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Gone Nuclear: The Media Missed the GOP’s Filibuster War on Government | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Gone Nuclear: The Media Missed the GOP’s Filibuster War on Government

My new “Think Again” column is called “Murdoch and Ailes were "Right from the Start" and it’s about new and not-so-new revelations from a new book about you know who.

Alter-reviews, special guitar gods edition:

Eric Clapton, Unplugged

Eric Clapton, Give Me Strength: the 1974-75 Recordings

Eric Clapton et al, Crossroads Festival Blu-ray and CD

The Allman Brothers Band, Brothers and Sisters  (deluxe)

Grateful Dead, Dave’s Picks, Vol. 8

Garcia Live, Volume 3, December 14-15, 1974 Northwest Tour,

It’s been a rich autumn for old Eric Clapton releases. There’s a nice new two-CD/DVD version of “Unplugged,” from 1992, the album that launched the whole movement. Clapton’s willingness to go in new directions has always distinguishd him from other guitar gods and these peformances tend to justify themselves, though not always, and especially not in the case of “Layla,” which is a travesty.  There are a few new versions on the cd including a cover of “Big Maceo” Merriweather’s “Worried Life Blues,” an alternate take of “Walkin’ Blues” and early versions of “Circus” and “My Father’s Eyes” and an hour of rehearsal footage on the DVD, which is pretty cool to watch once or twice. (It’s also surprisingly cheap.)

I first discovered Clapton around 1974 or so and he was my pre-Born to Run favorite musician for “Layla” and the first solo album. I was so excited when he returned to recording and touring and a little shocked and disappointed at how mellow it all sounded; next to no guitar solos at all. But the dude was a prophet and this was where music was going; it caught up in the early eighties, and the stuff has worn tremendously well. You can now pay a lot of money for “Eric Clapton--Give Me Strength: The 1974-75 Recordings,” which is five CDs and a Bluray--or so they tell me, I only got the download.

It’s got 461 Ocean Boulevard, There's One In Every Crowd and the live E.C. Was Here—standing as one of the most remarkable rebirths in rock's history plus live tracks from Long Beach Arena (including unreleased versions of Crossroads, I Shot The Sheriff, Layla and Little Wing), the Hammersmith Odeon, Nassau Coliseum and Providence Civic Center; The Freddie King Criteria Studio Sessions featuring the previously unreleased versions of “Boogie Funk” and the full unreleased 22 minute version of “Gambling Woman Blues”

I saw last year’s editions of Eric’s “Crossroads Festival” shows last year at the Garden. Among the highlights were the surprise pairing of John Mayer and Keith Urban for the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down,” which turns out to be a much better song than I previously realized, Keith Richards and Eric doing “Key to the Highway.” Vince Gill performing "Tumbling Dice" with Keith Urban and Albert Lee and members of the Allman Brothers and by far, Eric and ABB doing my favorite song, of late, "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad," and truth be told they could have played more together since they had a whole set worked out at the Beacon a few years ago, which made for two of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. The hype for Gary Clark Jr. struck me as a washout however and Clapton did not have to open the shows (and this Bluray) with his sappiest and most McCartney-at-his-most-mawkish songs. So plan to do some fast-forwarding on this terrific sounding Bluray depending on your taste. Not all of it will be loved by everyone but with so many acts—I didn’t even mention Keith and Eric on “Key to the Highway” or Eric and Robbie R,  Jeff Back or Buddy Guy or that 14 year old kid Quinn Sullivan, or the acoustic peformance by  Warren, Derek and Gregg, especially on “The Needle and the Damage Done,” so it’s hard not to want to have this no matter what your taste in guitar gods. Eric closes well, too, with “Sunshine.” There’s a highlight two cd package as well. Both are pretty decently priced.

And speaking of my favorite band, I somehow neglected to mention the beautiful package put together to mark the 40th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band’s fifth album, “Brothers and Sisters.” They were in terrible shape, but it’s a damn fine record and this is a lovely package. Duane died in the fall of 1971. 1973's Berry Oakley died early in the recording of this album. They were replaced by pianist Chuck Leavell and Lamar Williams, but also by an expanded role for Dickie Betts. It was their best selling album ever--clearly their most radio friendly and now we get in the “Super Deluxe Edition” a disc of previously unreleased Jams, Rehearsals, and Outtakes, and a complete show on two cds from Winterland in September, 1973. It all sparkles and came before the band destroyed itself--in that iteration--with more drugs than anyone could do and arena shows that ended their rapport with their audience. Thank goodness it was only temporary, though nobody would have guessed it at the time--what with Gregg marrying Cher and falling asleep in bowls of spaghetti

Finally, speaking of my other favorite band, there’s now a “Dave Picks, Volume 8”: the last of the limited edition releases in this series this year.  It’s a complete show from 11/30/80 at the Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA. The highlight for me was the incredible "Scarlet>Fire,” but maybe not for you. (Again, these were not their best years.) It’s three CDs and you gotta register at the Dead website because they all sell out immediately. And hey, you can watch “Dave” talk about his work, here. He’s pretty smart.

And if that’s not enough for you, you can order GarciaLive Volume Three: December 14-15, 1974 Northwest Tour, 3 CD Set featuring over 2 1/2 hours of previously unreleased music mastered from original soundboard recordings. Jazzier than usual, but with a nice rapport within the Legion of Mary band featuring Merle Sanders Wonderful 18 minute “Boogie On Reggae Woman” to open. Two “Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”s though, is one too many, minimum. The Dead were on hiatus and this was one of Jerry’s most fruitful periods, musically, so it’s a nice if non-essential addition to the oeuvre. More here.

Gone Nuclear: The Media Missed the GOP’s Filibuster War on Government

By Reed Richardson

Finally.

What Sen. Harry Reid did Thursday wasn’t a win for Democrats as much as it was a triumph for democracy. That the Washington conventional wisdom likely won’t characterize it that way, though, shouldn’t be surprising. For far too long, the Beltway media has, by turns, overlooked, enabled, and normalized what has been a relentless, unprecedented siege campaign by Senate Republicans against Constitutional privilege and White House authority. Once a rare, last-ditch bureaucratic maneuver on the part of the minority, filibusters are no longer about extending actual debate on legislation or questioning the fitness of a political appointee. Instead, having been deployed a record 446 times since 2006, they’ve effectively been weaponized by the GOP as an extra-Constitutional end run around settled law. So, to say Reid “went nuclear” on the Senate rules Thursday is to ignore seven years of overwhelming evidence that the Republicans blew them up first.

Nevertheless, this week’s press coverage of Republican filibusters leading up to the nuclear option was more of the same old objective ambiguity. On Monday, for example, there was the Associated Press, vaguely talking about how Obama’s nomination of Judge Robert Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals “[fell] short of the 60 votes required to advance” with nary a mention of the word “filibuster” anywhere. Even when the press does accurately describe the obstruction, as the Washington Post did last week in a story about the GOP filibuster of D.C Circuit nominee Judge Nina Pillard, it undermines the reality by trotting artificially balanced anecdotes as part of the old “both sides” canard. Dig down into the data, however, and you find that the GOP has blocked judicial nominees at a higher rate than at any other time in U.S. history.

Over time, the media’s steady use of euphemisms and false equivalence has buried the larger narrative of Republican filibuster abuse. Likewise, it compartmentalizes each round of executive or judicial nominations into discrete events, which only allows the GOP to escape real accountability for their egregious abuse. For instance, when NBC News’s political tip sheet First Read previewed Reid’s “nuclear option” move Thursday, note that it only did so with respect to the three most recent judicial nominees blocked by the GOP.

“And so after Senate Republican filibustered President Obama’s nominees to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—not on concerns about ideology or qualifications, but over the president’s ability to appoint ANYONE to these vacancies—Senate Democrats are poised to change the rules via the so-called ‘nuclear option’”

No. No. NO. While credit is due for highlighting the intellectual dishonesty of Republicans, this kind of short-sighted analysis of Democratic motives would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high. This incredibly simplistic explanation leaves the reader with the mistaken impression that, though Republicans are being stubborn, Harry Reid just up and changed the rules in something resembling a fit of pique after a rough couple of weeks.

This is not a new phenomenon, unfortunately. Over and over, the Beltway media has examined these filibuster events through a blinkered, ahistorical prism. Thus, no mention of how Obama has tried several times to fill these same D.C. Circuit Court vacancies since he first took office in 2009, to no avail. Or that one of these court vacancies was created more than eight years ago when John Roberts—yes, that John Roberts—was elevated to the Supreme Court. Also routinely left out of the coverage, the dozens of filibusters of other federal judicial appointees as well as the heads of numerous executive agencies, like the CFPB, NLRB, FCC, CIA, and EPA. And let's not forget the time Republicans attempted the first-ever  filibuster a Cabinet nominee. Indeed, Republican filibusters have become so de rigueur in the Senate that, on several occasions, some in the GOP have thought nothing of threatening to block every single White House nominee, regardless of merit or need.

To be fair, some of the blame for this situation must be directed back at Senate Democrats and the White House. For too long, Reid and a few of his more tradition-bound Senate colleagues have enabled GOP intransigence through ill-advised, one-off filibuster moratoria that Republicans have demonstrated no compunction about discarding at their leisure. What’s more, this constant Republican stonewalling has inculcated a noticeable hesitancy on the part of the administration in terms of putting forth nominations. And too often both Reid and the White House seem to mistake willful, partisan obstruction with good faith disagreement. Spending months or even years searching and vetting highly qualified nominees only to have them summarily dismissed over and over should have long ago taught Reid the lesson he only fully learned this week.

Breaking the logjam this way, some media naysayers worry, will forever change the Senate, making it operate more like the House. And that’s probably true, but the operative word in that sentence is, well, operate. For, right now, the Senate is a broken legislative body, hijacked by a spiteful few extremists who are wholly uninterested in performing even the most routine aspects of government business.

While that obvious point isn’t lost on even the most process-obsessed members of the Washington press corps, time and again news organizations have failed to draw a bright line between Senate Republicans’ filibuster abuse and the dangerously anti-democratic precedent set by their behavior. Lacking any kind of pushback from the press, is it any wonder Republicans kept pushing further and further? As a result, they felt free to intentionally hamstring regulatory agencies for years by leaving them short-staffed and without leadership, effectively undermining the executive branch’s Article I authority. And why not consistently flout the president’s judicial appointees—to, say, maintain Republican dominance on the D.C. Appeals Court? It only negates the electoral mandate provided by the public. Hey, it’s not like the press is really going to notice.

But make no mistake, even though it may fly underneath the radar of almost every big-name pundit, tilting the balance on the D.C. Appeals Court matters. For most of Obama’s tenure, the court has been split evenly, with more Republican appointees enjoying seniority. As a result, its been a friendly legal ground to enable all manner of successful right-wing regulatory challenges, whether it’s cracking down on labor organizing to unraveling the Affordable Care Act’s free contraception rules or undoing tougher Dodd-Frank regulations on out-of-control CEO pay. And it figures to loom large in the administration’s upcoming push for stricter carbon emissions rules for power plants. Outrageously, Republicans have responded with thinly veiled partisan arguments about workload to argue for cutting back the number of D.C. Circuit judges. (Phony arguments that are little more than rank hypocrisy.) Reid’s move will ensure that the court gets its full complement of judges and that overturning tougher environmental regulations among other liberal policy priorities just became a much tougher road for conservatives.

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But it’s not just judicial appointees that can have a far-reaching impact. This past week, we saw what it can mean for workers and people in low-income areas when the Senate nominations process functions as intended. After scuffling along for years with only a minimum quorom, a now fully-staffed and fully-engaged NLRB handed down a major ruling against Walmart Monday one that penalized the company for illegally disciplining and firing employees who had participated in labor strikes. Likewise, on Wednesday, the newly created CFPB—whose inaugural director was only just approved by the Senate this past summer after a long filibuster fight—announced its first major settlement against predatory lenders.

With a rabidly conservative Republican majority in the House making legislative progress all but impossible, legal rulings and enforcement actions represent the best shot at policy success for Democrats until 2015, at the earliest. Not coincidentally, it's precisely the kind of duly-earned progress the Senate GOP’s filibuster abuse would have kept on unfairly delaying had Reid not acted. In the end, the story of Thursday's “nuclear option” is mostly a tale of winners, though—our democracy first and foremost, but both Democrats and Republicans too, since the move ultimately makes government more responsive and actually enhances the value of winning elections. (The next GOP Senate Majority Leader will no doubt come to appreciate Reid’s decision when there’s a Republican in the White House). Perhaps the only real loser in all this is the Beltway media, which showed once again that it can miss a big story up to and even after the moment it blows up.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

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