You are viewing a monthly archive page.


What's up with the Senate?

Along with the Electoral College, the US Senate is one of those anti-democratic vestiges of the state-centric zeitgeist that existed at the dawn of the US. But nevermind! I bet you didn’t realize that “the rules of the Senate” (so nonchalantly referred to in recent news) are not only mind-buggingly strange, but actually completely mutable? OK, check out this big, from the 5th Section of Article 1 of a little something called the Constitution:

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.

So, like, right now we have the 111th United States Congress, right? Well, when the session began, Senators sort of casually voted in the rules from the previous Congress without much fanfare. But the truth is that they could just as easily voted in any other rules. Say, Robert’s Rules of Order. Or nomic (can’t possibly put enough parenthetic exclamation marks(!) after this, so I won’t try). Just as easily, they can change the rules any time they want. As in, it takes a majority — not a super-majority — of Senators to change the rules. Which is not what you usually hear, right? You hear that it takes a super-majority, 67 votes, to change the rules of the senate, which is part of Rule 22, yadda yadda, which is why you need 60 votes to override a filibuster, which of late has become a virtual-filibuster where Senators just say, “yeah, we’ll filibuster that,” which has become increasingly used over the last couple of years (curses, Republicans!), which means that you need 60 votes to get anything done in our friggin government, which means no healthcare for YOU because of Martha Coakley’s “blah, whatever, finally I get my Senate seat”-attitude lost her the Massachusetts special election and that was the Democrats’ (capital-D, keep up here) 60th seat. Right, that. That Rule 22 can be overturned with just a simple majority, which is to say 51 votes.

Harry Reid could (for-realz could, not theoretical-could) make a motion to throw out the filibuster rule, the 59 remaining Democrats could vote it in, and they could pass your healthcare reform this afternoon.

And they might! But probably not. This, by-the-way/you-see, is what the Republicans were talking about when they talked about the “Nuclear option” back in the 90s when they had a majority (but nearly as big a majority as the Democrats have right now). Reid went ballistic back then at the suggestion of them doing that, so he’d have to eat his words a little bit. But when the Republicans are — have been — in fact promised to use every procedural trick in the Rules to fight health-care reform, a little bit of procedural push-back might be in order. Especially when it allows 40% of the Senators (which, if you do the math, can equal the representation of as little as 12% of the voting public of the US) to block anything they don’t like.

But whatever, they’ll do whatever they want to do. What I’m suggesting is that a little fun reading for the next week or so might be the Rules of the Senate and maybe even the Constitution.

Sources: Going Nuclear, Slate. Explaining The American Filibuster, Fresh Air.

Posted: Wednesday January 27, 2010 by Alesh Houdek · Permalink · Comment [12]


How to help Haiti. Meaning, how you should help. Short answer: give money, not canned goods or other bullshit. And try not to restrict your giving to the present catastrophe, because preventative measures for future disasters leverage your gift. (Another way to look at it: lots of people are going to give for this disaster. Caring visionaries have the guts to look beyond today.) Anyway. You can text “HAITI” to “90999” to have a $10 charge applied to your phone bill and sent to the Red Cross, which is fine if you’re cheap and lazy I guess. I’d suggest giving how much you think you can really afford, giving to an established organization such as the Red Cross, Oxfam, or Doctors Without Borders, and not directing your money specifically towards this incident, so the charity is free to use the overflow towards tomorrow’s good works once they do what they can about the present emergency. You also need to take a long-term interest in Haiti, and lobby your congressperson to do right towards it. Remember that Haiti was in dire straights even before yesterday, when all you could think about was Conan O’Brien and the fucking weather.



Clay Shirky asks: If you were going to found a new college today, what would you do? Answers here. My contribution: “A pretty modest change to the college system would be to knock down the barriers between departments and schools. Let students use whatever resources they can justify for whatever ends they can defend. Also, require anyone to start a blog at least 6 months before admission — a public forum for what you hope to accomplish, and a log for what’s happening as you succeed or fail — permanently accessible to school admin, professors, and the world.”