Another Pillar Falls – the Senate

United States Constitution Page 1 (Wikipedia)

There are times when I think that perhaps I am witnessing the end of the American epoch. Riding to victory on the shoulders of our country’s white, less educated, males (Pew Research), Trump has ushered in a typhoon of chaos that is wiping away the weakened vestiges of the pillars of our forefathers’ democratic experiment. In my lifetime, the groups that once defined the fringe of each political party has become “the base”. And the base of the two parties has moved increasingly further apart (The Rise of Partisanship).

Although our current president has usurped the adage, “America First”, he apparently means for ‘America’ only to apply to those who would serve to further his political power and the value of his business. This hyper-partisan approach to governing is the natural evolution of the changes in our political landscape.

Last week, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate. Let’s look at how that came to pass as a case study in the current state of U.S. government. Senate rules state that Senators can speak on a pending decision for as long as they wish. It requires a three-fifths vote of the Senate in order to bring that debate to a close. Using that right in order to obstruct progress toward a vote, is what is known as a ‘filibuster’. Like many of our traditions, including the electoral college, these rules were designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority. The requirement for 60 votes meant that members of the majority party were under pressure to garner support from the minority party before a bill would be federal law or a candidate would become a federal judge or ambassador. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate, with its longer terms, was to be less partisan and to give greater weight to the good of the country than the Senator would give to her own state’s constituency. The greater number and more frequent elections of the Representatives was designed for each of them to give greater care to the interests of their relatively tiny districts. No one was to be forgotten or lack representation, but in the end the nation’s greater good was to outweigh the interests of any individual or tiny district.

The Constitution is wise and beautiful in this regard. The realization of its promise has never been complete and the degree of realization has been more or less substantial in different periods of history. I have to wonder if its fabric has been stressed to this extent at at any time since the end of the Civil War.

How did a highly qualified nonpartisan judge, come to be the breaking point for the Senate’s rule designed to encourage the Senators to reach across the aisle? Was it Chuck Shumer’s abuse of the filibuster? Was it the Mitch McConnell’s refusal to work with colleagues across the aisle?

There can be some debate about what constitutes a filibuster. Just because a Senator talks, it doesn’t mean that they are trying to delay a vote. One suggested metric is that a filibuster is defined as talking long enough that there is a motion for cloture. From 1967 until now the Congressional Research Service noted 86 motions for cloture on debate about judicial nominees. 50 of those 86 occurred before Obama. Another way to look at this is that there were 36 justices before Obama who were subjected to filibuster. If you do the math, that means that some of them had votes for cloture more than once. During Obama’s term, the exact same number of nominees, 36,  were filibustered.

At this point it becomes clear that, under President Obama, Senate Republicans used the filibuster at a feverish pace. Perhaps they appropriated the strategy from Shumer who had used the filibuster against President Bush’s nominees. In 2013, Shumer became so fed up with Republican filibusters of judicial nominations that he changed the rule with regard to non-SCOTUS judicial nominations so that the motion for cloture would only require a simple majority. It should also be noted that the Republican-led Senate refused to even hold hearings for President Obama’s last nominee for SCOTUS. Arguably, this was the greatest dereliction of the Senate’s constitutional duties. Article II, Section 2 states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court”.

As partisanship in America worsened, the filibuster became more common. Before 1967, there was no record of one having occurred. As beautiful as our constitution may be it does not appear to have been composed with the possibility that those governing would be so polarized that they would abrogate the role of the Senate to be a voice of nonpartisan considered advice and consent of the President’s judicial nominees. But McConnell and Shumer have managed to drag that once proud institution to this historic low point to appease their respective, and polar opposite, fringe party “bases”.

One hopes that our electorate will awaken and realize that the American political process, based on the wisdom of our constitution, is not a reality TV show. It is not a wrestling match in which our little group struggles to wrest what we want out of the hands of our fellow countrymen for personal gain. It is the process by which a balance should be struck between the will of the many and the rights of the few.

America will never be great as long as we insist on excluding those with a different view from our definition of America. I have a dream that we will again see a day where cooperation across the party aisle is not equated with collaborating with the enemy.

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Those Who Cannot Remember

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~ George Santayana

Have we so quickly forgotten the mistakes of our past that we now wish to return to our old ways of bigotry and hatred and call them “great”? This recidivist tendency must be resisted. Ava DuVernay communicates this lesson in a visceral way.

