success comes success, politically. So I sure as hell hope they're doing whatever it's gonna take to make this thing work as soon as humanly possible, because the fate of Democratic governance hangs in the balance. That's for sure.

06 November 2013


I was having a conversation with a rather forward thinking person in my office, and, without veering too far into teleology, I agreed with his premise. Which is more or less what crazy old Timothy Leary used to say.

Which is as follows: 

If intelligent beings (like ourselves) evolve on natural life-bearing worlds anywhere in the universe for any purpose, (or, if you prefer, if they serve any particular function), it is: 

In the big picture and long run, what else matters?

21 October 2013

Christie to drop appeal of Pro Gay Marriage Court Ruling in NJ

I think it's just possible that this event will be marked in history as the point at which national acceptance of same-sex marriage in the US was a fait accompli; no going back.  Here, in NYT.

17 October 2013

Damage to Republican Interests pretty obvious. . .

John McCain made pretty clear that the sane branch of the Republican party (a minority, but perhaps one in the ascendant right now) ... recognizes that the Shutdown and Debt Ceiling Fiasco were quite harmful to Republican interests overall. He said he "guarantees" it won't happen again. Obviously, that guarantee isn't worth the paper it isn't written on, but I suspect he's right nonetheless, at least until after the 2014 elections. They were burned; they will probably stay well away from the stove for a time, anyway. Many moderate and even not-so-moderate Repubs saw just how damaging the intransigence and unwillingness to work within the legislative framework on the part of the Tea Party Nutcases actually was; they will be less likely to go along with the Fringers next time.

Tea Party's unpatriotic ransom failure will have consequences

Here's my new "meme." 

Hey, Tea Party. Exactly what did you get for your ransom demand that cost the US economy $24 billion?  And that did lasting damage to the credit and prestige of our nation? Was it worth it? 

Of course, people in general have an amazing ability to rationalize failure. But failure is the only truly rational description of what they did, and the damage they did to our (and their) country is entirely on them. The president and Congressional democrats were absolutely right to refuse to negotiate with hostage takers. Especially hostage takers who had just come off of months and months of refusing repeated entreaties to engage in legitimate budget negotiations. 

And I really believe that the fact that they did this damage to our country for nothing will not be entirely forgotten in 2014.

25 September 2013

Why do they hate America?

I think the Democrats in Congress, and Obama, are missing an opportunity to really stick it to Boehner, McConnell, and especially Cruz and Paul and their ilk. Toying with the Full Faith and Credit of the US as a strategy of political blackmail is unquestionably directly harmful to the interests of the nation as a whole. Furthermore, it is a direct and unequivocal subversion of the way the Constitution provides that policy be made. Therefore, QED, it is grotesquely unpatriotic.
This needs to be said. Over and over and over again.

09 September 2013

Laws of nature and a postulate regarding artificial consciousness

​♦ W​
hen you have an idle moment, look at this short précis of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. I bought this little book for my kindle. I think I agree with this pretty much entirely. My working assumptions remain the following:
1.  Mind (subjectivity) is integral with nature. Nature cannot exist without mind, and vice versa. And no mere physical subsystem within nature can replicate mind. Hence, artificial consciousness is not a very, very difficult technological problem. Rather, it is impossible, and will always remain so. (I am open to, but have little fear of, being proven wrong on this point).

2.  FTL (travel faster than light) is a pipe dream. Never existed anywhere in this unbelievably vast universe and never will, for reasons explained previously. I am open to being proven wrong here too, and would love it if I were. (This is a separate issue, but I thought I'd throw it in).

If I ever do manage to write a science fiction story/novel(s), it will accept those two premises as laws of nature. For the second I have a workaround in mind; for the first, it actually makes writing about a grand scale of things easier. Because, if artificial mind is actually possible, we natural minds are doomed, and not too far in the future; which, if you think about it translates to the following:   Natural minds sometimes evolve in odd crannies of space and time, but don't last; because the universe of Mind is essentially entirely cybernetic. 

