Skip to main content

Reading George Packer's latest piece in The New Yorker was not an eye-opening experience. The sour details of the Senate's dysfunction and myopia came as no surprise, since the legislation produced by that body recently looks both dysfunctional and myopic. No surprise that those responsible for the dysfunction are aware of the problem. No shock that everyone has no idea what to do about it, including the obvious things. Packer's piece tells us much of what we suspect, if not know.

How is it possible to become so disconnected from clear thinking? By clear thinking, I mean the ability to see what is going on and then doing the obvious, simple, direct, most Occam's Razor-like response. Instead, what we have are public officials participating willfully in a system that all of them know doesn't work, yet deciding the clear solutions in plain sight are impossible to implement. For example, in the article, Packer tells the story of a Senate rule that requires the unanimous consent of all senators to allow committees to conduct any meetings after 2:30 in the afternoon while the Senate is in session. Yes, unbelievably, that is a rule. Naturally, just about anything short of a murder trial that requires unanimity will encounter problems:

So, four hours earlier, when Levin went to the Senate floor and asked for consent to hold his hearing, Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and a member of Levin’s committee, had refused. “I have no personal objection to continuing,” Burr said. But, he added, “there is objection on our side of the aisle. Therefore, I would have to object.”

This is the sort of thing that isn't seen as silly and ridiculous, but is considered standard Washington procedure. It isn't wrong for Burr to use the rules to gum up the works. It is wrong to have such a works in the first place. It isn't Senator Burr's non-objection objection that is the problem here. It is the fact that Senator Burr, or any Senator, has the power to gum up something so mundane as a committee hearing with no explanation and no accountability. It is a blueprint for systemic failure. In the past, different political circumstances and better humans have prevented the rules from being used so counterproductively that they prevent the normal functioning of government. That, in and of itself, is a systemic weakness of catastrophic proportions. If the functioning of government is wholly dependent on the unanimous high moral character of public officials, then what happens when one degenerate ruins the whole thing? Systemic failure.

The Capitol City sees all this with a shrug of the shoulders. In Washington, it is dismissed as a problem for the voters to correct. Obstructionism, they call it. If the voters don't like it, they'll vote against the obstructionists. It's taken as an article of faith that has no basis in reality. In my lifetime, I have never witnessed an election where obstructionism was an issue. Despite the beliefs of the political strategists of the current majority, there is no political cost for obstructionism at the ballot box. The truth is that voting out Mitch McConnell or Ben Nelson won't change a thing. This is a people problem, certainly. But it is much more a systemic problem.

To face the truth, that rules of the game must be changed, is not something Washington is interested in hearing. The lawyers, lobbyists, congressional staff, regulators, fundraisers, political strategists, consultants, reporters, pundits, analysts, think-tankers, former members, activists, officials, media producers, and all of the rest...constitute an almost insurmountable force of inertia. The status quo is good for them. It sends their kids to elite schools. It pays for comfortable digs in Fairfax or Montgomery County. It even gets them on television.

Any legislative measure or presidential appointment will set in motion activists who tell the story of why any particular group of people should be afraid. Those people have to hire lobbyists to push one way or the other, because they are not in Washington, a distant capitol. The lobbyists see the need to hire former congressional staff members and former regulators who know the Hill. The congressional staff sees the political dimension necessitating the need for political consultants. The consultants demand payment from fundraisers. Fundraisers protect themselves with lawyers. The consultants message the pundits, who demand facts from reporters, who get the facts from the think-tankers, or the non-facts from the activists, or the pseudo-factoid-soundbytes from the officials. If there were ever anything serious done about it, a lot of the people listed above would be out of work. The system doesn't work, and it's failure is compounded by the fact that those involved have every interest in making sure it doesn't. It is a never-ending machine of cogs slowly going round and round, whizzing and buzzing, cranking, and churning, whistling and spewing fumes. The product? Inertia.

To disassemble this disaster will take more than can be mustered by elections. It will take someone, anyone, to lead the reform of government that works and works well. It will take a force mightier than any president or senator. Election after election brings a president or members of Congress promising to change the way this system works, but the system beats them every single time. I don't know what force will bring about this re-ordering of the status quo, but I am certain it will not come about as the result of an election. All too often, we have seen that "change elections" don't change the system.

This system was brought about by the actions of humans and therefore it can be destroyed, or at least reformed by humans. I believe that it can be fixed. In fact, I believe most of the players involved believe the same thing. The question is, when will the incentives align toward action and away from inertia? Perhaps a generation or two has to pass into history so that younger people can bring fresh thinking into the picture. Perhaps a revivalist wave of civic-mindedness will sweep across the land and storm the gates of the Forbidden City. Perhaps it will take a cataclysmic event so disruptive of the order, a mighty shock to the system so complete, that the obvious becomes the imperative. I don't know.

I do know that if this nation is to effectively confront the many challenges it faces, the people who constitute the ruling class of the distant capitol must not greet systemic failure with indifference. It has to start with reforming the filibuster. It has to continue with real, serious, meaningful campaign finance reform. Media conglomerates that use the public airwaves have to be subjected to stricter scrutiny for the right to use those airwaves. Lobbyists must not be allowed to contribute to or raise money for the people they are lobbying. Congressional members and staff must be banned from becoming lobbyists, federal contractors, or people who use the public airwaves for some period of time after leaving public service. Public service has to return to meaning what it says instead of being another rung on the corporate career ladder.

