A Plague on Both your Houses
The title of this article and the pun in the header image are from the Death of Mercutio in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. It seems an appropriate curse to place on the leadership and dominant actors of both parties in both chambers of Congress and in state legislatures across the country.
The quote is particularly true in the Senate.
A Brief Quiz
Before we begin, I’d like you to take a brief quiz. Don’t panic. The quiz is just one task … asking you to match the 6 pictures on the right with the 6 identifying characteristics listed below.
- This person is the Senate Minority Leader.
- This person is one of two Democrats who could prevent the party from bypassing the Senate “Filibuster Rule”.
- This person is the other Democrat who is defending the Senate “Filibuster Rule”.
- This person is the Senate Majority Leader.
- This person is the Speaker of the House.
- This person is the House Minority Leader.
When you’re ready to check your answers, click here.
- 1 = E – Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the Senate Minority Leader. In the 117th Congress, the Senate is divided 50-50. Because Vice President Kamala Harris breaks all tie votes … and, it’s assumed that she will vote in favor of her own party’s position …, the Democrats are considered to be the Majority Party.
- 2 = B – Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been the leading Democrat clinging to the Senate’s “Filibuster Rule” in the name of bipartisanship. His resistance seems to have softened a bit after May 28, 2021, when all but 6 Republican Senators voted to filibuster the bill that would have established an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the Capitol Building.
- 3 = D – Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has expressed reluctance to go along with efforts to work around the “Filibuster Rule” as well. To the best of my knowledge, she has not made any official comments about the failed vote to end the filibuster of the January 6th commission.
- 4 = A – Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is the Senate Majority Leader. He was Minority Leader in the preceding Congress and became Majority Leader when Georgia elected two Democrats, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, to be their Senators.
- 5 = F – Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was the first and, so far, the only woman to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. She began serving her fourth term as Speaker of the House on January 3, 2021.
- 6 = C – Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is the Leader of the Republican Minority in the House of Representatives.
How did you do? This little game was a way to familiarize you with some of the “major players”. Even though I listen to/watch the news 8 to 10 hours a day, I had to double-check the names and states of a couple of them.
The Immediate Problem
As is usually the case, the current problem is in the Senate. Important bills are being passed in the House of Representatives, then dying in the Senate. Chuck Schumer can introduce a Senate equivalent of the House Bill for debate, but the Senate Cloture Rule requires 60 votes to end debate. This is what is commonly referred to as the “Silent Filibuster” because failure to obtain the required 60 votes has the same effect as a traditional filibuster without a lot of talking.
With 50 members in the Democratic caucus (48 Democrats and 2 Independents), Majority Leader Schumer needs 10 Republicans to reach 60 votes in favor of ending debate. Only 51 votes … the Democratic Caucus and the Vice President … are required to pass the bill. In the Senate (and, for some, elsewhere), it’s harder to stop talking than to do any useful work.
Getting 10 votes from the Republican caucus is unlikely since Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made this statement:
If this sounds familiar, it’s because he made a similar statement over a dozen years ago:
If nothing else, Senator McConnell is consistent. Whether he’s leading the majority or the minority, non-bipartisan obstruction is his goal … and most Senate Republicans follow his lead.
On May 28th, Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the Capitol building … the same attack that threatened the life of Vice President Pence and members of both chambers of Congress regardless of party.
Six Republican Senators were more concerned with getting answers than party loyalty.
From left to right, Republican Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, and and Ben Sasse of Nebraska voted to move forward. They should be commended for their reason and courage.
What are Congressional Democrats doing? In theory, they have a majority in both chambers. The House of Representatives has 220 Democrats and 211 Republicans. There is no filibuster rule in the House. If most of the Democrats vote together, they win. So far, that has been the case. The Senate has 48 Democrats, 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 50 Republicans. In her Constitutionally-defined role as President of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris gets a vote whenever the Yeas and Nays are tied. Provided they stick together. the Democrats, Independents, and the Vice President win every vote, … if a bill is allowed to come to a vote. While only 51 votes are needed for passage, the “Silent Filibuster” says that 60 votes are required to call for a vote.
Why so many Bills Die in the Senate
Before we continue, let’s take a closer look at the filibuster. If you think taking a vote to decide whether to take a vote is odd … and, that it takes more votes to agree to vote on a bill than it takes to pass it … borders on insanity, you’re not alone. How did such an odd rule come into being? This video explains the origin, history, and use of this legislative anomaly. (Note: The video was created before the 2020 election.)
