John Boehner makes his move for diversity

After people noticed that all the House committee chairs were chairmen, John Boehner announced the appointment of Candice Miller to head the House Committee on Administration.  Miller is a white woman which does nothing for racial or ethnic diversity, but does give them a token woman in a leadership position.

Politico reports

It’s a consolation prize of sorts for Miller, who lost to Rep. Mike McCaul  (R-Texas) in a three-way race for the Homeland Security chairmanship. In that race, Miller told  POLITICO she was making the pitch that she was “tough enough” to chair the panel  charged with overseeing the nation’s vast homeland security infrastructure.

According to the Committee website, the committee is responsible for a mix of duties ranging from housekeeping (overseeing the dining room) and important (overseeing elections).

Now in its 60th year of existence, CHA’s two principal functions include oversight of federal elections and day-to-day operations in the House.

CHA also exerts great influence on the internal procedures and priorities of the daily operations of the institution. In its first three decades, the committee’s influence grew as it attained the power to fix the level of allowances available to Members, to oversee House officers, to implement new services for Member offices, and to set human resources and management policies for staff and service personnel on the House side of Capitol Hill. CHA has a hand in a number of house-keeping duties outlined in House Rule X. These responsibilities range from disbursing appropriations for committee staff and member staff salaries to handling parking assignments, restaurant services, and the issuance of identification badges. The committee also administers travel allowances for Members, assigns office space, and compiles and publishes information related to campaign financial disclosures. CHA must approve the acceptance or purchase of works of art for the Capitol. Additionally, the committee has oversight of the Library of Congress, the House Library, the Botanic Gardens, and the Smithsonian Institution.

In more recent years the committee has focused on technology updates. Since 1971, with the introduction of House Information Systems, later named House Information Resources (HIR), the committee has introduced technological innovation to the institution. HIR became the primary computer support service for Members and committees. In the 1990s, CHA facilitated development of the House e-mail system and the availability of Internet access, and authorized software and networking upgrades to provide better electronic links between Members’ Washington, D.C., offices and their district offices. In the late 1990s, CHA took a lead role in developing THOMAS, a Library of Congress Web site that provides public access to the Congressional Record, committee reports, roll call votes, and information of the status of bills pending before Congress. The committee also was a moving force in developing a House Intranet system, as well as a reliable cellular phone and text-messaging network for Members and staff.

So while the work of the CHA is not necessarily trivial, it is strange that the only woman to chair a House Committee is in a job that bears more than a passing resemblance to what men would call “women’s work.”  Of course, every woman knows that without someone to take on the management of a household, things do not always run smoothly.

Good managing, Representative Miller.

Rep. Candice Miller is pictured. | AP Photo

AP Photograph.

Who is a lame duck?

Senator John Kyl and Representative West are lame ducks.  Scott Brown is a lame duck.  President Obama is not a lame duck.

The second and third definitions in Merriam Webster are relevant here.

2: an elected official or group continuing to hold political office during the period between the election and the inauguration of a successor
3: one whose position or term of office will soon end
Since President Obama is neither of these, it is wrong to call him a lame duck and assume therefore has no power to act.  He won’t reach lame duckness until after the 2016 election.
But we are in the midst of a lame duck session of Congress and we are trusting them to solve our fiscal crisis which they were unable to do the last two years.  Good luck to us all!

Talking full moon

I woke up about 4:30 this morning with the moon shining through my window.  I hadn’t expected to see it as it had been cloudy when I went to bed.  This was an important full moon for several reasons.  First there was a partial penumbral eclipse and second, it was the smallest full moon of the year.

This full moon is called the Beaver moon by some native Americans and is also known as the Frosty moon.  This from the Washington Post

The U.S. Naval Observatory’s Geoff Chester offers the reasoning behind the name: “[The] name comes from Native American skylore reminding trappers to set their final traps for the season before the beaver ponds freeze up for the winter,” Chester writes.

Chester notes this moon is sometimes also referred to as the “Frosty Moon.”

