Tag Archives: filibuster

The US Senate Decides Guns are More Important than People

18 Apr


Courtesy Marquil at Empirewire.com

Do you think that the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees an unrestricted right to bear arms?

Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee the right of paranoid schizophrenics or clinically diagnosed psychopaths to bear arms?

Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee a toddler’s right to bear arms?

Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee the right of felons to bear arms?

Does the 2nd Amendment guarantee the right to own a tank? A drone? A rocket-propelled grenade launcher?

None of the above are rhetorical questions. I’m absolutely serious. 

Does anything in the Constitution guarantee my right – your right – not to be shot? How about the kids from Sandy Hook or the moviegoers in Aurora?

Do you think that the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution is also absolute and unrestricted in any way? You’d be wrong. There are plenty of government restrictions on speech that have been ruled constitutional. You’re not allowed to incite a riot or libel someone, for instance.

And so it is that, although 90% of Americans support universal background checks for dealer and gun show sales, the United States Senate Wednesday night was unable to defeat a Republican-led filibuster of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment. Drafted by a conservative Republican and a conservative Democrat, the amendment would have implemented background checks to prevent homicidal maniacs and felons from legally obtaining guns.

This new gun control initiative was brought about in response to the Sandy Hook massacre, where 20 little boys and girls were mowed down by a lunatic. One of the biggest efforts was to close the gun show loophole, to make sure that those sales are subject to the same background checks that retail sales undergo. Yesterday on Facebook, people argued to me that implementation of this statute would not have prevented Sandy Hook. But that’s a disingenuous argument – it’s too late for that, and you can’t retroactively prevent anything. I brought up that Australia and the UK implemented stringent gun control in response to their school massacres, and have seen none since. Someone brought up a shooting of 12 in Cumbria that took place in 2010 – the first mass shooting in the UK since the 1996 Dunblane massacre. In the US, we have mass shootings much, much more frequently than that, and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. After Dunblane, the UK effectively banned handguns.

This is what I have to say about your gun and your gun rights.

England and Wales see .7 gun homicides for every 100,000 people. Scotland has no data. Australia has .14 homicides per 100,000 of population. Canada sees .51 homicides per 100,000 people. By contrast, the United States has 3 gun homicides per 100,000 people. That doesn’t count accidental deaths and suicides. The United States has 5% of the world’s population, and close to 50% of the small arms. Access to guns and ammo are not at risk or adversely affected.

From TPM,

The legislation, written by Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), was the centerpiece of gun control efforts in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shootings. It was supposed to be the breakthrough that led to the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. But it only picked up a few senators and hardened the opposition of many. A last-ditch effort by Democrats to win over skeptical senators by offering new concessions fell apart late Tuesday.

About nine out of 10 Americans support universal background checks, according to polls. The failed vote reflects the enduring power of the National Rifle Association, which opposed the bill and threatened to target lawmakers who voted in its favor.

“Today, the misguided Manchin-Toomey-Schumer proposal failed in the U.S. Senate,” the NRA’s top lobbyist Chris Cox said in a statement issued immediately after the vote. “As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools.”

Centrist senators who were courted eventually revealed their opposition to the proposal this week, making it all but clear by Wednesday that it lacked the votes to pass. Opponents voiced gripes ranging from an alleged infringement on Second Amendment rights to the more far-reaching — and inaccurate — claim that the legislation would set up a national gun registry.

So, the NRA defeated the will of 90% of the people, and prevented a vote from being held on the amendment. The United States congress cannot pass a law without 60% of the Senate, and that’s not how our system is supposed to work. Of course, in 1999 – after Columbine – the NRA supported universal background checks. What’s changed? Why must 90% of America succumb to the will of a small lobby representing a small number of people?

A lunatic shoots up a school, and the Senate filibusters a reasonable and constitutional gun control bill drafted by two conservatives.

