Wednesday Mashup (11/25/09)

  • 1) Leave it to Dem U.S. House Rep Alan Grayson to launch a petition calling for the Senate to change its rule invoking cloture, or the end of debate on legislation prior to bringing it to a vote, in an effort to combat the abuse of the filibuster by the Repugs in the U.S. Senate (here)…

    “Why should launching wars and cutting taxes for the rich require only 50 votes while saving lives requires 60?” asked Grayson, who listed a series of important bills that passed with fewer than 60 votes.

    “Join me in calling for an end to this unfair system,” he added. “Tell Majority Leader Reid to modify the rules of the Senate to require only 55 votes to invoke cloture instead of 60. Fill out the form below to sign the petition today!”

    I know there are individuals in his district working to knock off Grayson in next year’s election, which is their right of course. If they are unsuccessful, though, I hope this guy serves forever.

    It should be pointed out, though, that if and when the Democrats become the minority congressional party once more (and given the overall ebb and flow of things, that is likely to happen again, though not for some time I hope), such a rule change could work against them.

    As noted here…

    Despite his attempts to persuade senators to vote for a medical malpractice bill limited to capping damage awards to providers of obstetrical and gynecologic services rather than all medical specialties, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) is not expected to get the 60 votes he needs Feb. 24th to cut off debate on the “Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Access to Care Act of 2003.”

    And it’s a good thing, too; imagine a monstrosity like that getting passed by an all-Repug congress and signed into law by Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History.

    Concerning the history of the filibuster, though, this tells us the following…

    Associate Senate Historian Don Ritchie said that since the nation’s start, dissident senators have prolonged debate to try to kill or modify legislation. The word “filibuster” — a translation of the Dutch word for “free-booter” or pirate — appears in the record of an 1840s Senate dispute about a patronage job.

    From Reconstruction to 1964, the filibuster was largely a tool used by segregationists to fight civil rights legislation. Even so, filibusters were employed only rarely; there were only three during the 88th Congress, which passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 after two months of filibustering.

    Filibusters were infrequent partly because the Senate custom of civility prompted consideration of minority views — and partly because they were so hard to overcome that compromises were struck. In 1917 cloture rules for ending filibusters were put in place, but required a two-thirds vote — so high it was rarely tested.

    Post-Watergate, in 1975, the bar was lowered to three-fifths, or 60 votes, and leaders began to try it more often.

    By the early 1990s, tensions between then-Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine and Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas upped the ante, and the filibuster-cloture spiral has soared ever since as more partisan politics prevailed. The use of filibusters became “basically a tool of the minority party,” Ritchie said.

    The McClatchy story from 2007 also tells us the following…

    By sinking a cloture vote this week, Republicans successfully blocked a Democratic bid to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by April, even though a 52-49 Senate majority voted to end debate.

    Some Republicans say that (Majority Leader Harry) Reid forces cloture votes just so he can complain that they’re obstructing him.

    Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called the all-nighter on Iraq “meaningless, insulting” and “an indignity.” “There is no doubt that there are not 67 votes present to override a veto. There is little doubt that there are not 60 votes present to bring the issue to a vote.”

    Maybe, but as noted here, Specter voted for cloture on a non-binding resolution opposing the surge in February 2007, to Specter’s credit, though the vote failed (so maybe Reid knew something Specter didn’t?).

    Again, I applaud the intention of what Grayson is trying to do here. However, I cannot imagine a body as monolithic as the U.S. Senate acting in accordance with his wishes (and again, even if it did, it might one day work against us).

  • 2) Also, as noted here, investigators in Kentucky have ruled that the death of census worker Bill Sparkman is a suicide, not a homicide…

    FRANKFORT, Ky. — On the surface it all seemed like a gruesome hate crime in a rural part of Kentucky with a history of disdain for the government: a census worker found bound with duct tape and hanging from a tree, the word “fed” scrawled across his chest.

    But investigators noticed the foot-tall letters scrawled in black felt-tip pen looked like they could have been written by the victim himself, and they soon found out that he believed he had cancer, had two insurance policies worth $600,000, and had an adult son in need of money.

    Investigators said Tuesday what they had been hinting at for weeks, that Bill Sparkman’s hanging was a ruse to mask his suicide for a big insurance payout.

