Ending the filibuster

Sadly, too many moderate/conservative Senate Democrats are too stupid to realize that the filibuster needs to be ended, and that if they don’t do it, the Republicans surely will next time they get the chance.   First, Cohn:

And now the bad news:

Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation. Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant to support it.

The nine senators wary of or opposed to abolishing the filibuster include some of the caucus’ most conservative members, including Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, and Mark Pryor. And that’s hardly surprising.

When it takes 60 senators to pass all legislation, the Democratic leadership has to rely on these people not only for their votes but also for their cache among Republicans. In other words, Democrats aren’t going to get Charles Grassley to vote for a bill if Max Baucus doesn’t vote for it, too. That’s going to matter even more next year, after the elections, if/when the Democrats lose seats and need Grassley (plus a few others) to move legislation.

Of course, the filibuster empowers individual Democrats at the expense of the party as a whole. If it’s sixty-votes-or-bust for the next few years, Democrats may be done passing major initiatives.

And now, Jon Chait wonderfully lays out the logic of this all:

In reality, the Senate does not function in anything like the idealized way that Senators imagine. It’s the House with a supermajority requirement (except for the budget.) Here’s Jon Tester:

“I think the bigger problem is getting people to work together,” he said. “It’s been 60 for a long, long time. I think we need to look to ourselves more than changing the rules.”

It’s been 60 since 1975. And for the majority of that time, the filibuster was a weapon of strong protest, not a routine supermajority requirement. But the old rare use of the filibuster was an unstable equilibrium. You can’t have a competitive system where one side can use its most powerful weapon anytime it chooses but is expected not to do it that often. If baseball teams were allowed to deploy two extra fielders any time they wanted, but were expected to save the move for moments when they really needed a stop, how long would it take before every team always deployed 11 fielders? [me: love this metaphor]

The rare use of the filibuster survived as long as it did because the legacy of Jim Crow created an odd arrangement where party ties did not correspond to ideology. That era is not going to return. The political environment is competitive and parties are not going to leave a weapon lying on the ground.

That’s why the filibuster’s days are numbered: The majority does have the power to change the rules at the outset of a session. Democrats will make this notion a part of the party litany and demand it of candidates, and eventually the older Senators will be replaced by younger ones. More likely, the Republicans will simply change the rules first. This will happen the next time Republicans gain control of the White House, the House of Representatives, and more than 49 but fewer than 60 Senate seats. The old institutionalist concept of the Senate is mostly dead on the Republican side anyway. Gaining control of the White House and both chambers of Congress simultaneously is pretty hard to do anyway. There’s no way Republicans are going to allow Democrats veto their agenda in such circumstance out of loyalty to a 1970s-era compromise.

I think this is spot-on.  Republicans are simply better at the game of politics.  Democrats are happy to shoot themselves in the foot.  In the modern filibuster era, there’s no way the next 51+ Republican Senate will be willing to govern with one hand tied behind their back.

PSA: You need more vitamin D

Seriously.  Nice article in the Times sums this up.  I listened to a podcast on this a while ago and was intrigued to learn that the current RDA standard were based on not incurring a crippling disease from Vitamin D deficiency, rather than determining a level which is truly healthy.  At my last physical I was quite surprised to learn I was just barely in the healthy range after making a concerted effort to get more Vitamin D (despite my very imperfect physique, I started jogging topless in the summer just to get the extra rays).  Anyway, here’s a bit from the article:

While studies continue to refine optimal blood levels and recommended dietary amounts, the fact remains that a huge part of the population — from robust newborns to the frail elderly, and many others in between — are deficient in this essential nutrient…

Studies indicate that the effects of a vitamin D deficiencyinclude an elevated risk of developing (and dying from) cancers of the colon, breast and prostate; high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease; osteoarthritis; and immune-system abnormalities that can result in infections and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosisType 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Most people in the modern world have lifestyles that prevent them from acquiring the levels of vitamin D that evolution intended us to have. The sun’s ultraviolet-B rays absorbed through the skin are the body’s main source of this nutrient. Early humans evolved near the equator, where sun exposure is intense year round, and minimally clothed people spent most of the day outdoors…

Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University, a leading expert on vitamin D and author of “The Vitamin D Solution” (Hudson Street Press, 2010), said in an interview, “We want everyone to be above 30 nanograms per milliliter, but currently in the United States, Caucasians average 18 to 22 nanograms and African-Americans average 13 to 15 nanograms.”

Vitamin D supplements are very affordable– think about it.  The Greene family is getting them.

