The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

About time we learned something

As the night follows the day, now that Republicans have lost power they're once again all a-flutter about deficits. This time, Democrats aren't having it:

Twelve years ago, Barack Obama entered the White House amid somewhat similar circumstances: The economy was in a tailspin; stimulus and relief were desperately needed. His administration spent weeks watering down a bill that was more aimed at winning Republican support than adequately filling the yawning hole in the economy: The bill’s bottom-line figure was kept below $1 trillion so as not to spook the deficit hawks, and much of the relief it did include was engineered to flow into the gap with such subtlety that it was destined to be barely felt at all.

For all of Obama’s entreaties to his political opponents, Republicans rejected it anyway. They were rewarded for all that intransigence first with a big opinion swing against the stimulus and then by a wave election that took back control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

Despite all that has happened between January 2009 and February 2021, Republicans are running the same plays: fighting against economic relief in the hopes that they can use the immiseration that would follow for their political benefit.

But this is not 2009. The situation may be vaguely similar—an economic crash following catastrophic Republican governance—but the world has changed a great deal. The Black-Eyed Peas have faded toward irrelevance; most people now acknowledge that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was bad. And the attacks on Democratic spending have lost some of their spicy tang after another deficit-busting GOP administration.

The media also seems to have learned some lessons from the radicalization of the GOP. Once, a lack of opposition votes was a scandal in miniature. In 2009, McConnell was able to weaponize that idea, pushing the Obama administration to downgrade its asks without ever having to give anything up in return. McConnell got cover from media luminaries such as David Broder, who approvingly cited Obama’s bipartisan yearnings: “The president has told visitors that he would rather have 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that gives him 85 percent of what he wants rather than a 100 percent satisfactory bill that passes 52 to 48.” It’s taken a while—and a deadly pandemic—but many in the often fabulously naïve Beltway press have gotten smarter. Now the narrative is increasingly centered on McConnell’s intransigence, rather than some failure on the part of Democrats to persuade Republicans to vote for legislation that would have been bipartisan not that long ago.

Right. It only took a Republican administration's incompetence allowing mass death from a pandemic to finally—finally!—get people understand they have no interest in governing.

Might we soon enter a truly progressive era in American politics? It's about damn time if we do.

The ossification of right-wing "constitutional originalists"

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) Tweeted yesterday morning, "Protecting and defending the Constitution doesn’t mean trying to rewrite the parts you don’t like." Josh Marshall wasted no time taking her to school:

Who's gonna tell her?

There's a worthwhile point that we can draw out of this otherwise useless dumbshittery. Folks on the right who stile themselves "constitutional conservatives" generally know next to nothing about the constitution and treat it as a kind of go to unicorn to validate what they want to be true.

But even to the extent some have a decent understanding of the original document, or even the original with the first batch of amendments, there is a strong implicit and sometimes explicitly assumption that the "real" constitution is what we might call the first edition. But of course it's not.

The system was designed with a roadmap and set of rules for revision built in. Toward the end of his life Justice Thurgood Marshall gave a speech in which he said the original constitution was a morally defective document which has no claim on anyone's allegiance today. It's only with the Civil War Amendments (13-15) that the American republic and its foundational document assume any moral force and claim on a patriotic allegiance today.

To the extent there are 'founders' in whose house we currently live, who have a claim on us over the centuries it's the founders of this second republic, the authors of Reconstruction.

In other words, how can you claim to love the Constitution but pretend Article V doesn't exist?

And I hate Ted Cruz

The junior US Senator from Texas, Republican Ted Cruz, has demonstrated a particular unfitness for office this week:

Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Ted Cruz jetted to Cancún. And although the emperor was at least ensconced in a lavish, louche palace, the senator from Texas was stuck in economy class with the peasantry.

Cruz’s appeal as a politician, such as it is, has never been about being lovable or relatable, but the latest incident is embarrassing even by his standards. He was spotted on a flight to Mexico yesterday, amid a catastrophic storm that has left Texans without power, heat, and sometimes water, huddled in freezing homes and community centers as the state’s electrical grid verges on collapse. More than a dozen of his constituents have already died. Cruz is headed home today—if not necessarily chastened, at least eager to control the damage. In a statement, he said he took the trip at his daughters’ behest. Blaming your children is a curious tack for an embattled politician, but he doesn’t have much else to work with.

