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.

Are the Obamas the real life Huxtables?

The Cosby show Huxtable family was never the “typical” African American family or really a typical American.  For one thing, they lived in a New York brownstone had a doctor father and lawyer mother (who were happily married to each other), and they had, with five kids, a larger family than most.  The Cosby Show which premiered in 1984 was revolutionary in depicting through a sit-com format, a happy and successful black family.  Yes, it told America, black people are successful and have the same goals and the same problems as other families.  Whether we were like a sit-com family or not, all of us of a certain age secretly wanted to be like the Nelsons or grow up like the Beaver.  Then we had the Huxtables.

I ran across this story in the Guardian this morning wondering if the Obama family were not somehow the real life Huxtables.

Americans have always been fascinated by the lives of first families, much as Brits are with the royal family. The people who live in the White House however, unlike the occupants of Buckingham Palace, are meant to reflect ordinary lives and hopes and dreams. It rarely happens, of course. Nobody would say the Kennedys, the Reagans, the Clintons and the Bushes were normal folks. But many Americans do recognise themselves in the Obamas.

“From the kids with braces and basketball games to the Portuguese water dog and the date nights, the Obamas are right out of central casting as an upper-middle class American family with, of course, the very big exception that they live in the White House,” says Isabel Wilkerson, the first black woman to win a Pulitzer prize for journalism and the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, a book that documents the migration of black Americans across their own country.

“I think they’ve exposed the country and the world to a slice of African-American family life that is larger than many people realise – college-educated people with high ideals for their children. They’re like The Cosby Show come to life. They have endured an intense amount of attention and scrutiny and come out about as normal and quintessentially American as anyone might hope to see.”

I think the Obamas have worked hard to make life in the White House as normal as possible.

…Michelle Obama is the “mom-in-chief” but she expects the president to do his share.

When the children were younger, she has said she would rise early to go to the gym and her husband would feed and dress the girls. The family sits down to dinner at 6.30 most days when he is in Washington, and on Sunday afternoons the president has a standing date to play basketball with his daughters. They try to make their White House quarters as much like a normal home as possible. The girls have to clean their rooms and make their beds, and Malia does her own laundry. There is no TV until homework is finished.

With four more years in the White House, the Obamas are aware that their daughters will spend their formative teenage years in the spotlight. The press corps in Washington has agreed not to routinely write about the girls unless they are with their parents at formal events. Both girls are regularly spotted around town with their friends and they have been allowed rite-of-passage experiences such as attending summer camp – though with secret service agents in tow.

I know the President has joked about the moment his daughters start to date saying he won’t be too worried because they have men with guns with them.

“I think they are the first kids in the White House growing up where everybody’s got a cell phone and everybody’s watching,” Michelle Obama told the women’s website iVillage last month. She has warned her daughters not to be “bratty”. “You may be having a moment but somebody could use that moment and try to define you for ever,” she told them.

So far, it seems the girls are making their parents proud. There was a touching moment on stage last week when 11-year-old Sasha nudged her father several times as he celebrated his win. “Turn around, Daddy!” she said, urging him not to forget the people on the other side of the stage. He duly heeded her advice and the crowd roared its approval.

We Americans should be proud that we have a real family in the White House.  Whether the Obamas are the Huxtables or not, the girls are fun to watch grow up.

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, right, and their daughters Malia and Sasha, left.

The Obama family on November 7.  Photography by Jason Reed/REUTERS

What do you mean the election is over?!

It is mostly over.  There are some Congressional races (most leaning Democratic right now) and Florida, but it is pretty much over.   The question to ask now is are you suffering from Post-Election Stress?  Brian McFadden has helpfully given us a list of the symptoms to watch out for.

 

To this I would add:  Still compulsively checking Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.

If  you are a sufferer, you are not alone.  I’m planning on taking a long walk this weekend and resisting the compulsion I have right now to go turn on UP with Chris Hayes.  (sorry Chris)

The Asian-American vote

It is easy to find stories about the Latino and African American vote which was critical to Democratic success but the Asian American vote was also something the Republican Party may want to consider.

Beyond the election of Japanese American Mazie Hirono (a little ethnic pride here), the first Asian American woman Senator, the Asian American (the Obama campaign called us AAPI for Asian American Pacific Islanders) went overwhelming for the President.

From Politico

While Asians only constituted 2 percent of the national electorate, in some states they made up a considerably higher proportion. In California, for example, they represented 11 percent of the vote.

“With 73 percent of AAPIs [Asian-American and Pacific Islanders] voting for Obama, we are clearly an undeniable and unshakable political power,” said California Democratic Rep. Mike Honda, chairman emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, in an email. “As the fastest growing ethnic community in the country, we are the margin of victory.”

The National Journal reports

President Obama carried 73 percent of the Asian vote on Tuesday, continuing a two-decade-long march of Asian-Americans toward the Democratic Party in presidential politics.

Obama improved his performance among Asian-Americans more than among any other ethnic group between 2008 and 2012, according to exit polling. His support in the community jumped 11 percentage points, from 62 percent in 2008.

The 73 percent support that Obama garnered was the highest since national exit polls began tallying the Asian vote, and it marked the fifth straight presidential election in which the Democratic nominee attracted a greater share of the Asian-American vote.

President Clinton won only 31 percent of the Asian-American vote in 1992. His vice president, Al Gore, was the first Democrat to capture a majority of the community, with 54 percent support when Gore ran for president in 2000.

The Boston Globe had a longer story with some very interesting observations.

State Representative Tackey Chan, a Quincy Democrat, said Obama’s personal biography also appeals to many Asian-American voters.

“He knows what it’s like to have an immigrant parent, to struggle a little,” Chan said. “He spent some time in Indonesia growing up. I think they feel like he’s more likable and more sensitive to issues affecting Asian-Americans.”

In Massachusetts the Asian American vote was helped by Elizabeth Warren’s campaign outreach.

Nam Pham, executive director of the Vietnamese American Initiative for Development in Dorchester, said simple outreach can win votes.

“In our culture, we respect people who show us respect,” Pham said. “If you show people that you care, they will listen.”

Pham’s group helped to register about 300 Vietnamese-Americans for the election on a nonpartisan basis, but Pham said most of them probably voted for Democrats.

“In the Senate race, the [Elizabeth] Warren campaign did an excellent job of visiting and telling people here who they are and why they should vote for her,” Pham said. “[Scott] Brown was almost invisible in the Asian community.”

Scott Brown’s implication that Elizabeth Warren’s success was because she “checked the box” was also offensive.

Brown implied that Warren had advanced in her career as a law professor because she at one point claimed to have Native American ancestry. His suggestion was that she had taken undeserved advantage of affirmative action programs.

The strategy has been blamed for alienating women voters, by insinuating that Warren hadn’t earned her career accomplishments. Chan said the tactic also offended minorities, by diminishing theirs.

“Are you saying minorities only get ahead because they’re minorities?” he said. “It’s saying if you’re a minority, you automatically get a step up.”

But the two big reasons nationally appear to be health care and a shared immigrant experience.  As Lisa Hasegawa (no relation, but I have met her) pointed out

The final result aligned closely with a survey taken on the eve of Election Day by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, which also showed 60 percent support for government-guaranteed access to health insurance, much higher than the overall electorate.

“A lot of Asian-Americans come from places with subsidized health care, where that’s an expectation, and it’s an important issue for them,” said Lisa Hasegawa, the coalition’s executive director.

If you want to know why this all matters nationally, think Virginia.  Specifically, think Northern Virginia where the Asian American population is only growing.  Think margin of victory in a divided country.