The “silent filibuster” has become a major source of contention for the 117th Congress and the Biden Administration. In an iteration of his recurring (and entertaining) “If you don’t know, now you know” segment, Trevor Noah further elaborates on the history of the filibuster and how it has risen to prominence in the news since January 20, 2021. 
The filibuster is an accidental remnant of an earlier (and, perhaps, more bipartisan) age. Its purpose is to continue debating a question indefinitely. The cloture rule was designed to set a limit on debate, but requires 60 votes to pass. This is why a failure to obtain 60 votes for cloture becomes a “silent filibuster”. So why does a failed cloture vote seem to end debate rather than allow it to continue? Why does “the world’s greatest deliberative body” have so little deliberation?
The Motion to Proceed
The Framers of the Constitution intended the Senate to protect The People from charismatic leaders and the vagaries of the moment. It would put a brake on the passage of laws by encouraging debate. Senators would be given every opportunity to discuss a bill at length before passing it into law. The “motion to proceed” is part of that braking function.
When a bill is introduced to the floor of the Senate, its members must agree to debate it. Ideally, that agreement is by unanimous consent of all members of the Senate. If unanimous consent cannot be reached, the senators must vote on a motion to proceed. Ah … but what must happen before the Senate can take any vote? The senators must agree to end debate on that vote. What is the mechanism for ending debate on a bill? It’s the vote for cloture … the one that requires 60 votes for passage. In the bizarre world of U.S. Senate procedures, a failed cloture vote on a motion to proceed is the failure to end debate on whether to begin debate on a bill. Are we supposed to be grateful that the cloture rule is not recursive … or. should we question the sanity of the filibuster whether “talking” or “silent”?
Based on the “Big Lie” that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 Presidential election, a plethora of Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing laws that seem designed to make it harder to vote. On Tuesday, June 22, 2021, a motion was presented to debate the “For the People Act“, a bill to protect voters against this kind of voter suppression. The cloture vote on the motion was a 50-50 split along party lines … 10 votes short of the required 60. As a result, the Senate cannot even debate the bill much less vote on it. After the defeat, Senate Majority Leader Schumer had this to say:
Will the Democrats Follow Through?
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
Democrats want to fall in love; Republicans just fall in line.
If the voter base of the Republicans is the monolith that it often seems to be, the Democrats’ voter base is a patchwork quilt. Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus range from moderately conservative and centrist Senators like Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema to democratic socialists and progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
In the House, Democrats range from conservatives like Elaine Luria (VA), Conor Lamb (PA), Kurt Schrader (OR), and Stephanie Murphy (FL) to …
“The Squad”, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ilhan Omar (MN), Ayanna Pressley (MA), and Rashida Tlaib (MI), who are among the most progressive members of either chamber of Congress.
If Senate Democrats were as monolithic as Senate Republicans often seem to be, the “silent filibuster” … perhaps the filibuster in any form … would be gone and, the Senate would be debating and passing all of President Biden’s agenda. Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the House and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the Senate have their work cut out for them. Getting agreement among the members of their respective Democratic Caucuses is like herding cats.
For the most part, the path of a bill through Congress has become:
- The bill is introduced in the House of Representatives.
- If the bill is controversial, the Democrats say how earth-shatteringly important it is while the Republicans scream that it will end life as we know it … and probably bring about the Apocalypse.
- Eventually, enough of the Democrats get their acts together and pass the bill.
- The bill goes to the Senate.
- After some internal bickering, all 50 members of the Democratic Caucus agree to vote for the bill.
- The motion to introduce the bill to the floor and discuss it fails to get the 10 Republican votes needed for cloture.
- The “Silent Filibuster” has sent the bill to Senate limbo. The Grim Reaper (Mitch McConnell) has won again.
The Senate has maintained its record of accomplishing little or nothing of any importance to the People.
While Congressional Democrats argue among themselves, enough Congressional Republicans adhere to the “McConnell Doctrine” … if the Democrats want it, it must be stopped … to make doing anything to help The People extremely difficult if not impossible. It’s amazing that even the American Rescue Plan got through the Senate. At the same time, the country outside of Washington, D.C. seems locked in a schizophrenia between the past and the future … with both sides angry with the present.
In the midst of paralyzing and dangerous discord within the United States government and among the country’s residents:
- Former President Donald Trump continues to spread “The Big Lie” that the election was stolen by massive voter fraud. It doesn’t matter that his own Attorney General, William Barr, Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of the government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs, the Courts, and Election Officials in the most contested states say that the 2020 election was one of the most secure ever. Trump, his cult-like followers, and a great many Federal and State politicians, who believe that repeating anything Trump says will get them elected, spread “The Big Lie”.
