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Things I Would Pay Money to Watch

[ 33 ] January 24, 2013 |

I would pay money to watch former Colorado congressman, anti-immigrant racist, and overall jerk Tom Tancredo smoke marijuana. And at least someone is going to have that chance.

The World’s Worst Deliberative Body Retains Its Title

[ 153 ] January 24, 2013 |

Filibuster reform is dead. Why? Harry Reid and senior Democrats flat out don’t want it.

Reformers think Reid changed his mind again in December, after a series of amendments to the Defense Authorization bill went awry and he began to worry that a talking filibuster, if not properly managed on the floor, could actually mean no filibuster at all in some cases. Reid said as much to me during our interview. When I asked him why he didn’t go for Merkley’s talking filibuster proposal, he said he’d concluded that it actually does get rid of the 60-vote threshold. He was, instead, pursuing a gentleman’s agreement with McConnell to encourage more talking filibusters.

A second explanation for Reid’s early enthusiasm for reform might be that Reid needed to convince McConnell to strike a deal and that the only way to do that was to scare him a bit. “Whenever you change the rules here,” Reid said, “you have to show the other side you can change them with 51 votes.” It’s the fear of the partisan reforms, in other words, that leads to bipartisan reforms.

Reid still wants to keep Republicans a little scared. He recalled that earlier in the 112th session of Congress, Senate Republicans began filing motions to suspend the rules after their filibusters were broken. “They couldn’t win these votes,” Reid said. ”It just ate up time. I put up with it for awhile and then said no more. I went to the floor, and I said that’s dilatory. The chair said no, it isn’t. I overruled the chair, and now you can’t do that because I set a precedent. I’m capable of doing more of that.”

Oh, Reid wants to keep Republicans scared! If there’s one thing Harry Reid is good at, it’s cowering the Republicans into not using every tool at their disposal, including turning the Senate into a one-chamber government shutdown, in order to do it!

What has really outraged Reid is that Jeff Merkley has called out which Democratic senators are at fault by name:

On a private call with the Bay Area Democrats on Wednesday, Merkley identified Reid as the key person in the talks, and he urged activists to target members of Reid’s leadership team ahead of their meetings next week, according to people on the call. He also characterized Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Joe Manchin (West. Va.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) as wrestling with his proposal, sources say.

A lot of usual suspects here. Baucus and Feinstein are terrible. Manchin genuinely doesn’t want to see the Democratic agenda pass. Unclear whether Pryor really does either. Disappointing on Leahy and Boxer, but a lot of older Democrats, and this includes Carl Levin and Reid, would rather see nothing happen today than not have the ability to ensure nothing happens when the Democrats next lose the majority.

What’s also clear is that the Democratic Senate caucus is generationally divided, more so than Republicans. Newer senators came into the body at a time of extreme partisanship and a Republican war on the body’s traditions. Older Democrats still want the body to be a genteel place where we can all listen to Trent Lott and John Ashcroft sing and have martinis together after the session. In other words, one generation understands what it takes to win, the other does not.

Basically, what this means is that nothing will get done in the next 2 years because the Senate will continue to get in the way. In 2015, we will have this fight all over again. Merkley, Udall, Warren, and other filibuster reform supporters will have 2 choices. Try to finally convince their senior colleagues (some of whom will retire by then) that change needs to happen for the good of the republic. They’ll probably fail but we might see some more changes of various efficacy. Or the Republicans will win the Senate (I am skeptical of this because I think they will again nominate enough loons that people like Pryor and Begich might hold on a la McCaskill) and hopefully the reformers will join the Republicans in gutting the filibuster once and for all. It’s undemocratic no matter who controls the Senate.

…Tom Harkin with the reality of what Reid’s actions mean:

“He can go out and give wonderful speeches, things like that,” said Harkin. “But with the House in the hands it’s in, and the fact that the Senate, now, you have to have 60 votes to pass anything… well, I daresay that Obama’s package, his very aggressive proposals, will not get very far. They’ll be so watered down that they won’t be recognizable.”

Thanks Harry.

The Decline of Unions

[ 74 ] January 23, 2013 |

Not a good day for a labor person.

