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American lawmakers are in the throes of a heated debate about one fundamental rule change that would shift so much of the country’s politics.
What happens next to the Senate’s decades-old filibuster rule could not only decide Joe Biden’s presidential legacy but the fate of a slew of bills that have been stalled for years.
It’s the rule that requires 60 per cent of senators to agree to even hold a vote on a bill, making it a silent legislative killer over the years that has created a graveyard of bills.
Gun control, climate change, immigration reform, electoral reform, statehood for Washington, D.C., Medicare access — bills addressing all these issues could hinge on one procedural choice.
Democrats now face a career-defining dilemma while they hold the rare trifecta of power: control of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives.
Will they preserve the Senate’s filibuster tradition, or gut it in the hope of passing big bills between now and next year’s congressional elections?
“It’s ridiculous,” said Brian Higgins, a Democrat in the House who wants the filibuster gone. In the interview, he also used stronger, less-printable language to describe the rule.
“What Republicans want to do is make this administration fail. So they’re not going to co-operate on anything.… Democrats have to learn a lesson here. And the lesson is: Do big things.”
This debate that will shape all other debates in U.S. politics is playing out inside the Democratic Party, and it could come to a head within weeks.
Most Democrats agree with Higgins. And there’s mounting peer pressure on the few who don’t. One idea gaining steam among the holdouts is to keep the filibuster but to weaken it, or limit when it can be used.
Making that change would require every single Democrat to vote together and use their party’s one-vote majority to force the so-called nuclear option in amending chamber procedures.
Big decision will shape key bills
The stakes of this decision have been glaringly obvious these past few days. Democrats are working on bills that, without procedural change, risk going nowhere.
Under the Senate math, Democrats would need 10 Republicans to reach the magic 60-vote mark required to pass just about anything (aside from annual, short-term spending bills).
On Monday, a House committee spent the day discussing a law to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state — but, for now, D.C. statehood is DOA.
On Tuesday, the Senate held a gun-control hearing. This is likely a doomed exercise, based on how few Republican votes there were after the Sandy Hook school massacre for a moderate background-check bill in 2013.
Ditto climate change. Democrats plan to introduce a $2-trillion infrastructure bill that would spend heavily on green technology, which Republicans oppose.
How we got here
So, how did the U.S. Senate wind up with this rule?
The truth is a bit more muddled than it’s made out to be — by detractors who call the filibuster a recent aberration, and by defenders who call it a critical feature of American governance.
In fact, even trained historians who sit in the U.S. Congress offer different takeaways.
One Harvard-educated student of American politics and former history teacher, Higgins, detests the filibuster.
Another Harvard-educated historian, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, vigorously defended it this week and warned that ditching the filibuster would have devastating effects.
Sasse said it would make American politics even angrier — instilling a winner-take-all mentality, closer to a parliamentary system than to the consensus-based chamber designed by America’s republican founders.
“It’ll be the end of the Senate,” Sasse said. “[We’d] be committing institutional suicide.”
From its very creation, the engine of American lawmaking, the U.S. Congress, was built with a gas pedal (the House) and brake pad (the Senate).
The Senate is supposed to be slower, more deliberative, with members elected every six years, isolating them more from the political passions of the moment — compared to the House and its two-year terms, with members constantly in campaign mode.
The two chambers were pushed further down divergent paths early in the country’s history.
The Senate eliminated a British-based parliamentary rule that allowed a topic to be revisited, called the previous question rule.
The Senate was left without a similar means to end a debate.
That made it possible to delay votes indefinitely, and in 1917, a frustrated President Woodrow Wilson, eager to arm U.S. merchant ships during the First World War, disparaged senators as a little group of wilful men who rendered the U.S. government helpless and embarrassing.
At his urging, the Senate created a rule to cut off debate, the cloture motion, with a two-thirds majority.
This system was strained to a breaking point decades later by civil rights debates.
Southern segregationists stalled civil rights bills with interminable speeches. Strom Thurmond took steam baths to dry out his body so he wouldn’t have to go to the washroom during a 24-hour speech in which he killed time by reading the phone book.
A changing Democratic Party, with scores of younger members elected in the post-Watergate 1974 midterms, vowed to clamp down on long speeches, which, having earlier delayed civil rights, were more recently stalling other progressive bills such as the creation of a new consumer protection agency.
Walter Mondale, a future vice-president, led the reform.
He warned that faith in government was plummeting and lawmakers needed to prove they could still respond to the voters’ will.
“The threat of the filibuster … hangs over this body like a heavy cloud,” Mondale said.
“[It’s] repeatedly used to block, delay, or compromise important social, economic, and governmental reform legislation favoured by an overwhelming majority.”
After weeks of impassioned debate, on March 7, 1975, the U.S. Senate passed the current rule: Out was the 67 per cent requirement, lowered to 60 per cent.
