Saturday, December 29, 2012

Will the Senate Adopt New Filibuster Rules in 2013?

James Stewart made filibusters famous as Senator 
Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
According to Collins English Dictionary a filibuster is “the process or an instance of obstructing legislation by means of long speeches and other delaying tactics.” The use of filibusters dates back over 2,000 years. It is recorded that a Roman senator named Cato the Younger successfully frustrated Julius Caesar on at least two occasions by engaging in long oratories to delay action until certain deadlines were passed.

Cato had to personally stand before the Roman Senate for hours on end speaking extemporaneously to achieve his goals. Our modern United States Senate  has a long-standing rule that permits  a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn".

What this means, in theory, is that 40 senators can obstruct legislation that has the support of the majority as long as at least one senator is willing to stand before the Senate and speak. Well, it used to mean that! The current practice is to engage in what is called a “silent filibuster” where a few senators merely announce their intention to speak endlessly and if the majority cannot muster the 60 votes needed to end discussion they simply move on to other business rather than insist upon hearing the objections of the minority.

The silent filibuster isn’t the only way to obstruct progress, there is something called an anonymous or secret hold in which a single, unknown senator is able to hold up a nomination or a bill for weeks or months or even longer.  Leaders from both parties have repeatedly pledged to end the practice of secret holds but have not kept their pledges. Secret holds should simply be abolished.

Some senators are calling for changes to these rules, changes that can only be made on the first day of a new session. An effort to “Reform the Filibuster” is being led by Senators Jeff Markey (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) and supported by others including Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

  • Those objecting to legislation should only have one opportunity to filibuster legislation. Specifically, the ability to bring up a bill for simple debate (the motion to proceed) should not be subjected to a filibuster.
  • Those wishing to filibuster legislation must actually hold the floor and be required to actually debate the legislation. It would end "silent" filibusters where one Senator quietly objects and is not required to take the Senate floor.
  • Instead of the burden required to break a filibuster being on the majority to deliver 60 votes, those objecting to the legislation and wishing to filibuster must produce 41 votes to sustain a filibuster.
  • The process for approving nominations should be streamlined, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.

Unfortunately, most senators, both Democrat and Republican, are reluctant to put an end to silent filibusters and secret holds and it is unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will put any substantial rule changes before the body on the first day of the upcoming session.

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) have put forward a watered down “Bipartisan Proposal to Reform Senate Procedures”.  The real purpose of this proposal is to allow senators who do not wish to end the silent filibusters and/or secret holds to tell constituents that they voted for reform when they did not.

I would like to personally encourage my Michigan readers to contact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with the following message:

“We urgently need rule changes to end the silent filibuster and the secret holds. I am writing to encourage you to put the rule changes suggested by Senators Jeff Markey, Tom Udall and others before the United States Senate on the first day of business in 2013. Please do not compromise by putting forward the watered down, bi-partisan proposal being offered by Senators John McCain and Carl Levin.”

You may also wish to contact Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) with the following message:

“We urgently need rule changes to end the silent filibuster and the secret holds. I am writing to encourage you to support the rule changes suggested by Senators Jeff Markey, Tom Udall and others. Please do not compromise by supporting the watered down, bi-partisan proposal being offered by Senators John McCain and Carl Levin.”

Finally, if you feel so inclined, you may wish to contact Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) with the following message:

“We urgently need rule changes to end the silent filibuster and the secret holds. I am writing to express my disappointment with the watered down, bi-partisan proposal being offered by Senator John McCain and yourself. Please reconsider your position and support the rule changes suggested by Senators Jeff Markey, Tom Udall and others.”

Supporters of real reform to fix the senate may wish to like the Reform the Filibuster Facebook page or sign the related petition at More information and another petition can be found at

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Michigan's Lame Duck Had Wings and Flew

Michigan’s so-called lame duck legislature passed a remarkable 232 bills in its last week of business. Only one bill, SB 0116 (2011), the so-called Right to Work Bill, passed on Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday were busy days with 100 and 117 bills respectively passing and Friday was a short day with 14 bills passing before the 2011-2012 legislature adjourned for the last time.