Maybe, just maybe, we would then have a government that sees problems and solves them.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:16 AM PDT.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  asdf (16+ / 0-)

    Instead, what we have are public officials participating willfully in a system that all of them know doesn't work

    It may not work for us but it works very nicely for them individually and that leads to a lot of inertia that has to be overcome before anything good can happen.

  •  Exhibit A (8+ / 0-)

    I want to assure the people that have, heh, watched this thing until quarter of twelve — and I have missed the Kentucky-South Carolina game that started at 9 o’clock, and it’s the only redeeming chance we had to beat South Carolina, since they’re the only team that has beat Kentucky this year — all of these things that we have talked about and all the provisions that have been discussed, the unemployment benefits, all these things. If we’d have taken the longer version of the job bill…we wouldn’t have spent three hours plus telling everybody in the United States of America that Senator Bunning doesn’t give a damn about the people that are on unemployment.

    Unfortunately there's probably another 50 (at least) such people in the U.S. Senate. Bunning was merely the most egregious and obvious example.

    Here we are now Entertain us I feel stupid and contagious

    by Scarce on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:21:55 AM PDT

  •  People demand "accountability" (10+ / 0-)

    from the executive branch, from teachers, from recipients of public aid . . .

    I think it's time we demanded it from the Senate.

    No more anonymous holds, no more consequence-free manipulation of the process, no more speeches for the record books to an empty chamber, no more subversion of governance in the name of tradition and "comity."

    And what if we banned senators from participating in their own fund-raising?

    "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

    by Geenius at Wrok on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:22:26 AM PDT

    •  It's been going on for so long (4+ / 0-)

      that what should be shocking is staus quo.

      (Observation on America) There is no native criminal class except Congress.
      -Mark Twain

      If cats could blog, they wouldn't.

      by crystal eyes on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:51:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The problem is... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Geenius at Wrok, pelagicray

      Most people, I would bet over 60%, couldn't tell you what the difference between the Senate and the House is.  Most people believe that the House could 'filibuster' if they wanted to.  The system is so complex due to 220 years of rules and procedures that only those who pay close attention have any idea what is going on.

      Does Aqua Buddha wear Aqua Velva or is he an Old Spice man?

      by RichM on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:39:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yep, and they "believe" you "impeach" a Senator (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RichM, Inspector Javert

        or that the Congress can amend the Constitution all by itself or that while they detest "Congress" their critter is doing great for them even though they haven't a clue as to the overall voting and manipulations in committee.

        This is not going to change until the damn electorate pays attention over a long enough time and cycles to shift the composition of power in Congress. In reality I give that just above a snowball's chance. Too many now really have no interest and have bought the line government makes no difference.

        We may have reached that tipping point the Roman Republic reached at about the same time in its history.

        Let the bread and circus roll!

        The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

        by pelagicray on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 08:09:39 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  What? (0+ / 0-)

      And what if we banned senators from participating in their own fund-raising?

      How do you propose doing that when those very Senators would have to pass such legislation or rules?

      The solution is in our mirrors.

      There is only one way, short of revolution, and that is to begin paying attention as a nation to what this crap means to us as citizens. A first step is undoing the "Washington is meaningless" crap the GOP has been preaching on most matters for almost a lifetime. Then the slow and necessary process of weeding out the bad and electing the good on this matter can begin.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 08:14:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The impression I got from Packer's article (0+ / 0-)

        is that most senators don't particularly like all the fundraising they have to do and consider it a drag on their time, yet they feel they have no choice.

        "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

        by Geenius at Wrok on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 08:46:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, many sitting and ex-Congress people have (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          LS Dem

          expressed intense frustration. They often know they are on a soul destroying treadmill and are frustrated by institutional inability to face real issues reasonably.

          The problem is multi-pronged.

          In the face of an electorate often too disinterested and even willfully ignorant of real issues they have to concentrate on the preelection blitz of sound bites on expensive mass media. Money thus does indirectly buy votes in the election. In that sense it is an electorate problem.

          Since the massive amounts of cash necessary for those blitzes is unlikely to come from actual individual constituents they have to seek the PAC and "special interest" sources under the only somewhat valid smokescreen that money is not a vote bought on the floor.

          Determined elements within their bodies, often with undue influence due to seniority and another Janus factor in legislatures, really do not want to see the system changed as they are highly skilled and willing to use those undemocratic tools for personal influence and power.

          as well as so many warnings of the founders about liberty as long as you can keep it, eternal vigilance and so on. An aware, knowledgeable and vigilant electorate cannot be bought by expensive sound bites and thus corporate persons can really not buy a damn thing.

          When you boil it all down you get to Pogo's:

          We have met the enemy and he is us.

          Hell, we see that right here in the pie fights between those that object to even slight criticism of our president and those that have apparently dismissed him as useless. As with most things, an intelligent analysis finds pluses and minuses and we'd damn well better look at the big picture and to unite to work for national plus and squelching of the national minus that is now so clearly represented by the GOP.

          The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

          by pelagicray on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 09:14:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  A Nanny State (0+ / 0-)

      No, not that kind.

      The kind where some kindly but firm British nanny comes in and gets both overindulgent parents and misbehaving children into shape.

      The republicans are the misbehaving children but it is the American public who are the parents. They reward the misbehavior on the hopes that it will go away if the Republicans get power again simply assuring that the cycle will repeat.

  •  What business or hospital would permit such... (11+ / 0-)

    bat-shit insane rules to govern life & death decisions by the World's Only Superpower™?