It created a new compromise: Most bills are now automatically blocked unless they get 60 votes, so there’s no need for hours-long speeches clogging up the chamber.
And that’s where things stand today.
Opinions were split from the start. Even on the pages of the New York Times, one editorial called the change a pathetic compromise that didn’t go far enough.
But one of the paper’s most famous columnists offered a mournful lamentation of the destruction of the Senate’s intended spirit.
Arguments for and against
One of the southern Democrats who fought hardest against the reform, James Allen of Alabama, delivered multiple speeches, sucking down cherry-flavoured glucose for energy.
He warned this was one step toward the eventual abolition of the filibuster.
“It is like cutting off a dog’s tail an inch at a time,” Allen said, warning that the 60-vote requirement would someday be eroded to a 51-vote majority rule.
He was prescient there: the filibuster has eroded.
Democrats dropped the filibuster rule for cabinet and low-level judicial confirmations in 2013, frustrated by stall tactics from Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McConnell returned the favour when he gained the majority and ended the filibuster for Supreme Court justices in 2017.
All that’s left to the filibuster is the biggest remaining piece: legislation.
If the Democrats go down that route, McConnell has threatened to paralyze the chamber with tactics never before imagined.
Wielding reform as a threat against the GOP
Many Democrats want to call what they see as a bluff.
One reason progressives are keen to test McConnell’s threat is they’re convinced their priorities will win public support.
But there’s a broader argument about the basic structure of modern American politics.
Their argument is that partisan voting blocs are an essential fact of life now. Even if the founders never intended for the U.S. to have political parties, they exist now, elections are almost always close, and it’s increasingly impossible to get anything important done.
It’s been almost a half-century since a single election gave one party control of the White House, the House, and 60 Senate seats.
So progressives are now parsing every utterance from their party’s remaining filibuster-defenders, upon whose votes a rule change hinges: the key ones are Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Don’t expect the elimination of the filibuster. But some reform sounds possible.
WATCH | Biden calls for tougher guns laws after recent mass shootings:
That puts him in line with President Joe Biden.
The longtime senator has defended the tradition but wants to do away with the automatic filibuster introduced in 1975, and force obstructionists to stand up and talk.
In the meantime, the mere threat of reform is being wielded as leverage. One filibuster defender, Sen. Angus King of Maine, writes that he’ll make a decision based on how McConnell behaves on other bills.
In a Washington Post op-ed, the senator, an Independent who mostly votes with Democrats, concluded with the implicit threat: “Over to you, Mitch.”
‘It’s 2021, it’s not 1950:’ Women politicians in N.S. show support for Robyn Ingraham – Global News
Pamela Lovelace is no stranger to the sexism encountered by women in politics.
She ran for Liberal nomination back in 2013, and is now a Halifax regional councillor for District 13 and says she’s encountered all sorts of comments — because she is a woman — while trying to get elected.
“I remember someone saying ‘why are you here? Why are you doing this, you have a family?’” said Lovelace. “I said, ‘well my opponent has a family too’ and the response was ‘yeah, he has a wife though.’”
While Lovelace says politics is still very much an old boys’ club and that it’s hard for women to get into office, she says parties should support diversity among their candidates.
She says it was discouraging to find out a Liberal candidate in this provincial election was kicked out of the party for posting and selling boudoir photos online.
“I was really disappointed to hear that the political landscape is talking about what a person has done with their body rather than the actual ideas that Nova Scotians care about,” Lovelace said.
Earlier this week Robyn Ingraham withdrew as the Liberal candidate for Dartmouth South. She originally posted online that it was due to mental health reasons, but then she later posted to her Instagram account that the party had taken issue with her boudoir photos and Only Fans account despite her having disclosed that during the nomination process.
A barber and small business owner, Ingraham also published an email she said she had sent to Rankin, which stated the party had made a mistake by forcing her out. “The misogynistic behaviour of those above you is not tolerable,” she wrote to the premier. “It’s not my job to make old white men comfortable.”
Former Liberal candidate says party ousted her over ‘boudoir photos’
On Friday, Rankin’s news conference in rural Cape Breton about tourism funding quickly turned into a barrage of questions from reporters about how the ousting of Ingraham occurred, what was said and who was responsible. He confirmed his team “assisted” Ingraham with her resignation statement and said he has been repeatedly trying to contact her to learn her version of events.
But in a brief interview with The Canadian Press at her barbershop in Dartmouth, N.S., Ingraham said she doesn’t plan to speak with Rankin.
“I haven’t spoken to him and I have no intention of speaking to him,” she said. “I just wanted my story to get out there.”
She also said she doesn’t want to run for any other party. “I just want to get back to running my business,” she said at her shop, called Devoted Barbers and Co.
Lovelace said what was done to Ingraham was an injustice.
