Government 101

“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.” — John Lennon

Allow me to help out our friend Ken Paxton. He seems to be a bit confused about how government is supposed to work. He was voted in (twice) as the attorney general to the state of Texas. That means he is the number one law enforcement officer in the state. Usually, that kind of position would be out of bounds for someone under indictment. Of course, that would be a message directed more at the voters than him.

Paxton was under indictment when he ran the first time. Somehow, his securities case has not been adjudicated in five years. Naturally, part of that could be the use of big words like adjudicated. So, let me put this in plainer language. If you are charged with a crime you should probably see your date in court come sooner than that. Obviously, some people get treated better than others in our justice system.

Since then, he has found himself in hot water again as senior staff mostly resigned and/or blew the whistle on other illegal activity. So, now he is twice indicted. Having a twice indicted attorney general is a lot like giving Jeffrey Dahmer a Humanitarian award. So, when he files a lawsuit I have to suppress the urge to gaffaw.

Yet, here he is threatening a suit against the mayor and city of Austin. Why would he do such a thing you might ask? Well. it seems that Austin wants to continue on with a mask mandate. Didn’t the governor lift the mask mandate? Funny you should ask. Let me break this down using small words so that Paxton can understand.

His boss, the governor, lifted the state mandate for masks. That means there is no more statewide rule that you must wear masks. However, in true conservative fashion, he didn’t mandate zero masks. He simply left it up to local governmental entities to make up their own minds about whether they would mandate masks.

Now, depending on your political leanings, this is either cowardly or brilliant. It’s hard to look at a governmental executive passing the buck as brilliant, but I suppose you could buy the argument. It means that local officials can use the facts on the ground in their particular location to govern whether they have their own mandate. Larger cities probably would want to keep the mandate. Positivity rates are higher in denser population centers. Whoops, I forgot I was supposed to use small words. Cities bad. Small towns good.

So, Edna, Texas or Dublin, Texas might shed the mask mandate since they are small towns with likely lower rates of COVID. Bigger cities like Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio might keep the mandates because their rates are higher.

So, in some way it might seem wise to let local governments decide for themselves how to proceed. Yet, if you choose to do that then you cease to have control over what those government agencies choose to do. It is the same when the TEA left it up to local districts. When you leave a decision to someone else you cease to have control over that decision. You can hem and haw about that decision, but if you really felt that strongly about it then you should have stood up and made a decision.

This is what we call having your cake and eating it too. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot shuck responsibility for a decision and then turn around and remove the ability to make a decision from someone else. You either lead, follow, or get out of the way. But sue on McDuck, go on wasting the court’s time and patience.

Governing is hard work. The concept of federalism makes it that much harder. To put this in plain words for Mr. Paxton, that means that the national, state, and local governments must share power and responsibility. Wise leaders know when to exercise their power and when to allow others to make decisions for themselves.

Abbott has given Texans a definite choice in 2022. His governing philosophy seems to be not to govern. He is willing to allow private business and profit motive run our power grid and he seems to be willing to let local governments and businesses take the bullet for unpopular mask mandates. The problem is that those mandates were making us safer. Giving up the mandate is akin to giving up an umbrella in the middle of a thunderstorm. I’m perfectly dry now, so I obviously didn’t need it.

If Texans are okay with a governor that doesn’t govern then they are free to choose Abbott again. If Texans are okay with the number one law officer in the state being a crook then they are free to choose Paxton again. If we want them again I would politely suggest that they should be enrolled in a high school Government course. They must have skipped a few chapters when they were in school.

Double Standards

“I should run on the double
I think I’m in trouble,
I think I’m in trouble.” — Lindsay Buckingham

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the conservative movement seems to be focused on the issues with the royal family and Dr. Seuss. Occasionally, we might complain about the identity issues with Mr. Potato Head. It is equal parts silly and infuriating. We fought an entire war so that we wouldn’t have to care about the royal family. Meanwhile, people are crying over books they probably never read and a toy no one has bought in years.

Meanwhile, the saga rages on over Andrew Cuomo. He has become increasingly embattled in the past few weeks because of an alleged coverup of deaths in nursing homes and now six women have come forward to allege various levels of harassment to assault.

Every story has its own layers and nuances. We begin with the nature of the coverage. Conservatives argue that Cuomo is getting off light. After all, mainstream media isn’t covering this thing 24/7. They have the audacity to cover other stuff that is actually news. We can’t all be like conservative media where we focus on culture wars all day long.

