Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Friday, March 12, 2021

Happy Friday

What a difference a year makes, just in prime-time presidential addresses: going from flop-sweating Trump (“Holy shit now what”) to Joe Biden and his cautiously hopeful homily about dealing with the pandemic: things are looking up, but we still have to be vigilant.  Apparently it got through because the Republicans and their Wormtongues over at Fox News are trashing their shorts about how the $1.9 trillion will destroy the beautiful world crafted by grifters and felons… and then horn in on the credit when it works.

Now comes the part where President Biden and his team goes out and sells it to the nation.  That shouldn’t be too hard since the legislation has very wide bipartisan support.  The only dissent is from the gang that still won’t acknowledge that he won the election, but that begs the question of why any reasonable person should be expected to deal with them.  They’re grousing about “unity” when they didn’t want it?  Seriously?

Speaking of unity:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Friday, December 18, 2020

Happy Friday

Scrolling through memories and trying to put the times in perspective, it was ten years ago this week that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed.

The Moderna vaccine will soon be available, basically doubling the number of doses, and hopefully will be used in places where they are urgently needed, including the place where my mom lives.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) has been nominated by Joe Biden to be his Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet.  (Some nervous pundits are fretting about whittling away at the already narrow majority the Democrats have in the House, but the district is a safe seat; at least it was when I lived there.)

I am off for two weeks from my part-time jobs at the charter schools.  I work hourly, but I also have some work I need to do from home for year-end.

And a token of the season…

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Cabinetry

The grown-ups are taking charge.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will nominate Pete Buttigieg to be secretary of transportation, Mr. Biden’s transition team announced Tuesday, selecting a former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and former opponent who would bring a younger voice to the cabinet and add to its diversity as its first openly gay member.

[…]

President-elect Joseph R. Biden will nominate Jennifer M. Granholm, a former governor of Michigan and a longtime champion of renewable energy development, to be the next secretary of energy, according to four people close to the president-elect’s transition team.

If confirmed, Ms. Granholm, 61, will be the second woman, after Hazel R. O’Leary, who served under President Bill Clinton, to lead the vast department, which oversees the United States nuclear weapons complex as well as 17 national laboratories and a wide range of energy research and development initiatives.

I know some folks are wondering why Mayor Pete, with all his foreign policy interests, is given a post that sounds more like a backbench job. But since the country is in desperate need of infrastructure restoration starting with roads, bridges, and a rail system that hasn’t been upgraded since Harry Truman’s whistle-stop campaign in 1948, perhaps someone with civic experience could lead us there. Also, his foreign policy background would open the door to listening to ideas from places like Europe where they have outdone us in public transportation. Having him be the first openly gay cabinet member is just a nice plus.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

It Really Is Official

The Electoral College has spoken.

It began at 10 a.m. in New Hampshire, where electors met in a statehouse chamber festooned with holiday decorations and gave their four votes to Joseph R. Biden Jr. By noon on Monday, the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, ground zero for many of President Trump’s fruitless lawsuits, had backed Mr. Biden too. In New York, Bill and Hillary Clinton voted for Mr. Biden along with 27 other electors.

And when California cast its 55 votes for Mr. Biden around 5:30 p.m. Eastern time, it pushed him past the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency, putting the official seal on his victory after weeks of efforts by Mr. Trump to use legal challenges and political pressure to overturn the results.

With the Electoral College vote behind him, Mr. Biden called for unity while forcefully denouncing the president and his allies for their assault on the nation’s voting system. In an address in Wilmington, Del., on Monday night, he said the Republican efforts to get the Supreme Court to undo the result represented a “position so extreme we’ve never seen it before,” and called the attacks on election officials at the local level “unconscionable.”

Here’s his speech.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sunday Reading

Worth It — Matthew Yglesias, now with the Washington Post, on the price progressives paid to get rid of Trump.

