Saturday, February 6, 2010

Filibuster Fears: Why are the Dems So Afraid?

Filibuster Fears: Why are the Dems So Afraid?


I know I am old. I am old enough to remember real filibusters, not procedural filibusters, and how stupid those filibustering Senators looked to the public. It is not likely that the Senate is going to change its archaic procedures. So be it.

While the filibuster is undemocratic the filibuster is also a grand old tradition within the Senate. It has been used by both sides. We tend to forget that the individual or party filibustering gets a great big gobsmack of stupid laid on him/her/them under the full light of the national media. I have seen that happen even to filibusterers who were holding out for a position I favored. It didn't matter. People don't mind our leaders talking about obstructing action by saying that they have a better solution --- unless they actually do it in plain sight, hour after hour, day after day.

Now, I admit that exposure in the media has not stopped all filibusters. But procedural filibusters get almost no exposure in the media. They are a big yawn to the press. It all takes place under the table. That is because the procedural filibuster which has been in place since 1975 requires that 2/5 of the Senate can simply indicate that they intend to filibuster. They don't even have to vote, or to actually filibuster, or even to say a word.

But what the Democratic leadership never says is that the power to compel a vote remains with the Majority Leader. So why is Reid not using it? Why does he not call for cloture and let the Republicans talk it to death? Bring the obstructionism into the light. Every single time they threaten a procedural filibuster, let them prove they have the votes to prevent cloture, by calling for cloture when they obstruct.

Let the Republicans stand up and defend why they are holding up all legislation and all activity in the Senate, rather than seeking compromise to get important legislation passed. Do the Democrats really not have better reasons that they can argue for passing it?

Do the Democrats really think that it is better to let the Senate pass some minor legislation so it can say it is "doing" something, than it is to bring the obstructionists into the light once and for all? They do not have to expose health care to a big fight. That has already passed the Senate.

Pick some other important legislation that the Republicans are just obstructing out of "principle," however they define that. Pick something that will make them look especially bull headed and narrow minded. That shouldn't be all that hard.

But Reid does not have any testicular fortitude. And so the 60, now 59, person Democratic coalition runs in mortal fear at the threat of a filibuster if it is even whispered by the Republican leadership. Of course, the Republicans don't whisper, they shout and the louder they shout the faster the Democrats run.

Does no one else see the madness in this Democratic "tactic" of running in fear from the minority? Just how does this help Democrats win in the Fall elections? Are Americans supposed to vote for spineless leaders who are not willing to throw the light on the obstructionists in the Senate?

Do the Democrats actually think that they will have no way to defend allowing the Republicans to out themselves as the "Party of NO" that they actually are. That is not just a name. It is the truth.

Now one point that needs to be made, urgently, is that essentially NOTHING is getting done in the Senate anyway given the Republican positioning and it will only stagnate more with 41 members in opposition. There is no sensible reason for the country to continue to see the Democrats as weaklings, spineless in the face of the seeming "Moral Minority."

Finally, considering the botched job both parties are doing in both houses of Congress it might be better for the country if they just did nothing for a while. Someone wrote in our local newspaper today that "We ought to pay Congress to just go home." I think that is the mood of many in this nation right now.

It is time for the Democratic Senate leadership to take on the Republicans, and just let them put their own feet in their own mouths.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Do not covet, Commandment Ten

Originally published in Open Salon, FEBRUARY 2, 2010 3:13PM


The previous essays in this series can be accessed through the links in the left hand column of this page.

As with the other Commandments please remember that they are intended to apply to practicing Jews and Christians. Those who would apply them to others who have not chosen to follow them abuse the original intention of the Commandments. This essay is written from an orthodox Christian perspective.

We come now to the final essay on the Ten Commandments: You Shall Not Covet. In many ways the 10th Commandment is the most difficult for us to deal with because it obviously concerns what goes on inside of us, what no one but God can see; and therefore we might be tempted to think that we violate it because no one will know when we do. Of course, God will know, but we often think that we can take our chances with that.

The 10th Commandment deals with our attitudes, our motives. The actions that may well follow our coveting, that is, actually taking something belonging to someone else, are also prohibited. But this commandment prohibits the INTENTION to take something of another, to even to WANT that something.

In Hebrew the word for covet, hamad (hay-mad), means "desire" or "lust after." In other words, "You shall not DESIRE, or LUST AFTER a neighbor's things."

While this Commandment specifically deals with our interior thoughts, by now you know that I believe that ALL of the Commandments ultimately come down to our motives, even when, technically, they instruct only against what we DO.

That is simply because most of the things we do, both for good and for evil, are done because of our motives. We do them because we WANT to do them. To argue otherwise is to argue that we simply don't know, or can't control, what we are doing. While that can sometimes be true, usually it is a cop out, a convenient excuse, not a reason.

In a song from West Side Story, "Officer Krupky," the delinquents tell him that they should be released because "we are so misunderstood," but the next line, spoken only to themselves out of Krupky's hearing is, "but deep down inside we're no good!"