I was standing outside the east wall of the Capitol Building below the House chamber windows chanting “Kill the bill!” when the one unthinkable happened; bill SB 0116 (2011), the so-called Right to Work Bill, passed in the House. The ink was not dry on this bill before Governor Rick Snyder signed it into law.

This bill got so much well-deserved attention that the other 231 bills that made their way to the floor and were passed in the last week of business went largely unnoticed.

Most of the legislation passed would not raise an eyebrow on this list, but it is remarkable for the shear volume of legislation moved in what many people mistakenly believe to be a slow session mostly committed to photo opportunities and farewell parties.

Buried in the tidal wave of bills are a few sharks that should get our attention.

HB 6060 (2012) and HB 6063 (2012) amend election law regarding recalls to 1) include factual accuracy requirement to initial clarity determination for recall petitions, 2) prohibit submission of recall petition language to county election boards in the first and last six months of an officer’s term of office, 3) prohibit the circulation of petitions during the appeal process which could postpone circulation an additional 40 days*, 4) reduced the valid signature collection period from 90 consecutive days to 60 consecutive days, and 5) limit recall initiatives to appearing on the May and November ballots only.

*The county election board must rule on factuality and clarity between 10 and 20 days after submission, the elected offer has 10 days to submit their appeal, and the circuit court has 40 days to rule on the appeal.

From now on, grass roots recalls are officially impossible. The only people who will be able to recall an elected officer are those who can afford to pay a team of attorneys and professional canvassers. In other words, the only people who can hope to successfully recall an elected official are Republicans recalling Democrats.

At least we can still repeal bad legislation! Well, maybe not?

Michigan voters successfully repealed Public Act 4, the Emergency Manager Law, in the November election. But legislatures wasted no time passing SB 0865 (2011) which creates a new act to provide for an emergency manager.

Once it has been determined that a local unit of government is financially distressed, the new Emergency Manager Law allows for four options: a consent agreement, mediation, an emergency manager, or Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Also, the state, not the local unit of government, will pay the salary of the emergency manager and other related costs.

The legislature also passed new laws that repeal commercial and industrial personal property taxes with devastating financial consequences for municipalities, school districts, libraries, and other local taxing units.

Also, new laws were passed that:

  • Require physicians that perform abortions to determine whether or not the patient may have been “coerced”,
  • Liberalize the concealed carry to permit concealed weapons to be carried into places like schools and churches and to make it easier to get a concealed carry permit,
  • and
  • Require village elections to be held at the general November election.

There were proposed laws that somehow failed to pass but need to be mentioned.

Called the Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act, one bill would have allowed health care payers, health facilities, and health providers a right to decline to provide or pay for certain objectionable health care services. This bill passed in the Senate but died in the House Committee on Insurance. A similar House bill that never came out of committee would have allowed objection to placements by child placing agency based on religious or moral convictions.

Identical bills that would have established an Education Achievement Authority as part of the public education system and provided for its powers and duties, and established processes for redeployment of unused public school buildings were introduced in both the Senate and the House were they died in Committee.

These bills will be back next year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Right to Work is wrong for Michigan Rally – the Police

Protecting the Doors and Grounds

I have been to a number of events on the front steps of the Capitol building in Lansing in the last couple of years and the State Police are usually there someplace. I have never felt threatened by there presence and while they don’t usually interact very much with the people, when they do the interaction usually appears to be friendly.

The State Police were at the Capitol in force for this rally. With officers stationed at all of the doors. Troopers in riot gear and deputies on horseback were nearby as well. Folks were taking pictures, quite a few people went over to see the horses and people who spoke to officers at the door had polite and friendly interactions.

In spite of reports that one person was hurt by a horse and several others were pepper sprayed, my own opinion is that law enforcement was not hostile or aggressive. That being said, it is also my opinion that had there been no displays of force whatsoever, the people attending the rally.


The Tents Came Down

Conservatives leased the front steps and grounds. They had the money to buy the ground but they didn’t have the feet to hold it. Labor-friendly people took the steps and pushed conservatives out. You might have expected the Police to step in, but they didn’t.

