47 Ronin Loose in America

Everyone is shocked by the letter that 47 Republican
Senators sent to Iran and it was a truly outrageous act. It was not bad just
because it broke with protocol but it also went against our Constitution and,
according to the Logan Act, this action may be punishable by fines or jail
time. This letter to Iran also revealed what until now have been internal American
political schisms and took them global.
The GOP is a party that is frightened by everything.
They believe immigrants will overrun America. “Give them an inch and they’ll
take a mile”, is their unspoken mantra.
They believe that terrorists are planning to flood
across our southern borders.
They believe that the Federal government is out of
control and needs to be much, much smaller which means good-bye to programs
that help poor moms have healthy babies, good-bye to programs that make sure
poor families can feed their children, good-bye to programs that take care of
people with mental disorders or physical disabilities and good riddance to
programs that keep the elderly from poverty. Good-bye public pensions, good-bye
unions; we don’t need public employees. Their fear here (they claim) is that
they are creating citizens with permanent dependencies.
The UN plan to help us save energy and stop sending
too much CO2 into our atmosphere, Agenda 21, makes them crazy
because it offers steps that would be “imposed” by an agency outside our
government. To the GOP this plan reeks of communism or socialism or all of the
bad “isms” rolled into one. It is obviously a plot to allow the UN to end our
They are so afraid of climate change and the steps
they would have to take to ameliorate it that they cannot even admit it exists.
They believe their immortal souls will burn in Hell
unless American becomes a Christian nation and stops sinning.
They are certain that one or more of the secretive,
hostile nations around the world will make or have already made nuclear weapons
(which is highly likely because once a technology enters the world it always
proliferates) and that we will either have to fight a nuclear war or become
subjects of a totalitarian regime that will turn us all into slaves or kill us.
It is true that we all fear these things to some
extent. The future seems a bit more unsettling than it did in the Jetsons. Obviously any or all of these
things could happen, although some are more likely than others. The world seems
to be chaotic and to be possibly teetering on the edge of several equally scary
abysses. We seem to have lost a stability and certainty that we have always possessed
until now. Perhaps this is just what it feels like to live in a pivotal age.
But one wonders (well I wonder) if all these fears
are as strong as professed or if there could possibly be a bit of theater at
work here designed to provide a rationale (however bogus) for obstruction. If
these Republicans are truly as freaked out by real change in the world then
they are definitely not the folks to help us pick our way through the chaos to
more settled times.
I have been arguing for some time that there are Republicans
bent on sedition; on a sort of “Jesus take the Wheel” tear with the GOP
providing the “hands” for Jesus. They have been putting in place a plan that will
give the GOP control of all three branches of the Federal government in the
same way they have taken over in a number of states.
I wonder why the Democrats and the media seem so
clueless. Even now Hillary Clinton gets more flak about her email than those 47
Republicans get for breaking an act of Congress. Either we’re like those dogs
who forget what they are doing every time someone yells “squirrel” or Democrats
and the media are trying to avoid a crisis in America by down-playing
Republican activities so that our government comes out of this strife intact.
If Democrats act like what is happening is just a
touch more serious than things that have happened at other moments in history
then we can avoid a breach that cannot be healed. Their explanations do soothe
what is possibly my paranoia for a bit but this all just seems a little more
concentrated, organized and extreme than previous party hostilities. It does
seem odd to me that the rather serious lapse in constitutionality by these 47
Senators will die down quite quickly and that there will be no repercussions.

Those 47 ronin who abandoned their samurai lords in
Japan had better reasons for their outlaw behavior and yet they were hunted
down and had to fight for their lives. They may have found a new incarnation in
Japan as “superheroes” but I don’t think that will be the case with our 47 “ronin”.
I don’t expect our 47 outlaws to commit seppuku but somehow head/s should roll.
I think that, given there are so few pushbacks, these “outlaws” will probably
find new ways to pursue their program of obstruction.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

By Nancy Brisson

Hastert Rule/Filibuster Below60 – Obstructionist’s Toolbox


John Boehner and the Democrats in the House of
Representatives are always invoking the Hastert rule to justify keeping bills
from being brought to the floor for consideration. What on earth is the Hastert
rule? Which party thought of that? Well it’s all on the internet of course.
Dennis Hastert is the namesake give credit for the Hastert rule and he was, of
course, a Republican. The Hastert rule allows the Speaker of the House to
declare that if a vote doesn’t have a majority of the majority in favor of the
bill it cannot come up for a vote. Does that seems kosher to you, and by kosher
I mean Constitutional?

