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My letter to Senator Schumer re. his proposed, watered-down, "compromise" filibuster reform bill...

(This is a letter I sent last night to Senator Chuck Schumer concerning his proposed filibuster reform "compromise" bill (or should I say, "'compromised' filibuster reform bill". I would urge anyone who agrees with what I have said here to similarly contact their senators, even if their senators were not among the bill's sponsors, and let them know on no uncertain terms that you, along with other voters, are demanding real and substantive filibuster reform, not some piece of watered-down tripe that does virtually nothing to reign in the abuse of the filibuster.)

December 29, 2012

Senator Charles E. Schumer
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Schumer:

Having just read the details of the proposed filibuster "reform" bill introduced by you and Senator McCain (and some others), as a New Yorker and as a Democrat, I am absolutely outraged to see ANY Democrat's name (let alone my own Senator's) on such a watered-down, meaningless bill.

For the past four years, despite Democrats having won the White House and having retained a majority in the Senate, a minority party has been able to block bill after bill and nominee after nominee. Democracy has been turned on its ear as the will of the people, as expressed by the majority of their votes, has been subjugated to and overturned by a radical, extreme political party, merely by means of invoking a badly administered parliamentary maneuver. This is not what the nation's founders envisioned, nor is it what virtually every American has learned since he or she was a child about the way a representative democracy is supposed to work. This thwarting of democratic will is the primary problem that needs to be addressed at this juncture.

The bill you have proposed merely adds a few additional burdens to those wishing to filibuster legislation or executive and judicial branch nominees. But the actual ability to filibuster is the thing that needs to be seriously curtailed in the interest of enabling the electorate to express its will while at the same time having a reasonable expectation that such electoral will would be honored.

Any meaningful filibuster reform MUST include ALL of the following if it is to be considered to be at all serious:

(1) Eliminate the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed;

(2) Require that those wishing to block legislation or nominations take the floor and actually filibuster—i.e., mandating “talking filibusters”;

(3) Assert that 41 Senators must affirmatively vote to continue debate rather than forcing 60 Senators to vote to end debate; and,

(4) Streamline the confirmation process for all nominees by eliminating the currently required 30 hours of post cloture debate on a nominee to zero or at a minimum no more than 2 hours.

In short, Senator Schumer, if you want my continued support at the ballot box, and if the party as a whole expects me to remain a loyal Democrat, then you should withdraw this ill-considered, meaningless bill post haste, and get to work on a REAL filibuster reform bill that will actually address the problems with the filibuster as it currently stands, rather than merely trying to paper over certain parts of it and enabling senators to claim to their constituents that they actually _did_ something about filibuster reform. Neither you nor any other Democrat was elected to create legislation in response to a real problem that amounts to nothing more than some cosmetic changes intended to create the impression among voters that something meaningful was done.

Senator Schumer, I respectfully urge you to ditch this legislation and to promptly get back to doing what you were elected to do: that is, to come up with REAL solutions to the real problems we face. What NO voter in this country wants from its elected senators is a senator that signs onto half-measures that do nothing but provide senators with political cover while failing to address the root of the problem.

Mark P. Kessinger
New York, New York

Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Dec 30, 2012, 12:36 PM (14 replies)

Negotiations 101

In the numerous threads concerninng the fiscal cliff negotations and the President's having put chained CPI Social Security adjustments (which are, effectively, benefit cuts) on the table for consideration, whenever anybody expresses any kind of displeasure with the President for having put such a proposal under consideration, those posts have been met by a flurry of "there's-no-deal-yet-so-you-are-really-panicking-over nothing" responses.

Yes, it is true that there is no final agreement as of yet. But this proposal was included as part of the President's opening bid in the negotiations. Those who protest that there is as yet no final agreement seem to hold out hope that by some mystical process a deal will emerge that is better than the President's opening bid. But that isn't how negotiations between adverarially-interested parties work. A negotiation between adversarial parties begins with each side staking out a position that is more or less close to what each party would consider ideal. From there, the two opposing parties try to work toward a compromise between the two respective "ideal" positions, hopefully through a reasonably equitable balance of concessions by each side. But what virtually never happens, because it is virtually impossible, is that the final compromise is one that either side would consider more favorable to its interests than its opening position.

