Wednesday, December 08, 2004

GOP-style democracy - only Republican votes count

How is it that a bill with wide popular support that ultimately passed the House by a margin of 336 to 75 was almost derailed by a couple of Republican committee chairmen last week?
Answer: The Republican’s new rule that says that 49 percent of the people in the United States no longer matter.

”Speaker Dennis Hastert last week enunciated a policy in which Congress will pass bills only if most House Republicans back them, regardless of how many Democrats favor them.
Hastert's position is the latest step in a decade-long process of limiting Democrats' influence and running the House virtually as a one-party institution. Republicans earlier barred House Democrats from helping to draft major bills such as the 2003 Medicare revision and this year's intelligence package. Hastert (R-Ill.) now says such bills will reach the House floor, after negotiations with the Senate, only if "the majority of the majority" supports them.”

Yes, that’s correct. Under the new rules established by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his puppet, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the only votes that matter in the House from now on are Republican votes. If you have a Democrat representing your interests in Congress then you do not matter.
How does this work? Simple. As Speaker of the House, Hastert can control which bills will be allowed to come to the floor of the House for a vote. The new DeLay/Hastert rule says that only bills with majority support among Republicans will pass that threshold. Isn’t that swell?
So even if a bill has broad support across the House - like the Intelligence Reform bill did - it can be held up by a handful of Republican chairmen and their little cadre of supporters. A bill that has the support of a majority of Democrats and a minority of Republicans would easily pass the overall House with a wide majority, but those bills will never see the light of day under the new rule.
If the Democrats had used this kind of petty partisanship when they were in the majority we would not have a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which passed with more Republican votes than Democratic votes.
As congressional scholar Norman Ornstein notes, the new "majority of the majority" maxim, is a disastrous recipe for tackling domestic issues such as entitlement programs and the deficit. But this is what we have to look forward to until the grownups can finally take charge again.
In the meantime, welcome to our new and improved Republican-style democracy. Yippee!

Monday, December 06, 2004

My favorite Christmas music

Ray Conniff Singers
Originally uploaded by mwthomas87.
I got my Christmas lights up, bought a tree and dug out all the Christmas music this past weekend. I've got more Christmas music than I can possibly listen to during a single holiday season, but like most people I have my favorites that must be played before it can truly be a traditional Christmas.
Here are some of my Christmas music essentials:

1. Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers, We Wish You a Merry Christmas:

This was one my parents had on reel-to-reel tape when I was growing up. When I went to college I found a copy on record and later bought it on cd. Whenever I put this music on I am immediately transported back to my earliest recollections of Christmas past. It is wonderfully rich, well-orchestrated music with a large choir doing their own takes on popular Christmas carols. "Ring Christmas Bells" is especially powerful. I'm sure my sentimental attachment to this music is the main reason it tops my list, but it is still very good by all accounts.

2. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Christmas Album:

Another reel-to-reel tape from my parents' collection that I have made my own. It definitely has that '60s time stamp on it, but that does not detract in any way from the wonderful music. I'm not sure who does the singing on this album, but their version of The Christmas Song will always be the first one that pops into my head so my apologies to Mel Torme and Nat King Cole.

3. Bing Crosby, White Christmas:

For the longest time this was the only Bing Crosby music I was familiar with, but it was always an integral part of every Christmas. Now, of course, I am a complete Bing fanatic and listen to all of his music year round. But I still have to come back to this album every year for more than just sentimental reasons.

4. Elvis Presley, Elvis' Christmas Album:

It would certainly be a Blue Christmas without Elvis. I'm not sure who does a better job on "I'll Be Home For Christmas", Elvis or Bing, but they both certainly sing the heck out of that song. This may not be the best Elvis Christmas album but it is the one that I have right now.

5. Mannheim Steamroller, Christmas:

I have all of the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music, but this is the first one that kicked everything off in 1984. I remember it was a real revelation when it came out - mixing old renniassance-style acoustic music with then-cutting edge electronic synthesizers and orchestral arrangements.

6. The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin:

A master work by the Irish folk band that became an instant holiday classic. Should be in everyone's collection.

7. Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas:

IĆ¢??ve not found too many jazz Christmas albums that stick with me, but this one certainly does. The TV special is classic in its own right, but the music takes it to a whole other level and stands on its own.

8. Harry Connick Jr., When My Heart Finds Christmas:

I picked this one up a few years ago when I was looking for some new Christmas music and it has stood the test of time. Some great original tunes interspersed with classics with a jazzy-pop twist.

9. Tony Bennett, Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album:

See above.

10. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Christmas Eve and Christmas Attic:

A real treat. See these folks live if you ever get the chance. Kind of like Mannheim Steamroller but with electric guitars and a rock opera feel.