America’s Broken Legislative System

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

495px-Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1Sometimes I feel that among our distinguished crew of guest bloggers and the prodigious output of Professor Turley, that I seem to be “The Doom and Gloom” guest blogger. It seems I’m always looking at the worst side of things, without the counterbalance of positive articles that most everyone else here produces.  This is actually a dichotomy when compared to my personal life. I happen to be one of the luckiest people you can meet and although I’ve suffered my share of life’s tragedies, my outlook is almost always optimistic. Yet when I turn my attention to the condition of this country and the way it is governed, my pessimism overwhelms me intellectually, even as I am predominantly a fairly happy person in my life and thankful for the blessings chance has bestowed upon me.

This past Wednesday I found myself filled with this pessimism, nay total skepticism, that our Country can redirect its downward spiral towards Corporate Feudalism. The catalyst of course was the vote in the Senate killing the proposed gun legislation, 54 to 46 in favor of the legislation. It is no mystery to the reader that the legislation failed, even with a majority voting in favor of it because we have all become familiar with the Senate rules which now inexplicably require 60 votes to move on any legislation. That this particular piece of legislation was defeated wasn’t that important to me. The compromise bill was so watered down as to be neutral, except as an empty gesture towards gun control, upon which in fact it wouldn’t have had any effect upon. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that those 46 who voted against the bill were predominantly Republican, with 4 Democrats. Since the bill represented nothing more than an empty gesture, their votes indicated merely that they were voting in their political interests, which most legislators today tend to do. What bothered me were both Harry Reid and President Obama for their inability to even try to attempt to break up the logjam in Congress via filibuster reform. Perhaps it is the “gloomy” side of me pondering this, but I think that the refusal to move on filibuster reform by the Democrats indicates a reality far more sinister than mere adherence to what is seen to be tradition.

“The filibuster is a powerful parliamentary device in the United States Senate, which was strengthened in 1975 [44] and in the past decade has come to mean that most major legislation (apart from budgets) requires a 60% vote to bring a bill or nomination to the floor for a vote. In recent years the majority has preferred to avoid filibusters by moving to other business when a filibuster is threatened and attempts to achieve cloture have failed.[45] Defenders call the filibuster “The Soul of the Senate.”[46] Senate rules permit a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless “three-fifths of the Senators duly. According to the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Ballin (1892), changes to Senate rules could b chosen and sworn”[47] (usually 60 out of 100 senators) brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXIIe achieved by a simple majority, but only on the 1st day of the session in January or March. The idea is that on this first day, the rules of the new legislative session are determined afresh, and rules do not automatically continue from one session to the next. This is called the constitutional option by proponents, and the nuclear option by opponents, who insist that rules do remain in force across sessions. Under current Senate rules, a rule change itself could be filibustered, with two-thirds of those senators present and voting (as opposed to the normal three-fifths of those sworn) needing to vote to break the filibuster.[47] Even if a filibuster attempt is unsuccessful the procedure takes floor time.“

Before this new Congress was sworn in Harry Reid kept releasing statements to the press indicating that he was going to make significant changes in the Senate system which basically sets the majority vote at 60, rather than 51. In the first four years of Barack Obama’s first term the filibuster was used more times than the total used in all the years since the founding of this country. In essence the whole process of government on the Federal Level ground to a halt. Powers within the Republican Party openly admitted that their intention was to sabotage Barack Obama to the point that he would lose the next election. The one great Obama victory was the passage what came to be called “Obamacare”, which was a rather watered down health care bill that only mildly addressed the issue of the lack of adequate health care for tens of millions of Americans. I don’t think that it was a coincidence that “Obamacare” represented one of the Republicans main campaign issues in the 2010 and 2012 elections. The truth is that for the Republican Party, for its radically conservative base and for those very wealthy people who back them, a Federal Government unable to get anything done is exactly the kind of Federal Government they want.

My own view of President Obama is that he was indeed the lesser of two evils. He actually resembles Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton most closely from a political perspective, though as a campaigner he runs to the Left. He won his first election with the public noting his tepid opposition to the Iraq War, yet once elected he protected all of the worst features of the Bush presidency. Given the platform he ran on in this past election, he has betrayed it by putting Social Security and Medicare up for cuts as “entitlements”, when they have no part of the problems with our budget and/or national debt. In truth, Romney would do far more damage, but that does not excuse the President’s betrayal of those who voted for him. He is a corporatist of a type that I’ll reference below and yet he’s lulled a lot of people with false promises.