    How do adults delude themselves into thinking that this makes any sense whatsoever?

    •  They've talked themselves into it (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jayden

      They weren't always dysfunctional. They convinced themselves that doing X and pissing off Y group isn't worth the trouble. Eventually, you build up enough of those and you box yourself into doing nothing.

      "We can't do this because . . . ." and then you have pages of reasons that amount to whining. It's political and personal cowardice masquerading as smart politics.

      •  All we really need (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jayden, LS Dem, seethruit

        is 50 senators + VP Biden who are willing to change the rules at the beginning of the next session.

        The question is, after all abuse of the Senate rules that has happened this seession, what is it gonna take to get 50 Democratic senators fed up enough to change them?

        Can we get rid of the secret holds? The 2:30 committee time limit? The silent judicial filibusters? The absurd votes against agreeing to begin debate? The Senate's rules are simply nuts.

        There should never be a tax benefit for companies that screw over American workers.

        by bear83 on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:50:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  With the advent of (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PsychicToaster

        2nd and 3rd generation legislators who have grown up within the system literally since birth there is a core of people who because they haven't seen anything else think that the dysfunction in the system is normal, it's the way it should be. They are fish in a fishbowl not dreaming that there is a sky.

        "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -- George Bernard Shaw

        by Inspector Javert on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 09:16:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  By being responsible and serious and making the (0+ / 0-)

      hard decisions to keep doing things the wrong way lest a bad message be sent to the children.

      Spray tons of carcinogens into the ocean to hide petroleum spewed from a hastily-drilled hole from a greedy corporation, but don't smoke pot.

      by xxdr zombiexx on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:06:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice system... if you can get into it. (6+ / 0-)

    Fox news is ad hominem and ad populum ad nauseum.
    A Presidency among the Vuvuzelas.
    Only palin can sound like a vuvuzela while twittering.

    by amk for obama on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:24:09 AM PDT

  •  It could also be said (3+ / 0-)

    The consultants message the pundits, who demand facts from reporters, who get the facts from the think-tankers, or the non-facts from the activists,

    could just as easily be "who get the facts from the corporations who pay the think-tankers to think the way the corporations tell them to, or the actual facts from the unpaid activists...

    Sadly, I don't see this intertia going away any election soon.  I could see a bunch of freshmen Senators pledging to vote against the filibuster and anonymous holds, and then each year renewing the pledge and gaining more pledges to build the movement, but at that pace it would still probably take a generation before those go away.

    I agree, real leadership is what we need and what we're sorely lacking.

  •  Filibuster not problem, problem = fake filibuster (7+ / 0-)

    Make the bastards talk!

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:26:21 AM PDT

  •  Things are bad (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, Amber6541, amk for obama

    but just shy of being bad enough for the citizenry to be angry enough to scare them into fixing things. If things start getting better, the problem won't get fixed, it will just lie in wait for another deadlocked clusterfuck.

    I don't like the idea of catastrophic failure, but until the currently broken machine is too broken to even serve the needs of those who are a part of it, you won't see them motivated to fix it. After all, as you rightly pointed out, it still sends their kids to school and gets them on TV.

  •  Make The Senate Kind Of Like House Of Lords (8+ / 0-)

    Ceremonial. Give them robes and wigs. It would be great for tourists. The government isn't broken. The US Senate is broken.

  •  From your lips to God's ears... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, Amber6541, amk for obama

    I wish I had your optimism that this Gordian knot can be unraveled.   I fear that we all lack the leverage to affect meaningful change.  We live in California, and it seems even worse.  Our state is "circling the drain", and we all feel powerless to stop it.  

    "What are Americans still buying? Big Macs, Campbell's soup, Hershey's chocolate and Spam-the four food groups of the apocalypse." Frank Rich

    by mrclean on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:31:36 AM PDT

  •  What Atrios said (5+ / 0-)

    I know we don't live in a sane world, we live in a world where Paul Ryan is Very Serious because he usually manages to tie his shoes, but someone has to say it.

    Afghanistan - Come for the lithium and stay for the opium.

    by BOHICA on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:31:45 AM PDT

  •  The U.S. is probably at this point (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    amk for obama

    a water empire.  And they don't reform themselves from within, they break.

  •  "Everybody Knows" -- a musical interlude (8+ / 0-)

    Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
    Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
    Everybody knows that the war is over
    Everybody knows the good guys lost
    Everybody knows the fight was fixed
    The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
    Thats how it goes
    Everybody knows

    Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
    Everybody knows that the captain lied
    Everybody got this broken feeling
    Like their father or their dog just died

    Everybody talking to their pockets
    Everybody wants a box of chocolates
    And a long stem rose
    Everybody knows

    Here we are now Entertain us I feel stupid and contagious

    by Scarce on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:33:01 AM PDT

  •  They are doing their job (8+ / 0-)

    Their job being to protect the rich from the rabble.  

  •  It is cruel hoax (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pesto, BDA in VA, jayden

    that the promise to bring change on the campaign trail
    does not survive the realities of Washington.

    The system is well protected and entrenched so that anyone choosing to be an outsider is choosing not to have power.

    Election after election brings a president or members of Congress promising to change the way this system works, but the system beats them every single time.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't.

    by crystal eyes on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:37:41 AM PDT

  •  Nie pozwalam! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Iberian, LS Dem

    Liberum veto (Latin for I freely forbid) was a parliamentary device in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It allowed any member of the Sejm to force an immediate end to the current session and nullify all legislation already passed at it by shouting Nie pozwalam! (Polish: I do not allow!).

