The Tyranny of the Minority: How 11% of Americans blocked the extension of Unemployment Benefits

The U.S. Senate had a vote on February 6th 2014 to extend Unemployment Benefits, and the vote was 58 in favor, 40 opposed with 2 abstentions.  Actually the vote was for Cloture, required to pass before sending a piece of legislation to the floor for a final vote.  Cloture is related to the Filibuster, and is used to end debate on a bill and allow the bill to proceed for a final vote.  All legislation in the U.S. Senate need to go through Cloture, and Cloture requires a Super Majority of 60 Yea votes before a bill can proceed for a final vote.  This means that if 41 Senators are opposed to a piece of legislation they can block it from coming up for a vote by denying Cloture.  So while the vote was solidly in favor of extending unemployment benefits 58-40, without the support of 60 Senators it did not achieve Cloture and the Unemployment Benefits were not extended.

For most of history voting to reject Cloture was only used by the minority party for major pieces of legislation.  But in the past few decades the use of Cloture to block legislation has increased, and is at an unprecedented level in this current Congress.  Virtually every piece of legislation now requires 60 votes in the Senate to make it through Cloture before it can proceed to a simple majority rule vote.  By denying Cloture, 41 Senators can effectively block any legislation from being passed into law.

I wanted to do some number-crunching to see how many voters elected the Senators that defeated the Bill to extend Unemployment Benefits.  My calculations showed that the 40 Senators, along with the two that abstained that were likely also opposed to the Bill, were elected with the votes from about 34.6 million individuals.  This number is about 26% of regular voters, 16% of eligible voters, and finally only 11% of the total population of the United States.  So while we think that in the United States we have majority rule, legislation can be blocked by those elected by a small minority of Americans, hardly what I think our founding fathers had in mind.

See appendix for my calculations – click on link at next page

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Just because I am not paranoid, does not mean they are not out to get me….

The title of this piece is a flip of an old adage.  Those of us who are not paranoid “conspiracy theorists” often look in feigned indifference to those who promote wild theories in things like the Kennedy assassination, the World Trade Center Disaster and now flu shots.  My irritation is that while I generally do not believe in these “conspiracy theories”, I even more critically think these distract many often progressive activists from real and much more dangerous conspiracies.

I have always thought about this, but with this years’ flu season and the push for flu shots it came back with a vengeance as I see the flood of posts from those advocating that the flu shot is some type of scam, or worse a corporate plot.  People I know and respect are spending large amounts of energy arguing about the flu shots, while many real “conspiracies” are getting much less airtime.  The people and institutions behind these real conspiracies are just laughing their heads off as they see energetic, well-meaning, often politically progressive people expend their energies and investigative skills on things like flu shots, the Kennedy assignation and the World Trade Center disaster.

As a progressive I truly believe we do live in a world of conspiracies.  However they are very complex and not as sexy as those that are getting the bulk of the airplay.  These include the banking cartel and how they manipulate money and the markets to their advantage, the military industrial complex that keeps us “at war” and spends more here in the US on armaments than the next 15 industrial countries combined.  The medical/pharmaceutical industry that has Americans spending about twice per capita of what other industrialized counties pay for medical care, yet somehow we are at the bottom of almost every objective measurement of health.  Lastly, dear to my families heart, is the school testing movement and union busting conservatives that have ginned up fears that our schools are at an all-time low and only high stakes tests and charter schools can save our children. However most of these in positions of power have children in private schools that have almost no high-stakes tests, but to hear more of this go to my mothers blog at

Every time I sit with someone who starts to go on and on about the World Trade Centers or similar conspiracy they will point to “studies” and websites with pictures and other proof validating their claims.  In this new digital world there will almost always be someone out there with some type of credentials who post something from about every angle of any issue.  However many people lack the skills to sift the wheat from the chaff and find ways to get to truly reliable unbiased sources, or better yet, first person expertise.  My uncle is an accomplished architect and has spent much of his life with engineers.  When I spoke with him about the WTC tragedy he said in his circles it was clear that these planes with their thousands of gallons of fuel provided sufficient power to start a chain reaction that led to the destruction of the towers and other nearby buildings.  When I talk to my doctor and doctor/neighbor, both who happen to be about as non-interventionist as possible, both say it is clear most people should get the flu shot.  Is it possible this is some type of Manchurian Candidate plot to inject everyone with some mind control medicine?  Well if so, for those of us who have had any fluoride in their water it is already too late.

The bottom line is that I actually think the true conspiratorial cabal may actually foment these wild theories and certainly revels in those wasting good energies chasing ghosts.  There are real conspiracies, they are just not as deliciously sweet as the sugarcoated inanity that consumes far too much of our airwaves.  Now the hard part is to try to find ways to make these real conspiracies more digestible.  Any ideas out there?

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