Friday Talking Points -- Ticking Away...

[ Posted Friday, October 15th, 2021 – 17:21 UTC ]

Today's article title is from the song "Time," by Pink Floyd. Here's the whole first verse, for the proper context:

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

This lyrical rock masterpiece sprang to mind this week as we watched the Democrats... um... not get much of anything done. It's as if they had all the time in the world -- which they most assuredly do not. Especially relevant is that line: "Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown," since Congress is once again on vacation all week long. Most people don't even get Columbus/Indigenous Peoples' Day off work, but for Congress it is yet another excuse to blow off an entire week. This isn't that long after they took a month and a half off, mind you. Outdoing the Senate (which just took this week off) was the House, which took an entire two weeks off -- for a minor federal holiday most people have to work on.

Ticking away... not just the moments or the hours or even days, but full weeks.

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One Year From Now

[ Posted Thursday, October 14th, 2021 – 15:44 UTC ]

One year from now, the midterm elections will be looming in front of us. Candidates will be out on the hustings, frantically campaigning their little hearts out. But what will be the big issues they'll be talking about? It is impossible to say, really, beyond predicting: "it will not be what the pundits are worrying about right now." A year is an absolute eternity in politics, and in a year's time few will remember the topics which are currently hot -- that's a generic prediction that almost always comes true, so it's pretty safe to say right now.

There's really only one topic that isn't a permanent one (such as "the economy") that predictably will still be on voters' minds next year, and that is the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. Will we have largely "beaten" COVID by this time next year? It's certainly possible, or at least "beaten it into submission," where it doesn't qualify as a pandemic or global emergency any more. Of course, there are no guarantees -- perhaps we'll be dealing with the Zeta variant by then and have experienced several rollercoaster spikes from others over the course of a year. Anything is still possible, including the frightening possibility that one of these mutations will defeat the current vaccines. If that happens, all bets are off, really, and we might go right back to the start of the whole cycle once again. Either way, though, voters will be reacting to what state the pandemic is in. If the news is good, it will buoy President Joe Biden's approval rating and give the Democrats a much healthier chance (pun intended) of winning the midterms. If the news is bad, voters usually take out their frustration on the party in power (whether deserved or not).

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From The Archives -- The Taxman Cometh

[ Posted Wednesday, October 13th, 2021 – 17:17 UTC ]

There will be no new column today because I have busy been doing my taxes rather than writing. I am (in general) lazy, and therefore usually get an automatic extension, which falls due on October 15th rather than April 15th. Since I've spent all day immersed in tax forms and numbers, I thought I'd revisit taking my rage out at Paul Ryan (and the rest of the usual suspects) for so royally screwing up the tax forms and entire income tax system.

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Cautious Pandemic Optimism

[ Posted Tuesday, October 12th, 2021 – 16:05 UTC ]

Is it time to start getting a little relieved about the state of the COVID-19 pandemic? I've been struck with a cautious case of optimism while doomscrolling over the past few weeks, and I now tend to think the country will likely return to the same sort of semi-normalcy we all experienced in July, probably right after the year-end holidays. I think January and February are going to be very good months, to put this another way.

I really have two reasons to be even cautiously optimistic that this will turn out to be the case. The first is the increasing level of both vaccinations and the (at least partial) natural immunity from those who have already contracted the coronavirus. To put it more plainly, I think we are within a few months of at least some degree of herd immunity.

The second reason is I don't expect any winter surge in new cases to be as large a spike as the Delta mutation was. Now, I fully admit I could be wrong about this one -- there could always be a new Greek-lettered variant that proves to be more virulent than even Delta. If one appears and spreads in the United States, then we could indeed see another sharp spike upwards, so I realize I'm on shaky ground here.

These two reasons are really intertwined. The more people there are who are vaccinated, the harder it will be for any variant to wreak havoc. And we're just as the start of the rollout of the booster shots, which weren't available during the Delta crisis.

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Celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day

[ Posted Monday, October 11th, 2021 – 16:35 UTC ]

Today, according to proclamations issued by President Joe Biden, is both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples' Day. The latter used to be somewhat of an outlier, only referenced and celebrated in the most liberal of states and cities, but has now been raised to national prominence. So to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day I'd like to reflect on how far we as a nation have come over the past few decades in adjusting our outlook towards Native Americans. Progress has indeed been made, and by historical standards, rather swift progress at that. Don't get me wrong -- we've still got a long way to go -- but it is worth celebrating the steps we have managed to take.

Biden issued two official proclamations, one for Columbus Day and one for Indigenous Peoples' Day. Even in the text of the Columbus one, Biden acknowledges that Christopher Columbus may have been a bold explorer, but he also ushered in what can truly only be called genocide. After noting the historic journey of Columbus and praising Italian-American contributions to this country over our whole history, the proclamation interjects some necessary context:

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Friday Talking Points -- (Fiscal) Cliff Notes

[ Posted Friday, October 8th, 2021 – 16:56 UTC ]

The past two weeks were a prime example of why so many Americans are so disgusted and disillusioned with Washington politics. There were scary deadlines, meaningless drama, pointless partisanship, obstructionism, and ego-boosting all around. And at the end of the day, nothing really happened except we are all right back where we started from. What appeared to be a drama-filled few weeks of politics produced precisely zero result. Which is why so many citizens have just tuned out of the process entirely -- because it is usually frustratingly idiotic and nothing short of a massive waste of time.