    We have reached the point of paralysis in the Senate when any single senator can yell Nie pozwalam! and everything grinds to a halt.

    Four out five sock puppets agree

    by se portland on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:47:18 AM PDT

  •  it has to start with education (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LS Dem, No one gets out alive

    It has to start with reforming the filibuster. It has to continue with real, serious, meaningful campaign finance reform. Media conglomerates that use the public airwaves have to be subjected to stricter scrutiny for the right to use those airwaves. Lobbyists must not be allowed to contribute to or raise money for the people they are lobbying. Congressional members and staff must be banned from becoming lobbyists, federal contractors, or people who use the public airwaves for some period of time after leaving public service. Public service has to return to meaning what it says instead of being another rung on the corporate career ladder.

    it has to start with education because many people could read those statements and not understand a word you wrote--they don't understand the "rules" of Congress, don't understand how they are willfully and wrongfully influenced by media, have no concept of how lobbying dollars and influence peddling inflect our policy focus, and are too tired and uninterested (or bored) to try to understand finance reform, science or the merest basics of economics.

    this rant is really about my family. My mother thinks college "has ruined all of you"--me, my sisters, her beloved grandchildren are all atheist liberal democrats and she and my brother watch Faux news and listen to crazy talk radio.

    a focus on the reasoning in math, science and logic and exposure to books and more books is my idea of early education--but no one listens to me--not even in my own family

  •  That article is unutterably depressing. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jds1978, Golani

    The Senate will not ever fix itself.  It seems a hopeless business.

    Proud member of the professional left. You gotta problem with that?

    by Mehitabel9 on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:50:31 AM PDT

    •  i wonder (0+ / 0-)

      if the Ds, next time they are in the minority, will be using the same procedural roadblocks, and i wonder if those methods will be applauded here at DKos. If Mitch McConnell is trying to hammer through his crappy-ass agenda won't we want Reid to be throwing every wrench in the gears he can find? It goes both ways. It's easy to say we want it fixed now, but will we wnat it fixed when tables get spun around. Just sayin'.

  •  This is spectacularly well written, and relevant. (6+ / 0-)

    It should be read, aloud, by the President himself, on TV, every day, at 8pm, preempting every TV show, or sporting event, until each person over the legal age of 18 has it memorized.

  •  John Dean (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    psnyder, jayden, Golani, mkor7, susanthe, LS Dem

    Wrote a book a few years back called Broken Government, about how the GOP rigged and exploited the rules in their favor when they were in control.  Much of the culture they put into place is apparently still there, and the Democrats must be blamed for not taking this on squarely.  It is absolutely insane that indefinite holds and anonymous holds can be placed on nominees.

  •  The people in charge don't want gov't to work (7+ / 0-)

    By whom I mean big business.  If the gov't is neutered - obstructed, drowned in a bathtub, etc. - then there's no one to keep the BPs and the Blackwaters and the investment banks and the mining companies in check.

    Obama's done a lot of good in half a term. But he hasn't fixed every problem in the world!!! He's worse than Satan!!!

    by schroeder on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:56:27 AM PDT

  •  This will end in a coup (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No one gets out alive

    Sad, but likely.  At some point in time, after a period of seemingly endless economic malaise and decline, there will be a catastrophic event (a Katrina, or a 9-11) and some generals will decide that the time is right to put this system of non-government out of its misery.  

    What a crappy way for this democracy to die--at the hands of lobbyists, a lazy and ignorant electorate and a bunch of greedy and utterly self centered "Senators".    They don't even deserve the lofty title.

    I hope I'm not around to see the euthanasia.

    Merkley-Feingold in 2012!

    by Golani on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 06:58:39 AM PDT

  •  Cultural logic of a plutocracy (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pesto, mkor7, No one gets out alive

    Everything returns to this fact. A tiny, tiny super elite class that has enormous power and influence and which will do anything to maintain its wealth and privilege.

    Much of the dysfunction we discuss here is related to this fact.

  •  Sorry, the rules aren't the problem... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pesto

    its the game that's broken. In the old days we used to say there was no difference between the party and the state. Now we should say there is no difference between business and the party and the state. All the same thing. All working in concert to increase corporate profits and put the middle and lower classes "in their correct place". Story as old as history itself.

    Go Tea Partiers! Keep pushing the Repubs even further to the batshit crazy right

    by ThanxAl on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:01:43 AM PDT

  •  Start (0+ / 0-)

    by inserting issues in campaigns.  Elections matter only around a couple of issues that are at the core of the campaigns.

    How many people asked Senate candidates in '08 about the filibuster?  It wasn't on the radar screen.  Now through the work of people like Chris Bowers, it gets at least some attention.

    It may be obvious now that the filibuster is a disaster, but I don't remember a single post on '08 suggesting the rule needed to be changed.

    The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

    by fladem on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:01:48 AM PDT

  •  Its the system (4+ / 0-)

    How is it possible to become so disconnected from clear thinking? By clear thinking, I mean the ability to see what is going on and then doing the obvious, simple, direct, most Occam's Razor-like response. Instead, what we have are public officials participating willfully in a system that all of them know doesn't work, yet deciding the clear solutions in plain sight are impossible to implement.

    The simple, natural answers are the ones that are correct and good for the people and THEREFORE to be avoided at all costs.