- In response to the “Big Lie”, Republican-controlled state legislatures all over the country are introducing bills designed to make voting more difficult for some citizens … citizens like Black people, Brown people, Native-American people, Poor people, Disabled people, Student people, and any other people who they believe might vote against them … all in the name of “election security”. This graph below shows the most common restrictions. The Restrictions listed on the X-axis are Absentee voting, Voter ID, Purges, Voter registration, Early voting, Provisional ballots, Election day registration, Disability access, Polling places, Automatic voter registration, Criminal disenfranchisement, Same day registration, Student voting, Online voter registration, and Voting Paid Time Off. The most dangerous passed or proposed laws are not on the list. Some large states have passed or are trying to pass laws that give the legislature the ability to overturn any election they want.
- To support their efforts to pass latter day Jim Crow voter suppression laws … or to distract attention from what they’re doing …, Republicans in state legislatures are trying to emulate the Arizona “fraudit” in their own states. In Pennsylvania, State Senator Doug Mastriano sent mail to several counties to “requesting” their election materials for an Arizona-type election audit. In Oklahoma, State Representative Sean Roberts, a Republican, has asked the State Election Board Secretary to call for a forensic audit of the 2020 election. The map of Oklahoma counties below shows which counties voted for Donald Trump. Does Representative Roberts suspect widespread voter fraud from his own party?
- From state legislatures to school boards; from conservative media to the “man on the street”, conservatives are trying to prevent the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools. Relax folks. You’ve won. Critical Race Theory is not now nor will if ever be taught in K-12. Critical Race Theory is typically discussed in Law School or, at the earliest, in pre-law college courses. Those who are not just ignoramuses spouting buzz words are using the term to cover what they really mean … sugar-coating history because they don’t want The People to know that Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty have picked up some bruises to their ideals in the 200+ years since the ratification of the Constitution. They don’t want us to know that “all men are created equal” in The Declaration of Independence did not apply to any except white men … not black slaves; not the indigenous peoples; and, certainly, not women. They don’t want us to know any of the harsh reality of slavery. They don’t want us to know about The Trail of Tears. They don’t want us to know about the Women’s Suffrage Movement. They don’t want us to know about the Internment of the Japanese. They don’t want us to know that our country is anything but perfect. If we realize that we are fallible humans, we will know that they are too. Knowledge is power … and, they want that for themselves.
- The Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives, a majority in the Senate, and one of their own in the White House. What do they do with their seeming advantage? They bicker among themselves about how much or little should be included in each bill. The House passes a bill and it goes to the Senate where it dies on the altar of a dead god named Bipartisanship. They defend an arcane and undemocratic Senate process, conceived by accident and birthed in inter-party finger-pointing, in the name of that dead god believing they will need his help after the next election. Believing that they may be the minority after the midterm elections, they shiver in fear rather than doing exactly what’s needed to avoid that fate. As arcane as Senate rules are, so too there are arcane ways around them. One way around the “Cloture Rule” is “Reconciliation“, but that won’t work on the “For the People Act” designed to protect voting. A way that will work is the so called “nuclear option“. Two Senate Majority Leaders have used that work-around in the past decade … Republican Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell and Democratic Majority Leader, Harry Reid, before him.
- The leading causes of death for young people in the United States are accidents, suicide, and homicide in that order. The delta strain of COVID-19 seems to be causing more hospitalization and death in unvaccinated young people than earlier variants. Our young people are dying unnecessarily and nobody in the Federal government seems to be doing anything about it.
- The COVID-19 pandemic remains a topic of political controversy. This is totally unconscionable. There is an inverse relationship between vaccinations and hospitalizations. More than 97% of new COVID patients entering hospitals are unvaccinated. Insane conspiracy theories are spreading on social media. Some parts of the electronic media are using anti-vaccination rhetoric to gain ratings. Politicians who agree with or fear Donald Trump are equating anti-vaccination with freedom. While those who live in states with high vaccination rates are returning to a semblance of pre-pandemic reality, people in states with low vaccination rates are dying.
- The War in Vietnam lasted 13 years. The war in Afghanistan lasted 20 years.
Our longest war ended on August 31, 2021. Our longest war was initiated during the administration of President George W. Bush. Its purpose was to eliminate the threat of Al-Qaeda … who had carried out the September 11, 2021 terrorist attack on the United States. In November and December 2001, the Taliban … who had provided refuge to Al-Qaeda … lost control of most of Afghanistan. The latest iteration of the Afghan civil war had ended. The winners created a Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan under Hamid Karzai. This formed the basis for the “democratic” government of Afghanistan that would follow. Al-Qaeda had lost their state support. Our main objective for getting involved in Afghanistan was complete, but we remained to help the new government establish itself.