We supposedly have a two party system and besides the Presidency there were at times Democratic majorities in Congress and yet nothing much of those issues considered vital in the “Liberal Canon” got accomplished. While Democrats controlled the Senate, they were paralyzed by the filibuster from even producing anything resembling the type of agenda Democrats put in their party platforms. Nonetheless, with the filibuster to blame, Democratic Senatorial Candidates could run to the “Left” without  having to legislate to the “Left”. With the House locked into Republican control due to gerrymandering, Democratic Congressman could also run to the “left” with no consequence since they could blame the Republicans for the inactivity of the legislative process.

When I think about the totality of the picture presented by a relatively inactive Congress in my mind I reach one inescapable conclusion and that is that it is all part of the “game” being run to strip Americans of their rights, leaving most of us a modern serfs. It is an open secret that once a Senator or Congressperson is elected, they must spend about one third of each day of their term soliciting funds, so that can run again in the next election. We all know where a majority of that money being solicited comes from and that is from those who make up the Corporate elite, the “0.01” percent. With a few exceptions, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for instance, we have a One Party Corporate System. The real argument that exists in the U.S. is an argument that takes place in the rarefied circles of the elite. The argument is do you rule the people without any regard for their welfare, or do you rule them with some kindness? This could be said to be the Koch Brothers vs. Warren Buffett debate. I think the Koch Brothers are winning, though slowly. However, if we are to look to “false heroes” like Warren Buffett or Mike Bloomberg to save us, we will look in vain. Money at the level those people experience it ultimately corrupts any altruistic feelings they might have via naked self-interest, as Bloomberg has proven in New York City and as Buffett in tandem with Bill Gates has proven in their support for privatized education. Call me “Mr. Doom and Gloom” but I think the American people are on their own when it comes to looking out for their general welfare and that until we the people go beyond the distractions of the “Right vs. Left” meme; we will remain on a downward slope towards a Corporate Feudal Police State. The politics and the political philosophies are the distractions to keep us from seeing how bad things have really become for the majority of our people. The issue is do we remain the peasants viewing the doings of the “Aristocracy” with chastened awe, or do we unite beyond our differences and realize that we have a common interest in our political and economic freedom. What do you think about my pessimism, am I too depressing?

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger


51 thoughts on “America’s Broken Legislative System”

  1. Michael Marsalek: A much better a more fair course is to facilitate early recognition of the predisposition to extreme violence and to intervene appropriately with the knowledge and consent of the parents or legal guardians.

    Oh, I see, instead of regulating a product, you would rather condemn people that have done nothing wrong to heightened control by government, on the chance that they MIGHT do something illegal, because they are “predisposed” to extreme violence. As if that “predisposition” could be determined with 100% accuracy; according to some fantasy you have that mental illness is permanent and fixed from birth and can be identified in a person without error. The truth is mental illness can begin in a normal adult, and can be the result of injury or disease or emotional trauma or traumatic experience.

    Michael says: there are many reasonable and effective solutions to curbing criminally insane or emotionally disturbed behavior which will not infringe on Constitutionally guaranteed rights.</i.

    Except that Constitutional rights that you are innocent until proven guilty, and the government cannot incarcerate you or deprive you of freedom or the Rights other people have without first proving you are guilty of some crime. What will that crime be; "depression?" Having violent thoughts? Being, according to some government psychologist, "predisposed to violence?"

    I fail to see how that is a better solution than making it more difficult for people to kill dozens or hundreds of people in a few seconds. You claim “It is absurd to place additional restrictions on law abiding citizens because of a relatively small number of incidents.” If your claim is to compare the number of victims, then it is equally absurd to sacrifice the lives of law abiding citizens to crazies just because an even smaller number of citizens would be inconvenienced or denied the guns they want. even if being denied those guns led to their death, because by your logic, those extremely few deaths are worth it, by saving a greater number of innocents from being murdered in blood baths by the mentally ill.

    Your speculation about the purpose or design of the legislation is nothing BUT speculation, and I fail to see why any legislation that does not infringe on your Rights should be denied because in your imagination it is similar to legislation that would infringe on your Rights. That is a patently ridiculous argument.

    I see no reason that legislation within the Constitution that would save innocent lives should be denied us. Background checks would not prevent you from buying or owning a gun (and if they would, your opinion does not matter here); a limit on clip size would not prevent you from defending yourself.