    The PURPOSE of politicians is to help Rich people and their Massive Corporations.

    That's all it is about anymore.

    The People are pumped for cash and votes every 2 years and the figureheads either get re-elected or rearranged but the SYSTEM stays in place.

    I have all the respect for brooklynbadboy and others who write about this as if they just cannot see this cynically.

    There is a reason for cynicism and it is called "Pattern Recognition" and it's one of the basic traits of an intelligent being.

    I see a very clear pattern and musing about why it doesn't change is sort of silly once one sees the reason clearly.

    Spray tons of carcinogens into the ocean to hide petroleum spewed from a hastily-drilled hole from a greedy corporation, but don't smoke pot.

    by xxdr zombiexx on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:03:57 AM PDT

  •  Republicans are deadset on destroying government (3+ / 0-)

    and anything connected to government, especially programs that work.

    I remember when the welfare system, AFDC, was a safety net for people in poverty.  Supplemental Security Income was the Social Security program that provided help for disabled people and the elderly who had never worked or been able to work.
    Thirty years ago, these welfare programs were a whipping boy for the Reagan administration.  But at precisely the same time, the SSA was hiring people and pushing an agenda to seek out and find as many people who might qualify for the program as possible.  I think the premise was if too many people climb into the lifeboat, we can sink the lifeboat.  This did not help people.  It helped overburden the programs, and without the financial support and backing to carry the additional load, the programs began to function poorly.  Then the mantra became "see these programs don't work."  

    They're trying to do the same thing to the regular Social Security program, and environmental regulations.  I watched the video of Cheney down on the gulf after Katrina sayng how clean up would have to be really slow and that it could not be helped because of all the environmental regulation that would have to be followed for disposal of the trash.  I loved that resident who shouted "Go fuck yourself, Cheney."

    And they are using the same tactic to bring everything to a screeching halt in the House and Senate.

    That seems to be the modus operandi of all things Republican.  Form over substance.  Grover Norquist is probably laughing himself silly.

  •  As an NC resident, Burr IS a problem. We're (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Iberian

    going to dump him this November and Elaine Marshall needs your help to do just that.

    DONATE TODAY

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    -Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:06:27 AM PDT

  •  Read about (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jagger

    Ancient Rome's Republican system and the Conflict of the orders.

    "Arizona is the meth lab of democracy" Jon Stewart

    by Iberian on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:07:16 AM PDT

  •  Misdirection. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jagger

    It's easy to rail at the rules, but the current rule set is actually more democratic and less oppressive than most of the Senate's history.

    Until 1917, there was no such thing as cloture. A filibuster could go for as long.  Until 1975, a 2/3 supermajority was required for cloture. the current 60 vote supermajority, the least stringent requirment in the nation's 220+ year history, has only been in effect for 35 years.

    The problem is Senators who won't dutifully represent their constituencies over the assorted influences living inside I-495.  

    So long as people are willing to be swayed by "but if you don't vote for our team, you'll let the Blue Meanies take charge" without looking at whether Congress is remotely doing its job for the people, the Senate will suck, regardless of whether it takes 50 or 60 votes to reward the lobbyists du jour.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:08:52 AM PDT

  •  If I were ever to run for office... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jagger, dhshoops, talismanlangley

    ...which I never will do...I would fight for the following changes in our government:

    1. Public campaign financing with clear limits on how much can be spent.  Of course, this means undoing the Citizens United ruling.
    1. Term limits for all elected positions.  No one should be a career politician.
    1. 4 year terms for the House, with elections for one-half the House every 2 years (similar to the Senate's one-third election cycle).  As it is now, reps spend about one month actually working and the rest of their time campaigning for the next term.
    1. No lobbyists.  Period.

    I think fish is nice, but then I think that rain is wet, so who am I to judge? ~ Douglas Adams

    by madame defarge on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:10:07 AM PDT

  •  The Ancien Regime (4+ / 0-)

    When I read Packer's article in The New Yorker about the dysfunctionality of the Senate, and of the U.S. government in general, I was reminded of the history of late-eighteenth-century France. It's said that everyone knew what reforms were necessary--and everyone knew all the reasons why those reforms would never be adopted.

    We all know what happened as a result.

  •  Flash: GOP = BAD FAITH (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jagger

    Civil society at all levels depends not on a set of rules but the shared willingness to cooperate.  The GOP has discovered that non-cooperation and abuse/manipulation of rules works for them.  They are not about governing - they are about dismantling government.  How better better to achieve their objectives than to relentlessly impede the world's "Greatest Deliberative Body".

    So we have the Dems operating as "business as usual" which is, of course, not operating very well, with all the typical forms of dysfunction: corporate influence, personal agrandizement, political expediency, incompentence.  Then add the unprecedented levels of obstructionism, obfuscation, misrepresentation perfected by the radical GOP and we have near total government paralysis.

  •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

    For explaining clearly what is wrong and laying out the real solutions for fixing this problem.

    •  I especially like your solutions (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      on the cusp

      It has to start with reforming the filibuster. It has to continue with real, serious, meaningful campaign finance reform. Media conglomerates that use the public airwaves have to be subjected to stricter scrutiny for the right to use those airwaves. Lobbyists must not be allowed to contribute to or raise money for the people they are lobbying. Congressional members and staff must be banned from becoming lobbyists, federal contractors, or people who use the public airwaves for some period of time after leaving public service. Public service has to return to meaning what it says instead of being another rung on the corporate career ladder.