Labor Department figures released today showed that 11.3% of the American workforce belongs to a labor union.
That is the lowest number since 1936. To put that in context, the National Labor Relations Act was upheld by the Supreme Court and the Congress of Industrial Organizations split from the American Federation of Labor in 1937. This is down from 11.8% in 2011. The sudden drop was two-fold. Continued losses in public sector work was one piece. Bigger was the Wisconsin and Indiana right-to-work laws, which led to major membership declines in union membership in those states. No doubt, the Michigan law (and potentially Pennsylvania) will lead to even lower numbers next year. Business has reversed the entire union gains of the New Deal. And of course their goal is to also reverse the policy changes and social programs labor helped create.

What kind of plans do AFL-CIO leaders have to turn around the labor movement? Not much. And what they have are bad. Take for instance the legendary union puppet Scabby the Rat.

You see Scabby at big labor rallies. It’s a fun way to get the message across. But some in labor don’t like it. Take Sean McGarvey, president of the powerful Building and Construction Trades Department. Today McGarvey tweeted this:

Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition.

Wow. A few big issues here. First, what the deuce is a “value proposition?” One thing it certainly is: corporate doublespeak. Does McGarvey also support leveraging some holistic change? Engineering some maximum synergies? What on earth is McGarvey doing parroting corporate language? How is that going to motivate people to join unions? Of course it won’t. But it’s also McGarvey’s big strategy, according to Mike Elk :

The AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department did not respond to a request for elaboration. However, McGarvey and many other construction union leaders favor taking a “business-friendly” approach rather than adversarial approach to relationships with management. The council states on its website, “We will prove to contractors and owners that a partnership with North America’s Building Trades Unions is the best investment they will ever make.” Construction union leaders often publicly stress the value that their unions bring to companies, pointing to the fact that union projects are more likely completed on time without cost overruns.

In this context, abandoning Scabby the Rat appears to some union members like a call by such leaders to work out deals with management nicely, quietly and behind-the-scenes, instead of confrontationally, such as by placing giant 16 foot inflatable rats outside of corporate offices.

For rank-and-file dissident construction workers such as Gregory Butler, retiring “Scabby the Rat” symbolizes a turn back to the labor-management cooperation models that often left rank-and-file union members like him behind.

Ugh. Double ugh.

High-Density Housing Must Be The Future

[ 171 ] January 23, 2013 |

As Sean Griffiths points out, cute semi-detached housing might make for aesthetically pleasing New Urbanist cities, but it is not sustainable as a dominant mode of architecture within the 21st century city. Density is the only answer, not only for social and environmental reasons, but because the cost of land in cities has skyrocketed to the point where only the wealthy can purchase such housing.

You: Worse for Animals Than Chernobyl

[ 100 ] January 23, 2013 |

Where is this amazing photo of a wolf near a wetland taken? Chernobyl. As has been noted before, the most militarized parts of the earth (the DMZ for instance) and the most contaminated parts of the earth are the best places on the planet for wildlife to survive. Why? Because the sheer existence of humans is a disaster for 95% of the species on the planet. Worse than land mines, worse than nuclear meltdown.

The Death of Football?

[ 112 ] January 22, 2013 |

The news that you can scan for CTE in living football players is a pretty big deal. Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks it will lead to the end of football. I am skeptical. I think it might lead to the end of upper class white kids playing football. But I do not think one can overestimate how ingrained football is in American culture. I am sure that plenty of players would continue playing, even if they knew they had brain damage. And while one can argue that the government can step in and end such a violent game, that’s not going to happen. It’s possible that it could lead to shorter professional careers, some people dropping out of the game before they suffer damage, etc., but there will be hundreds of people to step in their place. The overall quality of the game could theoretically drop, but I doubt it. Coates uses the decline of boxing as an example that this can happen. But while it’s remarkable how quickly boxing fell off the sporting map, it’s replacement by ultimate fighting certainly suggests neither the appetite for bloodsports nor the willingness of poor people to engage in them has waned at all. The decline of boxing is complicated and more related to factors ranging from a decline in compelling American heavyweights to corruption and mismanagement than an existential crisis that led to its end.

Two Stonewalls, Two Americas

[ 123 ] January 22, 2013 |

Barack Obama’s second inaugural address:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” Obama said.

The Virginia state Senate, at the exact same time:

Democrats in Virginia are accusing state Republicans of taking advantage of a prominent civil rights leader’s trip to Washington for the presidential inauguration to pull a “dirty trick” in order to take control of the state Senate in the 2015 elections.

The state Senate is split 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats. On Monday, while state Sen. Henry Marsh (D) — a 79-year-old civil rights veteran — was reportedly in Washington to attend President Obama’s second inaugural, GOP senators forced through a mid-term redistricting plan that Democrats say will make it easier for Republicans to gain a majority.