Progressives are already registering their disappointments with President-elect Joe Biden. When he announced that Rep. Cedric Richmond (La.), one of his campaign co-chairs, will serve as director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, the climate group Sunrise Movement tweeted that Richmond “has taken big money from the fossil fuel industry, cozied up w/oil and gas, & stayed silent while polluters poisoned his own community.” Justice Democrats spokesman Waleed Shahid denounced incoming presidential counselor Steve Ricchetti as a “former pharma lobbyist” who “has represented groups vociferously opposed to Medicare For All and the public manufacturing of prescription drugs.” Antony Blinken, the designated secretary of state, while well-regarded by national security professionals across the board, is very much a foreign policy hawk in the mold of, well, Joe Biden.

The left’s frustration is understandable (though some appointees, like incoming chief of staff Ron Klain and treasury nominee Janet Yellen, are better received in those quarters), but there really isn’t much ground for disappointment. As the Reagan-era mantra goes, “Personnel is policy,” and Biden promised a moderate administration, with nods at Obama-era priorities and even bipartisanship.

In the Democratic primary race, Biden argued that this was the way to beat President Trump, and it worked. Incumbents don’t often lose, and for Trump to do so while a majority of voters told Gallup they were better off than they were four years ago is extraordinary. Despite Trump’s post-election antics, the race wasn’t even close. Biden scored a larger share of the popular vote than any challenger since Franklin D. Roosevelt facing down Herbert Hoover, and his moderation was almost certainly key to that success.

Biden ran ahead of House Democrats and most of the party’s Senate candidates in key states such Maine, North Carolina and Georgia. One notable exception was former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who won his Senate race positioned to the right of Biden ideologically. Voters wanted Trump gone, and they like some of the Democrats’ ideas, but there’s little sign of a hunger in the electorate for sweeping progressive change. A general-election presidential candidate who promised that probably would have done worse.

Even a moderate Democratic president backed by big congressional majorities would be likely to deliver major policy changes — just as Barack Obama did in 2009-2010. That’s not going to happen in Biden’s Washington, though (at least not initially), and not because of whom he appoints. The congressional math simply doesn’t support it.

Congressional deadlock will fuel the left’s taste for aggressive executive action. But how much sense does it make to cast the appointments of figures such as Richmond; Ricchetti, who was chief of staff to Vice President Biden; and Blinken, Biden’s former national security adviser, as major betrayals? The personnel-is-policy lament originated in the context of an insurgent president who, conservatives believed, had promised a clean break with the Eisenhower-Nixon moderate GOP establishment. The reality of governance made it inevitable that Ronald Reagan would rely to an extent on old Washington hands, but the right sought to limit their influence and feared betrayal from within. Similarly, many Democrats backed Obama in the 2008 primary because they wanted to avoid a restoration of Bill Clinton’s administration. Watching many key positions later go to Clinton veterans stung.

On that score, much of the current bellyaching feels like characters reading a script that was written with an Elizabeth Warren or Julián Castro administration in mind — a narrative that doesn’t fit the actual circumstances. Biden promised to beat Trump and put competent people back in charge, and that’s what he’s doing. Anything else progressives get is gravy.

Progressive journalist Zeeshan Aleem defends whining about Biden appointments, saying, “This is a critical moment for dissent, and a situation where narrative-formation can be a substantial form of leverage.” Not really. The election results don’t leave progressives with important leverage. Senate confirmations will be controlled by a clutch of moderates in both parties. If Democrats win both of Georgia’s Senate runoffs in January, then they can write a budget reconciliation bill that’s exactly as ambitious as very-slightly-left-of-center Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) want to see. Other bills will need to be bipartisan.

That’s not to say progressives ought to sit down and shut up. But they do need to choose their battles. Frederick the Great is credited with saying, “He who defends everything defends nothing.” A case in point: The effort by several progressive congressional Democrats to keep “deficit hawk” Bruce Reed away from the Office of Management and Budget is considerably more credible if you’re not complaining about every longtime Biden ally who’s up for every job.

