Month 7, Day 30: Rules Are Made To Be Changed

Too tired tonight to find a newspaper to yell at; not enough time available to write a short letter. So I thought I’d just let Harry Reid know that we really really really really need to change the Senate rules on the filibuster.

Dear Senator Reid —

It’s been a bad year for citizens who are aware of the enormous threat posed by climate change. The Senate’s abandonment of a climate bill during this Congress is a bitter disappointment; more than that, it may mark the final closing of the window of opportunity. The signs are all there, pointing toward an unimaginably bleak and difficult future for our children and their children in turn.

A recent study sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council points out the impending desertification of huge swaths of the American West and Southwest; one analyst refers to it as a “permanent dust bowl.” This trend can be slowed and perhaps stopped, but not if we continue “business as usual.” That means that strong measures have to be put into place to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, and to transform our country’s energy economy.

Which, in turn, means that Senate Democrats must reform the filibuster, for this currently places effective veto power over meaningful legislation in the hands of people who are ideologically driven, pathologically short-sighted, and unable to act for the greater good.

Some of the time I sympathize with you; it must be unbearably difficult to be the de facto leader of an essentially dysfunctional organization. And some of the time I’m simply furious, because I am convinced you could have done more to make your Democratic colleagues maintain party unity on cloture votes.

Climate change is the greatest existential threat we face in the world today; if we fail to address it with sufficient clarity and resolve, no other issue will matter. The results of failure are unthinkable — but the roadblock in the way of action is the U.S. Senate.

Let’s get filibuster reform accomplished, so we can get something done. Time is running out.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 7, Day 10: Yes, I Know It’s A Sucking Chest Wound, But Please Fill Out These Forms. In Triplicate.

We really really really need to change the way the filibuster is used in the Senate. You should write to your senators (if you’ve got some Democrats) and tell them something along these lines. The emergency-room analogy in this letter pleases me; I’m going to try and use it some more.

Dear Senator Kerry,

The Senate needs filibuster reform, for all our sakes.

Despite having one of the smallest minorities in recent history, the Republicans are making it impossible for us to move forward. Every bill is watered down, every policy initiative is gutted, every noble impulse turned into a tepid and uninspiring porridge.

This is most appalling and damaging in the case of climate legislation. We are asked to wait. And wait. And wait. And give up the things that might actually make a tiny bit of difference to humanity’s next century, in the hope of appeasing Olympia Snowe, or Lindsey Graham, or Scott Brown — or some damn Republican or another who will end up voting against the bill anyway.

The United States Senate is like the admissions clerk in an emergency room; someone is brought in bleeding to death, and rather than receive treatment, is forced to spend hours filling out insurance forms. That’s what the US Senate does, thanks to the abuse of the filibuster by the Republicans.

And if Democrats want to keep a majority, they’d do well to enact meaningful filibuster reform at the beginning of the next congress. Senate Democrats must overcome the timidity that has kept them quivering and cowering at the threats of their Republican colleagues, and this must begin with ending the most egregious abuse of Senatorial process in the past century.

With Arctic sea ice at its lowest level yet, with methane bubbling up out of the ocean floor, with BP’s toxic cocktail destroying the Gulf of Mexico, with the ocean becoming more acidic, with atmospheric CO2 at 394 ppm and rising…learned helplessness is a luxury we can no longer afford. We need a strong climate bill, or we may not have any descendants to curse us for our inaction.

There is no time left to waste in appeasing a group of anti-science, anti-environment, anti-humanity opportunists who are guaranteed to oppose anything you do. Reform the use of the filibuster. Advance genuine climate legislation.

That’s all.

Yours Sincerely,

Warren Senders

Month 2, Day 15: Prodding Harry Reid

Thought I’d send Harry Reid something. I knew when I first read about him that he would be trouble for the Democratic Party. It seems hard to believe he was once a boxer. Maybe he took too many punches to the head? It’s really unbelievable that he’s the point guy for our party in the Senate.

Dear Majority Leader Reid,

Although as a Massachusetts resident I am not one of your constituents, I am a lifelong Democrat — one who has followed your tenure as Majority Leader with interest and frustration in equal measure.

It was obvious from the start to me that the Republican minority would be utterly and completely focused on obstructing Democratic legislation — and it’s unbelievable that it wasn’t obvious to you and your colleagues in the Senate. The fact that it’s taken many Democrats this long to recognize that the G.O.P. has no intention of cooperating on anything does not reassure me.