In October of 2002, the Administration asked for and Congress granted the power to invade Iraq based on the “intelligence” that Saddam Hussein had or was creating “weapons of mass destruction”. (No such weapons or materials were ever found.) We invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. The Iraq War continued into and through most of the administration of President Barack Obama. After destroying yet another country, we left Iraq in December 2011.
On May 2, 2011, the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was located and killed in Pakistan by Seal Team Six. Surely, that completed our original mission in Afghanistan. We could leave now … but, we didn’t. By then, we had become so convinced that the Afghan government needed just a little more time to gain full public support and their military needed just a little more training to be prepared to defend that government.
On February 29, 2020, U.S. representative Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representative Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” (aka the Doha Agreement). The United States pledged that all NATO forces would leave Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. The Taliban agreed to prevent the resurgence of al-Queda in territory they controlled and to continue their negations with the current government of Afghanistan. The then-current Afghan government was not a signatory of the agreement nor were they even consulted. By January of 2021, the Trump Administration had reduced the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 2,500.
After President Biden was inaugurated on January 20, 2021, the new administration reviewed the previous administration’s agreement. On April 14, they changed the withdrawal date to September 11th, the 20th anniversary of the event that started the war. They heard concerns that the withdrawal would overshadow the 9/11 memorial commemorations. On July 8, 2021, the Administration moved the withdrawal deadline to August 31st. Early in August, the State Department warned Americans and our allies that the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan would be understaffed … and, might be unable to assist them … after the beginning of the withdrawal. They encouraged leaving the country before that time.
When preparations for the final evacuation began, the Taliban pressed forward to capture territory. Afghan Special Forces resisted, but the rank and file of the regular Afghan military provided little support. Corrupt leadership and government leaders had not instilled a sense national unity in most of the troops. Many were underfed. Most did not receive their pay on a regular schedule. Resistance to the Taliban advance collapsed in 11 days. As the Taliban approached Kabul, Hamid Karzai and much of his administration left the country. The actual U.S. evacuation began on August 14th.
In spite of initial chaos at the Kabul airport, more than 122,000 were evacuated by the August 31st deadline. The military mission is finished, but the State Department, with the help of our Middle Eastern allies … particularly Qatar …, continues to evacuate small numbers. There is no deadline on their efforts. Opinions related to the success or failure of the military evacuation has cluttered by political views on all sides, of course.
A Plague on Both your Houses?
What can “We the People” do about this sorry state of affairs? Sure, we can call and/or write to your Representative and Senators, donate time or money to your candidate(s), post your opinion on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., but … the parties choose the candidates, right? Not exactly. Party affiliation has changed rather dramatically in this century.
In 2004, there were more registered Republicans than either Democrats or Independents. In 2006, Democrats took the lead, lost it in 2007, and regained it in 2008. In 2009, those voters who are registered as “Independents” took the lead and have held it ever since. The trend for voters to remain unaffiliated with any political party has continued ever since. In 2021, 44 percent of all registered voters are neither Democrats nor Republicans nor Libertarians nor Green Party nor members of any other formal political party.
Those of us who are registered voters not affiliated with either of the major parties wield enormous political power. Since most members of Congress are either Democrats or Republicans, most Independents are voting for a candidate from one of the two major parties. Although voters’ political philosophies are not evenly distributed across the nation, the number of registered voters is sufficiently large to “smooth out the lumps”. Statistically, we can gain some useful insights by looking at the country as a whole.
If Independents’ votes were evenly split … 50% siding with the Republican candidates and 50% siding with the Democratic candidates …, the Democrats would be likely to win a few more seats in both chambers of Congress. There are more Democratic voters and the evenly split Independents make no difference.
If 55% of Independent votes went to the Republican candidate in the race for an office, it would be very close. We probably would not know the winner until several days … maybe weeks … after the election.
If the 5% shift were to favor the Democratic candidate, it’s likely that a candidate’s win could be predicted accurately on election night within hours after the polls close. At the very least, we’d have the results in time for the morning news.
OK, independent voters make a big difference in the general elections, but what about the primaries. Don’t the Democrats and Republicans control those? Don’t the parties decide who the general election candidates are? The answer is “No” in 35 states.
Primary elections take 7 different forms … Closed, Partially Closed, Partially Open, Open to Unaffiliated Voters, Open, Top-Two, and Top-Four. Each state determines which form its primaries take. Twenty-three states use one form for Presidential primaries and a different form for all other offices.
