Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sign the Petition to Make the Filibuster Real!

In the movies, in order to filibuster, Senators have to stand in the Senate and make their case to the American people. But in the modern Senate, a filibuster takes no such act of principle or courage. Senators can filibuster simply by placing a phone call to a clerk and heading off to dinner!

This January 5th, we have a chance to change the rules of the Senate, and make Senators engage in an all night talk-a-thon in order to block legislation or nominations. The key is to adopt new rules on the first day the Senate convenes next year, when only a simple majority of Senators is required for a change in Senate rules.

I've joined with Senators Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall, who are fighting with some dedicated colleagues to make this happen. To get across the finish line, they need to get as many people as possible to show their support for making the filibuster real. You can do so by signing the petition Daily Kos has created:

Friday, December 17, 2010

The David

No Foto!
shouted and ignored
can you capture the divine?
No Foto! No Foto!
David stands and sighs
the tourists push their buttons
flashes like David is on the red carpet
transcendence or mere celebrity?
No Foto! No Foto!
Chatter echoes through the hall
Grandma focuses her lens
a guide gesticulates towards a crowd
a listless young boy wonders
what all the fuss is about.
No Foto! No Foto!
flip flops shuffle in and out
but David's still standing
never takes that next step forward
as he looks, at any moment now, to do:
climb down off the throne and
crush tourists with his marble legs
rip bodies with the strength of rock
tourists flee in horror, blood
fills the hall, creeping across the floor,
the Italian woman screaming
No Foto! No Foto!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Little rays of legislative hope

Could it be... past the fallout of a wipeout election, the grandstanding over tax cuts, the no votes on the defense authorization bill and inaction on the DREAM Act, now comes this small ray of bipartisanship over the civil rights issue of our time. Our hopes have been dashed before, yet it looks inevitable now that a standalone vote on the Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will happen this lame duck. Republicans like Richard Lugar may want to be on the right side of history; guys like Scott Brown want to get re-elected.

A possible DADT repeal this month is a welcome advance -- but it is also another in a series of sad examples of why the fillibuster has so fundamentally corrupted the Senate. Every bill now requires 60 votes to advance to the floor for debate, making 60 the de facto number needed to pass any legislation. This anti-majoritarian diversionary tactic, in an already undemocratic chamber, needs to go.

I was given another new hope today, when I saw that some Democratic Senators seem genuinely serious about amending the Senate rules on January 5th, the first day of the 112th Congress, to reform the fillibuster. This procedure calls for a simple majority vote; no legislation may be passed until the rules are passed. Tom Udall is confident they will be able to reform the fillibuster. I would like to be rid of it entirely, but even restoring its genuine character would be a huge improvement. Now, Senators can simply use the threat of a fillibuster to shut down debate. If this procedural trick wasn't available, Senators would actually have to physically hold the floor to prevent debate to continue. Tying the fillibuster back to its original purpose would be more in line with the great deliberative tradition of that Chamber, which historically was at times a place where people actually listened to each other, and served with honor and dignity.

One area where this problem has manifested itself most acutely is judicial nominations. This editorial expressed the crisis well:

As it stands today, there are 110 vacancies out of around 870 federal judgeships, with another 21 judges anticipating retirement in the near future. That's 15 percent of the federal bench currently empty or about to become so. Moreover, there have been fewer judges confirmed during President Obama's first 20 months in office than at any point since Richard Nixon was president. A bipartisan collection of retired judges recently penned a letter to senators complaining about how the antics in the legislative branch were helping to cripple the judicial branch, arguing that the "situation is untenable for a country that believes in the rule of law."

This backlog of cases, which is delaying fundamental justice for American citizens, is just another casualty of the fillbuster. Might these new rule changes also help us solve this systemic problem? There is some hope in my mind that, by restoring majority rule in a closely divided chamber, we can have people start coming together in the middle to do the People's work. Learn more about the judicial nomination backlog at this interactive website made by the American Constitution Society,

Sunday, December 05, 2010

In space

In space, no reach for limits logic known
here I float authentic, seeming sound
catch me: a wisp, in strands cotton fleeting
like seeds with wings twirling sensed flight
in search of the soil of earthly delight.
Desire me this way a fanciful
string, color me object remarkable
white. Know that in whiteness reside all things
colored; know that in darkness I ne’er disappear
“shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.”
What is the difference remarkable made
‘tween poems rejecting and poems accepting
melodious, marking a profitable trade?
In Judgement find no one find nothing find
none, in Mercy weep pleasant, profitless
stars. Fixed skybound, meanings fixed in the sky
where I float less with grace higher twisting
around a molecule. and none comply.
atoms are the essence of character.
scissored unrolling presumptuous feat
to scatter my seedlings so timely in beat
around such a small thing such as this is
something I’m proud to be scattered around.
Your kind indulgence, I do then accept
qualified; paying, my own proud designs
the cost of floating in space exhaustive
spent my last flight falling, landed soft crunch
in a pile of Fall. red yellow orange
green pink purple. oak leaf maple acorn.
a white wisp floating, seeds winged and unbound.

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