The real point of reality shows

After deciding to watch about 20 minutes of “Toddlers and Tiaras” last night, I’m more convinced than ever of my main theory on reality shows– the are there to make you feel better about yourself by comparing yourself to the people on the shows.  Reality TV as ego boost.  One of my guilty pleasures is watching Wife Swap on occassion with David.  Invariably, both families are extreme and nuts in opposite ways.  This way, everybody gets to feel totally superior to both families (e.g., the ones that make their kids wear sterile masks versus the ones that live in utter filth).  Anyway, after watching the beauty pageant parents last night for a while I said to David, “these parents make the ones on Wife Swap look like ‘Parents of the Year'”.  They could simply rename that show “How not to parent” or “parenting fail.”  I have to admit to being pretty entertained, though.  And whatever mistakes I may make as a parent, I’m sure a hello of a lot better than that.  :-).

The politics of “stupidity”

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I love it when EJ Dionne gets really worked up– I wish he’d do it more.  Still, despite a whole column on stupidity in our politics, being EJ, he’s pretty oblique in calling out Republicans or conservatives by name as actually being overwhelmingly responsible for all this stupidity.  A sampling:

Start with taxes. In every other serious democracy, conservative political parties feel at least some obligation to match their tax policies with their spending plans. David Cameron, the new Conservative prime minister in Britain, is a leading example.

He recently offered a rather brutal budget that includes severe cutbacks…

That could never happen here because the fairy tale of supply-side economics insists that taxes are always too high, especially on the rich…

The notion that when we are fighting two wars, we’re not supposed to consider raising taxes on such Americans is one sign of a country that’s no longer serious. Why do so few foreign policy hawks acknowledge that if they lack the gumption to ask taxpayers to finance the projection of American military power, we won’t be able to project it in the long run?…

Then there’s the structure of our government. Does any other democracy have a powerful legislative branch as undemocratic as the U.S. Senate?

When our republic was created, the population ratio between the largest and smallest state was 13 to 1. Now, it’s 68 to 1. Because of the abuse of the filibuster, 41 senators representing less than 11 percent of the nation’s population can, in principle, block action supported by 59 senators representing more than 89 percent of our population. And you wonder why it’s so hard to get anything done in Washington?

Good stuff, all of it.

I’ll use small words: the stimulus worked

One of the most frustrating things of late is that in many quarters it is considered a liability to have supported the stimulus and is taken as a matter of faith that it didn’t work at all. Of course, the evidence to the contrary is quite overwhelming.  Via Yglesias:

Annie Lowrey observes that “that the stimulus — the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act — had less impact and proved less important than the government’s monetary policy and financial-market stabilization measures, like the Fed buy-up of mortgage-backed securities.” And this isn’t because ARRA didn’t work: “the fiscal stimulus alone appear very substantial, raising 2010 real GDP by about 2%, holding the unemployment rate about 1.5 percentage points lower, and adding almost 2.7 million jobs to U.S. payrolls.” [emphasis mine]

I still the Democrats should go on the offensive on this.

Long quote of the day

I don’t ordinary expect particularly insightful political analysis from Mark Halperin, but he’s spot on here (compares OJ coverage to Sherrod coverage:

But the coverage of both sagas — Simpson’s, literally, for years; Sherrod’s for the better part of a week — was insanely overblown. The Sherrod story is a reminder — much like the 2004 assault on John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — that the old media are often swayed by controversies pushed by the conservative new media. In many quarters of the old media, there is concern about not appearing liberally biased, so stories emanating from the right are given more weight and less scrutiny. Additionally, the conservative new media, particularly Fox News Channel and talk radio, are commercially successful, so the implicit logic followed by old-media decisionmakers is that if something is gaining currency in those precincts, it is a phenomenon that must be given attention. Most dangerously, conservative new media will often produce content that is so provocative and incendiary that the old media find it irresistible.

As far as blame goes, I don’t “blame” Fox too much, it’s like the scorpion and the frog, and we know which Fox news is.  The problem is that the mainstream media knows this and plays along anyway.

Looks matter in politics (like the rest of life)

In an interesting, but not particularly surprising finding, more attractive political candidates fare a lot better than less attractive candidates:

New research from MIT political scientists shows that the appearances of politicians do indeed strongly influence voters — and that people around the world have similar ideas about what a good politician looks like. While few political observers would be surprised to learn that good looks earn votes, the MIT researchers have quantified a phenomenon that is more often assumed to be true than rigorously measured.

And, wow, there’s some shocking news, people from different countries actually seem to have similar ideas on human attractiveness.  Imagine the Miss Universe pageant if we didn’t.

“We were a little shocked that people in the United States and India so easily predicted the outcomes of elections in Mexico and Brazil based only on brief exposure to the candidates’ faces,” says Lenz. “These are all different cultures, with different political traditions and different histories.”

If they’re so shocked, perhaps they should have done a little bit more research on human perceptions of attractiveness before they did their study.   Looks matter.  People prefer good-looking people regardless of the “political traditions and different histories” of their countries.  It’s not rocket science.

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