Last week, of course, all the Kabuki theater centered around the intraparty spat among Democrats over passing President Joe Biden's economic agenda. The end result? Nothing got voted on, no grand bargains were struck, and the Democrats punted the ball another month down the road.

This week was "Kabuki, Part II -- Another Fiscal Cliff!", where Republicans tried to take the American economy hostage merely to create a political talking point they can use on the campaign trail next year. We wish this were a cynical caricature of what happened, but (sadly) it is not. At the end of the week, neither side had really blinked, but they had agreed to kick the can down the road to the start of December.

Which means we'll all get both acts of this cheesy drama all over again, except this time it will be: "Kabuki, Holiday Edition!"


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Biden Makes The Case For Vaccine Mandates

[ Posted Thursday, October 7th, 2021 – 15:13 UTC ]

The fastest and easiest way out of the COVID-19 pandemic -- and back to a fully-functioning economy -- is to get as many people as possible vaccinated. That was Joe Biden's message today, in a speech he gave promoting support for vaccine mandates. It was his strongest statement on the subject to date, and he tied it at every step to getting both daily life and the economy fully back to normal.

Biden's timing is pretty good, because many vaccine mandates which had been announced a month or so ago (back at the height of the Delta spike) are finally taking effect. People are getting fired because of their continuing refusal to get vaccinated. But, as Biden pointed out, while most of the news stories center around the few hundred who get fired, they mostly ignore the tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of people who not only keep their jobs, but can now do so more safely. Which was Biden's core message: vaccine mandates work. They save lives, in the end.

He didn't come right out and say it (although I wish he had, since it'd be a word nobody would be surprised to hear Joe Biden utter), but it's true nonetheless -- the time for mollycoddling the unvaccinated is now over. Now it's time to pay attention to the rest of us -- the ones who have been forced back into preventative measures because of the stubborn refusal of the few. We have rights too, and the right to a safe workplace is one of them.

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Debt Ceiling Hostage-Taking Will Happen Again And Again

[ Posted Wednesday, October 6th, 2021 – 15:41 UTC ]

It's rare that I engage in "both-sides-ism," but I have to admit being disgusted by the games being played by both parties over the needed debt ceiling rise. Nobody's hands are really clean on this one, sad to say, even though the sides aren't exactly equal in their culpability -- Democrats really should have taken care of this long before now, but Republicans are nihilistically cheering for the destruction of the American economy (while giving lip service to the idea that "of course that shouldn't happen -- perish the thought!").

In fact, I'm not even going to get into deconstructing the ins and outs of the various machinations under discussion right now in the Senate, because I trust that we are just not going to hit the deadline. Unlike shutting down the government for a few days (or even a few weeks), defaulting on the national debt and not being able to pay our bills would have much wider and much more dire consequences, and it would not be an easy thing to recover from. So I trust it isn't going to come to that, and thus refuse to get lost in the weeds of what Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, and Joe Biden are currently trying to work out.

Instead, I am going to beat the drum (once again) for not just raising the debt ceiling but abolishing it forever. It is the only way out of this mess -- both right now and for all the future times this staredown will happen. Because it will happen, over and over again.

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Getting The Media Beyond The Number

[ Posted Tuesday, October 5th, 2021 – 14:33 UTC ]

President Joe Biden and the rest of the Democratic Party have so far not had much notable success in getting their real message out on the "Build Back Better" budget reconciliation bill. This isn't entirely Biden's fault, of course, since a lot of the blame falls on the media as well. And the Democrats who truly want to see this historic legislation pass are also hamstrung by two realities -- the bill doesn't really exist yet, and the media has kept a singular focus on the overall amount of new spending the bill will contain.

That last one is the toughest one to overcome, but thankfully it should disappear once some sort of compromise figure is actually agreed to by the two Senate holdouts. The negotiation over this number is currently all the political press wants to focus on, and so we hear updates about Biden's bid of a range from $1.9 trillion to either $2.2 or $2.3 trillion (reports differ). Progressives, who already came down from their original $6 trillion to only $3.5 trillion, have counteroffered between $2.5 trillion and $2.9 trillion. The only safe bet at this point is that the final number will likely begin with a two.

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Why Is Everyone So Shocked That Biden Did Exactly What He Said He Was Going To Do?

[ Posted Monday, October 4th, 2021 – 16:21 UTC ]

Far too often, I find myself getting irate with the mainstream political press for being intentionally obtuse and refusing to remember what happened only a short time ago. This weekend was one of those times. The chattering classes on the Sunday political shows tried to frame what had just happened at the Capitol as some sort of plot twist -- some unforeseen development that was simply unprecedented and shocking. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. When President Joe Biden went to the Capitol and informed Democrats not only that he wanted to see the budget reconciliation bill pass but also that he would be willing to wait -- and that he didn't care that the infrastructure bill would be delayed -- you would have thought by the reaction that he had somehow changed his mind or "thrown his lot in with the progressives." This was the refrain I heard all Sunday morning, in fact. Biden had surprisingly sided with the progressives, when many people had expected him to join the moderates in their demand that the infrastructure bill be passed before any action was taken on the reconciliation bill. But this is narrative is completely false.

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