No Recess Appointment Make Filibuster Worse

Harry ReidTired of hating on Harry Reid? Then click away, because I have something all new to bitch about. Today, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit came down with a sweeping interpretation of the Constitution that will basically end recess appointments. These are temporary appointments that the President makes when the Senate is in recess. Now, I’m no great fan of these, except right now when the Republicans are so committed to obstruction that they wouldn’t approve the nomination for dog catcher.

When I first started thinking about the filibuster, I thought, “Why kill it now? After all, the House is still in Republican hands. There isn’t much that is going to get done anyway!” I thought that for about a nanosecond. Then I realized: presidential nominations! Obama has hardly been radical in his appointments. Consider, for example, Mary Jo White to head SEC. About the most outrageous choice was Elizabeth Warren. But she wasn’t even chosen. That was just too controversial a nomination, so now that “radical” Warren is a lowly United States Senator.

Yet the Republicans have blocked all kinds of minor and uncontrovertial nominations. Why? For the same reason a dog licks its balls. And this is why we needed real filibuster reform. The fact that Obama will likely not be able to make any more recess appointments makes Harry Reid’s newest “handshake agreement” all that much worse.

But like I keep telling everyone: don’t worry! In two years, the Republicans will probably control the Senate. And then we can finally get some filibuster reform! Just in time for President Marco Rubio!

Update (25 January 2013 5:47 pm)

Jonathan Bernstein says more or less the same thing that I did:

If there’s a fight during this Congress, it’s going to be on nominations; Democrats don’t really care much about Senate filibusters on legislation because anything that can get through the GOP-controlled House will be able to get 60 votes in the Senate in any case. But on nominations, the minority in the Senate can block them. And if recess appointments are really gone (again, pending whatever the Supreme Court decides), then the main weapon Democrats have remaining is the threat of changing the rules.

But he is less hopeless. He uses this fact to encourage Reid to hold on to filibuster reform to keep the Republicans in order. He also links to an article he wrote back in December that explains the various ways that the filibuster can be reformed at any time.

Torture Worse Than Torture Disclosure

John KiriakouDoes irony still exist in the United States? I doubt it. Former CIA officer John Kiriakou was just given two and a half years for leaking classified information. In the end, all of his charges were reduced to giving the name of one covert operative to a reporter. (Why does that sound familiar?) But in reality, Kiriakou has been prosecuted for leaking the information that the CIA was engaged in torture.

Let’s see now, this prosecution follows how many indictments of people for engaging in torture? Oh, that’s right: none! Because it is totally okay in the United States to torture anyone we claim is an “evil doer” but it is treasonous to tell anyone we are doing it. Hell, with all our military capacity, we don’t have to be good, we can just enforce the appearance of good.

To top matters off, it’s always good to know that we have a whole bunch of evil idiotic assholes passing judgement on all of us. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema was none too happy with the sentence. She thought it was way too light. And if that wasn’t enough to establish her evil-stupid credentials, she said, “This is not a case of a whistleblower. This is a case of a man who betrayed a solemn trust.”[1] Yeah, like trashing the Constitution and allowing free reign of the surveillance state.

Fuck the United States of America! Long may the elites rape it!

[1] Note that “man who betrayed a solemn trust” is more or less the definition of a whistleblower as seen from the inside.

We Bought a Zoo

We Bought a ZooI don’t give Cameron Crowe much thought. But perhaps I should. I don’t say this because he is good; I don’t believe that. But he is unusual. His films are much like novels in their loose plot structures and focus on character. And through a seeming act of will, I find that his films always just make it over the “acceptable” bar. But not by much.

Last night, I watched Crowe’s newest film, We Bought a Zoo. Many people have long ago written me off as a pretentious twat who of course would not like a film like this. These people are mistaken. We Bought a Zoo is exactly the kind of film that I enjoy. Yes, I like film as art. Yes, I like serious subjects. Yes, I like specialized film technique that is not meant to be consciously noticed by the viewer. But I also like pure entertainment.

Anyway, there were other reasons that I wanted to see this film in the theater. First, there are certain actors who I just like. George Clooney is one; I think he is the modern day Cary Grant. And Matt Damon is another. So a family-ish film starring him seemed like an enjoyable bet. Also: zoo! I like zoos, and I’m a big fan of the way underrated Fierce Creatures. And most of all, I didn’t know that Cameron Crowe had directed it.

When the film started, it said, “A Cameron Crowe Film.” Danger, Will Robinson! That did not mean the film would be bad, of course. I’ve enjoyed all of the Crowe films at least a little. And the director’s cut of Almost Famous is quite good. (The released version is more typical of Crowe’s work.) But it did make me skeptical.

We Bought a Zoo is good enough. It has the charm that Crowe is known for, including the casting of a little girl who is even more adorable than Ray Boyd in Jerry Maguire. But it also has all the problems typical of Crowe. The biggest problem is that the film is not particularly interested in the plot, “Will we get the zoo open on time?!” And: “Will the little boy move past his darkness and into the light?!” And: “Will Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson ever kiss?!” These and many other subplots are tacked onto the core of the film: “Look, we bought a zoo!”