I happen to think that this last descriptor doesn't fit the available evidence, but that it actually does follow pretty much inexorably from the postulate Artificial Consciousness is feasible and its operational principles will likely be discovered by any sufficiently advanced biological-origin civilization.  Many scientific technologically oriented folks nowadays blithely assume something pretty close to this postulate is true, but I submit to you that it almost certainly is not, because if it were, at 13.8 billion years of age, our universe would already almost certainly look vastly different from how it does, in fact, look.*
. . . .
*If it's not clear why that's the case, I'd be delighted to explain my thought process.

30 July 2013

Pushback on Larry Summers

I am pleased to see this report from TPM that there's BIG pushback from Senate Dems against the internal lobbying in the WH coming from supporters of Wall Street favorite Larry Summers as a candidate for Fed Chairman. I've wondered if it isn't Summers himself who's tried to gin up the expectation that he will be appointed, because it would be totally out of synch with Obama's recent pro-working people stance for him to appoint Summers over Janet Yellen.

I gotta say, if Obama does that, he will be casting aside the last shred of his credibility with Progressives, and very likely indirectly causing another financial crisis, because Summers has repeatedly shown himself to be wrong and clueless about what matters in the regulation of finance, and to be totally out of touch with the needs of Main Street.


29 July 2013

La Chapelle Rhénane ♪

I feel... impelled ... to give a shout out to La Chapelle Rhénane, directed by Bénoît Haller, based in Strasbourg. Early music ensembles flourish in Europe as they don't here, and there are many fine ones, as well as even more that are merely professional but not extraordinary. This one, however, is truly extraordinary. Haller specializes in Schütz (not exclusively), so of course he has my attention right there, but the singing and playing is really something special. If you care for this kind of music at all (and I get it that most people, even people who like "classical" music, don't)... check them out. They are as good as it gets.

Ici. “Herr, der du bist vormals genädig gewest" SWV 461 (Schütz)

Saudi Princess Fails Mandatory Hearing on Slavery Charge

I have no sympathy whatsoever for this "princess." (here, LAT). You don't get to bring your medieval Saudi laws to the U.S. with you. Had I been the judge, I would have ordered her into custody forthwith, issued a bench warrant for her immediate arrest, and denied all bail until trial. In part to send a message: human trafficking is not OK in the USA; it is a very, very serious crime, and if you are accused of it and don't treat the matter with due gravity, you can sit in jail until trial. And if the Saudis whisked her off to Saudi Arabia in a private jet, at least she would be gone from here. And, hopefully, the State Dept. would declare her persona non grata, although as toadying as they are toward the Saudi regime, I wouldn't bet on it.

26 July 2013

Some Comments on Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)

Seems to me music is very much like language, you have to learn its idioms in order to really “get" it, and most people, even those who have a little familiarity with “classical" music, simply do not really hear 400 year old music (much less music that’s even older or more remote culturally). But if you open your ears and heart to this motet (Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn; SWV 40, from Psalmen Davids, 1619), you will note that it is about as poignant as anything you’re likely to hear anywhere.

The 17th century produced 2, and exactly 2, real geniuses of Western Music. And I would rank them Schütz #1, Monteverdi #2, although of course most music history buffs would chose the reverse order and might even insist on the superiority of lesser composers like Dowland, Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, or Purcell.

But I’ve made a real study of this, and I am confident in my judgment.

Schütz gets downplayed because virtually all of his surviving music is sacred music, which, let’s face it, just isn’t as popular. This is partly because that actually was his chief focus (he was a VERY serious guy), but also partly a selection effect. For the most part only his published music survives. The manuscripts were almost all destroyed in a fire. If that had happened to Bach’s music we would hardly know the bulk of his output. Schütz wrote an opera, Daphne (1623), at least some organ music, and hundreds of songs and occasional pieces (although very little other instrumental music, apart from the introductions to some of his vocal compositions)… almost all of which (including the opera) are lost. And he disdained the new recitative & aria format for oratorios, preferring to set texts as motets and concertos, or using a sort of chanted narration for his Christmas Oratorio* and passions. So it’s little wonder he isn’t that popular. His music is grave and majestic, but not frolicsome.

* Die Geburt unsres Herrn Jesu Christi, SWV 435, 1660. 

25 July 2013

The Last Thing I got to say about Anthony Weiner

Boy. Anthony Weiner makes it very difficult to justify a laissez-faire attitude towards the private lives of public figures. (Which is my general preference). The question becomes, unfortunately, with this much baggage and this many questions about basic integrity, isn't he doing a disservice to the people of New York by shifting the focus from issues to him and his gigantic ego (and not the proportion of other parts, if you please).