However, the seriousness of the differences should be pointed out. We start busting out into the what about song and dance. Okay, let’s go. What about Brett Kavanaugh. Okay, what about Brett Kavanaugh. Yes, he had fewer women accuse him of assault and those assaults happened years earlier, but they were ASSAULTS. Harassment and assault are two different animals. I would think that point would be obvious, but I guess it needs to be said again. Assault and harassment are not the same thing.

Yet, that’s not the biggest double standard. Yes, there may be differences on how these events are covered on either side. Coverage is just coverage at the end of the day. The real brass tacks comes in outcomes. What ends up happening to Cuomo is far more important than how his situation is covered in the mainstream media.

The allegations have been reported and he is getting his fair share of heat, but maybe conservative politicians in the same boat get more heat. I can tell you why. Cuomo is dead politically. Whether he falls on his sword now or in the coming months is no matter. He’s not winning high political office again. There’s no need to beat a decomposing corpse.

When you consider the history of Democrats and sex scandals, I can think of only one that has made it through to the other side. Bill Clinton seemingly overcame the Gennifer Flowers scandal to be elected president. It might look like he overcame the Monica Lewinsky scandal as well, but I’m not sure he did. The stain was so perverse it spread to his vice president Al Gore.

Otherwise, the minefield is rife with Democratic politicians that have seen their careers go in the toilet due to sex scandals. You had Gary Hart in the 1980s, John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer, and Anthony Weiner in the 2000s. In the last decade we saw Al Franken go under as well. Now, whether they deserved their fate is certainly debatable. I’d surmise it largely depends on the situation. All cases should be treated on a case by case basis. Edwards and Weiner seem particularly disgusting. I’d say Hart and Franken got a raw deal.

Still, let’s compare that to what happens with Republican politicians under the same circumstances. I’m trying really hard to remember a prominent Republican brought down by a sex scandal. Kavanaugh and Thomas are still on the Supreme Court. Trump was still allowed to be president. Jim Jordan hasn’t been driven from his seat in Congress despite his alleged knowledge of sexual assault as a wrestling coach. Mark Sanford did lose his seat as governor, but it didn’t prevent him from later becoming a representative.

Here’s the point. The double standard is not really about how these situations are covered. The double standard comes in the end result. Democrats are driven from office. Republicans get to keep their positions as long as they want. That has little to do with the media. Liberal and conservative media will always be harder on their opponents than they are themselves. That’s natural. The question comes down to what the voters do.

For all of their talk about personal responsibility, I don’t see a ton in the Republican party. Issues like character only seem to be important when it involves the other guy or girl. When your own candidate has character issues you suddenly hear crickets. Ultimately, you get to make whatever decision you want. If you are committed enough to call yourself a Democrat or Republican then you get to decide the bar your candidates have to clear. You can decide what foibles you can live with. Maybe extramarital affairs and occasional harassment is okay. Maybe knowledge of abuse as a coach is okay. Maybe they can grab women by the privates. If all of that is okay for your guy then you don’t get to opine on what’s okay for our guy. You don’t get to complain about coverage. You get to sit down and shut up.

Pass the buck

“The buck stops here.” — Harry S. Truman

As everyone knows, Governor Abbott lifted the mask order and also lifted restrictions on the number of people that can enter into restaurants and other businesses. Except, he really didn’t. All he did was pass the buck down the line to local governmental entities to make the call for themselves. When they wouldn’t make the call, the local businesses themselves would have to decide.

Predictably, schools did not know how to proceed from there. We were waiting for word from the Texas Education Agency. Their word would determine how we would proceed in our schools. As you might have expected, they passed the buck too. They said they recommended that schools maintain mask orders, but allowed for individual school districts to opt out if they so chose.

Thus, we see the miracle of modern conservative thought in practice. It’s one thing to leave localities in control of relatively minor matters. Abbott doesn’t need to weigh in on whether you use Hunt’s or Heinz ketchup at the county fair. He doesn’t need to be there to pick between Cletus and Bubba to see who gets to run the ferris wheel or shoot off the fireworks.

It’s completely another to abdicate responsibilities on matters of life and death. Yet, this is what conservatives are doing. It would be one thing if Abbott stood up and said, “no more masks.” Except, that’s not what he did. He stood up and essentially said, “if you feel like it you don’t have to mandate masks, but if you would like to I guess it is your decision.” He’ll stand behind you. He’ll stand about 4000 feet behind you with the engine running.