Closed primaries are party-only. Partially Closed primaries leave it to the individual parties to decide whether or not to allow non-party voters to participate. Independent voters are allowed to vote in the other 5 types of primary elections. If your state has “Partially Open” primaries, independents may need to reestablish their independent status after voting. Top-Two states (4) and Top-Four states (1) are sometimes referred to as jungle primaries. All candidates run in a single primary and the 2 or 4 who receive the most votes move on to the general election.
6 Out of 7 Dwarfs are not Happy
Most of you will recognize the picture on the right from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. For a lot of important work to improve the country and the welfare of The People, the United States Congress is in a death-like sleep similar to Snow White’s. Unlike Snow White, there’s no Prince to “knock the poisoned apple” from the mouth of Congress. Contrary to the belief of “45”, the President is not royalty. President Biden can propose bills and cajole members of Congress, but he cannot sign any bills into law until they have passed through both chambers of Congress.
It’s up to “The Dwarfs” … “We the People” … Us, to wake a sleeping Congress. So … “Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, it’s off to work we go”. What work do we have to do?
- On July 28, 2021, the Senate voted 67-32 in favor of advancing a bipartisan infrastructure bill. (In other words, in compliance with Senate Rule XXII … the Cloture Rule …, the Senators have agreed that the bill warrants debate rather than banishment to the “Island of Unwanted Legislation”.) The vote applied to a placeholder for the actual bill. The bipartisan group of senators who agreed on the placeholder’s key points is writing the actual bill. When that work is complete, the entire Senate will begin the debate. On August 10, 2021, the bipartisan segment of the infrastructure bill … the traditional “roads and bridges” part … passed the Senate with 69 Senators voting in favor of the bill. Now, the real fun begins. The Senate begins work on the second part … the “human infrastructure” part … which is expected to require reconciliation to pass … and, the bill just passed by the Senate goes to the House. (Because the Senate split the bill that the House sent to them as a single bill, the House will have to pass both parts coming from the Senate.)
- The Delta Variant of SARS-CoV-2 is much more infectious than the variants that preceded it. It is as easy to catch as Chickenpox. It is so strong that vaccinated people can carry enough of it to infect an unvaccinated person. A few vaccinated people can even get sick from Delta, BUT … only one in a million vaccinated person will die from that infection; … depending upon the age/health of the person, there is a one in 30 to a one in 100 chance of dying if the person is not vaccinated.
- The voting rights of all U.S. citizens who are 18 or older are under attack. Fueled by the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was illegitimate, many state legislatures are pursuing and passing laws making voting difficult … especially for lower middle class and poor working people, people of color, the old, the disabled, and students. These new and proposed laws are interfering with our Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote unseen since the Jim Crow era.
- The CDC’s Eviction Ban ended on July 31, 2021. Without it millions of Americans effected by pandemic-induced economic hardship may soon face the additional hardship of homelessness.
- One party seems to be abandoning the Constitution in order to keep their jobs and to maintain a past that never was. The other seems hellbent on self-destruction through infighting over the hare and tortoise wings within their own party.
There are two bills related to infrastructure The American Jobs Plan and The American Families Plan. The former is focused on so-called “traditional infrastructure” … roads, bridges, water supply and quality, our electricity grid, and broadband access, The Senate passed this bill on August 10th. The latter is focused on what the Administration calls “human infrastructure”. Senate Democrats hope to pass this bill using the reconciliation process.
Key components of The American Families Plan are:
- Add at least four years of free education. The 4 years proposed by the bill are 2 years of preschool fot all three and four year-olds and two years of post high school education and/or training.
- Provide direct support to children and families including making sure that families have access to high quality child care at no more than 7% of their income, paid family and medical leave programs, and critical nutrition assistance to families that need it.
- Extend key tax cuts in The American Rescue Plan that help lower and middle income workers and families.
- Improve Healthcare including reducing the cost of prescription drugs, adding dental and vision coverage to Medicare, and adding a pubic option to the Affordable Care Act choices.
Senate Republicans want nothing to do with helping people directly. Most of them believe that “What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA”. Some more conservative Senate Democrats are concerned about the bill’s $3.5 trillion price tag. Concern about cost has been the rallying cry among conservatives (especially Republican politicians) for as long as I’ve been paying attention to politics (at least 40 years), “They’re selling your children’s future to pay for this” is often used to instill fear into the citizenry … but is it true.
The question of cost is plagued by two concepts that cannot be supported over the long term.
- Democratic administrations spend a lot of money on “social programs” that drastically increase the national debt leaving it to Republican administrations to clean up the mess.
- Growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a function of government fiscal conservatism. Investment is best left in the hands of the private sector.
Let’s take a look at the historical record. These two graphs show the combined National Debt and combined Gross Domestic product for each party’s administrations from 1929 through 2019.
Across 100 years, the greatest combined National Debt has been accrued under Republican administrations; the greatest combined Gross Domestic Product (adjusted for inflation) has been under Democratic administrations. To be completely fair, here’s a graph of the National Debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio Debt/GDP during that same 100 years.
Ideally, that ratio is less than 100% … the red line in the graph. It crossed that line during the Obama Administration and accelerated its climb during the Trump Administration. I could not find equivalent data for 2020, but COVID-19 exacerbated the problem by bringing world economy to a near standstill. The U.S. economy is recovering rapidly … thanks, in part, to The American Rescue Plan and the COVID-19 vaccines. When the two infrastructure bills become fully-effective and implemented law, the GDP is likely to skyrocket far beyond the Debt needed to jumpstart it.
COVID-19 (through COVID-21?)
On Monday, August 23, 2021, the FDA issued full use approval to the Pfizer vaccine.  The approval triggers the Pentagon’s mandatory vaccination mandate. A number of private companies have been waiting to follow suit. This will accelerate the general vaccination rate. Many private citizens who have been hesitating because they perceived the vaccines as being “experimental” may feel more comfortable about getting vaccinated.
Recently, there have been reports that that a booster shot may be needed. You may ask, “Why?” “Is there something wrong with the original vaccination regimen?” “Are Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson trying to squeeze more money out of the government?” There are several reasons why COVID booster shots may be important.
- Those of us who have a suppressed immune system because of disease or medical treatment for some pre-existing problem may be unable to build proper immunity without an additional shot.
- The delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is much more contagious than earlier mutations. Like many other vaccines, the COVID vaccinations prevent disease; not infection. Those of us who are vaccinated may briefly become infected, experience absolutely no symptoms, but produce enough virus to infect others. If those others are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, they could become seriously ill and could die.
- Immunity does not last forever nor is it consistent across all individuals. The now eradicated disease smallpox is a good example. The smallpox vaccine produced an immunity that lasted for 3 to 5 years. Most of us did not get a “smallpox booster” vaccination because almost all of us had been vaccinated. The bacteria that caused the disease had nowhere to go. Viruses … like SARS-CoV-2, influenza, etc. … mutate more rapidly than bacteria. These mutations put an extra strain on our immune system. We need annual flu shots to compensate for mutations in the viruses that cause influenza. With so many unvaccinated here and in the world, COVID is free to spread and mutate more quickly than the flu. Current evidence points toward a 6 to 8 month booster to slow it down.
- It’s possible that the two shots needed for either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines were administered too close together for optimal immunity. This is often the case with multi-dose vaccines. For example, the two doses shingles vaccine occur about 6 months apart. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic was so dangerous that we had to push our immune systems to build a strong response to the virus quickly. To save lives, we traded a strong immediate immunity for a longer lasting immunity.
One last point … it has been said that “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” The same concept is true as we face the delta variant (and any future mutations) of COVID-19. Your right to avoid vaccination, proper mask wearing, and other measures needed for the health and welfare of all of us is not freedom it is selfishness.
The “For the People Act” and the “John Lewis Voting Rights Act” are probably the most important bills before the 117th Congress. Together, they may be the only barrier that can protect our democracy from falling to the forces of autocracy. The “For the People Act” would establish minimum standards for elections for Federal offices. The “John Lewis Voting Rights Act” would restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965’s requirement that certain states pre-clear certain changes to their voting laws with the federal government.
CDC’s Eviction Ban Ends
Under pressure from the White House, the CDC has extended the eviction ban through October 3, 2021. On July 30, 2021, President Biden put out a statement urging state and local governments to accelerate the distribution of the over $46 billion of funds already provided by the Emergency Rental Assistance and the American Rescue Plan to renters and landlords. On August 26, 2021, an 8-1 decision of the Supreme Court declared that the CDC did not have the authority to extend the ban that ended on July 31st. The Court called on Congress to do their job and extend the ban. So far, Congress has not acted.
Autocracy versus Bickering
Beginning in March 2016, the Republican-controlled Senate of the 114th Congress blocked President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination to the Supreme Court for 291 days … based on the assertation that the nomination should be left to the President who would be elected in November of that year. Beginning at the end of September 2020, the Republican-controlled Senate of the 116th Congress applied the nuclear option to Supreme Court nominations and confirmed President Trump’s nominee on October 25th … only 8 days before the November 3rd Presidential election. Since the 2020 election and the spread of the “Big Lie”, Republican-controlled state legislatures have proposed … and in some cases passed … laws that seem designed to suppress the vote of “minorities”, poor people, the disabled, the aged, students, etc.