We may well blame our failures on the system, our parents, our biology, our environment, and a host of other convenient targets, but Christianity ultimately places the responsibility for our doing of good or evil on us. Jesus clearly tells us that we are responsible for our MOTIVES, our intentions, our desires, our lusts; in other words, we are responsible when we COVET!

Here is the Commandment in full.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Clearly it prohibits coveting things that belong to another, to "your neighbor." And the list here deals with property; that is, coveting the property of your neighbor. Yes, I know that the list says "your neighbor's wife." And, to us, that sounds like some sort of sexual prohibition - which it is, but not for the reason you might think.

Clearly, the "you" here that the Commandment originally addressed was male. But this is not primarily a sexually oriented commandment. The Commandment against adultery is more of a sexual prohibition, but it too was originally seen not primarily a sexual violation but rather as violating someone else's PROPERTY.

There was originally an unmistakable double standard at work here, as in several of the other Commandments as we have seen. In that day and age a "wife" was seen as the property of the husband, just like the house, or slaves, or livestock listed in the commandment. Today I hope that we find the idea of a wife as mere chattel, as a "thing" owned by her husband, to be a thoroughly repugnant idea.

There are places in the Bible where the wife is held in higher esteem, and there are places where she is held to be equal to the husband. Jesus clearly treated men and women, husbands and wives, as equals. But not here. This was a blatantly paternalistic society and wives were property.

But, however wives were thought of in that time, the issue that we need to focus on today is that we are not to covet, to desire, what belongs to someone else. And the reason for that, while not stated here, but which comes out in numerous other places in the Bible, is that, to covet, to envy, to want, to desire what another has, is to be dissatisfied with what God has given to you, thereby showing your lack of faith in God's love and provision for you.

And the envy which coveting generates can, and often does, lead to your doing something - if nothing else to your slandering or bad-mouthing - which will hurt your neighbor. And that is clearly inconsistent with God's command that we love one another.

It doesn't take a very big leap to realize that this Commandment is dealing with the very interior motives that precipitate violation of many of the other commandments, that, in turn, lead to violations of God's faith and trust in almost all walks of life. And that is why this commandment may well be the most violated of them all.

To truly obey this commandment we not only have to avoid certain actions which harm others, but we have to avoid even ATTITUDES and DESIRES which might lead us to harm others, attitudes like envy, greed and lust.

Coveting, by its very nature, is a basic source of social disorder and of trouble in inter-personal relationships. It can easily arouse such massive discontent in a person that it can lead to the personal abuse of others and even to crime.

Our modern affluent society is designed to encourage coveting, and is certainly driven economically by it. We are told now that we are in a recession that the nation will fold if we do not consume more and more; and so the ad mavens encourage us to not let our neighbor get ahead of us in the race for the next bigger and better thing. Of course we were also told that when we were not in a recession. And, we have been taught that the more something costs it simply must be better. And we are encouraged to lust after it until we get it.

Now that I own a 27" TV I can hardly imagine how I got by with the 13" and then the 19" that I had before. But seeing a 56" high definition set at a friend's house I realize how puny my 27" is and how much more realistic my sports shows would be if I only had a set like him.

I have a perfectly fine motorcycle, a 2005 Triumph Bonneville. But you should see the new 2010 Bonnevilles with bigger engines, cast wheels, and electronic fuel injection. Wow! Lots of my friends who ride Triumphs are going into debt for those!

The modern American's appetite for more and better - for AT LEAST keeping up with the neighbor - and preferably BESTING him or her in the acquisition wars - is apparently insatiable. We want what she has! We desire what he has! We lust after what she has. And, more and more, we find that we will do whatever it takes to get it! Even if it means going into enormous debt.

I have no idea what will turn off or at least turn down this faucet of lust, of craving, of coveting. But somehow, if we are to be even remotely true to God, we must learn how to distinguish between desiring what is wholesome and good and beneficial and that which feeds an insatiable hunger for more, much more, than we will ever need.

The danger is, it seems to me, all too clear. In our lemming-like run to the cliff of coveting we run the real risk of coming full circle from violating the Tenth and last Commandment to violating the First.

First and foremost our God tells us that we are to have no other god but Him. Yet when we pursue THINGS with far more passion and fervor than we can even conceive of pursuing a relationship with God, then we have certainly substituted the God of coveting and lust for the God of Israel.

I hope that you have found this exploration of the Ten Commandments to be of real benefit to you in your life. I tried very hard to be as clear as possible in showing you that these are not just abstract theological ideas, but that they can an do apply to us in our everyday lives. Hopefully this series has given you an opportunity to reflect on how they apply to you personally.

I also hope that you will remember that we cannot always obey all of the Commandments. If Christianity teaches nothing else it teaches that humans cannot NOT sin. Christianity also teaches that is why Jesus Christ came to us, to save us from ourselves through faith in him. There is an old saying that "confession is good for the soul." And it is. So is forgiveness.

God bless.