"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." - Arthur Miller

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Links of the Week

Welcome to a New Year! Still have not figured out what this blog is about. Probably need to define something specific. If have any ideas, feel free to let me know in the comments. Until then, more links to things that grabbed my interest over the last week or so.

R.I.P. Pete Postlewaite
Grand character thespian Pete Postlethwaite sadly died to cancer on January 2nd at the age of 64. The actor, maybe not a household name, is probably a familiar face to many movie fans from his long career. His most recent roles included The Town, Inception, and Clash of the Titans. He also was in The Usual Suspects, The Lost World, Aliens 3, The Last of the Mohicans, Dragonheart and many more movies. The industry lost a giant they were not even aware of.

Deficit Hits $14 Trillion
Thanks to the US Treasury, we have a daily reminder of the current deficit which reached a new high. According to the breakdown, about $9 trillion is owned to the public and the rest is in various government holdings. If Democrats and Republicans have one thing in common, it is a belief that the number needs to go down. The differences lie in how to do it. The Republicans believe that debt that is used to make corporations and rich happy is fine and so any attempt to raise revenue via tax cuts is not acceptable. They also believe that cutting any and all entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, education, etc) that don't go to the rich is a good solution. After that, they don't seem to have any ideas. Democrats want to cut things too but are too chicken to get specific. The real solution is a cross the board cut, closing of many tax loop holes (like big oil not paying taxes on their record profits) and increasing taxes. The deepest cuts need to go to defense spending which takes up around 45% of the budget, much of it on wasteful programs trying to create the next generation of explosives or prepping for a land war that has become obsolete. All these things the GOP will fight with every fiber of their being as their rich corporate friends benefit from the various defense contracts, tax loop holes and of course tax increases being a no-no in the age of the "Tea Party". Due to this, don't expect any meaningful effort by either party to actually cut the deficit but don't be surprised if the GOP claims more tax cuts are needed even though this "plan" as a means to cut the deficit has not worked in 30 years.

Filibuster Reform Package Devised
It seems that Democrats might, just might, find a little spine as the party is considering pushing through a proposal to change how the filibuster is handled. Over the last four years, the GOP has used the filibuster to block, well everything. Not just major bills but all bills, all appointments, pretty much anything that didn't align 100% with GOP "values" (aka benefits only the rich). The result was the filibuster was used more than any previous time in history including when in 2005 the GOP thought they would have to use the "nuclear option" because they thought it sucked that Democrats used it too much.

Many thought the change that would be proposed would reduce the number of votes required to break the filibuster from 60 to something lesser value but instead, as is typical of Democrats, a compromise solution has been devised. Of course this will not work and the GOP will never support it but at least has a few novel ideas. A major change is to eliminate secret holds were a single senator can anonymously prevent a bill from going forward, a tactic used recently on the 9/11 responders bill. Being that senator wouldn't look good when running for office if that info was required to become public knowledge. Another change is something as simple as a motion to move a bill forward in the process (usually to bring it up for debate) cannot be filibustered (yep the GOP was actually doing that at each step of the process).

The real change is one many Americans assumed was the norm but isn't. A filibuster now requires those against it to continue the debate. Before, a real filibuster was really just a senator more or less going "I filibuster!" and that was it. He could stay and talk about it, go home, take a vacation, whatever until he revoked it or 60 voted it down. Now that Senator and his supporters will have to stay on the floor and talk. Not all at once, can do it in shifts but they have to at least engage in some form of sacrifice for their opinion even if only a little bit of time. Even more important, it will help in transparency as will those most passionate about opposing a bill will likely have to be the ones that stay on the floor the longest. Against, critical information for voters when something as universally supported like the 9/11 Responders' Bill was repeatedly filibustered.

At this point the question isn't will the Republicans support these rule changes (of course not) but will the Democrats actually follow through on their threat (your guess is as good as mine).

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