Nowhere does this obstructionism have further-reaching consequences than in our unwillingness to tackle a meaningful climate-change bill. With denialism rampant on both sides of the aisle, with Health Care and Jobs initiatives currently on the menu for Democratic delay and Republican blocking — it’s “not the right time” to deal with a climate bill.

Unfortunately the laws of nature pay little heed to the laws of man, and even less heed to the blinkered behavior of U.S. Senators. Regardless of what Fox News’ talking heads may say, a freak snowstorm in Washington is not irrefutable evidence that global warming is a myth. Scientists predict more such extreme weather events as the climate spirals past tipping point after tipping point — but as long as the gap between climate action and climate effect is five or six times longer than the election cycle that rules the life of a U.S. Senator, we can expect change-averse lawmakers to avoid dealing with the issue.

Failure to confront this looming disaster is not just a failure of governance. It is a moral failure, and our grandchildren will not be kind to the 210th Congress. On the other hand, our great-great-great grandchildren will be too busy trying to survive to spend much time assigning blame for the catastrophes we could have averted, but didn’t. And who knows? Maybe James Hansen’s “Venus Syndrome” will come to pass — in which case there will be nobody left to do any blaming.

Mr. Reid, it is time for you to confront Republican obstructionism head-on. They and their collaborators on the Democratic side are playing political games while the largest existential crisis humanity has ever faced is unfolding outside their windows. I know that you are risk-averse and prefer not to seek controversy — but in this case, it’s time to stand up and throw a few punches at those who would trade the lives of our descendants for the promise of a Senatorial sinecure.

Please support Bernie Sanders’ “10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act.” This is an idea whose time has come. And please do something to reform the use of the filibuster. We need to get this done. There is no time to waste.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

Day 18: Joe Biden Hears From Me

This morning I read a nice piece at Kos, titled “Vice-President Biden Bashes the Filibuster.” Better late than never, I suppose. I still cannot believe it’s taken the Administration this long to figure out that they’re dealing with an opposition party that is entirely composed of people who think Fox News is genuinely Fair and Balanced; an opposition party of delusional sociopathic denialists, actually.

So I wrote Joe a letter. I emailed it to him at the WH website, and I’m going to print it out and mail it to him tomorrow.

It was interesting to craft a letter in which climate-change issues were the secondary theme rather than the primary focus. This will open up more possibilities on the days when I have time to compose new material rather than just recombine my old verbiage.

Dear Vice-President Biden,

I was deeply gratified to read that you recently made the statement that, “As long as I have served … I’ve never seen, as my uncle once said, the constitution stood on its head as they’ve done. This is the first time every single solitary decision has required 60 senators. No democracy has survived needing a supermajority.” The supermajority requirement has effectively stifled participatory democracy in our country. When a single senator from a low-population state can hold up a bill which is supported by the vast majority of the nation’s population, we no longer live in a democratic republic.

While this situation has been made obvious by the continuous wheeling and dealing over health-care legislation, the supermajority requirement will stand in the way of meaningful action on another policy initiative, one that is even more important for our long-term viability as a nation and as a planet. How can genuine action on climate-change legislation take place in the face of the 60-vote requirement?

Our oceans are becoming acidified, with potentially catastrophic results for the billions on Earth who depend on the seas for their food. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are already above the levels Dr. James Hansen calls the maximum to “sustain the climate in which civilization evolved and to which all planetary life is adjusted.” America needs to assume the leadership responsibilities that go along with being a global superpower, and that means that passing a robust climate bill is essential at all levels: it’s essential for our economy; it’s essential for the health of our citizens; it’s essential for our country’s role in the world; it’s essential for the survival of our planet.

I urge you to suggest to Majority Leader Reid and other members of the Senate that they adopt the proposal of Senator Tom Harkin, in which a gradually decreasing majority would be required for cloture. It is my understanding that this could come up for consideration at the opening of the next session of Congress, when the Senate Rules Committee can institute changes to the Senate’s rules of procedure. We need to reform the abuse of the filibuster as soon as possible, so that a tiny minority of lawmakers can no longer effectively paralyze the Senate, making progress impossible.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Warren Senders

I’m pretty tired. I did 5 hours of phonebanking for Coakley today and will be helping voters get to the polls tomorrow morning. If you live in Massachusetts, REMEMBER TO VOTE!!!