  •  We have to remove the incentives to do nothing (0+ / 0-)

    "I don't know what force will bring about this re-ordering of the status quo, but I am certain it will not come about as the result of an election."

    I have two ideas:

    1. Make election days a holiday or move them to Sundays. Make politicians more accountable by increasing voter participation in elections. Making it easier for people to vote is the easiest way to do that. Right now, Rs and Ds alike have to pander to frightened old people because they're the only ones who turn out in force. Vocal minorities wield too much power in this country.
    1. Publicly funded elections. Get (most of) the money the gums up the works out of Washington in one fell swoop. Politicians who don't have to spend half their waking hours worrying about financing their next campaign are less likely to be bought off by corporate lobbyists.

    I think (1) is easier than (2). Why not make it a netroots campaign issue?

  •  This is one of the best fp efforts (0+ / 0-)

    I have read in a long time.
    Thanks, BBB, and I now know why I am depressed.  You laid it out perfectly.

    Not much to report here

    by on the cusp on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:36:54 AM PDT

  •  Many of the rules... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pesto

    Were created in a time when instant communications were impossible.  A Senator could have a residence in VA and that might as well have been in the Frontier.  If he was in his residence while business was going on, it would take an entire day to deliver the message and get the Senator back into the chamber.  Even if they lived Georgetown or within walking distance of the capital, they still needed time to get the information and then get into a carriage and get there.  As time went on, with the invention of the telephone, the car, the air-plane, these rules were obsolete and became a way of slowing things down to an 18th century pace.  In the 21st century, with instant communication and the ability to move across the country within hours, the 18th century pace is just obstruction.

    I really don't have much hope here.  Most Democracies have governments which can built and torn down in a much faster pace.  This does create a degree of chaos, but it also allows those governments to adapt to the rapid changes we face in the 21st century.  America as a government and an empire is obsolete.

    Does Aqua Buddha wear Aqua Velva or is he an Old Spice man?

    by RichM on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:36:57 AM PDT

  •  I don't think it's a matter of it "not working" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    No one gets out alive

    Instead, what we have are public officials participating willfully in a system that all of them know doesn't work, yet deciding the clear solutions in plain sight are impossible to implement.

    I think you're assuming that the System's purpose is "good government" or "addressing significant social issues" or "administering justice" or "doing the public will/good" or some equivalent.

    I suggest that you can't assume a system's purpose from the outside.  You derive the system's purpose from what it actually does.  Whatever that system does, repeatedly, consistently, and tenaciously is, for all intents and purposes, it's true purpose.

    The system defends instantiated power.  That's the common thread here, and I'd argue that that is, in fact, its true purpose.  Dedication to that purpose is what prevents senators from challenging the workings of the system.  The pro-Obstructionism workings may prevent action on global warming, or unemployment, or workers' rights, or civil liberties, or further health care reform...but if changing those workings to fix those problems threatens instantiated power, then the cost fundamentally isn't worth the benefit.

    To disassemble this disaster will take more than can be mustered by elections. It will take someone, anyone, to lead the reform of government that works and works well. It will take a force mightier than any president or senator. Election after election brings a president or members of Congress promising to change the way this system works, but the system beats them every single time. I don't know what force will bring about this re-ordering of the status quo, but I am certain it will not come about as the result of an election. All too often, we have seen that "change elections" don't change the system.

    It will change when Establishment DC believes that agreeing to change it is a better way to serve instantiated power than is resisting change.  If refusing to reform means an economic collapse that harms instantiated power, they move very, very quickly (e.g. TARP).  If refusing to reform meant revolt, or waves of general strikes, then I think they'd be willing to reform then, too.

    And let me add, brooklynbadboy, how happy I am to read this kind of big-picture piece on the FP here.  "More and better Dems" + grassroots lobbying are simply not enough to address the terrible crises we face.  Fetishizing elections is the equivalent of the drunk guy looking for his car keys under the streetlamp because that's where the light is.

    "Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!" -- Situationist graffito, 1968

    by Pesto on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:44:46 AM PDT

    •  Strikes, revolt, etc. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pesto

      Right after American Idol finals.

      How finely do they judge just how much they can abuse us?

      So far, it seem like they think they can squeeze just a little harder...

      And the Blackwater guys are always available to make it stick.

      Unless/ Until we're ready to take some casualties, we will remain all but slaves.

      It's time for the pitchforks and torches! Guillotines are way too complicated.

      by No one gets out alive on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 08:30:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's the bottom line (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Viola, No one gets out alive

        and the mystery in all this.  Why do we put up with this?  Why are we all so captured?

        And I consider myself a fully culpable member of that group.  I wrote letters against the War, and participated in marches and gave money and voted.  I've been an organizer and activist for about 17 years, and I've been active on many of these issues.

        But my activism -- our activism -- wasn't enough.  All that we did didn't stop the war, and didn't restore our civil liberties, didn't move us towards economic justice, or towards addressing global warming.

        Am I content to say, "Hey, I tried, I did something.  When the ice caps melt, don't blame me!"  I can't believe that'll seem like an adequate answer to my kids' generation.  As if the whole point is to assuage my sense of guilt about the outcomes, rather than to actually prevent the outcomes themselves.  As if it's fine for the disasters to hit us, as long as I don't personally feel like I'm to blame for them.

        I don't want to be the drunk under the streetlight saying, "Hey, at least I tried to find my keys!"