    Cue the wingnut umbrage (here, where the following parties are listed for supposedly owing apologies)…

    MyDD – “No Suicide: That’s the one thing we know for certain now in the case of the Kentucky lynching….But the most worrying possibility – that this is Southern populist terrorism, whipped up by the GOP and its Fox and talk radio cohorts – remains real. We’ll see.”

    (By the way, if you click on the MyDD link above from the Reason article, it does not take you to the preceding paragraph.)

    Andrew Sullivan – The gruesome lynching of this Census worker seems to bear a disturbing similarity to some of the worst hate crimes committed across this country. Regardless of what the motive for the killing may have been, why would a murderer(s) take such pains to so blatantly convey anger, fear, and vitriol towards a Census employee? Perhaps because some on the right have created an impression that Census employees are terrifying.

    Earlier this summer, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) waged a high-profile, wildly-dishonest campaign against the Census.

    (Same as above – too funny.)

    ThinkProgress – Others, namely the type to kill a Census worker and string up his body as message to the government, may call it a retraining camp run by the “Feds.”

    This is the kind of violent event that emerges from a culture of paranoia and unsubstantiated attacks.

    (Same as above – this is hilarious.)

    Huffington Post – From this profile of the cancer survivor and volunteer, it appears suicide is unlikely. We’ll find out. But at some point, unhinged hostility to the federal government, whipped up by the Becks, can become violence. That’s what Pelosi was worried about.

    (OMIGOD!!!)

    Andrew Sullivan – Send the body to Glenn Beck…Is it possible that the time has come for the FCC to consider exactly what constitutes screaming fire over the publicly owned airwaves? And what if Mr. Sparkman’s murderer(s) is never found? How many other lunatics will be emboldened to make their own anti-government statement as the voices of Beck, Limbaugh and Dobbs echo in their ears?

    Nobody ever intended our public airwaves to be turned over to irresponsible voices. Maybe the time has come for the FCC to worry a bit less about wardrobe malfunctions and a whole lot more about those who would use our airwaves to make a name for themselves at the expense of the public they are suppose to serve–particularly when the expense comes in the form of blood.

    (A perfect five for five here, people! NONE of the excerpts shown above link back to the original posts. And I searched on keywords that Reason excerpted above – “violence,” “hostility,” “Beck,” “Pelosi,” “paranoia,” like that – and found nothing that matched.)

    Speaking for myself, I had this to say at the time, alleging that a teabagger or two might have gone too far, but I didn’t accuse anyone in particular.

    And such whining about being accused falsely is funny coming from the bunch whose de facto ringleader (sorry Rush) told us the following here.

  • 3) And finally, the ever-sanctimonious Cal Thomas had the following to say about the dustup between Dem U.S. House Rep Patrick Kennedy and Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin here (and once more, kudos to Patrick Murphy for defending Kennedy – had a link to a Chicago Tribune story that has mysteriously disappeared)…

    Catholic politicians have been trying to have it both ways for years, some even obeying that church’s teaching when it comes to capital punishment for convicted murderers but disobeying those teachings when it comes to “capital punishment” for the innocent unborn.

    No one is forced to join the Catholic Church and no one is forbidden to leave it. But if a Catholic politician wants the benefits of Roman Catholicism in his political life and the life to come, he should be expected to obey its most fundamental teachings.

    Strong stuff (and actually, as noted here, Thomas is exactly right about the Church’s position on capital punishment).

    But it’s a funny thing – this tells us the following…

    When the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to proceed after earlier ruling it unconstitutional, it said, “the decision that capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases is an expression of the community’s belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death.”

    Injustices and inequities can and should be repaired. But two brothers who beat a sleeping couple to death with baseball bats and a father who tortured his mute, severely retarded and handicapped stepdaughter for five years until she died (these were among the death-row inmates whose sentences were commuted by former Republican Governor George Ryan of Illinois) deserve to have their lives taken from them and not to be permanent “guests” of the state and a burden to taxpayers for the rest of their lives.

    Call me a filthy, unkempt liberal blogger, but if I didn’t know better, I’d say that that sounds like a defense of the death penalty. I wonder who could have written that?

    Why, it was none other than Cal Thomas, in 2003!

    What was that again about obeying the “most fundamental teachings” of the Catholic Church, Cal?

  • Update: And in a related story, as they say, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has officially lost its collective mind (here, its “heart” and basic sense of decency having long since departed as well).

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