There’s also more to life than leverage. Biden’s team faces the genuinely difficult question of how to get things done with a sharply polarized Congress. The idea of student debt cancellation via executive action has gained steam largely because progressives developed the insight that this is a thing that can actually be done. But cancellation can come in various forms, and not many people are sold on the merits of canceling all student debt (including for, say, recent Harvard Law School graduates). Developing a more targeted approach that meets skeptics’ concerns should be possible and would be a big win. Similarly, progressives have an opportunity to tell the White House what their priorities and red lines in congressional negotiations are. Do they want Biden to block any tax cuts for the rich, or do they want to him show flexibility if, in exchange, he can win something important as a concession? And if so, what would that be?

Even the most left-wing White House staff members will find it challenging to make progress given the congressional math. And even the most moderate Democrats have policy ambitions grander than what Congress is likely to pass. It’s going to be a frustrating time for all Democratic factions. But there’s no gain in responding to frustration by nursing grievances over a fake sense of betrayal. Biden will do the job Democrats hired him to do. And the most valuable commodity in Washington’s new order won’t be “leverage” but viable ideas.

Welcome to Our Writing Retreat; You’re Grounded! — Patty Terhune in The New Yorker.

We are so excited to welcome you to our revolutionary writing retreat, You’re Grounded! Year after year, our alumni rave about how our services inspired incredible professional and personal growth. Our program aims to take your head out of your ass so that you may recognize the ways in which your regular routine reflects poorly on us. Everything you’ve ever done before this retreat and everything you will do after reflects on us. Yes, even that time you drove past your neighbor Tom without waving. He’s a nice man, and what better things did you have going on that you couldn’t spare him a polite hello? You know we didn’t raise you like that. Yes, here, we’re your family. That’s why you need to be Grounded.

Because everybody reacts differently to the experience of being Grounded, there is not a specified duration for your stay with us. Some people need two days, others need two weeks, and still others have been here for years. We recommend that you enter into this experience with an open mind. If you complain and whine about how your sister only had to go on this retreat for three days, you won’t be able to fully grow during your residency. You will remain here until we dismiss you, and we won’t dismiss you until we know for sure that you have learned your lesson.

Please remember, we were thinking of you when we created this space. To encourage self-reflection and to insure that everyone is fully present, we have a strict no-technology policy. So please power down your cell phones, laptops, and video games, and put them into our junk drawer. You’ll get your items back when we feel that you have earned them. Any breach of this policy will result in an immediate extension of your stay, as it shows us that you aren’t treating us with respect, which is just so typical of you. Do you think we do this because we like it? Of course not. We hate having to play this role. But we do it for you!

It may seem harsh at times, but everything about being Grounded is specifically designed to bring out the best in you. Because of that, communication with friends or other attendees is prohibited. No late-night fast-food runs, no hallway chitchat about how “this is so unfair.” If you find yourself wanting to complain, just remember that we love you—but we don’t have to like you. So choose your words carefully.

If you are feeling isolated and alone, you can journal about your thoughts and feelings. In fact, we require it. The primary goal of this retreat is to make sure that you think about what you’ve done. Then we want you to think about it again. Then sit down and force yourself to do better. We’re not mad that you haven’t been living up to your potential and have been dishonoring the sacrifices of your entire lineage. We’re just disappointed.

We run this retreat because we believe in you. We see your full promise. We see all of the amazing things that you could accomplish and all of the fulfillment you could feel. We want you to have the space to see that, too. We want you to start to treat yourself with the self-respect that you deserve and also to create an amazing piece of work. But, first, we want you to apologize to your sister for saying that her dog is ugly. She can’t help that.

Now go to your room.

Doonesbury — Blissful ignorance.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Sunday Reading

What’s inside the blue bag on front porches all over America this morning.

Our Better Angels — Charles P. Pierce.

Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile.

King Lear, Act IV, Scene 2

At the moment, we have a president*.

In a few months, it appears, we will have a president.

The asterisk is dead. May god have mercy on its soul.

I stayed up until 5 a.m. on Friday morning, just long enough for Joe Biden to pass El Caudillo Del Mar-a-Lago in the remarkable state of Georgia, and he did so with votes from Clayton County, the late John Lewis’ old congressional district. I was asleep when Pennsylvania finally flipped after the sun came up. I did what every true American patriot has done all week—curse the Electoral College for murdering sleep—and realized that I’m going to be working against muscle memory every time I type the word “president” for quite some time. I apologize to President-Elect Biden in advance in case I occasionally drop the asterisk out of habit, until I get used to the idea that this president* and his awful family and his terrible administration* are vapor.