Politically, the move coud derail McDonnell’s ambitious agenda for his last year in office ahead of a rumored run for higher office. Optics-wise, the state Senate GOP’s move could reverberate far beyond the Commonwealth: after using the absence of civil rights leader Marsh to push through the legislative changes, the Senate adjourned in honor of a well-known Confederate general.

“On motion of Senator Stosch, the Senate adjourned in memory or [sic] General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson at 4:10 p.m. to convene Tuesday, January 22, 2013,” read the official minutes of the legislative day.

According to the progressive blog Blue Virginia, Deeds also took to the state Senate floor to speak about Jackson after the new district lines were approved.


[ 38 ] January 21, 2013 |

Miss Idaho Potato, 1935.

Everyone needs some weirdness in the evening.


[ 71 ] January 21, 2013 |

I have nothing of interest to add to the inauguration discussion. But I do want to link to Atrios on the shocking significance of Obama to anyone with an understanding of American history.

Whatever one thinks of Obama, it says something positive about our country that we actually managed to twice vote for an African-American man for president. More than that, I don’t think that anyone should doubt that we’d be ready to elect a woman president, too. I’m not saying the playing field is level and the country, or at least enough of it, is race- and gender- blind for these things, just that 20 years ago I would’ve put both in the near-impossible category.

About once a month, I sort of come to this realization that, holy moly, this country has voted a black dude president. Twice! That is hard for me to believe. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. And if it did, it would be a Republican.

The End of Carmen Ortiz’s Political Career

[ 245 ] January 19, 2013 |

It looks like Carmen Ortiz will not live down her role in the suicide of Aaron Swartz. The fact that she’s still defending the prosecution and the legal process is another sign that she should never, ever be considered for political office. And it sounds the general consensus is that she is finished:

I think it’s fair to say that any political career that Carmen Ortiz may have been contemplating is, as Margery Eagan wrote yesterday, “done. Finished. Forever linked to bringing the full and frightening weight of the federal government down upon a 26-year-old computer genius — and a suicide risk.” Perhaps Ortiz could overcome that eventually, but it will take many many years for her to do so.



[ 64 ] January 18, 2013 |

Oh man, this is great.

Remember back, a long long time ago. There was a man. He was me. And he said he wanted Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick in the aftermath of Newtown shootings. You know who was really outraged by this common metaphor that all sane people knows actually means “this person should be held accountable for their actions?” Michelle Malkin. All I suffered was a few death threats and various other things I’d rather not recall.

Today, Amanda Marcotte lambasted Rush Limbaugh for saying, “You know how to stop abortion? Require that each one occur with a gun.” Actual violence and intimidation occurs against women trying to obtain their constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion. Limbaugh and others incite people to violent actions (assisted by the high-powered assault rifles and huge magazine clips the NRA supports) against abortion clinics and abortion doctors. Ask the family of David Gunn, of George Tiller, of Shannon Lowney and of Lee Ann Nichols. So it’s far from clear that Limbaugh isn’t completely serious when he says these things.

You know is outraged by Amanda supposedly not understanding metaphor (well hyperbole technically)? Yep, Michelle Malkin.

Ugh indeed, Amanda. Anyone familiar with Limbaugh is well aware of his hyperbolic style and understands that his point wasn’t that abortions should be performed with guns; he was saying that the Left would actually care about the lives snuffed out by abortions if guns were involved.

The gall, the gall, the gall of these people.

“What pig sties could compare in goings-on with you?”

[ 36 ] January 18, 2013 |

What are you all up to this lovely Friday night? Going out to dinner with a special someone? Hanging out at the bar with your friends? Putting together syllabi for the semester that starts next week (me)?

Whatever your plans, you need some fresh insults for the evening. For that, I suggest this handy randomizer of Martin Luther’s insults from his corpus of angry writings. From the brief (“There you are, like butter in sunshine.”) to the lengthy (“You say, “What comes out of our mouth must be kept!” I hear it – which mouth do you mean? The one from which the farts come? (You can keep that yourself!)”), impress your friends and colleagues with new heights in spiteful verbal ranting.

Out of these insults came a beautiful religion.

As someone who grew up Lutheran, I think we can all agree that my denuncinatory language and judgmental ways are really just me channeling the founder of my faith (or ex-faith or the various existential crises that define our people, see any Ingmar Bergman film for more). This blog is the church house door, the keyboard is the hammer, and angry, vituperative words are my heritage.

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