        "Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!" -- Situationist graffito, 1968

        by Pesto on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 09:21:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Why do we put up with this? (4+ / 0-)

          I think the answer to that question is that we are all trapped within the system that doesn't serve us. Anyone who has anything to lose puts the breaks on before going too far.

          Think about it. If you're employed, how radical can you get? How many of us can risk our jobs, particularly in this economy? If you're unemployed, how radical can you get? Will it help you get a new job? If you're over 50, in particular, can you risk losing your benefits. Etc.

          So when we talk about things like general strikes, we're asking people to do something that could directly affect either their, or someone they know's livelihood. And risk their jobs.

          We are very pampered people nowadays, and I say that without animus. It's just true. We are not used to discomfort. We have a lot, by most standards, and we want to keep it. That's the last kind of environment to produce change agents that truly threaten the "system". The system, as bad as it is, ensures that enough people are comfortable enough, that they will keep their head's down. That's why so many of us end up making statements like "when things get bad enough people will hit the streets" - we know it has to get worse, a lot worse.

          I wrote in another diary a few days ago that when I talk to people (not netroots types, but Democrats or unaffiliated, dissatisfied people), one of the themes I see a lot is the desire for a savior. We are all waiting for someone to step up who has a clear message and a plan for change, and has the charisma to gain followers and spearhead this movement for change that we know needs to develop.

          That savior has yet to arrive (if he/she ever does). I wrote that I think that person will have to be someone who is either rich enough to be "safe" or basically someone who has nothing to lose. What they won't be is a politician, though. The politicians are at the head of the borg we're all trapped in.

          I don't know if our time will produce another Martin Luther King or Gandhi. If not, or until, the question I wrestle with is "what can people constructively do, if anything, when they can't take risks?" Or maybe, "how can they help those who can take risks?"

          •  I think the Afghans and others have shown the way (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Viola

            Unconventional warfare.

            Working in a thousand small ways to undermine our oppressors, while remaining anonymous.

            Their defense has been to keep us confused as to who the real enemy is.

            Think carefully

            Look behind the curtain

            Then act.

            It's time for the pitchforks and torches! Guillotines are way too complicated.

            by No one gets out alive on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 10:49:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I like the concept - the question is (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Pesto

              How do we translate that in into actions by Americans? I think it's worth thinking about.

              Unconventional warfare is exactly right - I just don't know what that specifically might mean. But I think that's where the next level of the movement-in-the-making needs to go. Figuring out new tactics, based on the situation as it is, not as it should be or used to be.

          •  Our savior (0+ / 0-)

            I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.

            Eugene V. Debs

            "Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!" -- Situationist graffito, 1968

            by Pesto on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 11:27:00 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  If you are looking for a Moses... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Pesto

              I don't disagree with your quote, I'm just saying that that is where people are at this time. We're in the stage of looking for the leader, and I don't think that's unreasonable really. We're looking for a leader to tell us what to do because we don't know what to do. We are in new waters right now. We're in a time and place and set of circumstances that are combining into something we haven't seen before. Thus we don't yet have effective responses. So in absence of that we're looking for someone to give us direction.

              Gandhi, for example, was able to recruit people into his movement literally because people had nothing to lose. He then built his group actions on a platform of sacrifice, something that was culturally and religiously familiar and honored in India at that time.

              America 2010 does not have that platform to build on. But we are sensing that there has to be a massive buyin to something if change is to happen. That's why people are always talking about "descending on Washington and making demands", or "taking to the streets". But no one really knows what exactly to demand and most of us recognize that marches etc. in the last decade have pretty much had zilch effect.

              I think the notion that "the system is broken" is beginning to enter mainstream consciousness in a deep way. Tea Baggers are right about that. But they are being manipulated into seeking the wrong solutions to the problem by the system.

              We've got to get past that.

              •  Agree with all of that (0+ / 0-)

                The idea of a leaderless movement is kind of a fantasy, in any case.  People are social animals, and almost inevitably group themselves with and/or follow certain people and not others.

                I suppose my best advice would be to raise hell where the hellraising is at hand, and let the overall direction emerge from that.  I'm not sure where the path leads eventually, but I'm pretty damn sure that solidarity campaigns like general strikes are on the path, somewhere.

                "Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!" -- Situationist graffito, 1968

                by Pesto on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 12:12:23 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Someone like MoveOn could do ads... (0+ / 0-)

    in obstructionist senators' districts; show them obstructing; say, "Is this really the kind of representation you want?" Keep it simple.

    The job of Democrats is to protect us from Republicans. Who will protect us from the Democrats?

    by Rocco Gibralter on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:49:20 AM PDT

  •  its not distant when you live here (0+ / 0-)

    dc is the greatest city in the world.  next to NY anyway...

    well NY is one of DC's suburbs.  ill be commuting there for a concert next month.

    My politics are my own, no party controls them. Ideas do.

    by angry liberaltarian on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 07:57:57 AM PDT

  •  Look at this insane example of a "Hold" that (0+ / 0-)

    demonstrates a very necessary change:

    Lots of controversies swirl around Metro and its safety problems, but there's widespread agreement on one thing: The federal government should get the same powers to set safety standards for subways that it has for Amtrak and commuter trains. But the agreement isn't unanimous.  

    U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, whose state doesn't have a subway, is using one of those notorious Senate "holds" to block a bill with strong bipartisan support that would give the Federal Transit Administration powers that might have prevented last year's fatal Red Line crash.