That is to say, if the President makes what many of us consider to be an egregious concession in an opening negotiating bid, to suggest that such concession will not be included in any final deal (barring a large, loud and sustained outcry by voters) is to engage a level of fantasy that would make Lewis Carroll proud.

But hey, dont' let me interrupt your reverie. Oh, and ... please say "Hi" to Alice for me.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Dec 19, 2012, 09:22 PM (2 replies)

Is there a graveyard nearby? ...

... because I sure hear a lot of whistling!
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Dec 19, 2012, 01:01 PM (6 replies)

FUCK THIS SHIT -- just heard the President DEFENDING putting SS/Medicare on the block...

. . . while at the same time insisting that middle class tax rates must not rise.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Dec 19, 2012, 12:22 PM (31 replies)

In response to the recent threads promoting Third Way, I say "Balderdash!"

I posted this earlier in another thread, but I think it merits its own OP.

[font size=4]Balderdash![/font][br /]by markpkessinger

You have fallen into the very trap the GOP has laid for you, by accepting the spin that the current mid-point between the two parties is the political "center" where "moderation" abounds. I'm not sure how old you are, but I'm guessing you are under 45. The reason I say that is that most of us who are over 45 are aware of the rightward ideological shift both parties have taken in recent decades. We know that the center of the American political spectrum is NOT what happens to be the current ideological midpoint between the two parties. We have a Republican party that has not only moved to the right, it has gone off the rightmost edge of the Earth into batshit crazy radical extremism, and a Democratic Party that occupies ideological turf on which moderate and liberal Republicans of 40 years ago would feel perfectly at home. In other words, we now have a center-right party, and a radical right party. The ideological midpoint between center-right and extreme radical, batshit crazyland is most certainly NOT a point of "moderation" by any stretch of the imagination. No, the midpoint between center right and extreme radical right is -- wait for it -- FAR RIGHT.

In response, the Democratic Party, for its part, should have vigorously held and defended its historic ideological ground as the voice of labor, the poor and minorities of all types. Instead, having fallen under the sway of DLC/Third Way types, sold much of the party on the idea that every time we lose an election to Republicans, that means we should move further in the direction of Republicans. Well, we tried that. As the GOP got more and more insane, Democrats began adopting positions that had previously been considered right-wing, conservative positions. Did it make the party more popular with the electorate? No. It resulted in much of the electorate coming to see Democrats (and not unjustifiably) as a bunch of spineless weasels who talk a good populist game but who, in the end, are just as beholden to corporate paymasters as the GOP -- the only difference in their eyes being that Democrats whine about it more. The country elected President Obama wanting and expecting a departure from that kind of spineless accommodationism. I submit that many of the difficulties with public opinion that President Obama experienced in the first 2-3 years of his first term resulted from a perception that he was unwilling to fight for many ot the things he claimed to support during the 2008 campaign. Now, that may or may not have been an entirely fair criticism, but it was how it was perceived by many. And the President's poll numbers consistently rose whenever he appeared to be returning to his more populist positions and appeared ready to fight for them.

The late Senator Ted Kennedy saw this coming back in 1995, in an address to the National Press Club in which he excoriated many of his Democratic colleagues for "sheepishly acquiescing to GOP efforts to cut the social safety net." As Kennedy said:

"Sometimes the task of a great political party is to face the tide, not just ride with it, and to turn it again in the direction of our deepest convictions. . . . If Democrats run for cover, if we become pale carbon copies of the opposition and try to act like Republicans, we will lose, and deserve to lose."

You are correct that many voters simply see Democrats as the "lesser of two evils." But if you can see that, I don't understand how you can fail to see that what you are calling for is a recipe for maintaining that less than optimal public image.

