How to fix the Senate

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(Photo by Daniel McCullum)

This resolution (H.R. 1018 IH), introduced into the House this week [PDF link], is something I could get behind!

Requesting the Senate to adjust its rules to reflect the intent of the framers of the Constitution by amending the Sen- ate’s filibuster rule, Rule 22, to facilitate the consider- ation of bills and amendments.

Whereas the Constitution requires a super majority in certain circumstances only and, in all other votes, a simple ma- jority was intended to be sufficient;

Whereas the procedural filibuster rule of the Senate effec- tively removes the Vice President’s constitutional right to cast a vote when the Senate is equally divided;

Whereas the Senate’s filibuster rule, Rule 22, extends the power of individual Senators and the minority in the Sen- ate beyond the power intended by the Constitution;

Whereas the Constitution does not contemplate in letter or spirit allowing a single member of Congress in either house, or the party in the minority in either house, to prevent votes from being taken on bills and amendments; and

Whereas the Senate’s filibuster rule prevents the majority from governing and, therefore, distorts the outcome of elections: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives requests the Senate to adjust its rules to reflect the intent of the framers of the Constitution by amending the Senate’s filibuster rule, Rule 22, to facilitate the consideration of bill and amendments.

I like it, and it’s fine and dandy, except for the fact that the Republicans now have a 41% “majority” in the Senate. There’s no way this will ever get passed. Too little, too late.

Goodbye campaign finance laws!

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(Flag via Adbusters)

Daily Kos has more about the Supreme Court’s horrible decision here. Basically, it overturns previous campaign finance laws and allows corporations to pour money into political campaigns

In a stinging dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”

President Obama led a chorus of Democrats and public interest groups attacking the decision, saying in a statement that the court “has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics,” and vowing that he will work with congressional leaders “to develop a forceful response.”

“It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” the president said. “This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington—while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates.”

It’s been a pretty bad week for progressives.

State of mind in Massachusetts

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Drawing by Ted McCagg.

A lot of people feel pretty burned by what happened in Massachusetts yesterday, myself included.

Andrew Sullivan does a fantastic job explaining why many feel so shafted after last night’s special election.

The glee with which the GOP is greeting the end of any access too health insurance for millions of the working poor, even as they propose nothing in its stead to help them or to restrain soaring costs for everyone else, is instructive. This really is a game to them. But to the sincere progressives who backed this moderate bill as the best they could get, this is, simply, tragic. And to those of us who wanted politics to become something more than a game, given the accelerating decline of this country on all fronts, it’s a body blow.

Two things you never talk about in an Irish pub

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(Photo via Wikipedia)

“There are two things you never talk about in an Irish pub: religion and politics…”

Last summer, we traveled to Europe. The campaign to elect the next U.S. President was starting to ramp up and at that point, Barack Obama was a household name. This lead to an interesting conversation with a fellow in Dublin, Ireland.

Right before we arrived in Barcelona, we stopped over in Dublin for a few days. On our last night there, we happened upon an old pub named Mulligan’s Pub.

Apparently, it’s one of the oldest pubs in Ireland, and there has been a watering hole at that spot since 1732. Incredible! People have been drinking beer at that spot since before the United States even existed as a country.

While Sanjin and I were enjoying some glasses of Guinness at the bar, an old Irish fellow sitting next to us strikes up a conversation. After finding out we’re from the States, he looks around and then whispers to us:

“There are two things you never talk about in an Irish pub: religion and politics. That said, what do you boys think about this Obama character?”

Fantastic. It was pretty amazing to think that Obama, who hadn’t even been officially nominated by the Democratic Party yet, had already piqued the interest and curiousity of people overseas.

Contrasting an American Life

Last year, I read Walter Isaacson’s fascinating biography on Albert Einstein, titled, “Einstein: His Life and Universe.”

Earlier today, I decided to look for more work by Isaacson and found that he wrote another great biography, this time about Benjamin Franklin. The book was titled, “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.”

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The tagline, “an American life,” struck a chord with me because it sounded so familiar. Where else have I heard that term recently? Ah yes.

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Seriously? It’s kind of insulting and sad that these books share the same tagline. Here are a few differences between the subjects of each book.

  • One book is about a great person, who had a profound effect on the founding of our country. The other is about someone trying to inadvertantly destroy it.
  • One book is about an inventor, intellect, and scientist. The other is about someone who despises those descriptions and the people behind them.
  • One book is about is about someone who strived to persevere in all facets of life. The other is about someone who perpetually quits when things get too tough.
  • One book is about a great American. The other is not.

The dark side of Dubai

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Source: Mohamed Somji, via flickr (2007).

Just read this fascinating article about the dark side of Dubai, posted by the Independent in April of this year. The article is quite long, but it’s a pretty gripping exposé on the seedy, behind-the-scenes underworld of Dubai and the blind eye that rich tourists, ex-patriots, and locals take to the city.

There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. There are the expats, like Karen; there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here. They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang – but you are trained not to look. It is like a mantra: the Sheikh built the city. The Sheikh built the city. Workers? What workers?

Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away. Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. They sweat like sponges being slowly wrung out.

Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means “City of Gold”. In the first camp I stop at – riven with the smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.

Of course, there are numerous choice quotes in this piece, and it’s pretty hard to cherry pick just one.

One day, after yet another beating, Mela ran out onto the streets, and asked – in broken English – how to find the Ethiopian consulate. After walking for two days, she found it, but they told her she had to get her passport back from Madam. “Well, how could I?” she asks. She has been in this hostel for six months. She has spoken to her daughter twice. “I lost my country, I lost my daughter, I lost everything,” she says.

As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. “Oh, the servant class!” she trilled. “You do nothing. They’ll do anything!”

You can read the rest of this article here.

More information about Dubai can be found via this write up I posted to Laughing Squid earlier this year, titled, “BASE jumping off the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building.”

[Via personal correspondence with Mark Rebec]

Stressing out about the economy

I’m a huge fan of Paul Krugman and his blog posts and op-ed pieces for the New York Times are required reading for me everyday. And more often than not, he seems to hit the nail on the head in terms of why we should be cautious about the economy.

I’m detecting a trend in commentary that I find slightly ominous. Some of the economic news lately has been slightly better than expected, which was bound to happen at some point (on average, after all, half the news should be better than expected). Mostly this is in the form of things getting worse more slowly, but it wouldn’t be surprising if we see, say, an uptick in industrial production in a few months, as the inventory cycle runs its course.

If so, that doesn’t mean the worst is over. There was a pause in the plunge in early 1931, and many people started to breathe easier. They were wrong.

So far, there’s nothing pointing to a fundamental turnaround this year, or next, or for that matter as far as the eye can see.

[Via Paul Krugman’s Blog on the NY Times]