Search This Blog

Friday, January 25, 2013

Political challenges to the status quo

Two issues I have in previous semesters used as examples of policies that deserved scrutiny are now being scrutinized. One apparently won't be changed, the other may be with a peculiar twist. First, I have long advocated for my classes' consideration that the Senate's 60 vote threshhold on stifling debate should be reviewed. It has resulted for a couple of generations in a requirement that the party controlling the Senate had to have a supermajority of 60+% in order to pass legislation. This has inappropriately empowered minority parties to oppose legislation much more easily than their minority numbers warranted. I have advocated reducing the 60 vote mark down to 55. In recent discussions some have even suggested taking it down to a mere majority 51. Such a change is NOT going to occur, apparently. The Senate's opportunity to change their rules (not a constitutionally protected procedure, but simply a Senate operating rule) is at the beginning of a new session of Congress following an election. The Senate, under the control of Democrats and Harry Reid, has opted not to change the 60 vote level. They apparently are making some minor changes to Senate procedures relative to filibusters, but not the vote level for halting one. Until he explains otherwise, one has to assume Reid was thinking ahead to the possibility of the shoe being on the other foot and the Dems preferring to have access to blocking bills with 40+ of their own votes. Whatever the rationalization, it merely continues Congressional gridlock for at least two more years. The second change involves states decisions to use or not use the "Unit Rule" on presidential elections. States are not required to give all their Electoral College votes to the plurality winner of the presidential elections. But 48 of them do so. There are other ways to more fairly make a state's Electoral vote reflect the balance of the political will of all competitors. That is, instead of receiving all the Electoral votes for a 51% to 49% vote result, the state could apportion its Electoral votes to more closely reflect the close election vote. Two states (Nebraska and Maine) assign their Electoral votes by Congressional district rather than statewide. They give the two Senate votes to the overall statewide winner, but allow a Congressional district to cast a vote for the winner of that district regardless of the statewide result. Such an approach, if all states adopted it, would make the Electoral College vote mirror the popular vote more closely. It well might have produced a different result in the 2000 election when Gore polled more votes than Bush. However, large states don't seem interested in giving up their "power" that flows from the current method of giving all their votes to the winner. Nevertheless, in recent days some of the historic "blue" states that have narrowed in recent elections are now contemplating such a change. They do so because the Republicans currently control those state legislaures while the Democrats have managed narrow victories in the presidential popular vote. So, Wisconsin and Michigan and perhaps some other "rust belt" states are talking about switching to proportional voting. But as long as Texas, California and New York stay with "winner take all" there likely will not be a groundswell of support for a change. It'll be fun to watch, though.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Les Miserables - Part Deux

I drafted this earlier but it apparently disappeared before I actually posted it. So, here goes again: I really enjoyed the movie! It surpassed even my expectations from the preview trailers I'd seen in the movie house and far surpassed the brief clips on TV. I had been anxious due to a couple of lukewarm reviews I'd read. My conclusion is that the reviewers were all wet. They must be "purists" as to how musicals are to be done for the "big screen". Their faults with the movie lay in the way the director had done the singing. Instead of laying down a soundtrack in the studio and having the actors lip sync for the movie, the singing was done live on screen. It was more like a video recording of a live stage play. But that which the critics panned, I preferred. I thought the singing was most appropriate. I never expected Russell Crowe to produce operatic quality singing. He was believable, however, and appropriate. The "big chorus" numbers were not overdone. Some critics also objected to the "nosehair" closeups of some of the singers. But they were not belabored or overdone, either. I would suggest to those unfamiliar with the story line that it would be beneficial either to read the book (or "Cliff's Notes") or see a stage production in order to follow what happens better. All in all, though, I'm very glad I got to see this with my two daughters, who cried some, as they always do @ Les Miz.