It is tempting to turn the “hypocrite” label on Cruz, but his sin is worse. Every politician is a hypocrite at some point. Cruz’s error is not that he was shirking a duty he knew he should have been performing. It’s that he couldn’t think of any way he could use his power as a U.S. senator to help Texans in need. That’s a failure of imagination and of political ideology.

Cruz’s callousness about his constituents’ suffering is not just morally appalling. It is also—and this probably weighs more heavily on Cruz—politically dangerous. There’s growing evidence that even Republicans drifted toward a larger role for government in the Donald Trump era.

In related news, former US Senator Al Franken (D-MN) reports on Facebook that his "And I Hate Ted Cruz" coffee mugs are flying off the shelves today.

A quarter of Texas has no electricity

Extreme cold and winter weather slammed Texas over the weekend, dropping temperatures to -9°C in Houston and causing snow in Galveston. But Texas politics has made the situation far, far worse as power failures have affected a quarter of all Texans:

As this map makes obvious, politics seems to have caused the worst of it. The right-wing Republican government of Texas slashed regulations and even disconnected Texas from the National Grid to avoid Federal rules. And now, the poorest and hardest-hit in the state are being charged extortionate rates for what little electricity the state can produce:

Until recently, the average price for electricity in Texas was a bit more than 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Even before the storm's full effects were felt, Griddy warned its customers on Friday that prices rose to an average of around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Things got even worse over the weekend and the Presidents Day holiday.

With demand high and market pressures raising costs, wholesale power prices "were more than $9,000 per megawatt hour late Monday morning, compared with pre-storm prices of less than $50 per megawatt hour," Reuters reported.

While Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott calls for an investigation into the regulatory body that his own party created, conservative trolls have tried to deflect their own malfeasance by claiming the renewable energy producers in Texas have failed, even though (a) only 10% of Texas electricity comes from renewables and (b) the renewable sources have actually increased their output to meet the new demand after the storm.

To put it bluntly, government policies favoring wealthy white men in Texas caused this entirely preventable, and entirely predictable, catastrophe. And, equally as predictable, the people most responsible for endangering the lives of their state's poorer and browner citizens have tried to blame everyone except themselves for it.

Meanwhile, about 10% of Oregon's residents went without electricity after a massive ice storm knocked out power lines and equipment throughout the Willamette Valley, resulting in the largest power outage in the state's history. Unlike the situation in Texas, this will not result in predatory pricing or people starving to death, because Oregon has a functioning government.

You remember we won, right? (Fire DeJoy edition)

The New Republic's Alex Pareene finds the obvious way to cut the Gordian knot tying Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to his post:

If you’ve sent or received any mail over the last few months, you may have noticed that the United States Postal Service is not in great shape. After Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser, took over as postmaster general last June, he quickly implemented a series of “reforms” seemingly designed to slow down service, leading to precipitous declines in the speed with which mail was delivered. Over the holidays, fewer than 40 percent of letters arrived on time.

Unfortunately, though, we’re stuck with this arrangement. It is how it is. Nothing to be done. All because of a law passed in 1970, which created a post office governing body whose rules and terms were last altered by Congress as recently as 2006.

In other words, the only way around this seemingly intractable mess—the only way to be rid of this saboteur DeJoy—would be for Congress, which Democrats control, and which is already working on postal reform, to pass some sort of law tinkering with the makeup of the board, or changing how it is run, or allowing a president once again to appoint the postmaster general directly or, really, almost anything else that would achieve the same result.

It's the same kind of thinking that keeps the District of Columbia in perpetual stasis because apparently people have forgotten that we can create states with simple legislation.