    And by your logic, the number of incidents in which a citizen actually has needed an assault weapon for self-defense (which I think is approximately zero) are far, far outnumbered by the number of incidents in which assault weapons are used for illegal murders and other crimes.

  2. “Sometimes I feel that among our distinguished crew of guest bloggers and the prodigious output of Professor Turley, that I seem to be “The Doom and Gloom” guest blogger. It seems I’m always looking at the worst side of things, without the counterbalance of positive articles that most everyone else here produces.”
    I don’t know, I am currently enduring my 2nd traumatic eviction. What I’ve seen down here at the bottom of the pond is pretty gross. Doom and Gloom is real and recognizing it is really appropriate when it reflects reality….and I’m rather disgusted with those that cry for less ‘negativism’ so the economy can chug along unfettered by the interference of those who are capable of putting a stop to exploitation and usary. The deregulation and loss of oversight of the machinery of our society is putting us all at risk. The inability of our representatives to express the will of the people, the majority of constituants…well I feel quite safe in sayng hurrah, today we learn about the tyranny of the minority, ..whoop de doo! If our GNP is victims we can all be quite proud and should find a way to sell the stock, bottle the product and with our knives and guns and bombs and poisons and greedy greedy guts we can all buy a ticket to the fresh hell that is already here and masquerading as ‘governance’.

  3. JeffD: I think the time when a minority voice must be listened to should be encoded in the Constitution; just like the Bill of Rights is encoded.

    In fact I personally consider that the dividing line between “rights” and “laws.” You have the Right of freedom of speech, and no majority of people can vote you into prison for expressing your opinion, even if that opinion is reviled by virtually everybody else.

    It is my opinion that we need an overhaul in our legislative machinery, but I think a filibuster (traditional or not) subverts the will of the people. Unless you are talking about a fundamental right, I think the majority should rule.

    Perhaps we do need something like a 53/47 rule to pass legislation, so that 6 votes (11% of those in favor) must be changed to overturn it. That would ensure some long term persistence in the will of the people. But I see no value in making the margin any larger than that. Larger than that transforms it from a prophylactic against impulsive legislation and into an obstruction for the will of the people. The fact that the minority believes “they have a right” makes no difference if they do not actually have that Right, in matters of non-Rights the majority, or a slight super-majority, should rule.

  4. JeffD
    1, April 21, 2013 at 10:19 am
    love it or hate it, the filibuster system or something similar is required. Just because 51% of people are for something doesn’t make it right. There are times when the minority voice needs to be listened to.


    Should the minority rule?

  5. The US is the most over-regulated and over-legislated society in the world. Much, if not most, legislation is seriously flawed because it is written to benefit core constituents at the expense of the majority. The gun legislation should have failed because it was designed to be a gateway to restrict 2nd ammendment rights which would have been greatly expanded later through compromise and incrimentalisn. It is absurd to place additional restrictions on law abiding citizens because of a relatively small number of incidents committed by the criminally insane or mentally disturbed individuals. A much better a more fair course is to facilitate early recognition of the predisposition to extreme violence and to intervene appropriately with the knowledge and consent of the parents or legal guardians. Consider that throughout all of the discussions of the underlying causes and contributing factors for insane criminal behavior, absent was music ( if you can still call it that ). It is a well known fact that music affects human & animal behavior for the good or bad. In short, there are many reasonable and effective solutions to curbing criminally insane or emotionally disturbed behavior which will not infringe on Constitutionally guaranteed rights. Consider that there are almost always very simple solutions to very complicated problems. Government careers and not built on solving problems. Their objective is only to manage problems most of which government created to prolong their political longevity ( job security )

  6. The reason that the Dems did nothing about filibuster reform when they had the chance is the same reason that Pelosi took impeachment off the table (and John Conyers removed the half of his congressional web site that was devoted to that proposition in just a matter of hours after the 2006 midterms).

    The reason is they are preserving the structure of the Corporate Dictatorship. Nothing can be allowed to cause even a crack in that armor.

    They are just as much in the employ of the Corps as are the Reps.

    No Difference.

  7. love it or hate it, the filibuster system or something similar is required. Just because 51% of people are for something doesn’t make it right. There are times when the minority voice needs to be listened to.