The main ingredient missing throughout this whole year has been the absence of leadership. When citizens were asked to ration in World War II, they didn’t allow individual states, counties, or cities to opt out. During gas shortages it wasn’t optional to flout the rules and do whatever you damn well wanted. You couldn’t buy your beef at HEB and yet only have SPAM at Kroger’s. These things were all universal.

The pandemic has been a collective failed response. Now, you could choose to look at it any number of ways. It could be a failed response because of the people you had in leadership. At the end of the day, political parties don’t necessarily matter as much as the people in the driver’s seat. How do they react under pressure? How do they adapt to changing conditions? Houston and Harris County have a long history of reacting well to hurricanes and other disasters even though those entities have been represented by people from both parties.

Another aspect of the failed response could be a failure of governing philosophy. Conservatives don’t want to govern. Sure, that might be nutshelling it a little too broadly, but their philosophy is that private business can do a better job of organizing than government. Individuals can make up their own minds. It sounds wonderful. It really does. It sounds wonderful until you get into crisis mode and you need everyone to pull in the same direction.

The final failure is ours. Instead of buckling down and accepting new realities we are collectively bucking the system. We pressure government to lift mask mandates. Why? What’s so hard about wearing a mask? Boil it down and living in a society is about mutual respect for other people’s wellbeing. We obey traffic laws because they keep us safer. We follow rules of convention and convenience for the betterment of all. Yet, we can’t seem to all get on board to wear a mask.

If that proves anything, that proves that we need leadership. When someone is chosen to run a state they need to run it. They need to take the bull by the horns and tell everyone what needs to be done in times of crisis. Yes, you work with other officials and you get information from multiple sources to make the best decisions. Yes, you allow local officials to make their own calls whenever possible to best implement your vision. Yet, it still has to be your vision. In times of crisis someone has to step up. We’ve proven we can’t be left to our own devices.

Story Time

“And I can’t get it out of my head
No, I can’t get it out of my head
Now my old world is gone for dead
‘Cause I can’t get it out of my head.”– Jeff Lynne

In my last piece, I teased a story. In the media business they always tell you to make good on your teasers or you will lose your audience. Naturally, I don’t know if I even have one to speak of, but since this is a slow news day on my end, I figured I would tell a little story about why I am always so reticent about dishing details on other people’s legal problems.

In college, I wrote columns for the college newspaper. I know you are all shocked to hear that. One semester I served as the Opinion Editor. That meant that I supervised the columnists, designed the page four days a week, and usually wrote the staff editorial each day. I also filled in for columnists that flaked out. So, I was doing a ton of writing.

We also had daily staff meetings where we discussed how we would cover important stories. One day, a student in my dorm was accused of sexual assault. He was arrested by the local police. We debated whether to publish his picture in our college newspaper. TCU is a relatively small campus with approximately 7000 undergraduates. At the time, it may have been even smaller.

I argued that we shouldn’t. He had only been arrested and had not been charged yet. In terms of journalistic rules we were within our rights to do it, but I argued something I’ve definitely learned the hard way. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. Well, as you might predict, this story turned out to end badly for all involved.

The first domino to drop came from the accuser. She told the police that she made up the whole thing. Of course, no one is really quite sure the ins and outs of that particular situation. Sometimes victims feel pressured to recant their stories or they are simply unwilling to go through the painful process of a trial. Sometimes women do make up stories. It is impossible to know the real truth more than 20 years later.

The second domino came when someone brought in a yearbook from a prior year. It seems that the would be perpetrator had an identical twin that also was on campus. Keep in mind how small our campus was. In the end, both students ended up transferring to a different school. Whether the first twin was guilty or not, the second didn’t deserve that.

I suppose we could hang our hat on the fact that we were well within our rights to tell the story and print his picture. We didn’t misreport the facts. He was arrested for sexual assault. Yet, he was never charged with a crime and the only witness (the victim) recanted. It was a horrible situation for all involved and it could have been avoided if we had just used a little discretion.

I was already on the path to becoming a teacher by then, but any taste I may have had for entering into journalism was driven out. We had those fights frequently that semester. Each time I was told I just didn’t understand. I wasn’t a journalism major. Each time I was proven right. The question of what you should do is always more pertinent than the question concerning what you can do.