Two large tents were erected on the lawn by Americans for Prosperity. The tents were nearly empty with only a few tables and chairs inside and a couple of anti-labor conservatives wandering about. Outside the tents, thousands of pro-labor progressives occupied the lawn. It wasn’t long before people started pushing up against the tent, rocking about and then it happened, the first tent came down and the crowd cheered. A few minutes later and the next tent came down to more cheers.

Did the Police rush in and mace the crowd or arrest people? NO! Some of the people from labor politely rolled up the edges of the tents and people were asked not to step on or damage the property of others.


Protecting the Wall

The word went out, “They are voting!” Thousands of people gathered on the sidewalks and lawn east of the House chamber. We were loud and we were visible but we were not destructive or violent. The police made no effort to interfere with the rally and then there was a vote. The results were written on a large piece of paper and held in a window for us to read.

Some of the people gathered in front of the Capitol building must have been behaving badly; perhaps they got to close to the windows or something? Suddenly there was a long line of State Police in riot gear behind me. They made a line across the crowd and found their way to the front of the building were they pushed back workers. There was a report that someone had been pepper sprayed, but I did not see it.

Troopers in riot gear took up positions near the north door and in front of the building. Somehow, deputies on horseback also managed to find their way to the wall and backed up into a corner.

I’m sure there was a bit of a scuffle as the troopers and deputies moved in and pushed back the workers, but this picture really tells the story. This trooper in riot gear stands by the window and the people nearby are smiling and carrying on a friendly conversation. Peaceful participants clearly were not being harassed by the State Police.


Protecting the Doors

By about 2:00 PM, the crowd began to thin out and most of the people who had been at the wall of the Capitol building had either moved to other places or had left the grounds to catch their ride home.

Someone must have put the word out that the next step for this bill was the Governor’s desk and the office of the Governor is located in the George W. Romney Building just east of the Capitol building. A crowd gathered outside the doors and began chanting.

I wasn’t able to get my camera out of the bag fast enough to catch images of the State Police from the Capitol wall making a line for the Romney Building doors but when they moved it got everyone’s attention and many of the people who had been milling about on the lawn hustled over to the Governor’s office to see what was happening.

From the edges, it was difficult to find the helmets of the Police but troopers positioned themselves in front of the doors and windows and pushed back the crowd. The crowd was smaller but the mood was just a bit uglier than it had been at the Capitol wall.

Pepper Sprayed

I was getting ready to leave myself when my friend pointed to the crowd and said that someone had been pepper sprayed. I was only barely able to get an image as he was taken over to the nurses’ tent.

A few moments later another person was brought out of the crowd who also appeared to have been sprayed.

I was able to get one picture of a person in the nurses’ tent that appeared to have been pepper sprayed and then my battery went dead.


This report may be focused on the Police and pepper spray but the fact is that the people who participated in this rally where very civil and Police where not aggressive, at least not that I observed. Others will have to decide whether the several people who were hurt crossed the line or if the Police had overreacted.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lame Duck Legislature Protects Itself from Future Recall Efforts

HB6058, HB6060, HB6061, and HB6063 were all introduced on November 28th and passed in the House on Thursday with immediate effect. These bills have moved to the Senate and will likely be brought to the floor on Tuesday.

HB 6058 of 2012 would prevent the circulation of recall petitions for signatures for up to 40 days if there was an appeal to a circuit court for reason of sufficiency, and would invalidate a petition upon a decision of the circuit court that the language was insufficient.

Currently, the reason(s) for the recall must be stated “clearly”; HB 6060 of 2012 would require the reason(s) for the recall to also be stated “factually” and would require the sponsor(s) of the recall to provide supporting evidence of the facts. This bill would also reduce the valid signature collection period from 90 consecutive days to 60 consecutive days.

HB 6061 of 2012 would limit the recall elections to November and May elections.

Finally, HB 6063 (H-1) of 2012 would prevent a recall petition from being submitted in the first or last six months of an official’s term of office.