In the Senate they are always counting to see if
there are 60 votes for a bill. If there aren’t 60 votes in favor then that bill
is “filibustered” which used to mean someone would physically stand up and talk
until it was too late to consider the bill, but now puts a bill in auto
filibuster mode, tabling it just about indefinitely or in other words killing
it, as happened with the Immigration Bill. Who thought of that; which party
gets the credit (or blame) for that new and deliberate snafu in the democratic
process? Once again the Republican brand is all over this.

I am in favor of making both the Hastert rule and the 60 vote filibuster go away. We all can see how much business gets done in Congress with these agenda blockers to fall back on. As you might guess, I am vindicated to learn that we owe both of these strategies to the GOP. These are the tools of obstructionism.

The Speaker of the House can use the Hastert Rule to block the minority, the Democrats and the Minority Leader in the Senate can block the majority by using the filibuster if the majority cannot come up with 60 votes (which they are apparently almost always unable to do). This is how a minority party takes over the Legislative Branch of our government and, although it all seems very much against the intentions of the drafters of our Constitution, it is apparently not illegal and Democrats seem to be unable to reverse the effects of these two rules. It would take the same kind of deep strategy sessions that the Republicans engage in to come up with the next “chess” move that could undo this blockade. Getting angry really won’t do it. Someone needs to figure out how to undo these very effective strategies which are allowing the Republicans to win even though they lost. This is why I refer to the activities of the Republican Party as a coup and why I consider them in revolt against our duly elected government.

Here’s the story on these two monkey wrenches which
are holding back legislation and making it impossible for President Obama to
pursue any part of the agenda we elected him to put in place.

The Hastert Rule

Why does Dennis
Hastert rule the world?

Hastert is the
originator of the “Hastert Rule,” which saith that no House Speaker shall bring
to the floor any legislation not supported by “the majority of the majority”
(i.e., the majority of the Speaker’s caucus).

The current House
Speaker, Republican John Boehner, is quaking at the prospect that, to avoid an
Oct. 1 government shutdown for which the GOP would almost certainly be blamed,
he may have to strip a provision defunding Obamacare (or possibly some other yet-to-be
 demand) from the
pending continuing resolution (i.e., temporary appropriation bill). Should
Boehner bring a “clean” CR to the floor, he risks losing a majority of his
caucus and relying on enemy Democrats to get the bill passed. Even if Boehner
sells House Republicans on averting a government shutdown, he may have to
violate the Hastert Rule yet again to raise the debt limit, which his
caucus is similarly pressuring him to use as a vehicle to defund Obamacare.

Who was Dennis
Hastert, creator of this unbreakable political rule? Some biblical prophet who
in ancient times carried his admonition, carved into stone tablets, down from
Mount Sinai?

Actually, no.
State-of-the-art carbon dating establishes that Congress managed for 215 years
to function without any Hastert Rule, until 2004. That’s when then-Speaker
Hastert, a Republican, pulled from the House floor the bill creating the
position of director
of national intelligence

because it lacked support from a majority of the Republicans he was supposedly
leading. Far from being praised for this surrender of authority to the
“majority of the majority,” Hastert was criticized for spinelessness. (The bill eventually
passed with a few tweaks to appease two
grumpy committee chairmen

Before Hastert,
speakers ignored the majority of the majority whenever circumstances warranted
it. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball recently
that Tip O’Neill had
no choice but to violate the yet-unwritten Hastert Rule many times because his
caucus contained a lot of conservative southern Democrats. (O’Neill’s various
triumphs over partisan division are nicely documented in Tip
and the Gipper: When Politics Worked
, by MSNBC host and
onetime O’Neill staff aide Chris Matthews, due out next week.)

But O’Neill was hardly
unique in this respect. House Speakers are expected to press forward
with important legislation even when it’s not supported by a majority of their
party.  Speaker Tom Foley, a Democrat (1989-1995) violated the Hastert
Rule at least six times, as did his successor, Newt Gingrich. Even after
Hastert codified his Rule, Nancy Pelosi violated it at least seven

A New
York Times tally
last April calculated
that the Hastert Rule had been violated 36 times over the previous 22 years.
Boehner has already violated it several times himself. At best the Hastert Rule
is (to
Bill Murray in Ghostbusters)
“more of a guideline than a rule.”