“Let’s get her back on the ballot,” said Lovelace. “It’s 2021, it’s not 1950, so let’s move on to better politics in Nova Scotia.”
Claudia Chender is running as the NDP candidate for the same riding Ingraham has dropped out of and says this whole situation shows the double standard for men and women in politics.
“I think we are past the point where we should be embroiled in this type of situation as a scandal, but unfortunately we still have a lot of misogyny, frankly, in Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia politics.”
Chender says whether or not someone takes or sells revealing photos of themselves does not have an impact on how they can help the community.
Nova Scotia housing prices an election issue
“Political candidates should be judged on how are you going to make things better, how are you going to fix things?” said Chender.
“I think anything else that’s happening in their own personal lives that isn’t causing people harm is nobody’s business.”
Ingraham’s removal from the ballot has caught the attention of women across the country and many are showing her their support.
In a Twitter post, Mackenzie Kerr, a Green Party candidate in British Columbia posted her own boudoir image with the caption “It’s time we change the definition of professionalism.”
Back in Nova Scotia, a former PC candidate for Dartmouth South says she can’t believe women are still being judged for taking control of their own bodies.
“It’s horrible because Robyn is experiencing what I went through,” said Jad Crnogorac.
Crnogorac is a fitness instructor and says she herself has had professional boudoir photos done and hasn’t been shy of posting those photos or bikini photos of herself online.
She says when she was nominated as a PC candidate the party knew all of this but says just before the writ dropped she was approached and asked to remove some of her photos.
“I was really really angry,” said Crnogorac. “This is why strong women don’t go into politics because someone always finds a way to drag you through it and it’s just not appealing.”
Crnogorac was ultimately kicked out of the PC party as a candidate after tweets deemed racist surfaced but she maintains there’s a double standard for women in politics versus men.
“The leader of a party can do something illegal and have two DUIs and still be the leader of the party,” she said, referring to Iain Rankin’s recent admission to past impaired driving charges.
“Why do we have to have this picture-perfect female versus the men who can do whatever they want and still be a politician?” she asks.
–With files from The Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Politics: The Minders and Mandarins of Capitalism – The Wall Street Journal
James R. Otteson’s “Seven Deadly Economic Sins” (Cambridge, 305 pages, $27.95) is a fine effort to introduce readers to the basic principles of market economics. The hamartiological framing—the “sins” are bad assumptions about how markets work—is part of the author’s effort to make the subject more engaging than a typical treatise on economics. It works. Mr. Otteson, a professor of business ethics at Notre Dame, writes with an apt combination of casual wit and rigorous logic.
I only regret that the book had to be written at all. There was a time in this country’s history—if the reader will allow a bit of declinist gloom—when America’s political class understood by instinct that wealth in a market economy comes about by voluntary exchanges in which all parties benefit. We do not live in such a time. About half of this country’s high-level elected officials appear to believe that some Americans have money because they took it from other Americans (the rich got rich “on the backs of workers” is a common trope). And so it is left to scholars such as Mr. Otteson to spell out the difference between zero-sum and positive-sum economic relationships.
A transaction based on extraction or theft is zero-sum (1 – 1 = 0). A transaction based on a mutual exchange is positive-sum (1 + 1 = 2). Wealth in most societies before about 1800, he reminds us, was based on the former model; wealth in market economies is based on the latter. What we need is someone able to explain to our well-intentioned politicos that the wealth they want to reallocate came about from mutually beneficial positive-sum transactions and not from zero-sum extraction. The way to diminish poverty and aid the disadvantaged is therefore not to punish positive-sum exchanges by taxation, but to allow more of them.
Other chapters in the book treat the “Good Is Good Enough Fallacy,” or the idea that every beneficial end is worth pursuing by all available means; the “Progress Is Inevitable Fallacy,” or the idea that a certain level of prosperity is guaranteed no matter what we do; and the “Great Mind Fallacy,” or the idea “that there is some person or group that possesses the relevant knowledge to know how others should allocate their scarce time or treasure.”
This latter point isn’t new—you can read the gist of it in Friedrich Hayek’s essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society” (1945) or Thomas Sowell’s book “Knowledge and Decisions” (1980)—but Mr. Otteson helpfully elucidates it in terms of individual experience. The experts may know that high-sugar carbonated drinks are on balance bad for your health, but they cannot know if you, in your circumstances, should or shouldn’t have a Coke. Most people would agree with that observation, but it is remarkable how many government policies are premised on its antithesis. City bans on unhealthy habits, state subsidies for favored industries, tax breaks meant to encourage virtuous behavior—these and a thousand other state-backed strategems assume the authorities and their experts understand immeasurably complex circumstances that they can’t possibly understand. But the alternative—allowing the people who do understand them to make their own decisions, even if they’re wrong—isn’t so satisfying to our governmental minders.