So, while I have long said Clinton should've just refused all questions, and so should have Eliot Spitzer (and even Weiner, the first time out, as well as any number of other pols, both Republican and Democratic).... with all this nonsense and lying, he should just drop out and find some other profession.

Having said that, I also agree with Chris Hayes that actually far more disturbing than all his sexting nonsense is his statement in an interview (not that it has much to do with being mayor of New York), that the West Bank is not "occupied territory." Come on, Anthony. That's carrying Israel-sycophancy a bit too far. Which calls your judgment and basic honesty into question yet again. 

23 July 2013

Revelations about Weiner "sexting" even after resigning

1.  I could not care less about politicians' personal lives, which I regard as no one's business. I wish Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, and Anthony Weiner (not to mention even a whole host of Republicans) had just said, in effect, "I don't see how that's any of your business. Next question."
2.  The media (and some consumers of media) are, nonetheless, incurable gossips.
3.  Politicians can't afford to be seen as having "loose" sexual "morals."
4.  Anthony Weiner is out of control, in terms of these maxims.
5.  I worry about the ruboff effect on Spitzer, who's a good guy with a career worth saving... I'm not so sure about Weiner. 

Why should we care about the British royal heir?

OK, I'll risk being labeled a grumpy old cynic.

I COULD NOT CARE LESS about the British monarchy or its new No. 3 heir. Our forefathers fought a revolution to be rid of the odious curse of monarchy. Why should we have any interest in it?

Pretty good speech not good enough

Not to rain too much on the parade, but I'd like to tell Pres. Obama we don't need a "pretty good speech" on the economy (sched. for Wed.), we need to face facts, and he needs to propose and fight for a bold pro-working people policy... even if the stranglehold of the obstructionists in Congress cannot be overcome, the Democratic party needs to stand up for ordinary Americans now so as to make crystal clear the choice that voters face in 2014 and 2016.

Yellen, not Summers, for crying out loud!

Haven't dropped a comment on the White House comment line in a while. Today's was simple:

Strongly oppose rumored nomination of serial liar and arrogant elitist Larry Summers for Fed Chairmanship. Such a move would be totally out of step with the direction in which the Democratic party and this administration need to move. A much better choice would be Fed Vice-Chmn. Janet Yellen.

22 July 2013

Is Star Trek Warp Drive possible?

For a whole host of reasons, I have been and remain a "FTL* skeptic." (See this, for example). But this in the NYT shows that there are serious scientists and engineers out there who actually believe that something like the Star Trek warp drive may actually be possible some day. 
*"Faster than Light"

John McCain, Moderate?

Several times recently I have thought that John McCain, who is sometimes not the worst of Republicans, had pretty much lost it... re: Benghazi, going to Syria and saying stuff that just befuddled US policy there, etc.

But then, even more recently, he stood with Elizabeth Warren in calling for the restoration of Glass Steagall (which even the clueless new Obama Treasury Sec. referred to as "outmoded"), and today we hear he's calling for a "review" of Stand Your Ground Laws.

So credit where credit is due, although I don't think "review" is necessary. Try "repeal."

Detroit Bankruptcy

Krugman's piece this morning is the Voice of Reason, (as is often the case). I listened to a news report about how Detroit may "have to" sell off the Detroit Institute of Arts' collections with dumbfounded incredulity. These fiscal naysayers are incredibly stupid and clueless. (Not to mention the little problem that, fortunately, the City does not own the collections).

We as a nation just have to suck it up and deal with the consequences of economic decline in one of our formerly great manufacturing cities. I would think that this would be so blaringly obvious to rational human beings that it would require little discussion, but apparently I was foolishly naive, as usual.

19 July 2013

Christian Nation?

Christian Nation?
Currently reading Christian Nation by Fredreric C. Rich. Premise: financial crisis was delayed a couple of months in 2008 and McCain won. Then died shortly thereafter. Palin invites in Christian Dominionists, who engineer Christofascist take-over that by around now in the alternate history timeline is on the verge of becoming full blown totalitarianism (there’s a civil war and very creepy 1984 like total information state that emerges).
The book is polemical and not really entirely plausible, but it does remind us, as when he keeps referring to Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here (1935), that those who think that are wrong… it could, and we have to remain vigilant to make sure it doesn’t.