So what is a penumbral eclipse anyway?  EarthSky explains

What can you expect to see during the November 28, 2012 penumbral lunar eclipse?  First, here’s what you will not see.  You won’t see a dark bite taken out of the moon by Earth’s shadow.  And you won’t see the moon turn blood red as during a total eclipse of the moon.  A penumbral eclipse is more subtle than either of these.  At the central part of the eclipse, you’ll see a dusky shading covering about 90% of the moon’s face.  By the way, that brilliant planet near tonight’s moon is the king planet Jupiter. The moon and Jupiter will be even closer together tomorrow night.

So, before you set your alarm clocks, consider yourself forewarned.  A penumbral lunar eclipse is not nearly as stark and obvious as an umbral eclipse of the moon. During an umbral lunar eclipse, the moon passes through the umbra– the Earth’s dark, cone-shaped shadow. During a penumbral eclipse, the moon passes through the light penumbral shadow surrounding the umbra. (See feature diagram at top.) Your best chance of noticing any penumbral shadow on the moon’s surface is at mid-eclipse (greatest eclipse) in a dark sky not obscured by dusk or dawn.

But the eclipse was not visible in Boston so all I saw was the smallest full moon of the year.  This was the smallest and least bright because the moon was at apogee or at the furthest point from the earth.  It might have been the smallest and least bright but it was still enough to wake me up.

This photograph is by Duke Marsh and was posted on EarthSky today.  The little dot at 10 o’clock is Jupiter.

Talking in the Senate

Back in 2010, I wrote about the filibuster in a post called “Puppies, Cats and Filibusters“.  In it I argued for the talking filibuster.  It didn’t seem at the time that there was any real move to do away with it totally, but making someone actually show up and explain why while holding the floor and appearing on C-SPAN seemed reasonable.  It has only taken a few years, but it looks like Harry Reid and a number of Senate democrats are moving toward a similar solution.  I am still waiting, however, for a clear explanation of how exactly the change could be accomplished.

Here is what I understand so far.  It usually takes 67 votes to change Senate rules, but there is a mysterious thing called the “nuclear option” where the rules could be changed with only 51 votes.  We know there are 53 Democratic senators and 2 who will caucus with them at least one of whom (Saunders, VT) should be voting with Reid on this.) So there are probably enough votes if there is some party solidarity.  But how does that “nuclear option” work?  That is the question.

The New York Times had this

Senate Republicans have refused to let scores of bills go forward in recent years, often because Mr. Reid will not allow the party to put amendments on those bills. This practice is deplored by the minority in both chambers, but only in the Senate can bills be stopped through the minority protest. Mr. Reid would like to limit what procedural motions are subject to filibusters, and to force senators to return to the practice of standing around forever, reading the phone book or what have you, if they choose to filibuster a bill before its final passage.

“If a bare majority can proceed to any bill it chooses,” said Mr. McConnell, deeply angry, “and once on that bill the majority leader all by himself can shut out all the amendments that aren’t to his liking, then those who elected us to advocate for their views will have lost their voices in this legislative process.”

Mr. Reid countered that the filibuster was “not part of the Constitution.”

“It’s something we developed here to help get legislation passed,” he said. “Now it’s being used to stop legislation from passing.”

And Ezra Klein explained McConnell’s objections this way

McConnell is referring to the Democrats’ proposal to change Senate rules with 51 votes rather than 67. But his outrage isn’t particularly convincing. As Senate whip, McConnell was a key player in the GOP’s 2005 effort to change the filibuster rules using — you guessed it — 51 votes. As he said at the time, “This is not the first time a minority of Senators has upset a Senate tradition or practice, and the current Senate majority intends to do what the majority in the Senate has often done–use its constitutional authority under article I, section 5, to reform Senate procedure by a simple majority vote.”

Now, Reid, at the time, was steadfastly opposed to changing the rules with 51 votes. He condemned the idea as “breaking the rules to change the rules.” So McConnell isn’t the Senate’s only inconsistent member on this point. But the fact is that McConnell was right the first time: The reason that Republicans believed they could change the rules with 51 votes in 2005 and Democrats believe they can do the same today is that they can.