Joe Biden has come through a lot of history, and not unscathed, either. I applied to be one of his speechwriters in 1976, fresh out of college. (I didn’t get the gig, which is why he hasn’t built his library already.) Since then, he’s run for president three times. In 1988, he was sunk by a plagiarism scandal brought to light by operatives in the employ of Michael Dukakis. (When Mike Dukakis oppo’s you out of a race, it’s like losing a fistfight with Plato.) In 2008—Twenty years later!—he was swept aside by the phenomenon of Barack Obama, of whom he memorably once said,

“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

And this is why campaign aides jump out of windows.

Obama, of course, held no grudges and, by picking Biden as a running mate, revived his career as cool Uncle Joe, one of the more remarkable charisma transfusions in the history of American politics. There is no question that Biden was transformed by the vice presidency, making him the first vice president to be elevated rather than minimized by that office, at least without the president’s having died. The gaffe-ridden friend of the Delaware financial-services industry slipped on the aviators, unleashed his killer smile, and found his way back to being the decent guy, friend of the Amtrak commuters, damn fine Dad, that everybody who really knew him always said he was. The guy who choked so badly during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings was sent to wrangle votes for a stimulus deal and the Affordable Care Act, and generally was one of the great wingmen any president ever had.

So, when he announced he was running for president again—32 years later!—and when he said he was doing so to recapture the soul of America, people bought it. Even when he barely crawled through the primary processes in Iowa and New Hampshire, he clung to that message—that we are somehow better than the president* we had elected in 2016, that the better angels of our nature were not taking a few years off. The message found an audience as soon as the primary electorate became less Caucasian, especially in South Carolina, where Congressman Jim Clyburn pointed the way. At which point, the country’s simple desire for cool and blessed normality asserted itself. I freely admit that I underestimated the political salience of that simple truth.

Events then conspired to intensify that desire. The pandemic hit in the middle of the year and the economy cratered as a result. The most intense racial upheaval since the 1960s struck with the murder of George Floyd. Biden stayed resolutely on message—that, basically, we have it in us to make it all OK. There was a brilliant jiu-jitsu element to that message. It insulated Biden from being firmly tagged with any rioting and looting that went on. It absorbed every episode of angry lunacy emanating from the White House as validation of its basic raison d’être. We can survive even the president* that we have inflicted upon ourselves, the message was. There is no crisis that Americans cannot overcome, not even each other. In all honesty, the truth of that message is still very much up in air; one thing that the 2020 election has proven is that the 2016 election wasn’t anywhere near the outlier that a lot of people wanted it to be. But, simply as a reason to vote for someone, it was both extraordinarily powerful and just barely enough.


SICINIUS: What is the city but the people?

CITIZENS: True, the people are the city.

BRUTUS: By the consent of all, we were establish’d the people’s magistrates.

—Shakespeare, Coriolanus, Act I, Scene 1.

Citizens of the following cities saved the American republic: Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and (possibly) Phoenix.

Remember these names: Stacey Abrams of Georgia, Ben Wikler of Wisconsin, Jane Fleming Kleeb of Nebraska. They saved the American Republic.

Black voters saved the American republic.

Women voters saved the American republic.

Over 70 million American citizens saved the American republic.

The late Congressman Elijah Cummings left behind the question for us all to answer:

When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: “In [2019], what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?” Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?

Joe Biden is the 46th President of the United States.

Kamala Harris is the 49th Vice President of the United States.

At the moment, another verse from Seamus Heaney, whom Biden used as a kind of unofficial speechwriter throughout this long, weird year, seems appropriate to the occasion, to the election of a president-elect for whom fatherhood has been both glory and deep, unhealed wound, something that touched a country desperate for the kind of solace that Joe Biden brought home from Washington every night on the Acela to his bereaved sons back in Wilmington.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.

Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

Doonesbury — Shearing the sheep.

Saturday, November 7, 2020