Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ending fascist control of our Congress

I think the biggest problem facing the country is the extreme polarization of our politics.  But there is a small window of possibility right now for a systemic change in congress that can marginalize the biggest source of that polarization, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party.  There is also an extreme left wing of the Democratic Party, but they don't hold the country hostage the way the right wing reactionaries do.

The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, has been continuing a tradition of the House instituted by the former Republican speaker, Dennis Hastert, in 2004.  That is to say, the Republican speaker won't bring a vote to the floor unless he has counted that a majority of the Republicans will vote for it.  

What that means in practice, is that a minority of House members - in this case the Tea Party, evangelical, and libertarian extremists - can stop any legislation by voting against it.  So, rather than needing a majority of the House, which includes both Republicans and Democrats, what is really needed is only a majority of a little over half the House, a majority of the Republicans, to stop any legislation. In other words, only a little over a quarter of the House of Representatives needs to oppose a bill in order to defeat it.

This empowers the fanatics of either party to rule the country.  This is not good for the country.  The heart of fanaticism is fascism, either of the right or the left, that is to say, authoritative dogmatic zealotry for an ideology that allows no compromise or flexibility. The House of Representatives has been in the grip of intransigent fanaticism since the zealous rise of the Tea Party in 2010.  The zealots have always been there and have always done as much damage as they were able to do so, on both sides of the spectrum, long before 2010, but the country has been crippled for the last couple of years by these right wing  fanatics.

So, here we are facing the fiscal cliff.  

The president and the Senate can easily come up with legislation that will pass the Senate and be signed by the president into law that will raise taxes and cut spending and avoid the catastrophic effect of going over the fiscal cliff and severely damaging the economies of the U.S. and the world.  And, that legislation would be able to be passed by a vote of the entire House of Representatives, a combined vote of all Democrats and all Republicans.  The only thing that would stop that vote passing the House would be if the Republican Speaker refuses to put it on the floor unless he can get a majority of his Republicans to vote for it before he puts it on the floor.  And, of course the fanatics won't vote for it so they will stop it, once again.

The only hope, therefore, for the country to avoid the fiscal cliff is if Boehner puts it on the floor in violation of the majority of the majority tradition.  Put it on the floor for a vote even if a majority of the Republicans will vote against it. One can certainly assume, for example, that the former V.P. nominee, Paul Ryan, will vote against it.  A good thing he is not going to be the real V.P. of the country, or so it seems to me.

This will take a remarkable act of courage on the part of Boehner to do, since doing so may end his speakership and his political career.  He may plan to put off this decision until after the vote for the Speaker of the new House on January 3, 2013.  This is more than a matter of personal pride for John Boehner.  If he is challenged and beaten by a fanatic, that would be very bad news indeed for the country. We need politics in the House of Representatives to return to being politics, i.e. deal making and compromising to get the best each side can manage in the negotiating process of actual politics.  We cannot continue to be held hostage to the fanatical intransigence of about a quarter of the elected representatives in the House.

So, perhaps we don't get the bill to the House floor until the first week of January.  But if we do, and do so by abandoning the "majority of the majority" tradition of the last nine years, we will be seeing a needed structural change in the House of Representatives.  The Speaker will still decide what gets voted on, but he will no longer be held captive by his own party in making those decisions.

This applies in the future, regardless which party gets in power.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Democratic Party has the same kind of fascist authoritative dogmatic zealotry on the left that allows no compromise.  The country needs to insist on freedom from zealots.  This is a window of opportunity to free the House of those fascist tactics.

In addition, it appears that the Senate will also grapple with a way to free the Senate from the fanatical, fascistic tactics of the minority to stop legislation by abusing the filibuster rule.  I haven't read enough about the options being considered, but I believe that the essence of the filibuster can be maintained, i.e. slowing down legislation in order to allow extended debate and deal making, without crippling the Senate into inaction.  The Senate was not designed by our Founders to need 60% votes to pass legislation.  So, there should be a way out of that mess as well.

One can hope and pray...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sell more weapons for slaughter...

The NRA's response to the slaughter of children with assault weapons is...increase weapons' sales.  So, the weapons' industry has only one objective: increase sales. There was a window of opportunity for a glimmer of sanity, but the insane slammed it shut.  

Ideology allows no information to penetrate its bubble of belief. No matter what happens, the ideological beliefs are only strengthened. For some people weapons are good, more weapons are better, more powerful weapons are best, more and more and more and more...  And, as a lovely benefit you get to make lots of money as well. Life is good indeed for the ideologically insane. 

Slaughter produces...outlawing of high capacity assault weapons?  No.  Mandatory background checks for gun buyers at gun shows and online?  No. Limits on ammunition quantities one can buy?  No. Not to the weapons industry and their spokesman, the NRA. Slaughter produces more weapons sales. People rush out to buy weapons out of fear that they will be outlawed, and the NRA advocates armed guards in every school in the nation.  Slaughter is good for business, I suppose.

My only hope is that the response of the NRA and the avid assault weapons supporters will disgust more and more people.  

I guess it is too much to hope that fanatics will change. But I can hope that their responses will alienate more and more people, and they will become increasingly marginalized. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wouldn't it be wonderful...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the NRA actually showed some leadership around this tragedy and promoted sensible gun laws outlawing weapons with excessive numbers of rounds in the clips?  That is, for them to represent sensible gun ownership rather than representing the maximization of sales for the weapons industry?

One can dream...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I'm sick of it

I''m sick of it.  Sick of news of crazy young men massacring innocent people.  These events are at the intersection of two things that aren't working in our country:  how we deal with people with mental and emotional problems, and how we deal with gun laws.  Both of these issues are kept dysfunctional by political interests.

Decades ago, liberals, in an effort to be compassionate, closed psychiatric hospitals and made it impossible to commit a disturbed person against their will.  The mentally ill can only place themselves in a hospital and get the medication that they need in order to get through a difficult passage.  And, of course, often times, part of their illness is a paranoia and a refusal to be institutionalized out of fear that they will never be able to go free.  Understandable, but sometimes toxic to innocent people they encounter.

And the weapons industry has taken almost total control over how our country views weapons.  The NRA and true believer second amendment absolutists block as much reasonable gun control laws as possible. 

The terrible result is that sick people can and do buy semi-automatic weapons and use them to kill dozens of people in a frenzy of destruction.

I think we need to dramatically change our approach to both how we treat mentally ill people (create a system where someone who is off the rails can be committed against their will - bound to be violently opposed by liberals), and how we treat gun control (eliminate multiple magazine quick fire weapons, and at least prevent those weapons from getting in the hands of mentally and emotionally disturbed people - bound to be violently opposed by conservatives)

Although I personally am disgusted by guns, I have long been a supporter of the second amendment because it is a constitutional right of personal freedom. But society is allowed to draw reasonable lines to protect itself.  In the same way that we can outlaw machine guns and bazookas, we can outlaw these weapons of mass destruction.  I understand that doing so won't keep them out of the hands of criminals who will get them via illegal means, but just because we can't do it perfectly doesn't mean we can't improve the situation.

And it is time to put some trust in our mental health professionals, and allow them to take in the mentally disturbed and give them the medications and treatment necessary to get them back on their feet and back into some reasonable ability to go back out onto the street.

I read a headline earlier this week that a huge percentage of those killed by police in the line of duty are mentally ill people.  

I am sick of it, the intersection of bad gun laws and bad mental health laws.  People are dying who do not need to.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Signs of politics breaking out

Prior to the election, I wrote:

"Voting against Romney is the only way I can vote against the Tea Party, the Evangelicals, and the Libertarians."  

I was afraid that if Romney won, the extremists of the Republican Party would take it as a victory for themselves and would take over the party and the country, which I most assuredly did not want.  

I had hoped that the whacko wing would lose power to more reasonable and moderate voices, voices of those whose goal was to run the country rather than over-run the country with their ideological purity.  There are glimmers in the water of that hopeful future, which I am glad to see.

My favorite center-right columnist, David Brooks, points out that Marco Rubio gave a speech that suggested a move toward the center, and that there are some signs that House Republicans will join with the Speaker, John Boehner, in committing politics - i.e. creating a deal, compromising, and raising taxes along with cutting spending in order to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.  Thank goodness.  

In addition, Brooks points out that even Paul Ryan, unsuccessful VP candidate, is talking about helping the middle class rise rather than spouting Ayn Randian libertarian absolutes.

It could well be that the Republican Party can be taken back from the revolutionaries whose only passion is their ideology.  

The country needs a healthy Republican Party.  It becomes healthy with the marginalizing the ideologically intransigent extremists.  It becomes a healthy political party by acting as politicians, i.e. cutting deals, negotiating behind closed doors, finding compromises, getting what they can and allowing what they need to.  Pushing aside the ideologues and creating space for politicians.

Of course, the Democratic Party needs to do the same thing.  Right now we have the hard core lefties like Robert Reich writing that no deal is better than a bad deal.  No deal means the country goes over the Fiscal Cliff, and despite what Mr Reich would like us to believe, that would be a very bad thing, indeed.

Both parties need to gently ignore their extremes and get on with the business of working together to run the country like adults, rather than warring with each other as alien tribes bent on unconditional surrender.

One can hope. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck, RIP

The wonderful jazz artist Dave Brubeck died today at 91.  He and his tenor saxaphonist, Paul Desmond, were/are my favorite musicians. "Take Five" is their signature piece, and is my favorite piece of music of all time.  Here it is:

Dave Brubeck - Take Five - 1966

Uploaded by  on May 24, 2007
1966 in Germany

Dave Brubeck - piano
Paul Desmond - alto sax
Eugene Wright - bass
Joe Morello - drums