Paul Krugman, 2/7:
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.
Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.
Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.
...Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama...has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations — about 70 high-level government positions — until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center...
In the past, holds were used sparingly... Rules that used to be workable have become crippling now that one of the nation’s major political parties has descended into nihilism, seeing no harm — in fact, political dividends — in making the nation ungovernable.
Also, from John Mauldin (ibid) quoting Donald Morris in 1993 - "If all of the Greek islands were merged with the mainland, it would be about the size of Alabama; there are 10 million Greeks - and perhaps another 4 million living throughout the world, who still think of themselves as Greek. They are, thanks to their history, magnificent patriots and nationalists - and abominable citizens, who deeply mistrust every government they've ever had. Essentially they are fierce individualists, who mistrust not so much whatever government happens to be in power as the very idea of government. The have almost no sense of civic responsibility - Pericles complained about this at length - and History has never given them much of a chance to work out a stable system of government. Democracy, yes (the Greeks invented it!!), but stability, no."
--Update, 2/10. Shelby released his holds after Obama threatened to do "recess appointments" of all O's nominated federal appointees.