Anti-gay spiral bad strategy for Rightist Party

I may not have my finger on the national pulse quite right, but unless I’m very mistaken, and if this piece in Salon is right and the Rightists are going to double down on their “gay hatred spiral” for 2016, I predict this is going to backfire for them, and badly.


Voter ID violates VRA

Maybe I’m a little dense, but isn’t the Penna. GOP chair’s admission that VOTER ID reduced the Democratic margin in that state an admission that the law is a per se violation of the Voting Rights Act? Even without the statistical methodology which the SCOTUS declared unconstitutional, state laws which are deliberately and avowedly designed to prejudice certain groups of voters are illegal under the act.

16 July 2013

My comment to TPM: Filibuster Reform, not "Nuclear Option," if you please

Hey, TPM~

Why do you adopt the Rightist Propaganda framing of filibuster reform as "nuclear option"? This just buys into the Right Wing view that this is some kind of radical suggestion, when, in fact, supermajorities to end debate are not in the Constitution, and haven't been used in the House in over a century. Please consider just calling it "Filibuster Reform," which is the correct term.

I guess my belief that the "aversion" today of going forward with a very limited reform is not good news. Democrats may lose the Senate in 2014 (not if we work harder to avoid it, but realistically the possibility cannot be denied), so it's undeniable that such reform could inure to the disadvantage of progressive politics in the future. But here's the thing: the Rightists have repeatedly shown they have no principles when it comes to maneuvering to obtain power. Conclusion: they're going to do this anyway as soon as they have a majority, so Democrats should do it now (and for judges and legislation), both for political reasons, and because it's the right thing to do to make the Senate more democratic.

15 July 2013

Reforming the Senate: IT IS TIME

I have made clear my belief that the non-democratic rules of the Senate are so serious an impediment to the functioning of our national government that whatever considerations may militate in favor of retaining some kinds of supermajorities, they are greatly outweighed by the need to prevent the Minority from having the power to completely obstruct all governance.

Thus, the story in the NYT today about filibuster reform is a must-read. I quote the opening: 

It was October 2011, and Senate Republicans were trying to interfere with a bill addressing China’s currency by offering a series of amendments that had little to do with China or monetary policy, a favorite tactic of their leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

But Democrats surprised Mr. McConnell by using a parliamentary maneuver that quashed the amendments. The process went like this: Harry Reid, the majority leader, asked for a ruling from the Senate’s parliamentarian about whether the amendments were in order. The parliamentarian ruled that they were.

Mr. Reid then moved to overrule the parliamentarian. And he did so with a simple majority vote of 51 to 48.

That seemingly mundane twist of the Senate’s intricate rules gave Democrats the precedent that they believe they need to change how the filibuster can be used, a move that has infuriated Republicans.

Of course they're infuriated. They want to exercise minoritarian obstructionism. But they shouldn't be allowed to. The Senate is profoundly flawed already, by the working out of the now obviously seriously detrimental Connecticut Compromise (during the original Constitutional Convention), whereby states like North Dakota that have fewer people than one of California's cities' suburbs have 2 senators while the whole of the largest state in the union... fully 13% of the nation's population, also has just two. This system makes the Senate intrinsically undemocratic. But adding the arcane, obstruction-enabling, and deeply undemocratic supermajority rules on top of that makes the Senate, despite its august trappings, a disgrace. It is not an exaggeration to say that America is a not-quite republic, with a not-quite constitutional system responsive to its people. And the lack of even plausibly democratic governing rules for our upper house is one of the reasons this is the case.

This debate is over a relatively narrow rules change... affecting only presidential appointments other than judges. I advocate eliminating the filibuster ENTIRELY, and now. Simple majority to pass anything not actually specified in the Constitution, simple majority to end debate and force votes, any Senator can introduce bills or measures, and none can place "holds." IT IS TIME. By the same procedure as the rule change under discussion, a simple majority vote could make all of these changes. And I believe once they were made, and the greater fairness that results came to be a subject of commentary and discussion, the Republicans would be unable to either change them back or introduce other non-democratic rules to replace them in the future.

