HELLO

Whether you're a fan of my OSCARBLOGGER site, or if you're just casting your way 'round the web, I hope you enjoy my new blog: WHISPERING IN A WIND TUNNEL. Here I will discuss issues of politics, religion, race, gay rights, gender, you know, the big stuff.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

KILL THE FILIBUSTER



Harry Reid, the Democratic majority party leader in the Senate, recently exercised what is known as the nuclear option, a process by which the filibuster rule (in which only a vote of sixty senators or more can allow a filibustered nomination or piece of legislation to proceed) can be superseded and instead a straight forward majority vote can be taken for passage.  This was seen as a big news story, and it was, but it was also inevitable.  The Republican party had used the filibuster so often and with such little regard for their status as a minority party that the Democrats really had no choice.
It's important to remember that the filibuster is never mentioned in the US constitution and that it was not even used in the Senate until 1837.  The rules of the procedure have gone through many changes over the years; once upon a time a senator had literally to speak non stop on the floor of the senate to keep a filibuster going (the 1939 movie MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON dramatically portrayed this with Jimmy Stewart's Senator Smith talking himself hoarse during a filibuster). Sadly, the longest filibuster on record was Strom Thurmond's  24 hour filibuster of the 1957 civil rights bill.

I paved the way for that jerk?


The big change came in 1975 when the Senate decided to allow any Senator to proclaim their intention to filibuster as enough to require a two thirds (60 votes) majority to pass a nomination or piece of legislation.  It was this creation of a virtual filibuster that sadly opened the floodgates, making it far too easy for any member of a minority party to slow down or kill the legislative process.  And sure enough, as the country has become more divided the filibuster has been used more and more.  In the Obama era, with the Republicans reflexive opposition of literally anything the president has tried to pass through congress, it's reached a crescendo.  The straw that broke the camel's back was when the Republicans used the filibuster to deny presidential judicial appointments to the Washington DC Circuit  Court not because they had objections to the nominations themselves, but because they felt that no more judges were needed to fill the vacancies.  It was a dare to Reid to use the nuclear option, and, after years of extreme obstruction, that's just what he did.
Hopefully, this will bring an end to this absurd practice that stands in the way of democracy and the importance of elections.  Remember, the constitution allows the president to appoint whomever he wants to be his cabinet members as long as they are approved by a majority of the Senate; the bottom line is that when a president is elected, he should be allowed to appoint like minded people to his cabinet, that's really the whole point of elections.  The Senate vote was intended mostly as a formality to prevent giving the president too much leeway.
The filibuster gets even more undemocratic when used against legislation.  Again, the constitution allows that a bill that is passed by  majorities  in the House of Representatives and the Senate and that is signed by the president, becomes a law.  I think that's how it should be; surely that counts as enough checks and balances on a bill without adding yet another obstacle for it to pass .  (And even after that passage, a law can still be challenged in the courts.)
 There is a fine line between necessary debate and compromise and outright gridlock, and giving the power of the filibuster to any member of the Senate promotes the latter over the former.  And, so I'm not a hypocrite, I'll go on the record and say that I think a bill that passes the House and the Senate and is signed by the President should be a law even if it's a law I don't agree with.  Again, part of the reason we have elections is to vote for candidates who will change laws passed by previous leaders.  Even if congress moves in the wrong direction, I think it should keep moving.  A congress that does nothing weakens democracy and makes voters cynical and less likely to vote, which again weakens democracy.  So put a stake in the filibuster's heart already.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A FEW WORDS IN DEFENSE OF OBAMACARE


Obamacare has had a rocky start, but I think things will get better, and that ten years from now, it will be generally accepted by the American public, and its name will be changed to simply,"the national healthcare system."   Now I should mention that I find the Affordable Care Act  far from perfect; like a lot of people on the left, I almost lost faith in the crazy days of the health care debate of 2009, when Republicans blustered (as they do) and Democrats dithered (as they do).  I almost threw up my hands and wrote it off completely when the public option portion of the bill was killed, reducing it to a plan that was originally floated by the conservative Heritage foundation, for crying out loud!
But then I remembered the wounds of 1992, when Bill Clinton attempts to reform health care resulted in such a resounding defeat that any real overhaul of the system was put on on hold for 17 years; I didn't want to see the same thing happen to Obamacare.  There is a saying, "the good should not die in the search for the perfect", and that exactly  describes my feelings about the bill; today, no child can be denied health care because of a pre existing condition, that's reason enough to be glad it passed.

And now the health care website is experiencing problems, with people being unable to sign in and get help; there are reports of Obama venting angrily at his underlings, while conservatives engage in schadenfreude.  Honestly, this does look bad, with the president's signature plan stumbling in a way that never should have happened; you would think that access to the some of the finest thinkers in the country would lead to a workable website!  Still, this isn't the first federal government plan to have trouble; under the Bush administration, the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan was seen as too unwieldy at first, but people eventually figured it out, and now there are no complaints.  So, mistakes aside, the government health care  web site will be fixed eventually.

"OK, so we shouldn't have used Commodore 64 to set up the website!  Can I go now?"

The other big problem is that some people have seen their health care plan ended, after the president said repeatedly is speeches that that wouldn't happen.  He recently apologized for this, and that's understandable, but there is something that's important to remember: the people who have had their plan ended only make up about five percent of the American public, and furthermore, those plans were ended because they did not live up to the basic standards set by the bill.  The bottom line is, many people will be able to get a new, better plan at a lower cost.  Is that such a bad thing?  Are there some people who have lost their plan and that are being forced to pay more for a new one?  Yes, but, while the numbers are certain yet, there appears to be only a handful of people that fall into this category.
Not only do I think that eventually Obamacare will be accepted, but I think it may be improved; call me a cock eyed optimist, but I think that eventually the goal of a single payer system (or Medicare for all) will be reached in this country, as more and more Americans become comfortable with a government run health care system.
Why do I think this is important?  Because I think that in any society, there are some things that should be run by the free market and some things that shouldn't be.  Selling TVs and computers is just fine for the free market, since paying less for a slower computer won't be a big problem for most consumers.  But some services are beyond the free market; for example, once upon a time in England, fire stations were run for profit; people would pay the fire station and get a plaque to hang outside their house.  If their house was burning down, the fire fighters would see the plaque and put the fire out, if there was no plaque, they'd let the house burn.  Not surprisingly, this horrible system was eventually put to an end in the nineteenth century,  and firefighters were paid with a central fund to put out all the fires. And, of course, the police department is also run the same way.  I think health care qualifies also as something that should be beyond the free market; let's face it,  the best way for a health care company to make a profit is to charge as much as possible and to provide as little service as possible.  To them, the perfect client is a healthy person who only occasionally goes to the doctor, never has any serious health issues, and who switches to Medicare once she's 65.  So not only do they reject people that they think may need their service, but they also look for any excuse to deny coverage to people in their system (the dreaded pre existing condition).  Quiet frankly, I think this is an untenable system in any civilized society, as bad as letting a house burn to the ground because it lacks the right plaque.
In closing, I would like to address the conservatives who honestly compare Obamacare to Communism with a simple question: Was Winston Churchill a Communist?  Churchill has often been seen as hero to Conservatives in America, with some poles even putting him over Ronald Reagan in their hearts.  Now Churchill was Prime Minister of England from 1940 to 1945 before being voted out.  In 1951 he returned to the office; in 1948, England's National Health plan had been put in place in his absence, and upon retaking office, he made no moves to dismantle it.  In fact, he allocated more funds to strengthen the popular program. Yes, he supported a National Health Care System.  That's right, according to the modern conservative view point in America, Winston Churchill was a no good red.

"Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains."