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Opinion Editorials

Reid’s use of the nuclear option is understandable but short-sighted

Although an argument can be made that filibustering has been abused, implementing the nuclear option is a bad move in the long run.

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Putting the nuclear option on the table

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “nuclear option” to end the abuse of the filibuster by Senate Republicans amounts to treating strep throat with a throat lozenge. His action may have a short term benefit, but is unlikely to help in the long-run, just as changes to the rules of the Texas Senate helped move the majority’s agenda forward this summer, but damage the institution going forward.

Why should you care about the filibuster? Why would we ever want to allow one person or a minority in a deliberative body to have that much power? Let’s take a look at the issue for a moment and consider the significance of this crisis in American legislative processes.

What is popular may not be best

While “majority rule” is a common form of decision making and is easy to understand, there are many times in our self-governance that we use other standards. It takes a 2/3 vote to ratify treaties and it takes unanimity to convict someone of a crime. One over-simplified reason to look beyond 50 percent making our decisions is to think back to the popularity contest of high school student government elections – sometimes what is popular is not truly the best choice. And sometimes – to implement critical policy, it takes the support and cooperation of more than half of the people.

Another important fact to remember is that the United States was set up to both allow the rule of the majority and protect the rights of the minority. Put yourself in this scenario: Your child belongs to a club that has a set of bylaws that says that all children can participate in the activities of the club. Let’s say that while you have been a dues paying member and supported the club, some of the rest of the club has become frustrated because a few of the children are left-handed and other equipment must be purchased to accommodate the left-handed kids.

A majority has decided to change the bylaws and exclude left-handed kids from participation. Most organizations require a supermajority of 2/3 or more to make it harder to stick it to the minority in situations like this.

Considering the minority

The filibuster in parliamentary bodies is sort of like that. Filibusters can be stopped by a supermajority, but one incentive not to stop a member from halting the action on the occasion that to take a particular action would have a significantly negative impact on a constituency they represent is that such a scenario could arise for any member. So, historically, for better or worse, members of the Senate have been allowed such power for use on rare and important occasions.

And importantly, it placed a requirement of deliberation upon the body that the minority must, at times, be negotiated with. Most reasonable people would concur that in the end, accommodating concerns of the minority usually makes us stronger. In strictly majority-rule, one does not have to even consider the needs or desires of the minority.

Not without good cause

Reid’s action to dilute the meaningfulness of a filibuster in the current atmosphere is not without good cause. A procedure that was used one time when LBJ was Senate Majority Leader has been used over 400 times during the Obama administration to hold Obama appointments hostage and halt legislation of the majority. The chart below shows the escalation in recent decades of the use of the procedure:

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The fix is not this simple

In the U.S. Senate, the rules meant to protect the minority have become abused to the point of halting action of the institution. The fix is not this simple, but one alternative to simply ending the power of the filibuster would have been to require that members maintain the floor for the duration of the filibuster. Everyone remembers Wendy Davis’ marathon filibuster at her desk in the Texas Senate. Currently in the U.S. Senate, a member only has to declare a filibuster and does not have to actually stand and speak during the procedure. To require such would likely cut down on abuse of the rule.

In Texas, both the filibuster and another rule that requires 2/3 of the members of the Texas Senate to bring a piece of legislation up for debate have been under fire in recent times. Just as Wendy Davis’ filibuster was cut short by a non-traditional majority vote in an inexplicably amateurish move by the head of the Texas Senate this summer, there is much discussion of the Texas Senate simply doing away with the rules that require 2/3 of members to move forward with legislation. This rule has served Texas well for decades through both Democratic and Republican majorities, but the radical divide in today’s state and national politics is pushing once-minorities to change rules that will ultimately come back to hurt them.

This nuclear option does not solve the problem

In Texas, the causes of the problem are not the same. Rather than abuse by the minority, it is simply the contempt of the majority that has led to the changes in long-standing rules. On the federal level, both Democrats and Republicans have abused this system, but in the current administration the problem has reached new levels.

Reid’s implementation of the nuclear option, while understandable from one perspective, does not solve the problem that caused the crisis. There are efforts by organizations like No Labels to solve some of these problems in a non-partisan manner. And there are pressures to change the underlying problems – like redistricting gerrymandering and campaign finance issues – that could change the atmosphere over time so that there is less pressure to change rules that are in place for very good reasons.

David Holmes, owner of Intrepid Solutions, has over 20 years experience planning for, avoiding, and solving crises in the public policy, political, and private sectors. David is also a professional mediator and has worked in the Texas music scene.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. rolandestrada

    November 23, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    The framers of the constitution had in mind that the Senate should a more deliberative and as part that, the filibuster. They did not want a majority position to be able to lord over the a minority.

    The use of the nuclear option shows the desperation of the administrtion, realizing some of the battles of Obamacare may play out in the DC district court system. The administration needs more liberal judges for future battles.

    Interestingly, Senator McConnell voiced that should the GOP regain control of the Senate, the nuclear option would be reversed. Hopefully this doesn’t turn into a ping pong enact and repeal option.

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Opinion Editorials

Study says women need to be seen as “warm” to be considered confident

(EDITORIAL) A new study reveals that despite progress, women are still successful when they fall into a stereotype. Let’s discuss.

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About 15 years ago, I took a part-time job in a mental health clinic handling bookkeeping and billing. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I attacked the job with what I felt was confidence. For the first few days, I simply felt as if I was an imposter. I kept asking questions and pushing forward, even though I didn’t make much progress. Within just a few days, I felt the hostility of the office manager.

It got progressively worse, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck I’d done to make her so confrontational with me. I thought I was pleasant and respectful of her position, and I was getting along with the other employees. When I talked to our boss, I was told that I intimidated the office manager. HUH? Me? Intimidating? I was a complete mess at the time. I could barely put together a business casual wardrobe. My emotional health was so fragile that I rarely went anywhere new. And she found me intimidating?

Researchers have been studying how people judge others. Susan Fiske, researcher out of Princeton, found that competence and warmth are two of the dimensions used to judge others. Based on that research, Laura Guillén, Margarita Mayo, and Natalia Karelaia studied the competence and warmth at a software company with 236 engineers.  Guillén and her team collected data at two separate times about these engineers and their confidence and influence within the organization.

They found that “men are seen as confident if they are seen as competent, but women are seen as confident only if they come across as both competent and warm.

Women must be seen as warm in order to capitalize on their competence and be seen as confident and influential at work; competent men are seen as confident and influential whether they are warm or not.”

We encourage women to be confident, but based on current research, it may not be enough to close the gender gap in the workplace. A woman must be seen as helpful and dedicated to others to have the same influence as a man. As a woman, it’s easy to be seen as the #bossbitch when you have to make tough decisions. Those same decisions, when made by a man might be considered just “business as normal.”

I guess the lesson is that women still have to work twice as hard as men just to be seen as equals. I know that I have to work on empathy when I’m in an office environment. That office manager isn’t the only person who has thought I’m intimidating. I’ve heard it from it others, but you know what?  As a self-employed writer, I’d rather be seen as undeterred and daunting than submissive and meek.

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Opinion Editorials

“Starting a business is easy,” said only one guy ever

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Between following rules, finding funding, and gathering research, no business succeeds without lifting a finger.

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While browsing business articles this week, I came across this one, “Top 10 Business Ideas You Can Start for Free With Barely Lifting a Finger.” These types of articles make me mad. I can’t think of many successful freelancers or entrepreneurs who don’t put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to get a business going.

The author of the article is Murray Newlands, a “VIP Contributor.” Essentially, he’s a freelancer because he also contributes to Forbes, HuffPro and others. He’s the founder of ChattyPeople.com, which is important, because it’s the first business idea he promotes in the article.

But when I pull up his other articles on Entrepreneur.com, I see others like “How to Get Famous and Make Money on YouTube,” “Win Like A Targaryen: 10 Businesses You Can Start for Free,” and “10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free.”

I seriously cannot believe that Entrepreneur.com keeps paying for the same ideas over and over.

The business ideas that are suggested are pretty varied. One suggestion is to offer online classes. I wonder if Newlands considered how long it takes to put together a worthy curriculum and how much effort goes into marketing said course.

Then, you have to work out the bugs, because users will have problems. How do you keep someone from stealing your work? What happens when you have a dispute?

Newlands suggests that you could start a blog. It’s pretty competitive these days. The most successful bloggers are ones that really work on their blog, every day. The bloggers have a brand, offer relevant content and are ethical in how they get traffic.

Think it’s easy? Better try again.

I could go on. Every idea he puts up there is a decent idea, but if he thinks it will increase your bottom line without a lot of hard work and effort, he’s delusional.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a plan. They need to work that plan, rethink it and keep working. They have to worry about liability, marketing and keeping up with technologies.

Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s hard work. It is incredibly inappropriate and grossly negligent to encourage someone to risk everything they have and are on the premise of not lifting a finger.

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Opinion Editorials

New age stranger danger: teaching kids about AI

(OPINION EDITORIAL) The world is changing and so is technology. As tech changes so must we, in teaching kids about the dangers about AI.

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When I was younger, when my siblings and I would come home from school, we were required to nourish our minds for an hour (study, homework, read, do math practice, whatever we were feeling that day) and then we were banished from the house until dinner.

We had to go outside and create our own fun. We rode bikes to friends houses, we went “fishing” in the creek, sometimes before we left the house we’d search the couch for loose change and go to our favorite corner store and share a bag of skittles.

Our neighborhood was a safe one — it was one of those ideal 90s neighborhoods where our house was seated on the end of a cul-de-sac so there was little traffic and there were enough kids on the street to field two kickball teams.

Each parent on the street was allowed to reprimand us and there were rarely any locked doors. As a 10 year old it felt like ultimate freedom. But, with that freedom came a very important lesson in strangers and what to do if we were ever approached by one.

I’m sure stranger danger is still a thing taught by parents and schools alike but we went from don’t talk to strangers online or get in strangers’ cars to getting online to request a stranger to drive us somewhere.

With the advancement of technology has come a readiness to bring strangers in (/near / to) our homes. The most invitations coming from those personal assistants many homes can’t seem to function without.

Alexa, Google Home, Bixby or whatever assistant you may use are all essentially strangers that you are willingly bringing into your home.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a college kid that didn’t know that the microphone on those things are always on — as such is true with the Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger apps.

In a recent article from Rachel Botsman (BOTSman, hmmmm), she describes the experience her three year old had with an Alexa.

Over the course of the interactions, her daughter asks the bot a few silly questions, requests a few items to be bought, asks Alexa a few opinions, she ultimately sums up her daughter’s experience as saying, “Today, we are no longer trusting machines just to do something, but to decide what to do and when to do it. The next generation will grow up in an age where it is normal to be surrounded by autonomous agents, with or without cute names.”

I’m not a mother and I’m definitely old enough to be extremely skeptical of machines (iRobot anyone?) but the effects smart bots will undoubtedly have on future generations have me genuinely concerned. Right now it seems as harmless as asking those assistants to order more toilet paper, or to check the weather or to see which movies are screening but what will it become in the future?

A MIT experiment cited in the Botsman article 27 children, aged between three and 10, interacted with Alexa, Google Home, Julie (a chatbot) and, finally, Cozmo (a robot in the form of a toy bulldozer), which are all AI devices/ toys.

The study concluded that almost 80 per cent of the children thought that Alexa would always tell the truth.

Let me repeat that — 80 PERCENT OF THE KIDS BELIEVE THAT THE AIS, CREATED BY COMPANIES WHO WANT TO SELL PRODUCTS, WILL ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH.

The study went on to conclude that some of the children believed they could teach the devices something useful, like how to make a paper plane, suggesting they felt a genuine, give-and-take relationship with the machines.

All of these conclusions beg the question, how can we teach kids (and some adults if we’re being honest) about security and privacy in regards to new technology? How do we teach kids about commercialism and that as innocent as they may seem, not every device was designed altruistically?

We are quickly approaching an age where the strangers we introduce our kids to aren’t the lurkers in the park with the missing dog or the candy in the van, but rather, a robot voice that can tell a joke and give you the weather and order +$70M worth of miscellaneous stuff.

So now, it’s on us. Children of our own or not, we have to start thinking about best practices when it comes to teaching children about the appropriate time to trust in a computer. If the 5 year olds with smart devices are any indicator, teaching kids to be stingy with their trust in AIs will be an uphill battle.

This story was first published here in October of 2017.

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