Another aspect of your post with which I must take serious issue -- and it runs throughout your post -- is the way you repeatedly posit some sort of enmity between the left and business. The left (at least in this country) has never been the "enemy of business," as you suggest. The left does not, as you dishonestly suggest, want to see the business community fail, nor does it have a problem with business owners/shareholders reaping a reasonable profit. (That entire line of argument, frankly, amounts to little more than a Fox News talking point.) What the left does want, however, is for businesses to fairly compensate their employees (i.e., at a level where a person working a full time job can actually afford to feed, clothe and shelter himself/herself, and with benefits that enable that person to receive medical care when needed and to retire with a measure of dignity). The left does want businesses to provide clean, safe working conditions for their employees. The left does want a robust regulatory structure when it comes to the nation's food and drug supplies, and vigorous regulatory oversight of the financial sector. The left wants businesses to succeed, but to do so in a manner that does not despoil the environment and does not endanger people's health. But here's the thing about the business community: they're greedy fuckers. They'll take as much and more as anybody will allow them to. And as soon as anybody proposes anything that might force them to spend an extra dollar or two, they'll howl at the moon over the injustice of it all. But you know what? If we don't give in to their howling, eventually they'll stop howling and get back to their businesses. And lo and behold, they will discover that even with all those "burdensome regulations" imposed on them by those evil left wingers, they are still able to make a decent profit.

Finally, as for what "the American people want," the American people, by and large, are so confused by the disinformation that emanates from the right-wing propaganda machine that they aren't really sure what they want. What they do know is that Washington has ceased to work for them. They do know that when push comes to shove, they have been shafted by both parties in recent decades (slightly less often by Democrats, but since the Democratic Party purports to be on their side and then still throws their interests under the bus in favor of corporate interests, it is a more bitter pill to swallow when the betrayal comes at the hands of Democrats).
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Dec 12, 2012, 10:19 PM (17 replies)

A must-read: "The Exhaustion of the American Teacher"

[font size=5]The Exhaustion of the American Teacher[/font]
[font size=1 color="light green"]September 12, 2012 By John Kuhn[/font]

< . . . >

But teachers by and large aren’t afraid; they’re just tired.

Meanwhile, no one is demanding American non-teachers change anything. Michelle Rhee wastes none of her vast supply of indignation on American public policies that leave a quarter of our children in poverty while, not coincidentally, the profits of Rhee’s corporate backers reach new heights. And no one but Paul Tough dares to hint at the obvious-but-politically-incorrect reality that a swelling army of kid-whipped or addiction-addled American parents have totally abdicated the job of parenting and have raised the white flag when it comes to disciplining their children or teaching them virtues like honesty, hard work, and self-respect. Americans have explicitly handed off character education to schoolteachers. Such a practice says a great deal about our nation’s expectations of its parents.

[The problem with the American student of 2012 isn’t as cartoonishly simple as evil unions protecting bad teachers. Nor is it as abstract and intractable as poverty. The problem is as complex, concrete, and confront-able as the squalor and neglect and abuse and addiction that envelope too many American children from the time they step outside the schoolhouse door at 3:30pm until the moment they return for their free breakfast the next morning. Meanwhile, the campaign to understate the impact of devastating home and neighborhood factors on the education of our children has done little more than curtail any urgency to address those factors. “No excuses” hampers the development of a holistic wraparound approach that would foster education by addressing real needs rather than ideological wants, because it holds that such needs are mere pretexts and not actual challenges worthy of confronting.

< . . . >

Truth is, the problem with the American student is the American adult. Deadbeat dads, pushover moms, vulgar celebrities, self-interested politicians, depraved ministers, tax-sheltering CEOs, steroid-injecting athletes, benefit-collecting retirees who vote down school taxes, and yes, incompetent teachers—all take their turns conspiring to neglect the needs of the young in favor of the wants of the old. The line of malefactors stretches out before our children; they take turns dealing them drugs, unhealthy foods, skewed values messages, consumerist pap, emotional and physical and sexual traumas, racist messages of aspersion for their cultures, and countless other strains of vicious disregard. Nevertheless, many pundits and politicians are happy to train their rhetorical fire uniquely on the teachers, and the damnable hive-feast on the souls of our young continues unabated. We’re told not to worry because good teachers will simply overcome this American psychic cannibalism and drag our hurting children across the finish line ahead of the Finnish lions.

< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Dec 9, 2012, 07:07 PM (18 replies)

NY Times: For Corporate Donors, Inauguration Details

I am disgusted and appalled by the way the Administration is handling funding of the inaugural ceremonies.

[font size=5]For Corporate Donors, Inauguration Details[/font][br /]
[font size=3 color="light blue"]By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG[/font][br /]
[font size=1 color="grey"]Published: December 8, 2012[/font]

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s finance team is offering corporations and other institutions that contribute $1 million exclusive access to an array of inaugural festivities, including tickets to a “benefactors reception,” a children’s concert, a candlelight celebration at the National Building Museum, two reserved parade bleacher seats and four tickets to the president’s official inaugural ball.

The offerings are detailed in an online inaugural fund-raising solicitation provided to The New York Times by an Obama fund-raiser. The document describes four packages that Mr. Obama’s finance team can sell, with differing levels of access depending on the level of contribution. Individuals who contribute $250,000 will receive the same package as million-dollar “institutional donors,” which could include corporations, philanthropies, foundations and unions.

The financing arrangements are a departure from Mr. Obama’s policy in 2009, when he refused corporate donations altogether and capped individual contributions at $50,000. As in 2009, Mr. Obama will not be accepting money from lobbyists or political action committees.

< . . . >

. . . Mr. Obama’s decision has drawn criticism from good-government advocates, who accuse him of abandoning his pledge to keep big money out of politics.

< . . . >

Read full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/us/politics/obama-team-outlines-four-corporate-donor-packages-for-inauguration.html
Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Dec 8, 2012, 09:53 PM (4 replies)

The specious appeal to a minority party's "rights" as a defense of the filibuster

In the debate over whether and how to reform the Senate filibuster, opponents have been making a lot of noise about the purported "rights" of a minority party in the Senate. But the Constitution does not even so much as contemplate the existence of political parties, let alone extend to them, as a bloc, any particular "rights." So appealing to the minority party's "rights" as a bloc amounts to utter nonsense. Any rights as regards the Senate attach either to the body as a whole (e.g., the Constitution gives both the House and Senate the right to set their own rules, as a body), or to individual Senators on an equal basis. Individual senators have the right to vote their consciences, and even to vote against their party if their consciences so dictate. The Constitution contemplates both houses operating by a simple majority vote, and explicitly lays out the circumstances (such as impeachment or a constitutional amendment) that require a super majority (two-thirds in both cases).

The filibuster exists, in the first place, as a parliamentary courtesy to ensure that a minority party has an opportunity to be heard. But Republicans in the last two Congresses have not used it merely as an opportunity to be heard; they have abused it, invoking it on virtually EVERY piece of legislation that comes before it. And it has been used not only on votes on actual legislation, but on parliamentary procedural votes (e.g., on votes regarding whether or not the Senate will take a vote on a particular piece of legislation). The filibuster was NEVER intended as a means for a Senate minority to block legislative action, or to prevent votes from taking place on executive branch nominees.

The Constitution, while allowing each house of Congress to make its own rules, most certainly did not envision either body creating a rule that could be used to effectively thwart the will of a duly elected majority. Lest anyone wish to claim that this is something "both parties do," it is important to note here that Republicans in the last two Congresses have employed the filibuster at a rate that is nearly DOUBLE that of any other Congress in American history, including those in which Democrats were in the minority. Since Republicans have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to use a parliamentary courtesy in the manner it was intended, it is past time to reform that rule to whatever extent is necessary to prevent the current minority, or any future minority, from preventing the Senate from accomplishing the work it is elected, and Constitutionally-mandated, to do. Simply leaving it as it is renders impossible governance in a closely divided political climate, and thwarts the very core essence of democracy.

Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Dec 3, 2012, 02:49 AM (15 replies)
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