I learned a few additional lessons that semester and through that particular experience. Despite our choice to do the wrong thing, I never questioned anyone’s integrity. We wanted to get the story right. The story we ran with was factually correct. However, it was missing context because we were in a rush to report what we had.

There’s often talk about the obvious bias in journalism. Journalists are obviously a bunch of liberals and their stories are slanted to the left. There is bias in journalism, but that’s not it. Obviously, their are rogue journalists just like their are bad teachers, doctors, and cops. However, the vast majority want to get the story right. At least, the journalists that work in mainstream media want to get it right.

They also want to be first. They want to have the scoop. In an effort to be first and to have the scoop we often miss details and context. 24 hours news could have made that better, but instead we just amplify what’s already there. So, what you view and what you read may be factually true, but it may also be missing context. It often is missing context because while journalists want to get it right, propagandists aren’t bound by the same credo. Lying is such a dirty word and such a complicated thing. I can lie by simply telling you something that isn’t true or I can lie by omitting something that is true. Either way, you’re aren’t getting the full story.

So, I learned a few valuable lessons through that experience. The main one I learned is that our system of innocent until proven guilty isn’t just a catchy slogan. It’s the real deal. So, I should always be very careful how I phrase things. More importantly, when you rush to judgement you end up getting details wrong. It’s not purposeful. Yet, it hurts real people just the same. I don’t know what ever became of those brothers, but I can’t help but empathize with them for something one definitely didn’t do and for something one may or may not have done.

Monsters in our Midst

“The lunatic is in my head. You raise the blade. You make the change. You rearrange me until I’m sane. You lock the door and throw away the key. There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”– Roger Waters

A lot of the things we hear about on the news are an abstraction. Someone is killed in an armed robbery. A fire destroys an apartment building on the other side a town. A deadly virus kills over 500,000 Americans. These are things that have some impact on our lives, but unless we know anyone personally affected they are merely abstractions.

In other words, they aren’t reality for us. Sure, some of us know someone that knows someone that knows someone, but that’s not really the same thing. It’s a lot like playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon. All of us can get to a point where we can trace our way back. That’s not the same thing as having someone in our inner circle that has been personally affected.

Live long enough and you build a kind of shield to all of these abstractions. They happened and we know they happened, but they aren’t really a part of our reality. That is until someone pierces that shield. That can be someone in our inner circle or simply someone we know. When it is someone we know we can’t deny it anymore. It becomes that much more real.

This happened twice in one day for me this past week. First, we discovered that one of our former coworkers was one of the four Houston area arrests for the January 6th capital attack. As former coworkers go, he was fairly benign. He lasted one year on our campus, but we did share an office with him. He is no longer teaching, so if you look him up he will be listed under a different profession.

The news was both shocking and perfectly predictable at the same time. It was pretty clear from his posts on social media that he had become radicalized. Still, it’s always surprising to see someone you know involved with something like that. It’s a not so gentle reminder that these events are very real and that the monsters might be closer than they appear.

That being said, given the numbers involved it is clear that we are talking about a small minority of the population. When events like this become internalized we should always remind ourselves of how rare these events are. We have to balance the vigilance they inspire in us with the perspective not to see the bogey man around every corner.

Our daughter faces this test now. The choir director at her high school was arrested on assault charges in his former state. He has been put on administrative leave and will likely stand trial there. On a slower news day, I will tell you the story that fuels my reticence with revealing details on stories like these.

She had met this man and was looking forward to being in his class. It really shook her to think of him in this light. As you might imagine, the feeding frenzy had begun. Stories came out of the woodwork about incidents that may have happened in his time here. Who knows how true they are.

The difficult part is explaining to a young child the balance between always being careful and excessively living your life in fear. In over twenty years of teaching I can count on one hand the number of teachers I was familiar with that had credibly been accused of assaulting a student. Incidents like that are fairly rare. That kind of perspective is tough for a kid who sees the leader of their program as a sudden predator.

As frightening as this all is, it is so much more frightening to think of someone you know as a monster. Sometimes you get a feeling in the back of your mind that something is not quite right. Sometimes you don’t. Not getting that feeling is so much worse. How could that person fool so many people? How could I allow myself to believe they were just like the rest of us?