  8. We need the filibuster in place, but as it was originally designed, where a member actually filibusters, like Rand Paul did, not just formalistically threatens to do so. Then you can have your 51 percent legitimate majority vote back.
    You also decry the fact that a majority was for the new gun bill, but these pretend filibuster rules essentially required 60% instead of 51%. That is true, but there is a good chance dynamical politics were in place there too, i.e., if the rules allowed for a 51% win, the voting distribution may have been different. The senators make the political calculus of whether the bill will pass, weigh in their future bragging rights vs their current blowback for voting one way or another. Their biggest return is when they can say they voted a certain way that would satisfy a certain subportion of their electorate, yet know it would be ineffectual by the rules and pre-count and win on what they really wanted to do.

  9. Lotta,

    Heard they have not had an OSHA review since 1985….. May be wrong…

  10. Get rid of the filibuster!??! Careful what you wish for!!!

    When I watched Obama run Bush’s third term I realized that the same people are still running America.
    The 180,000+ war contractors that are robbing the treasury right under our noses, Big Oil, Big Banks, Wall St & corrupt people in key positions.

    So with the big money pushing, no matter which candidate wins, WE STILL LOSE!
    The argument of the “lesser of two evils” doesn’t work anymore, they both work for the same people, it just ain’t us!

    Let’s leave the filibuster in place until we fix the big picture, and to do that we need to break out of the 2 party system, which isn’t likely to happen.

    And send our Reps to jail for war crimes & crimes against America…which again, isn’t likely to happen…(unless they travel to another country that will put them on trial…and there ARE some of those!)

    Our leaders wanted for war crimes in other countries, but we can’t get them to trial here….yeah, you got a reason to be pessimistic…

  11. LK

    just wait until the sunday “news” shows when the linsey grahams and dick cheneys get to espouse their “wisdom” completely unopposed.

    i’ll be surprised if this kid ever sees the inside of a courtroom.

  12. it isn’t broken. one side has made a conscious decision to gum up the works until they can put one of their own in the top position. if they get their way, watch out.

    many on the other side truly believe that if we just go back to forcing everyone to say the pledge of allegiance and pray to the god of their choosing at the start of every school day then everything will go back to the great days that never were.

    i know, i’m related to some of them. some of the facebook postings i see genuinely scare me sometimes.

  13. lottakatz:

    I agree with you on the exigent circumstances issue. Once this kid is out of danger, he can be read his rights and the case can proceed like any other criminal prosecution.

  14. Chemical plants have to notify DHS if they have more than 400lbs of ammonium nitrate on hand. Seems that the Texas plant had 1,350 times that amount on hand, “270 tons of ammonium nitrate as recently as last year” and never bothered to do the notifications that would have triggered regulatory oversight. Hmmm, I’ll be waiting to see if that had something to do with the explosion and see what Senator Graham has to say about the managers and owners of the plant.

    More on point though, if the alleged bomber in custody has not as yet been questioned (as I read the reports) and there haven’t been further bombs go off doesn’t that kind of make the exigent circumstances argument irrelevant?

  15. Corporate Feudal Police State. That is just beautiful. As for whether or not you are too pessimistic Mike, remember, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.

  16. Mike S.:

    I don’t consider any of your comments pessimistic. I recognize much of my own experience in what you have to say, perhaps because of our similar ages and philosophical leanings. And this post is no exception. I too feel a real sense of weariness when sound ideas become buried under mounds of money and influence. But I don’t view it as pessimism. It is partly a sense of sadness that the past 50 years have not produced what the idealism of the 60s led me to expect, and partly the recognition produced by 50 years of accumulated wisdom that those expectations were unrealistic. What is important is that your idealism has remained intact, which must always be understood as hope.

    Remember the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and eschew all despair.

  17. Tony C,

    Perfectly stated. The rules are there because it’s in the interest of the “legislators” to have them there.

  18. i have had the nagging feeling for several years that the path America is treading will not end well. Democracy is ending isn’t it?
    A Bi Partisan committee reported that the President knowingly committed a war crime and it was forgotten in one day. How can the country that claims to be the leader of the free world allow that to happen?
    The Truth and Reconciliation committee one day will be a doozy!

  19. Mike S: “Call me “Mr. Doom and Gloom” but I think the American people are on their own when it comes to looking out for their general welfare….”
    And we have been for quite awhile. I see something on the news or in a blawg that illustrates that fact and I just think, “Texas”. It’s my shorthand for ‘we’re all Texans now’. That comes from what may be the best opening scene in movies:

    I can only reiterate that the Republican party staged a coup via the planned use of the filibusterer and total inaction over the last 5 years and for that the architects should be in jail as traitors.

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