What about Hastert
himself? Today he is remembered for being the longest-serving Republican
speaker in history (1999-2007), just nosing out “Uncle” Joe Cannon (1903-11).
Cannon was the most powerful House speaker in history, and he was eventually
ousted in a revolt. Hastert, by contrast, was a onetime gym coach elevated from
deputy whip to the speakership as a sort of proxy for Tom DeLay, the powerful
House majority whip, who knew he was too controversial to take the top job.
During his speakership, Hastert (who now
as a
) was regarded as one
of the Bush era’s less-consequential political figures. Once when writing a
DeLay profile for George magazine, I asked Hastert if he had ever
disagreed with DeLay about anything. He said he had but that he couldn’t
remember those instances.

But perhaps Hastert had
more spine than we give him credit for, because it turns out he violated the
Hastert Rule no fewer than 12 times, or more than any speaker in recent memory
(except perhaps O’Neill). If Denny Hastert must be elevated to the status of
prophet, remember him not for the craven rule he invented, but for his
willingness to violate it again and again. Hastert never suffered any notable
consequences for these transgressions. Speaker Boehner, take note.


The Filibuster

From April to
June 2010, the Senate
Committee on Rules and Administration
held a series of monthly public
hearings entitled “Examining the Filibuster” to examine the history
and use of the filibuster in the Senate. The Committee held the first such
hearing, entitled “History of the Filibuster 1789–2008” on April 22.
It held the second hearing, entitled “The Filibuster Today and Its
Consequences”, on May 19. On June 23, the Committee held the third
hearing, entitled “Silent Filibusters, Holds and the Senate Confirmation

On December
10, 2010, Independent democratic socialist Senator Bernard
of Vermont began a “Tax Cut Filibuster” at 10:25 am
and finished at 6:59 pm later that day. on the floor of the Senate.
Sanders’ office said the intention was to “speak as long as possible
against a tax deal between the White House and congressional Republicans.

In response to
the use of the filibuster in the 111th Congress, all Democratic senators
returning to the 112th Congress, signed a petition to Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid, requesting that the filibuster be reformed, including abolishing secret
and reducing the amount of time given to post-cloture debate.

On December 6,
2012, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader, became the first
senator to filibuster his own proposal. Without
giving a lengthy speech, he invoked the rules of filibuster on his bill to
raise the passage threshold to 60 votes. McConnell had attempted to force the
opposition Democrats, who had a majority in the Senate, to refuse to pass what
would have been a politically costly measure, but one that would nonetheless
solve the current ongoing debt ceiling deadlock. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
(D-NV) chose to call a vote on the proposal regardless, McConnell immediately
invoked the rules of filibusters on his own proposal, effectively doing the
first self-filibuster in Senate history.

At the conclusion of the 112th
, the Senate debated filibuster reform. Negotiations on changes to
the rules for filibustering were set to take place during January 2013.

On March 6,
2013, Senator Rand
launched a talking filibuster to stall John
nomination confirmation vote for the position of Director of the CIA demanding an answer from the Obama Administration to the question:
“Should a President be allowed to target, and kill an American by drone
attack, on American soil, without due process?” John Brennan was
considered to be the main architect of the drone program. After 12 hours and 52
minutes of talking, it became the 9th longest filibuster in U.S. history.

between the two parties resulted in two packages of amendments to the rules on
filibusters being approved by the Senate on January 25, 2013. Changes to the
standing orders affecting just the 2013-14 Congress were passed by a vote of 78
to 16, allowing the Senate majority leader to prohibit a filibuster on a motion
to begin consideration of a bill. Changes to the permanent Senate rules were
passed by a vote of 86 to 9. The changes occurred through Senate Resolution 15
and Senate Resolution 16; Senate Resolution 15 applies only to the 113th
session, while Senate Resolution 16 changed two standing rules of the Senate.