From there you get the even darker questions. What were the circumstances that led them down this road? If you switched up a few of the common denominators in my life could I turn out the same way? Could I become a monster? It’s a frightening proposition. All of us have had a moment where we could imagine it all going sideways if we made a different choice. Are we lucky or did those people simply lack something that most of us have?

It is all part of the separation between empathy and disgust. The key in situations like this is humility. In many cases, these people were us with one or two bad choices that led to horrible circumstances. There isn’t much that separates us. That’s the scary part when you know someone that did these things. When the abstraction becomes real you have to deal with it somehow.

Keep the pressure on

“When I try to sleep at night I can only dream in red. The outside world is black and white with only one color dead.” — Peter Gabriel

In keeping with the theme of yesterday’s post, the House of Representatives continues to apply pressure to the Senate and to the country in general to do the people’s business. On Wednesday, the House passed the George Floyd Police Reform Bill by a narrow 220-212 margin. Of course, just hearing the headline doesn’t really give you the details.

The bill does three major things that people have overwhelmingly asked for. First, it outlaws choke holds and no knock warrants. Those two things alone have been responsible for numerous high profile deaths in the past several years. That includes Floyd and Breonna Taylor specifically.

The biggest part of the bill was a motion to eliminate qualified immunity. Essentially, this is a measure that gives police officers extra protections when a suspect dies or is seriously injured. Eliminating qualified immunity would allow prosecutors to freely charge police officers when their negligence or brutality leads to a suspect’s death or injury.

Ironically, the House passed a similar version back in June, but that version died in the Senate because Mitch McConnell refused to take it up. That’s usually what happens to House legislation. The irony is that the June version got more bipartisan support than this version did.

According to Vox, even in 2019 the backlog had reached over 400. So, this bill is yet another example of a much larger issue. Sure, there is the issue of issue framing. Progressives are horrible at branding. The moniker of “defund the police” was a blunder of epic proportions. It’s the kind of unforced error we can’t afford to have.

This bill doesn’t do any of that. It simply aims to improve police techniques and simply hold them accountable for their bad acts. I do not have carte blanche to grab a kid and choke them for not turning in a term paper. Even if I am attempting to subdue a violent student or deescalate a student that is out of control I am still liable for what I do if I don’t follow certain procedures. The bill just asks the police to live by the same rules.

So, this bill is an important bill, but they are all important. The people deserve better and the Senate isn’t currently giving it to them. If I were the House I would damn the torpedoes and continue to pass legislation. Sure, most of it might go to die, but I would broadcast that fact over and over and over and over and over again.

As for the Senate, people should know that filibuster isn’t something the framer of the constitution codified into law. They didn’t foresee the filibuster as it is nothing more than a rule each body dreamed up after the fact. The House has a Rules Committee that establishes rules for debate for each individual bill. The Senate doesn’t have that. So, debate is considered to be unlimited until a motion is called to end it.

If you eliminate the filibuster you aren’t trampling the ghost of James Madison or making Thomas Jefferson turn over in his grave. Neither of them would have known a filibuster if it fell out of the sky, on their face, and wiggled. You are simply making the Senate do its work.

An overwhelming majority want police reform. This is the same overwhelming majority that wants a higher minimum wage and Coronavirus relief. There is an easy compromise to the filibuster rule. Simply put, if the House passes a bill then the Senate has to address within a certain timeframe. They don’t have to pass it. They certainly can pass their own version of it as well. Simply put, the people deserve to be heard on the issue.

This is how McConnell (in his infinite wisdom) has managed to wield so much control and keep his members out of harm’s way. If 70 or 80 percent of the public want something then his members will look bad voting against it. So, he makes sure that will never happen. Hogwash. It’s time to rip off the security blanket. If you are against police reform, the minimum wage, common sense gun control, and infrastructure updates then you have to tell your constituents that and convince them that they are wrong and you are right. You will need to convince them that the contributions the NRA, big business, or the Koch’s are more important than what they want.

That’s how this hold finally breaks. Either reforms and changes get past both chambers of Congress or the people know directly who supported their wishes and who didn’t. That way, they can vote out those individuals instead of simply hiding behind parliamentarian tricks and slight of hand. There’s nothing magical about the filibuster. The eyes of the world are watching now.

The Space Between

“These fickle fuddled words confuse me
Like will it rain today
We waste the hours with talking, talking
These twisted games we’re playing.” — Dave Matthews

There is a growing gap in American politics I like to call the “frustration gap.” It’s difficult to articulate without going into concrete examples. So, we will take one issue that is currently being bandied about and provide an example of how the frustration gap works.