It has always been nearly impossible for a grassroots effort to successfully recall an elected official; these bills would make it so difficult that you could drop the word “nearly” and just say impossible. It has never been more important to work hard to get the right people elected to office.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Conservatives Let Their Dollars Occupy Lansing

Lansing, MI – Between two thousand and three thousand working people were gathered in front of the Capitol Building in Lansing to let their legislators know they did NOT want so-called right-to-work legislation to pass in the lame duck session.

Many of them had been inside the Capitol but now hey were locked out of the building itself plausibly due to a disturbance. Adding insult to injury, the thousands who had come to the Capital were not allowed to occupy the lawn or to speak from the steps.

Stretched out on the lawn on either side of the sidewalk were large, nearly empty tents. As I approached I could hear a speech given by Ronald Reagan being broadcast from somewhere on the steps.

It may be impossible to see in the photo, but buried in the mass of working people there is a podium with a speaker on it and hanging on the tent is a banner that reads, “Americans for Prosperity”.

The media will undoubtedly report the arrest of several unruly people in the Capitol and how the building was locked down for many hours while visitors stood outside chanting, “Let us in!”. Reporters will likely report that lawmakers pushed through so-called right-to-work bills while the doors were locked to visitors and lobbyists.

Here is what won’t be said, while thousands of working people were being deprived of access to their elected officials, a few well funded special interests groups was occupying the lawn, the front steps and the hallways of the Capitol itself. Outside the building, just over a dozen supporters of so-called right-to-work, backed by thousands of dollars, had secured the entire front lawn and the steps. Inside the building a few lobbyists backed by many more thousands of dollars had secured the attention of Republican lawmakers.

It’s difficult to say what was happening behind the door where Michigan State Police were posted, but the events outside were Orwellian. The Ronald Reagan speech just kept repeating itself over and over again to an unreceptive audience. At one point several people tried to remove or disconnect the speaker. After a bit of activity, most of which was out of my line of sight, the Gipper resumed his tired old speech and the audience resorted to chanting and noise-making to drown it out.

When the crowd thinned out, I observed that the podium and speaker were guarded by fifteen Conservatives. One of them must have thought it would be safe to say a few words because I noticed that Reagan was turned off and then the crowd swelled and got even louder. I squeezed in and noticed that a man with a microphone and surrounded by a few supporters was trying desperately to be heard, but the crowd was just to loud for him and he had to give up.

From my perspective it appeared that all the money in the world couldn't bring more than a few dozen, boots-on-the-ground Conservatives to the Capitol and that the thousands of working class Progressives had the upper hand. But the battle wasn't being fought outside with a few thousand dollars and a dozen supporters; it was being fought and won inside with a few lobbyists and many thousands more dollars.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Right-to-work legislation passed in both chambers of Michigan’s legislature

Lansing, MI – Many concerned worker gathered in Lansing today as Republican legislators scrambled to move forward two bills that had been dormant in their committees for most of the last two years. Today was the last day for this lame duck legislature to move forward a bill in one chamber and still have time to act on the same bill in the other chamber.

As the day began, House Bill 4054 and Senate Bill 116 were identical bills that would allow local units of government to establish so-called right-to-work zones.  If enacted into law, these bills would have blocked enforcement of an all-union shop agreement in that zone.

“If a city, township, county, township, village, public school district, or intermediate school district has authorized a right to work zone within its boundaries by a vote of its governing body or by adoption of a measure initiated by the people, the commission shall not enforce an all-union shop agreement covering employees in that zone that the employer entered into or renewed after the date of adoption of the measure.”

Lawmakers sent misleading signals to labor indicating that the bill before the House would apply to public employees only with an exception being made for police officers and firefighters and the bill before the Senate would apply to so-called right-to-work zones only.

A mid-day disturbance in the capitol building led police to seal the capitol building while many of the lobbyists were out to lunch and a crowd of between two and three thousand people was locked out for most of the day.

Unknown to the workers and lobbyists, identical substitutions were offered in each chamber altering the bills which passed, first in the House and later in the Senate.

The amended language in both bills now reads in part:

“An individual shall not be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment to do any of the following:
(A) Refrain or resign from membership in, voluntary affiliation with, or voluntary support of a labor organization.
(B) Become or remain a member of a labor organization.
(C) Pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount or provide anything of value to a labor organization.”