Ice fishing, orcas, and budget reconciliation

These are just some of the things I read at lunch today:

  • Ezra Klein looks at how a $1.9 trillion proposal got through the US Senate and concludes the body has become "a Dadaist nightmare."
  • Several groups of ice fishermen, 66 in total, found themselves drifting into Green Bay (the bay, not the city) yesterday, when the ice floe they were fishing on broke away from the shore ice. Given that Lake Michigan has one of the smallest ice covers in years right now, this seems predictable and tragic.
  • Writing in the Washington Post, Bruce Schneier laments that government security agencies have to customize President Biden's Peloton stationary bicycle to make it safe to use in the White House—not because of the effort involved to keep the president safe, but because very few people will have a Peloton with that level of security.
  • The resident Orca population in the Salish Sea between British Columbia and Washington has immigration issues and declining standards of living. (So far, none of them has joined the Proud Whales.)

Finally, McSweeney's translates US Representative Marjorie Green's (R-GA) non-apology for being a racist whacko into simpler terms.

Sunny and (relatively) warm

It's exactly 0°C in Chicago this afternoon, which is a bog-standard temperature for February 3rd. And it's sunny, which isn't typical. So, with the forecast for a week of bitter cold starting Friday evening, I'm about to take a 30-minute walk to take advantage of today's weather. First, though:

Early February is also the time of year when we start imagining spring. Tomorrow's sunrise is at 7am for the first time since December 1st, and we had 10 hours of daylight last week for the first time since mid-November. Yes, Chicago typically has an Arctic blast sometime during February. But Spring begins in 25 days. We can make it.

We invite you to support this bipartisan bill

Senate Democrats gave the opposition three whole days to stop dicking around with the latest Covid-19 relief package. Then today, with no more than a shrug, they told the Republicans they're tired of the crap:

Senate Democrats took the first step Tuesday toward passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill without Republican support, advancing their efforts to avoid a GOP filibuster.

The vote to kickstart the budget reconciliation process, which passed 50-49, is a sign that leadership expects to have the full Democratic caucus on board for the final package.

The vote comes a day after President Joe Biden met with a group of Senate Republicans, who are offering a $618 billion counterproposal. Although Biden told Senate Democrats Tuesday on a private caucus call that the meeting went well, he also said the Republican proposal is not sufficient, according to sources on the call.

Economist Paul Krugman has already explained the ways the GOP's $618 billion "offer" wasn't serious:

It’s not just that the G.O.P. proposal is grotesquely inadequate for a nation still ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond that, by their behavior — not just over the past few months but going back a dozen years — Republicans have forfeited any right to play the bipartisanship card, or even to be afforded any presumption of good faith.

But what about bipartisanship? As Biden might say, “C’mon, man.”

First of all, a party doesn’t get to demand bipartisanship when many of its representatives still won’t acknowledge that Biden won legitimately, and even those who eventually acknowledged the Biden victory spent weeks humoring baseless claims of a stolen election.

Complaints that it would be “divisive” for Democrats to pass a relief bill on a party-line vote, using reconciliation to bypass the filibuster, are also pretty rich coming from a party that did exactly that in 2017, when it enacted a large tax cut — legislation that, unlike pandemic relief, wasn’t a response to any obvious crisis, but was simply part of a conservative wish list.

Yes. It only took, what, 12 years? But our party's leadership have finally figured out not to play this game. We're not giving Lucy the football on this one.

Party like it's 1850? 1828? 1964? Who knows

I've often compared this era in American politics with previous eras, most notably the Antebellum period from Jackson on. Yale historian Joanne Freeman zeroes in on 1850—at least as far as our representatives' behavior in Congress

Although couched in calls for unity, [Republican] warnings are remarkably one-sided. There is no talk of reconciliation or compromise. No acceptance of responsibility. Lots of blame casting. And little willingness to calm and inform their base. Even now, some Republicans refuse to admit that Joe Biden won the election, and the Senate vote on an impeachment trial on Jan. 26 suggests that most Republicans want no investigation and will place no blame. They want reconciliation without apologies, concessions without sacrifice, power without accountability.

This is bullying as politics, the modus operandi of our departed chief. Hardly a Trumpian innovation, its heyday was in the decades before the Civil War. During the 1840s and 1850s, America was divided over the fate of slavery. Political parties were splintering under the strain. National institutions were struggling — and failing — to contain it. The press sensationalized the struggle to serve a cause and sell papers.