When it comes to impeding legislative progress, the Democrats don’t even need the Republicans. Party progressives, seeing all the needs and problems. build elaborate mega-bills that seem designed to fix everything at once. Party moderates paralyze themselves with but-but-buts and what-ifs. Thanks to the filibuster, the Senate is the worst. If Senate Democrats could muster half of the unanimity of their Republican counterparts, they would “nuke” the filibuster for bills most central to our Constitution … such as guaranteeing safe and convenient access to voting for all citizens. In the long run, they would strengthen their position. Who knows? It might even encourage the Republicans to help raise the dead god, Bipartisanship.
If You Can Look into the Seeds of Time …
In keeping with the Shakespearean theme that is the title of this article, the heading above is from Act 1, Scene 3 of “Macbeth“. Macbeth and his friend Banquo encounter three witches. Soon after the witches predict that Macbeth will be king, Banquo says:
“If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak, then, to me, who neither beg nor fear your favors nor your hate.”
The predictions that follow are my own. I can’t say which are the result of analytical thinking; which may be actual precognition; nor to which I am adding my voice to calling them into existence. Most of them have just “come into my head” at random intervals. I tend to lump them all in the phrase “remembering things that haven’t happened yet”. (If you think I’m crazy, keep track of the link. You may want to come back later to say, “I told you so”. There’s a “comments” section below the footnotes.)
As I noted at the beginning of this article when I use the terms “Republicans” or “Democrats”, I am referring to the Federal and State leaders of the respective parties. Similarly, when I use the term “Independents”, I am referring to everybody who is a registered voter, but not a member of a particular party.
We hear a lot of cable news pundits talking about the near inevitability of the Republicans taking control of the House and/or the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They say that this “what usually happens”. Such statements exhibit two forms of statistical heresy.
- You cannot make accurate prediction based on descriptive statistics. What happened in one midterm election does not predict what will happen in the next. They are discrete events, The probability of a discrete event does not change from on instance to another.
For example, imagine flipping a coin. What’s the probability that it will come up heads or tails? Assuming that it’s an “honest” coin … one side is not heavier than the other …. the chances are 50-50. Imagine that it came up heads. What’s the probability that it will come up tails on the next flip. It’s still 50-50. What happens if you flip the coin 99 times and get 99 heads? What’s the probability that the 100th flip will result in a head or a tail? Nothing about the coin or probability has changed. It’s still 50-50.
If you tried to predict the chances of getting 100 heads in a row before the first flip, you would be attempting something entirely different than predicting a head on any individual flip. The chance of getting a head or a tail on any individual flip is 50-50 … 1 out of 2. the chance of getting the same result (all heads or all tails) on 100 successive flips is 1 out of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,078,886,090,522,101,180,541,172,856,528,279. (Remember that the next time you play the lottery.)
- If you want to predict the future based on statistics, you must use inferential statistics. You must look at the results of many instances of the “experiment” (i.e., past midterm elections) and calculate whether those results are greater than what you would expect by chance.
One wonders who or what motivated the majority of the Senate Republicans. Were they “just following orders” from Minority Leader McConnell? Are they afraid that ex-President Trump will turn their constituents against them? Are some of them afraid they will be exposed as collaborators in the attack?
Trevor refers to Aaron Burr as “that guy who shot Lin-Manuel Miranda“. Of course, he is making a popular reference to the writer and original star of the musical “Hamilton“. Not only did Burr kill the Alexander Hamilton in a duel, after his term as Vice President, he became involved in a conspiracy in what was then the Western Frontier. As a result, he was charged with, tried for, and acquitted of treason. Because President Jefferson was convinced of his former Vice President’s guilt and put pressure on the Supreme Court, the whole affair became a test of separation of powers as defined by the Constitution. (Hmmm … I wonder why a President trying to mess with the courts sounds so familiar.)
Passage of cloture limits continued debate to 30 hours, limits each senator’s speaking to a total of one hour, and sets limits on amendments to the bill.