So I guess it really is a constitutional not nuclear option to change the rules by a simple majority.  And the changes being proposed are pretty modest.  Basically you could only filibuster final passage of a bill, not bringing it to the floor at all.  The Republicans seem to want to amend bills and I think this is OK, but there has to be acaveat that any amendment must be related to the actual substance of the bill.  Room for some compromise here?

But if you want to know what this is important at all think about all the judges being held up, all the bills that don’t come to the floor of the Senate because someone (and we currently don’t have to know who) decides they want something to come to a vote.

This is from the Washington Post.

In order to overcome a filibuster — when a political party attempts to block or
delay action on a bill — the Senate can invoke a procedure called cloture. Sixty
votes, or three-fifths of the Senate, is required for cloture regardless of
whether all senators are present and voting. If cloture is passed, a time limit
is placed on the debate, ultimately ending the filibuster. Read related article

*The minority party of the 107th Congress changed multiple times. Source: United States Senate. The Washington Post. Published on November 27, 2012, 8:35 p.m.
So we do have a problem here.  The question is whether it can be fixed or if the Senate will continue to be dysfunctional.  I would actually look forward to seeing John McCain or Tom Coburn or some other Republican Senator on C-SPAN holding forth at length explaining opposition to a measure.  Then we could all call our own Senators in either support or opposition.  Could be fun.

Walmart and Labor

I have never shopped in a Walmart store.  I admit I shop in other big box stores that are probably just as bad on a smaller scale.  It is important that we remember that what happens at Walmart will influence what happens at other stores.  The issue was not just working on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, it was about benefits and low wages.  The Nation reported

For about twenty-four hours, Walmart workers, union members and a slew of other activists pulled off the largest-ever US strike against the largest employer in the world. According to organizers, strikes hit a hundred US cities, with hundreds of retail workers walking off the job (last month‘s strikes drew 160). Organizers say they also hit their goal of a thousand total protests, with all but four states holding at least one. In the process, they notched a further escalation against the corporation that’s done more than any other to frustrate the ambitions and undermine the achievements of organized labor in the United States.

Even though many state governments and particularly Republican governors are doing their best to kill unions, workers will still organize.

The Black Friday strike came a year and a half after retail workers announced the founding of the new employee group OUR Walmart, five months after guest workers struck a Walmart seafood supplier and seven weeks after the country’s first-ever coordinated Walmart store strikes. Walmart striker Cindy Murray, a veteran of the last decade’s unsuccessful union-backed campaign against Walmart, said that after the 2008 election, “I was like, we have to do something different.” (Strikes at Walmart certainly qualify.) Murray said OUR Walmart has had greater success because workers saw it “as our organization,” as so they “finally said, maybe we can be saved. Maybe we can speak out.”

Retaliation was an ever-present theme of the day: an outrage that drove some workers to strike, a threat that led many more to stay at work, a focus of workers’ demands, and a question hanging over next week. Allegations of illegal retaliation provided workers greater potential legal protection to strike; puncturing any sense of safety about striking may have been the motivation for Walmart’s Labor Board charge alleging that the strikes were themselves illegal. And Walmart’s tactics over the past week may have taken a toll: organizers said that 100 DC-area Walmart store workers struck this week, but maybe no more than a dozen on Black Friday itself (they chalked this up to workers’ desire to cause more disruption earlier in the week while products were still being unloaded). Paramount, California, striker Maria Elena Jefferson said that some of her co-workers wouldn’t strike because “they think we’ll never win” and “they didn’t want to lose their jobs.” She said she hoped today’s actions–including a rally of well over 1,000 supporters in Paramount–would change their minds.

And there was this tweet posted on the Daily Kos.

Wal-Mart’s poverty wages force employees to rely on $2.66 billion in government help every year, or about $420,000 per store.
@ClintonMath via web

Think about how much better it would be if the workers got a living wage and benefits and paid taxes instead of getting government assistance.

The benefits of Massachusetts wind farms

I’m hoping that with the election over we can get back to talking about energy independence in a way that includes alternate kinds of energy.  This chart which as in the Boston Globe the other day caught my eye.  As you can see,  they do create jobs and tax revenue for the local government.