Southerners had long dominated the national government, and they felt entitled to that power. They were also worried about losing it, a product of the rise of abolitionism and potentially free states forming in the West. Viewing their violence as defensive and justifiable, they fended off attacks on slavery with force when necessary, demanding compliance or silence from their foes, and sometimes getting it.

For some Southerners, this brand of politics wasn’t much of a stretch; their slave regime was grounded in violence, and mastery was their way of life. Between 1830 and 1860, there were at least 70 violent incidents on the House and Senate floors, most of them prompted by Southerners.

With the centuries-long history of Southern white politicians advocating for Southern white minority power, does their behavior today surprise anyone? Freeman concludes:

It needs to assert the power of democratic institutions and the rule of law with a comprehensive investigation into the attack and punishment of its enablers, not in a spirit of revenge, but justly, fairly and consistently. It’s stunning that it needs to be said, but it must be: People who stage, support, or incite violent attacks on the federal government — whether they’re American citizens, members of Congress or the president himself — should be held accountable, not only to restore order in the present, but to fend off similar attacks in the future. Uniting the nation requires no less.

Yes. Lest we find ourselves lurching through the 1850s again. We all know how that ended.

The crazy gets crazier

The Republican Party had several chances to pull itself back from the brink. They failed. Instead, they keep going deeper into the dark hole of wanting to invalidate an election for the sole reason that their guy lost. Josh Marshall outlines their dangerous insanity:

What we see most clearly today is the GOP moving quickly to align itself with the instigators of the January 6 insurrection and the coup plotters who laid the groundwork for it. This may seem like hyperbole, but it is not. Kevin McCarthy, who earlier this month was saying President Trump bore responsibility for instigating the assault, is now making his pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to meet with the disgraced former President and secure his blessing. The only Republicans who stood clearly against the insurrection – like Liz Cheney – are being purged from the party. Trumpist luminaries like Tucker Carlson are already mocking the fears of representatives who feared they’d be murdered on January 6. (That’s right out of the rightist troll culture where you’re blamed for the predation against you for “not getting it.”)

The GOP has had a series of decision points over recent months, the most recent of which was after the January 6 insurrection. The shock of actually being the targets of the assault in many cases created a moment of hesitation. But that wore off quickly.

After early efforts to deflect blame or even blame Antifa for the Capitol insurrection, Republicans are shifting to the view that it was understandable, even justified and may need to happen again to secure Republican ends.

Kathleen Parker says simply that the GOP is dead:

Where conservatism once served as a moderating force — gently braking liberalism’s boundless enthusiasm — the former home of ordered liberty has become a halfway house for ruffians, insurrectionists and renegadewarriors.

The party’s end was inevitable, foreshadowed in 2008 when little-boy Republican males, dazzled by the pretty, born-again, pro-life Alaska governor, thought Sarah Palin should be a heartbeat away from the presidency. The dumbing down of conservatism, in other words, began its terminal-velocity plunge, with a wink and a pair of shiny red shoes.

Going forward, not only will House Republicans be associated with a colleague who “liked” a Twitter post calling for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s murder. They’ll be attached to QAnon, which promotes the extraordinary fiction that Trump was leading a war against Satan-worshiping pedophiles and cannibals, whose leadership includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and, oh, by the way, yours truly, as well as U2’s Bono.

To those Republicans who can read: You own all of this. The party isn’t doomed; it’s dead. The chance to move away from Trumpism, toward a more respectful, civilized approach to governance that acknowledges the realities of a diverse nation and that doesn’t surrender to the clenched fist, has slipped away.

Predictably, the House and Senate GOP caucuses continue to mock President Biden's calls for unity by insisting that the only unified path forward is for Biden to do what the GOP wants. Also predictably, the Republican Party has less and less to say about policy these days, so it really isn't clear what they want. It seems only that they want power, but they have no idea (or they're not saying) what they would do with it should they obtain it.

For the last 10 days I've felt relieved in ways I didn't even realize that the XPOTUS has left the public arena, possibly for good. But about a third of my fellow Americans seem to have lost their minds. So I'm not completely relieved.