“The Power of Creative Destruction” (Belknap/Harvard, 389 pages, $35), translated by Jodie Cohen-Tanugi, is a full expression of the Great Mind outlook. Not that the authors—Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel, all associated with the Collège de France—are socialists or militant redistributionists. They are mandarins. They recognize that you can’t pay for the modern welfare state or enjoy high levels of prosperity without robust economic growth. But capitalism, in their view, is constantly menacing itself and requires the aid of sage policy makers to prevent its collapse.
The authors are heavily influenced by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter. In “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” (1942), Schumpeter contended that capitalism was doomed by its own logic. The capitalist system depends on a constant succession of entrepreneurs dislodging established firms—a process he called “creative destruction.” But eventually, he saw, yesterday’s innovators become today’s monopolists and learn to use the levers of power to prevent further innovation. Growth diminishes; a dissatisfied public demands welfare-state protections and restrictions on entrepreneurial activity; and capitalism, deprived of growth, slowly transmutes into socialism.
Clearly some parts of that analysis are valid, although Schumpeter was mistaken, in my view, to think of capitalism as a “structure” that can’t adapt to the demands placed on it by an intermittently irrational public. Mr. Aghion, Ms. Antonin and Mr. Bunel share Schumpeter’s overdefined understanding of capitalism. “Capitalism must reward innovation,” they write, “but it must be regulated to prevent innovation rents”—rents meaning profits accruing to incumbent firms—“from stifling competition and thus jeopardizing future innovation.”
And what sort of regulations do they think will encourage innovation, foster competition and save capitalism from itself? You may have guessed already. Industrial policy: tariffs and other protections, subsidies to viable industries and firms, “investments” in R&D and higher education, and so on. What capitalism needs, if I may put their argument in my own words, is more public officials ready to heed the advice of centrist academic economists.
The book is rife with charts and graphs, and the authors cite a bewildering array of highly specialized studies. Much of this technical argumentation strikes me as overdone. I appreciate, for instance, the conclusion that lobbying and barriers to entry are likelier than innovation and competition to aggravate inequality. But people who think markets worsen inequality are committed to an unfalsifiable ideology and won’t be moved by any combination of graph-packed quantitative studies.
Love and death in a utopian community, the remorseless business of slavery, a passion for peacocks, updating Sir Gawain and more.
“The Power of Creative Destruction” is an impressive book in its way, but the authors don’t acknowledge the—to me—obvious objection. Once you afford governmental bodies the power to manage the economy, you also give established firms the tools with which to insulate themselves from competition. Wouldn’t it be easier and more effective to deprive incumbent firms of any special privileges and let them figure out how to survive? Then again, if we did that, we wouldn’t need so many mandarins.
Book review: Border politics serve up racism, human exploitation – Vancouver Sun
Border & Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism
Harsha Walia | Fernwood Publishing (Halifax and Winnipeg, 2021)
$27 | 320pp
Borders are far more than lines on paper.
As local organizer, activist and scholar, Harsh Walia demonstrates in her passionately felt, deeply researched and closely reasoned new book, Border and Rule, that borders can serve as lethally intricate mechanisms of imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism and class exploitation.
They work to divide workers and undermine international solidarity, while inscribing cartographies of privilege and oppression on the long-suffering face of the Earth.
And yet in mainstream discussions, borders are only questioned when heart-rending images of migrant children huddling miserably in U.S. border holding pens or drowned on the shores of the Mediterranean inspire brief and self-congratulatory spasms of outrage and pity among comfortable observers on the “right” side of the borders.
Walia, who has spent much of her adult life doing the hard work of organizing solidarity activity and saving lives of those threatened with deportation back to the dangers they are fleeing, is understandably dismissive of such liberal responses. She points out that centuries of imperial conquest, colonial occupation and gendered, racist segmentation of the workforce have set the stage for the current global crisis, which saw over 80 millions of our sisters and brothers driven forcibly from their homes last year, according to the United Nations, while hundreds of millions more have been forced to migrate by climate disasters, poverty and famine. Such disasters are, Walia persuasively argues, not so much “natural” as created by economic and social relations (aka predatory and racialized capitalism and a world order designed to serve the needs of the rich over the needs of the rest of us).
Walia’s analysis is dense and complex, and her language occasionally overburdened with abstraction. But even where her thought is difficult, it is always worth the time it takes to grasp.
This is a remarkable book that reflects a lifetime of activism and reflection on the author’s part — Walia has been in the news lately, resigning as executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association after a controversial social media post on arson committed at several Catholic churches. Still, this book is rich with learnings for us all.
Her core argument, that “a political and economic system that treats land as a commodity, Indigenous people as overburden, race as a principle of social organization, women’s caretaking as worthless, workers as exploitable, climate refugees as expendable and the entire planet as a sacrifice zone must be dismantled,” will challenge and inspire readers.
Tom Sandborn crossed a border to live in Vancouver in 1967. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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