I think that former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords said it best,

Moments ago, the U.S. Senate decided to do the unthinkable about gun violence — nothing at all. Over two years ago, when I was shot point-blank in the head, the U.S. Senate chose to do nothing. Four months ago, 20 first-graders lost their lives in a brutal attack on their school, and the U.S. Senate chose to do nothing. It’s clear to me that if members of the U.S. Senate refuse to change the laws to reduce gun violence, then we need to change the members of the U.S. Senate.


The Morning Grumpy – 6/8/12

8 Jun

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

Hey, what’s up, lame pun raccoon? Got a good one for us?

1. This Saturday, June 9th, come to Riverside to participate in the 3rd Annual Ride Along the Waterfront at Black Rock Canal Park.  This year’s event includes the popular 3 mile kayak/canoe paddle, 14 mile non-competitive bike ride, and a wellness fair.  New this year, Petworks will be on hand with their agility dogs and Buster Bison will be in appearance to entertain the kids.

Ride Along the Waterfront begins at 9:00am with the kayak/canoe paddle from the boat launch at Black Rock Canal Park to the foot of Sheridan Drive and back along the curve of the Niagara River.  The bike ride begins at 11:00am and will include a “poker run” and the best hands will win prizes.  The bike ride follows the Riverwalk from Black Rock Canal Park to Lasalle Park and back.  The wellness fair will take place from 9:00 – 1:00, so stop by at any time before, during, or after any of the events.

Those interested in participating can do so for both events, an individual event, or can just stop by and check out the wellness fair.  Ride Along the Waterfront is a free event, open to all.  Participants can register day of the event.

Ride Along the Waterfront is a yearly event based out of Black Rock Canal Park.  It exists to encourage Buffalonians to get out and experience all that our waterfront has to offer and to bring awareness to Black Rock Canal Park and the improvements to the park that will begin later this summer.

2. Dan Rather reports on a new book that claims we no longer operate in a functional democracy.

Today, they say, instead of a Congress created by the people, for the people, we now have a GOP that is so adversarial that there is no room for compromise. This inability to negotiate makes it virtually impossible for new policies and laws to be created, which in turn frustrates many Americans, who ideologically fall in between the two political extremes. In the end, they say, it creates an anti-politician sentiment of “throw the bums out” and provides a toehold for non-politicians to be elected, who then become even more ineffective and obstructive than their predecessors.

The book also points the finger at the press. They say, in order to appear objective and balanced, and to please the corporate bosses and sponsors, news operations are engulfed in attempting to appear unbiased. It’s become a televised see-saw of sorts. One side pitted against the other, going up and down or back and forth, but not really telling the audience what’s actually going on.

When government in our republic morphs from one of ongoing legislative compromise to Democrats negotiating with ideological terrorists, progress comes to a halt.  Historic use of the filibuster, daily threats of filibuster, refusal of the minority to allow cloture votes in the Senate, and levels of legislative obstructionism not seen since the Civil War have led us to the point where gridlock just cannot be overcome and brinksmanship is now valued over governance. GOP 2012!

3. Yesterday, Buffalo Rising posted an article from a guy who is looking to “crowdsource” ideas for a better Buffalo using a Google document.

Quite often we read blog posts and their associated comment sections about how Buffalo could be a better place if (insert logical to fantastical remark). There are so many ideas out there, but the common problem I see is that there isn’t a place to truly share it with the community.
With this in mind, a question arose. Why not ask people for all of their ideas, and categorize them?
The question asked is simply, “How can Buffalo be a more livable city for its residents, workers, and visitors?”
Actually, the question is, “who is this guy and what credibility does he have?” I’m sure the author is well-intentioned, earnest, and just trying out a concept. But, to me, this kind of effort is a major problem with Buffalo.
We have hundreds of (mostly non-profit) organizations in the city working to “make Buffalo a better place”. They also compete with each other for attention and funding. We even have dozens of organizations working on answering this guy’s very specific question of how to make Buffalo a more livable place.
We also have thousands of people who are independently trying to solve problems by creating “”one-stop shop” websites, forums, and networks for these various organizations to collaborate. The weird “we’ve got to get everyone to collaborate” sub-genre of community activism is particularly tiresome to me.  Why? Because I’m usually asked to participate in those efforts due to my history of working with lots of different groups on community projects.
A better idea would be for this guy to approach one of the already established organizations in town, join, and work with them on their projects. Once ingratiated into the group, he can propose the organization work on his idea. The best kind of leaders know how to follow. Buffalo is filled with people who are dissatisfied with the pace of progress and want to start their own thing. Don’t. Unless you have some revolutionary concept (doubtful), join something and make it better.

4. Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons had another of their long-form email conversations and posted the product to Grantland. In it, there was one nugget of commentary that really stuck out, the absurdity of sports coverage in America.

Do we really need 25 people crammed in baseball locker rooms fighting for the same mundane quotes? What’s our game plan for the fact that — thanks to the Internet and 24-hour sports stations — a city like Boston suddenly has four times as many sports media members as it once had? Why are we covering teams the same way we covered them in 1981, just with more people and better equipment? If I could watch any Celtics game and press conference from my house (already possible), and there was a handpicked pool of reporters (maybe three per game, with the people changing every game) responsible for pooling pregame/postgame quotes and mailing them out immediately, could I write the same story (or pretty close)? If we reduced the locker room clutter, would players relax a little more? Would their quotes improve? Would they trust the media more? Why haven’t we experimented at all? Any “improvements” in our access have been forgettable. Seriously, what pearls of wisdom are we expecting from NBA coaches during those ridiculous in-game interviews, or from athletes sitting on a podium with dozens of media members firing monotone questions at them? It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet of forgettable quotes, like the $7.99 prime rib extravaganzas at a Vegas casino or something. There’s Russell Westbrook at the podium for $7.99! Feast away! We laugh every time Gregg Popovich curmudgeonly swats Craig Sager away with four-word answers, but really, he’s performing a public service. He’s one of the few people in sports who has the balls to say, “This couldn’t be a dumber relationship right now.”

Bringing this down to a local level, there are dozens of bloggers writing about their immediate reactions to sporting events, providing mildly informed game analysis, and covering the Sabres and Bills with a breathless anticipation unseen since PANDAWATCH.

Certainly, there are fan blogs where people post their thoughts to generate discussion with like-minded friends, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m referring to amateur sports blogs that feature regular content, publishing schedules, and dedicated features about our local teams. I’m not sure what they’re all trying to accomplish. Is there some kind of coverage these people aren’t getting from established beat reporters and experienced analysts? What am I learning from Die By The Blade, BuffaloWins, or Two In The Box that I’m not already getting from seasoned professionals with access like Paul Hamilton and Mike Harrington? What fresh opinions am I not getting from the likes of Jeremy White, Mike Schopp or Chris Parker that would force me to look elsewhere? When do we reach a saturation point with “sports takes”?

As I get older, I find our obsession with sports to be a harmful distraction from the serious issues in our lives, especially when people take it so fucking seriously. This 24/7 sports coverage from establishment outlets, blogs, gossip sites, Twitter, and Facebook has created a local and national media crucible in which we ask our athletes to operate. They handle it poorly (because they’re usually meatheads) and we slam them for it. I just don’t get it.

Proceed with your allegations of hypocritical irony as I’m a news blogger. However, I think there’s nuance here and we can hash it out in the comments if you so desire.

5. Speaking of Gladwell, he claimed in a recent interview that in fifty years, the world will have forgotten Steve Jobs, but will honor the legacy of his contemporary, Bill Gates.

Still, Gladwell is fascinated that today we seem to revere certain corporate figures. He describes them as “our new prophets.” Yet, for him, these great business people are, in essence slightly inhuman. They shutter any humanity they might have in favor of the pursuit of profit.

Something, though, happened to Gates. “(He) is the most ruthless capitalist, and then he wakes up one morning and he says, ‘enough.’ And he steps down, he takes his money, he takes it off the table,” said Gladwell.

“There’s a reasonable shot that, because of his money, we will cure malaria,” he added.