Ironically, the “Expansions” graph below has many of the same entries on the X-Axis as the “Restrictions” graph … Absentee voting, Early voting, Disability access, Automatic voter registration, Voter registration, Criminal disenfranchisement, Election day registration, Language access, Student voting, Online voter registration, Same day registration, Pre-registration, Voter ID, Polling places, Jail voting, Voting Paid Time Off, Purges, Military voting, Provisional ballots, and Ballot on demand. Both sets of legislation reflect the processes used in 2020 to simplify voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. One set is intended to make those accommodations permanent components of states’ voting processes. The other set is intended to make sure that those accommodations are not permanent components of states’ voting processes. Making it easier to vote increases voter turnout. Increased voter turnout favors non-Republican candidates.
Of course, having heard the term so often, students are going to ask questions about Critical Race Theory, Those who have tried to sanitize U.S. history will be the cause of at least a definition of the term “getting out”. Prepare yourselves, teachers. Inquiring minds want to know.
As the media are so fond of saying, the opposing party usually retakes control of one or both chamber of Congress in the midterm elections. They and most politicians blur … or don’t understand … the distinction between descriptive and inferential statistics. The statistics that describe past midterm election results do not predict what will happen in the next or any individual election. The statistics say nothing about the causes of midterm flip-flops. One likely cause is that Congress gets very little done regardless of the party in power … and Senate deadlock usually bears most of the blame.
The most common criticized failure of our Afghanistan exodus was that so many of our most loyal Afghan allies were unable to leave. The most tragic aspect of our failure is that its primary causes were bureaucracy and paperwork … and, that an already cumbersome process was intentionally made worse by a few members of the Trump Administration. The leader of the saboteurs was the one man who probably hates immigrants even more than the former President does … Stephen Miller … the fine young man who brought the Family Separation Policy to our southern border.
Under the “Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009”, Afghan nationals who worked with us could obtain Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) with which they could take refuge in the United States. During the evacuation, the Taliban gave safe passage to the gates of the Kabul airport to anyone with a valid visa … including Afghans with SIVs. Many had applied for their SIVs in the years and months before the Trump-Taliban agreement to end the war, but the Trump Administration thwarted their efforts. Olivia Troye, former homeland security and counter-terrorism advisor to Vice President Pence, brought this information to public attention. In this video taken from The Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel and Olivia explain how Stephen Miller crippled the SIV program.
Some pundits and politicians are comparing our exit from Afghanistan to the end of the war in Vietnam. They say this evacuation was much worse. They claim that was “a debacle” and “the worst evacuation ever”. Lawrence O’Donnell believes that they are either ignorant or delusional. Here are two videos from his show The Last Word. (Note: the second has a YouTube style ad embedded within it.)
I agree with Lawrence. I was 30 years old when the Vietnam War ended. I watched the Fall of Saigon on the nightly news … and I watched hours of the Afghanistan evacuation on MSNBC. Comparing the Fall of Saigon to the evacuation of Afghanistan is like comparing a prison riot to a marching band.
(Note: The return link below will return will jump to a spot just below the link that brought you here. I don’t know the code … if any … for embedding a bookmark within a list.)
“Independent” is used here to cover all citizens who are registered to vote, but have not joined any particular political party. Many states do use the designation “independent”, but others use terms such as “unaffiliated”, “unenrolled”, “undecided”, etc.
Among the voting members of the 117th Congress, 269 are Democrats (50.4%), 262 are Republicans (49.2%), and 2 are Independents (0.4%). The 2 Independents, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senator Angus King of Maine, caucus with the Senate Democrats.
Massachusetts had Partially Open primaries when I first moved here 38 years ago. I was registered as an “Independent” (or whatever non-party registration was called at the time). When I went to the polls to vote in a primary, I asked for one or the other party’s ballot … and my registration status changed to that party. After voting, I stopped in the Registrar’s office and restored my “independent” status. (At the time, I lived in a town so small … 15.48 square miles; population 3,524 in 2018 … that the single polling place was the Town Hall. The Registrar’s office was in the same building.) Massachusetts has since moved to the “Open to Unaffiliated Voters” style of primary elections and calls non-party voters “Unenrolled”.
Of course, “free” is a euphemism for paid for by taxpayers. The United States currently pays for 13 years of free education … K-12 … paid for with a combination of federal, state, and local taxes.
Moderna has applied for full approval. Pfizer was just the first to jump through all of the FDA’s bureaucratic hoops.
I know. I know. Who am I to criticize some else’s ramblings. I am well aware of my tendency toward scope drift. For this article, I decided to write an outline before starting. I hoped it would help me to focus on my original ideas. It was a good idea, but it didn’t help. Sigh!
In Congress and State Legislatures, Independents … and minor parties … tend to align themselves with whichever of the two major parties more closely aligns with their philosophies and the interests of their constituents.