Of course at some point in the future these changes could BENEFIT the Rightists. But that isn't a good enough reason not to make a change NOW towards greater democracy. Progressive people believe in democracy as a matter of principle, and calculating whether a particular undemocratic maneuver or mechanism might conceivably hurt you politically in some unspecified future is not an acceptable counterargument to reform.  

UPDATE: (Comment on Republican leadership integrity, as in zero):
I have a simple, and I think undeniably true, retort to those who would say that if Democrats change Senate rules with a simple majority vote, the Republicans will change the rules to their own advantage when next they have a majority. Consider the trustworthiness of Republican leadership and its representations, as demonstrated by Mitch McConnell's recent actions. Zip. So, no matter what they say, no matter what Democrats now do, they will do that anyway. So Democrats should seize the opportunity now to change the rules, and not just for appointments... and use the ability to pass more legislation to actually benefit the country, which will have the effect of making it a little easier to hold on to a majority in the Senate in 2016 and beyond. 

11 July 2013

Sensible Reform proposals on cloture, advice and consent on nominations

The Senate could, in principle, adopt a cloture rule of simple majority, and it already takes only a simple majority to approve appointments. As I read the "Advice and Consent" Clause, this is perfectly harmonious with the intent and letter of the Constitution.
Art. II, sec. 2, cl. 2:
[The President] shall nominate, and, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

I think the plain language here makes it pretty damn clear that the Senate has NO DAMN BUSINESS holding up nominations. The clause says the president shall appoint, "by and with" advice and consent.

Even without an amendment to the constitution, I think a very reasonable rule change would be this:

Nominations must be proposed for vote of cloture within [let's say] 20 days of receipt of nomination.
Cloture vote simple majority. Debate must end within 40 days of nomination, regardless of whether cloture motion proposed or passed, and a vote on the nomination must then take place. Failure to vote up or down by the end of the applicable period under the rule will result in the automatic scheduling of a vote on the nominee without (further) debate, to take place within five days thereafter. 

This to be in conjunction with a rule change that says that any Senator at any time may propose cloture (Cutoff of debate and scheduling of vote) on any measure, which motion on second must receive a vote forthwith. Simple majority cuts off debate. And, except where the Constitution explicitly provides otherwise, simple majority passes any measure. Veep, of course, breaks ties, which is in the Constitution anyway.

This procedure, as I am envisioning it, would apply only to nominations, although conceivably something like it could be made to apply to presidentially proposed legislation, too. That, however, almost certainly would require an amendment to the Constitution.

10 July 2013

Matthew Yglesias: punish working people by eliminating affordable parking... yeah, that'll work!

I mentioned the other day that I frequently disagree with Matthew Yglesias, who used to write for TPM and now writes for Slate, among other places.

So here's a good example. His solution to congestion and pollution? Eliminate parking for working people. (Hey, Matt, you idiot, how about funding public transportation infrastructure investment instead of punishing working people for working and needing to get to work?)

This is so typical of the elitist "we, the privileged and arrogant, know better" attitude. This kinda thing just pisses me off.

Will the Supreme Court stop the trashing of the Federal Govt. by the Rightists? Hmmm.

Chris Hayes had a really quite excellent report last night on MSNBC on how the Republicans have sabotaged the Federal government wholesale, using the NLRB has an example. It's two-pronged. Legislatively, really for the first time in history, they simply refuse to approve any nominees to a board which the law mandates. Great. Such civic-mindedness. Actually, it's totally depraved: they hate government so they intend to wreck it.

The other prong is Rightist Ideologue judges who have ruled on the DC Circuit Court that the president can't make recess appointments, even though presidents of both parties have been doing it for close to two centuries. Nothing like the persuasive weight of precedent.

Result? There is no NLRB, even though the law requires it. The situation is no better at the Consumer Finance Commission, and will soon be much the same at the FCC.

So we have to wonder, what will the Supreme Court do? The issue will be before it next year (the recess appointment issue, that is). It is split, and its swing member is a pretty radical libertarian (Kennedy), so there's no basis for confidence. But, come on, surely there are five justices who believe it's just not reasonable to allow one party to manipulate two of the three branches of government not to exercise the powers vested under the constitution, but simply to trash the system of government entirely. Surely?

Don't count on it.