He contrasted this with his now well-known view of Steve Jobs as a tinkerer, rather than a great creator. “Every idea he had came from somebody else — and, by the way, he would be the first to say this,” he said. (The second, surely.) “He was quite happy ripping people off,” is Gladwell’s view.

He went on to call Jobs “shameless” and “a self-promoter on a level that we have rarely seen.”

This reminded me of something Anil Dash once wrote about how Bill Gates performed the greatest tech hack ever.

Bill Gates has pulled off one of the greatest hacks in technology and business history, by turning Microsoft’s success into a force for social responsibility. Imagine imposing a tax on every corporation in the developed world, collecting $100 per white-collar worker per year, and then directing one third of the proceeds to curing AIDS and malaria. That, effectively, is what Bill Gates has done.

For more information about the incredible impact Bill Gates is having on our world, click here for an awesome infographic.

Fact Of The Day: On June 9th, 1978, After 148 years, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints finally allowed black men to become priests.

Quote Of The Day: “We are not a household. We are an economy. Your spending is my income, and my spending is your income.” – Paul Krugman

Video Of The Day: “Garden Of Your Mind” – Mister Rogers remixed by Symphony of Science

Song Of The Day: “Old Habits Die Hard” – Mick Jagger

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

Occupy the Senate

17 Apr

Had the Occupy movement not captured headlines, and had its messages not engendered sympathy from a middle class that has been systematically harmed by the axis of money and politics, then it’s possible that the Buffett Rule – a change to the tax code that would ensure that millionaires whose income comes largely from investments pay taxes on that money at a rate similar to that earned on other income, like business profits or regular wages. It’s named after Warren Buffett, the billionaire whose income comes largely from his myriad investments, who lamented that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he. 

Last night, the Senate took up this change to the law, and it never made it to a vote. A single Democrat voted to block it, and a single Republican voted to bring it to the floor.  The Republicans filibustered, and the Democrats didn’t have the 60 votes needed to pass this legislation. (It’s high time to abolish the Senate filibuster, because the Constitution has been systematically circumvented – by both sides – to require that every legislation receive a supermajority for passage. This is unconscionable.) Without the threat of filibuster, the Buffett Rule would have passed the Senate 51 – 45. 

The bill would impose a minimum 30% effective federal tax rate on those with adjusted gross incomes above $1 million, although it phases in for those making between $1 million and $2 million.

Taxpayers subject to the Buffett Rule would still get a break for charitable deductions and could count both the income and payroll taxes they paid when calculating what they would owe

There’s nothing about that plan that should make Republicans reject it. Frankly, it makes sure that the wealthiest Americans don’t avoid paying taxes through an impossibly large, byzantine system that is specifically geared to lend loopholes to those who can afford them. 

The Buffett rule isn’t even controversial

It’s supported by 72% of Americans; of those, 53% of Republicans back it, and 70% of independents do, too. Unfortunately, it’s supported by only 2% of Senate Republicans; it’s only controversial among those whom the 1% have paid to oppose it. 

Americans don’t think the rich should get special breaks that regular folks don’t get, yet the Republicans in congress have made class warfare – by the rich against everybody else – a platform plank, and they’re shouting “socialist” at anyone who points it out. Problem is, it’s not working, and they’ve just selected someone who directly benefits from the failure of the Buffett Rule to be their nominee. 

This should be fun. 


1 Mar

When the minority opposition party’s raison d’être, as expressed by its leader Comte Limbaugh de Palme-Ouest, is to see the President fail, you get this: a record number of threatened filibusters and cloture votes. 112 last year. Over 40 already in just the first two months of 2010.

Luckily, reconciliation on budget bills is an equally valid Senate procedural tactic and lets them get it done with 51. After all, that’s what the Republicans did when George W. Bush was president and they needed to push through massive deficit-expanding tax cuts.

Either way, the Democrats should make the Republicans make good on their threat to filibuster health insurance reform. Make them talk, just like then-Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond talked for over 24 hours in his effort to prevent African-Americans from being guaranteed a right to vote.