    Robert McCartney notes in his article, "Senator should release hold on blocking federal oversight of Metro system" that:

    More broadly, the bill's demise would illustrate how our wariness of government can reach self-destructive extremes. Hostility to the public sector runs so strong that some conservatives object to any expansion of its powers, even when nonpartisan experts such as the National Transportation Safety Board say lives are at stake.

    Perhaps an internal solution will only come in a full "War of the Holds," in which retaliatory holds become so common they all become anathema. I propose one of the Maryland or Virginia Senators--since D.C. has none find some issue vital to Oklahoma to stop in its tracks.

    As for Metro, a system actually pretty vital to the daily functioning of the national government, it is the only system under the control of a board from two states, the federal District and a number of counties. That has been a key problem and the source of political shenanigans including Virginia's current attempt to give Richmond a seat at the table at the expense of counties actually served by the system under the new GOP governor hostile to public transportation.

    The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

    by pelagicray on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 08:27:15 AM PDT

  •  Van Jones: Why are you so sad? (0+ / 0-)

    Now I know the answer. This diary explains the system failure so well that it has relieved me of the continuing frustration I feel about making change in Washington D.C. Thanks. This is precious. A keeper. Cut and keep and read again when I feel sad.

    CLEAR Act would sell carbon shares to fuel producers and would return 75 percent of the resulting revenue in $1,100 checks to every American.

    by mrobinson on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 08:58:12 AM PDT

  •  Senate Deadlock (0+ / 0-)

    Political warfare instead of governance is being waged today. The obstructionists have give ample evidence of their traitorous self-interest. The majority in Congress should show them no mercy. The idea of bi-partisanship is sweet-sounding but without current merit.

  •  Vent (0+ / 0-)

    This diary is jam packed with items for solutions. Let's add ours:

    Title: Maybe, just maybe, we would then have a government that sees problems and solves them.

    I add these to the diary list:
    *Systemic change: Should the Senate be abolished?  Senators must be prepared to answer, "What is the added value to our democracy of the U.S. Senate?" Follow up, "Defend the value of the 400 U.S. House bills that went to the Senate to die."

    *Not so systemic:
    Democratic leaders who send us donation letters must learn how to talk to us plainly in words that ring with truth, as if we are smart and informed - stop with the platitudes and self-congratulation. Yuck!

    Democratic leaders must give more details about what goes wrong every time they try to make change; they must name names, repeat the story of the issues at stake, repeat who they are to us and how it all fits together to make the change they promised.

    They must denounce bad reporting, get in the pundit/journalists faces. Fire Gibbs. Hire someone who will say, "That's a stupid question I won't answer."

    A distant capitol

    *the people who constitute the ruling class of the distant capitol must not greet systemic failure with indifference.

    *It has to start with reforming the filibuster.

    *It has to continue with real, serious, meaningful campaign finance reform.

    *Media conglomerates that use the public airwaves have to be subjected to stricter scrutiny for the right to use those airwaves.

    *Lobbyists must not be allowed to contribute to or raise money for the people they are lobbying.

    *Congressional members and staff must be banned from becoming lobbyists, federal contractors, or people who use the public airwaves for some period of time after leaving public service.

    *Public service has to return to meaning what it says instead of being another rung on the corporate career ladder.

    CLEAR Act would sell carbon shares to fuel producers and would return 75 percent of the resulting revenue in $1,100 checks to every American.

    by mrobinson on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 09:32:11 AM PDT

  •  hi there, bbb. (0+ / 0-)

    I have not been around much the past few months and didn't know you got promoted to the FP.  Keep up the good work and congratulations.

    Indict, convict, imprison. "Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana

    by incognita on Fri Aug 13, 2010 at 10:00:22 AM PDT

  •  change I could believe in (0+ / 0-)

    would start with this shit.

  •  Well that was a cup of hopeless for breakfast. nt (0+ / 0-)
  •  No civics stupid student left behind (0+ / 0-)

    In researching his book America, The Owner's Manual: Making Government work for you former Sen Bob Graham asked an audience of educators whether civics was still being taught in high schools (circa 2006):

    Civics is still being taught, but not in a way that is meaningful and lasting. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, imposing testing standards, has eradicated any notion of teaching civics in favor of programs specifically designed to pass end of grade (EOG) tests.

    http://curriculalessons.suite101.com...

    The results are obvious.

  •  I totally disagree (0+ / 0-)

    The Senate didn't work like this when the Republicans were in charge.

    Why not?

    Because if the Democrats tried to block anything, the Republicans howled like stuck pigs.

    They went on the TV and called the filibuster undemocratic and abusive and lambasted anyone and everyone that got in their way.

    So the Democrats slunk off with their tails between their legs.

    Now, when the Republicans do it, do the Democrats go on the TV and rant and rave and howl and jump up and down? Do they attempt to shame the Republicans in the way that they were shamed for four long years?

    Nah. They slink off with their tails between their legs.

    The problem isn't the system. If the Republicans weren't abusing arcane rules they'ed be abusing other ones.

    The problem is Democrats without any balls. So afraid of their own shadows that they won't get up and do the things they were elected to do.

    If they find themselves un-elected in November (and despite all this I plan to vote, and plan to encourage everyone I know to vote), it won't be the Republicans to blame. It'll be their own lame-ass selves.

    Remember - Republican turnout WAN"T up in 1994. Newt road into the Speaker's chair because Democratic voters stayed home in droves.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site