From the viewer’s standpoint, the biggest problem with all of this is a lack of dramatic momentum. One of the subplots is particularly vexing: the budding romance between the pubescent girl and boy. It disappears for the whole of the third act and then is suddenly resolved. And much the same can be said of the film in general. It isn’t so much “a beginning, muddle, and ending” as just a muddle.

None of this matters to me. I’m perfectly happy hanging out with Matt, Scarlett, Rosie (the cute little girl), and MacCready for an hour and a half. But I mind having obvious plot devices thrust at me as I’m enjoying just hanging out. And that gets right at the heart of what’s wrong with Crowe: he makes nice, marginally enjoyable films when he could make something really good.


I’m divided about what is wrong with Crowe’s work. Almost Famous indicates that perhaps he does make films that work, but they are too long for Hollywood and thus must be destroyed. Or it could just be that he makes all the compromises to commerce that are evident in all his released films. Regardless, if he decided to go the John Sayles route and make low budget films, he could do what he clearly wants to do. Not only would that make me much happier, he might produce major hits that way.

Revolutionary Politics and the Filibuster

Tom UdallGreg Sargent interviewed Tom Udall this morning. Udall is one of the main proponents of filibuster reform. He is one of what Harry Reid called, “two young, fine senators” when Reid first called for reform. Before he folded like a card table. During the interview, Udall said, “The Senate is now a graveyard for good ideas, and we need to change that.”

The reason that the filibuster is broken, and the reason that Harry Reid’s newest “handshake” agreement will not work is simple: the Republicans have become a revolutionary party. And what most defines such groups is that they think that the whole of the existing system is invalid. When the Nazis took power in Germany, the first thing they did was dissolve parliament and establish a dictatorship. I don’t mean to suggest that the Republicans want to do that, but they most definitely believe that the Democratic Party is invalid and so the Republicans will do whatever they can to stop them—even when they do things the Republicans agree with.

I’ve written before of my Dungeons & Dragons analogy for modern Republican politics. This goes back to my days of playing the game and how I and everyone I knew played it in a totally cynical way. We looked at the rules to figure out loopholes that would allow us to do our best in the game, rather than play it in any reasonable way. And this is how Republicans currently govern. They sweep aside hundreds of years of norms and look for ways they can game the system—things like the Debt Ceiling and the filibuster.

Under normal circumstances, actual filibuster reform would be unnecessary. But as long as the Republicans remain committed to their revolutionary agenda, it will. And I see no evidence of the Republicans changing. Many observers said their defeat in this election would cause the party to rethink its dangerous and unpopular positions. (They said the same thing in 2008.) Instead, they have rethought their tactics. Now they are trying to game the electoral college system.

You cannot make nice with a revolutionary party. You can only defeat it. Unfortunately, Harry Reid and many other Democrats do not understand this.

Republican Half Measures in Virginia

Virginia DistrictsKevin Drum over at Mother Jones is wondering what the Republicans are doing in Virginia. As you have probably heard, the evenly divided Virginia state senate waited until one Democrat was out of town so that they could ram through a new redistricting plan for the state. But that’s not what Drum is talking about. He’s talking about their plan now to change the way that their electoral college votes are allocated. They want the state to go from winner-take-all to get-votes-of-the-districts-you-win. And that’s what’s strange.

The Republicans clearly don’t care what anyone thinks of them. This is a “might makes right” strategy. And it is one that the Republicans have really embraced the last decade and a half. But why the half measures?

The way that the Virgina Republicans have redrawn the districts, a Democratic presidential candidate would always lose for the foreseeable future. Obama won the state by almost 150,000 votes last year. But if the state was judged by district, Obama would have lost 4-9. With the current Republican plan, Obama would have received 4 electoral college votes, and Romney would have received 9. But why give Obama those 4 votes? Why not just make the state winner-take-all, but based on the winner of the most congressional districts?

Kevin Drum has no answer to that question. I think I do, however. The Republicans want to maintain plausible deniability. They want to be able to claim that the new system is more fair. And by some calculations, it is. After all, Obama would have still received 31% of the electoral college, when he won 51% of the vote. That’s the lot more accurate than the way it was: Romney got 0% of the electoral college but 47% of the vote. The Republicans can point this out to their ignorant base.

There is an obvious counter argument to this, of course: the most equitable thing to do would be to distribute the electoral votes as the closest percentage to popular vote. Going by congressional district is just moving the nonsense of the electoral college to another level: one that now just happens to be to the Republicans’ advantage. The system the Republicans are proposing is clearly meant solely to hurt the Democrats. They will not be able to win the state, regardless of how much they win by in the coming few elections.

This is not about fairness. But the issue of fairness is the key to the Republican strategy. Their base will never hear these arguments against the Republican plan (it helps to have your own “new” network). All they will hear is that the system is being made more fair than it is now. And that will be correct.