The series of
changes to the filibuster rules announced represented a compromise between the
major reforms put forward by some Democratic senators and the changes preferred
by Republican senators. Those seeking reform, including Democrats and liberal
interest groups, had originally proposed a variety of strong reforms including:
ending the filibuster completely; banning the use of filibusters on the motion
to proceed; re-introducing the “talking filibuster” where the
minority would have to remain on the Senate floor and speak in order to impede
passage of a vote; banning the use of filibusters on House-Senate conferences;
and forcing the minority to produce 41 votes in order to block cloture. These
more extensive reforms of the filibuster could only have been implemented by a
decision from the Senate’s presiding officer declaring it unconstitutional.

The new rules
remove the requirement of 60 votes in order to begin debate on legislation and
allow the minority two amendments to measures that reach the Senate floor, a
change implemented as a standing order that expires at the end of the current
term. In the new rules, the amount of time to debate following a motion to
proceed has been reduced from 30 hours to four. Additionally, a filibuster on
the motion to proceed will be blocked if a petition is signed by eight members
of the minority, including the minority leader. For district court nominations,
the new rules reduce the required time before the nominee is confirmed after
cloture from 30 hours to two hours. Under the new rules, if senators wish to
block a bill or nominee after the motion to proceed, they will need to be
present in the Senate and debate. Following the changes, 60 votes are still
required to overcome a filibuster to pass legislation and confirm nominees and
the “silent filibuster”—where senators can filibuster even if they
leave the floor—remained in place.

Following the
announcement of the new rules, Senator Dick Durbin,
who was involved in the negotiations, stated that the deal reached was true
agreement between the majority and minority leaders, and was overwhelmingly
supported by Senate Democrats. However, the agreement was negatively received
by liberal interest groups including CREDO, Fix the Senate Now, a coalition of
approximately 50 progressive and labor organizations, and the Progressive
Change Campaign Committee, both of whom had advocated for eliminating the
“silent filibuster” on the grounds that it allows Republicans to filibuster
progressive bills. Liberal independent Senator Bernie
argued that the requirement for 60 votes to pass legislation makes
it “impossible” to deal with the crises faced by the United States.
Conservatives also criticized the reforms, arguing that the changes negatively
impacted the minority party. In particular, Heritage Action for America argued
that reducing the length of time for debate allows senior lawmakers to
“avoid accountability”. Additionally, Senator Rand Paul
criticized the rules change for limiting the “ability of Senators to offer

numbers have been removed to make this article more readable; just follow the
link if you want to see the source attributions.]

This is the view from the cheap seats.
This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com


Cliches and Analogies/Hope and Change


Late last
week Stuart Stevens, a Conservative, wrote an article criticizing Obama for
failing to fulfill the promises of “hope” that he made before his election.
Republicans seems to enjoy doing this every once in a while because they
apparently “hope” that we will fall for this twisted line of reasoning. They
like to blame others for the things they do and their special “whipping boy” is
Barack Obama (how racist is that?). We have heard Sarah Palin mock Obama for
his inability to fulfill his promise of “hope and change” and Michelle Bachmann
has, beyond all sense, made this a key item in her limited repertoire of
political tidbits. Now we have this Stevens guy in the Daily Beast going over, once again, in case we missed it the first
one hundred and fifty times, his supreme disappointment with Obama’s
ineffectiveness .

Of course we
know that extreme Republicans killed the “Hope” that Obama promised and now
they want to use this argument, which has almost become a cliché, this
insistence that Obama has not been able to “change” anything as their message
to elect Republicans in 2014 and 2016.  I
just don’t think that you get to kick our first African American President to
the curb, to force him to try borderline Constitutional strategies in order to
get anything done – to basically act like a bunch of white thugs – and then
turn the obstructionism on its head and blame the “big empty” that is
Washington politics on the person you have hog-tied. The South rises? It’s
embarrassing to America and Americans. Notice that Obama did not offer hope and
change in his second term. He just grimly raised a flag that insisted Forward
(period). So we slog forward, but we would rather be going by high speed rail.

There is an
astonishing similarity between what the GOP has done to Obama and what George
Zimmerman did to Trayvon. In their hearts, I’m sure, the GOP feels they are
just acting in self-defense. I think we can be pretty sure that Obama is
defending himself too, but he is also defending the American people.

Don’t vote
for bullies – vote for Democrats in 2014 and in 2016.

Here’s the
link for that article that sums up Obama’s “failures” in case you want to read
about this old, tired subject once again.