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followshows improvements

There are a lot of shows on TV these days. It has reached the point that we need a way of keeping track of which was the last episode we watched of each TV show we follow. I previously wrote about followshows.com, but they’ve made a significant improvement since then.

The first feature I didn’t cover in the previous post is that when you hover the mouse over an episode that has already aired, links to different services appear. Simply click on that link and you will go to the service and the specific episode you wanted. This is a huge time saver. When you’re done, go back to followshows, hover over the episode, and click the button to mark it as watched.

That’s cool, but what you can do with the followshows app is awesome. In the menu, go to Tracker. At the top of the queue is the episode you probably want to watch next. Touch that episode or scroll to the one you are in the mood for and touch it. Again the buttons appear. Touch a button, for example the ‘Free’ beside CBS. It will take you to that app and open it to the specific episode you want to watch. Tap the Cast button (usually in the upper right corner) to cast the show to your Chromecast and now you’re streaming that episode to the TV. When you’re done, go back to followshows and mark the episode as watched. This is revolutionary for cord cutters. You’re welcome.


Acknowledgements
To sign up for this free service go to followshows.com

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Back to the Island

Different people recharge in different ways, of course. My wife loves to acquire old furniture and turn it into something special. I like to take pictures and strum my guitar. This Sunday I went for a walk on the beach and shot some video of the seagulls as they fished in the shallows. When they saw that a wave was going to break before it got to them they would flutter just above the wave and settle back down to resume fishing like it was no big deal. I also took some still images. As I started to piece the video and pictures together into a video I wondered what would make a nice background song. I’ve always been a fan of Jimmy Buffett’s “Back to the Island” and that song came to mind.

I had such fun last weekend learning a song that I decided to take a few hours to learn “Back to the Island” and record it. Then I added it to the soundtrack. Jimmy’s job is surely safe from any competition from me, but I found the whole project to be so satisfying. I hope you enjoy the video imagery. Remember, that if you need to you can always mute the sound!

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I Learned a New Song

I didn’t really set out for this to be my weekend project. I was looking for a place to put my hymnal and casually thumbed through it. I noticed a signature with one sharp and knew that the key of G was one I could play. So, I counted out the 1 (G), 4 (C), and 5 (D/D7) chords and thought I would give it a go. I muddled around for a bit with some success but I’m getting old and was having trouble remembering from one verse to the next what I had figured out playing through the previous time.

So, I used the Office Lens app on my phone to take a picture of the song in the hymnal (Revive Us Again) which I then imported into OneDrive as a PDF. Then I opened the PDF on my iMac in the Preview app and simply annotated it with the chords as I worked them out. Looking back, I should probably have made the first two D chords D7 chords since they had the F# in the alto line.

marked up hymnal page

Next, I went to my Casio WK6500 keyboard and tapped out the beat. By holding down the Fn key while tapping the beat on the down Tempo key, I could read the beats per minute on the display, 94 bpm. (If you don’t have a keyboard, you can do the same thing in GarageBand.) The hymn is in 3/4 time so I then went through all the rhythms on the keyboard that are in 3/4 time and picked the one I liked best with this song (Pasillo).

As I continued more deeply down the rabbit hole (remember this all started with casually thumbing through the hymnal), I decided to import the rhythm from the keyboard into GarageBand on my iMac by playing into my Blue Snowflake microphone. I know I would have been better off to play this directly into my iPad GarageBand app and then import it, but I was just a tad bit lazy here.

Next, I made a rhythm guitar track by strumming through the newly discovered chords. Sadly, I am rhythmically challenged so getting the beat to sync up with the beat from the keyboard took quite a while. But when it was done, it created a nice bedrock on which to build the other tracks.

I then went through and played first the melody and then the alto parts on my guitar for the next two tracks. To wrap up the instrumental part, I even added a very low key bass line, mostly just marking the chord changes.

Finally, I added my vocals as both lead and alto. A wee bit of volume adjustments on the tracks got me to a point where listening wasn’t too terribly painful. Finally, I added GarageBand’s pitch correction to the lead vocal. It turned out that some pretty savage correction was needed there before the mix started to sound fairly pleasant.

When all was said and done, I had worked from never having played that song to a seven track mix that wasn’t quite the most awful version of Revive Us Again that has ever been heard. (Okay, maybe it is the worst, but . . .) All-in-all, it was a very satisfying learning experience.

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