This is the heart and soul of so-called right-to-work legislation. These bills, when signed into law, will make Michigan the 24th so-called right-to-work state; no ifs, ands or buts!

The bills go on to appropriate $1,000,000 to implement the amendatory act.

What happens now? House Democrats have given notice of intent to reconsider so House Bill 4054 will likely be reconsidered tomorrow. At lease one source is indicating that the session may be called as early as 12:01 AM and we may wake up to discover that the reconsideration hurdle is already behind us.

Senate Bill 116 was referred to the House Committee on Commerce, read the first time and notice was give to discharge committee. The two bills are identical, but it appears that concurring vote in either chamber will enroll the bill and move it forward for the governor’s signature.

Alea iacta est, the die has been cast; all that remains now is a statutory formality of reconsideration, concurrence and running out the clock for five session days followed by a few strokes of the governor’s pen.

Let’s not imagine that this is the last straw and now the working people of Michigan who let Republicans sweep into office in 2010, who let the efforts to recall Snyder, Bolger, Richardville and others fail, who rejected a ballot proposal to protect collective bargaining rights, and who left the Republicans in control of the State House in 2012 will rise up and … well, and what?

We have some work to do.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Workers Killed in Garment Factory Fire

It was reported that a garment factory fire in Dhaka killed at least 112 workers on Saturday, November 25th. Exports mainly to the United States and Europe form Bangladesh’s 4,000 or more garment factories total about $20 billion annually. Since 2006, more than 350 workers have died in garment factory fires in Bangladesh.

“Factory Fire the Deadliest of Many in Bangladesh”, by Farid Hoosain and Julhas Alam, Associated Press, Nov 26, 2012, 10:59 AM EST.

“Recent Garment Factory Fires in Bangladesh”, Associated Press, Nov 26, 9:03 AM EST,

I was immediately reminded of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on Marcy 25, 1911 which caused 146 deaths of workers. As a result of this and other tragedies, labor unions formed to defend the right of workers to a safe work environment and legislation was passed to improve factory safety standards.

“Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire”, Wikipedia,

And then my mind moved on to the many issues that revolve around the exporting of manufacturing jobs to third world nations.

Neoliberals argue that the international marketplace for labor makes goods cheaper and business more profitable, but the only way that it does so is by externalizing the actual cost of production in terms of human labor and environmental destruction by moving those jobs to parts of the world were the progressive reforms of developed nations do not yet exist.

Conservatives defend their exploitation of a servant underclass in these third world nations by pointing out how much worse off these people would be with no jobs. Today there are 112 worker from Dhaka who were exploited, poor and finally dead because they had a job.

We can all wear clothing without exploiting other human beings or destroying our environment. The only real beneficiaries of this endless shifting of jobs to distant places are the owners who profit at the expense of all others.

Clothing might cost a little more if we insisted on fair pay, benefits and work conditions for the people who do the work that make the garments but there is another option ... the owners could take pay cut!

Occasionally I hear someone in one of the labor unions say that we don't mind if some of our low-skill, low-tech, and low-pay jobs get farmed out to other countries as long as we can keep out high-skill, high-tech, and high-pay jobs here. I am at a loss for work to express my frustration with these people.

Exploiting other people is wrong, whether it is done by the owners or by other workers who have bigger paycheck; it is wrong whether it is done to people here in our country or people in countries around the world. So what can be done?

If you are one of the lucky people who has a good job because of your union membership, stop thinking in terms of union member rights and start thinking in terms of human rights.

If you are one of the luck people who gets to live in a country that protects the environment and regulates workplace safety, stop thinking of it as a right of the citizens in your country and start thinking of it as a human right.

And if your one of the lucky people that gets to be the consumer of high-quality, low-price goods made someplace else, stop thinking of those who do the work as people who are lucky to have a job making stuff for you. The same thing if you are lucky enough to have someone providing you services here like stocking shelves and bringing you food.

It is a great privilege to benefit from the labor of others and a privilege worth paying for by sharing the wealth that they produce with them and ensuring that they get to live the same dignified life that you hope to live.