The Senate recently dropped the idea of the $15 an hour minimum wage. The machinations of why this occurred take some time to explain. See, the Senate doesn’t really operate as a democratic (small d) body. The House of Representatives does that. If a majority of members want to get something done and the Speaker of the House is on the side of the majority then it gets done.

The House has already passed the 1.9 trillion dollar Coronavirus Relief bill with the $15 dollar an hour minimum wage included. They’ve also passed the George Floyd Bill (again) and have passed comprehensive voter’s rights legislation (again). So, majority certainly rules in the House. It comes to die in the Senate.

Yes, the Democrats officially hold a slim majority there once you add in the vice president. However, the Senate has rules that prevent anything from happening unless you have a 60-40 majority. The Democrats attempted to include the minimum wage as part as a limited time only budget reconciliation bill. This allows the Senate to bypass the 60-40 cloture rule. The Parliamentarian in the Senate would not allow the minimum wage to be considered as a part of that process.

The frustration gap exists because most people don’t take the time to educate themselves about arcane legislative processes. What they know is simple. The Pew Research Center reports that two-thirds of those surveyed are in favor of the $15 dollar an hour minimum wage. Yet, it never seems to happen. Thus, you get frustration.

That frustration gets multiplied when you start piling on other issues. There are any number of issues where a vast majority of the American people want something. Yet, instead of giving the people what they want, the Senate is in desperate need of a plumber. Legislation gets stacked on its desk and it stays there until it dies an unnatural death.

Frustration often leads people to do something. Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way, but it certainly isn’t the American way. We’ve already seen the results of frustration on January 6th and we see it at the ballot box every two years. Congress has changed hands more times since 1994 than it had going back to the beginning of the 20th century.

It’s simple. People see dysfunction and lack of movement and they blame both sides. This is why the both sides arguments always piss me off. One party obstructs and they somehow get rewarded for their obstruction. Sure, there are legitimate arguments against raising the minimum wage and no issue has universal agreement. Yet, the vast majority of the population has rejected those arguments.

So, the frustrated populace has a few choices. It could sit around and wait for things to change on its own. It can rid Congress and the legislatures of so-called wishy washy Democrats and continue moving that party to the left. What they could also do is simply vote out the obstructionists. Unfortunately, they had their bite at Mitch McConnel and failed to act. Still, they could continue to vote out GOP members and vote out crazy members of that party.

Democrats in the Senate could also have the courage to finally rid our government from the clutches of the filibuster. It’s far past time. For every “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment there is the reality. The vast majority of filibusters in history have been noted for their opposition to things the majority wants like civil rights legislation. They’ve stood in the way of progress. It’s time to blow it up. The upshot is that the unwashed masses will look at this mess in 2022 and blame Democrats. Then, they will elect the very people responsible for the mess in the first place.

The perversion of the invisible hand

“and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.” — Matthew 26:15

Greg Abbott was determined yesterday to keep Texas in the national news cycle. He announced that the mandatory mask order would be lifted next week. Naturally, individual businesses can continue to mandate masks and individual counties can as well (for now). At the same time, he lifted restrictions on the amount of people businesses can accommodate.

At first glance, it seems this was a knee-jerk reaction in the Trumpian tradition. Why allow yourself to be the butt of jokes for something that happened last week when you can create a whole new situation out of whole cloth? The upside is that some people forget about last week’s scandal. The downside is that now there’s a whole new scandal to consider.

That being said, this isn’t really a scandal. It’s just bad judgment and it’s the same bad judgment we have been dealing with throughout his tenure as governor. People have been doing this for thousands of years. We referenced the Judas story above. The story of Faust is not quite as old, but it’s similar just the same. We are willing to make sacrifices for the things we want.

We lost 80 people in the freeze and those deaths were mostly preventable. Blame it on windmills if you want, but it mostly goes back to unchecked capitalism. ErDot could have weatherized the grid, but that costs money and that would eat into profits. There wasn’t enough government regulation to force them to that. If we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned that most businesses will not always do the right thing unless they are forced to. This is especially true if the right thing runs counter to profit motive.

So, the decision to lift the mask mandate is not necessarily a direct reaction to the freeze. It’s an extension of that mode of thinking. It will open the state for Spring Break and will certainly make baseball fans happy that they can attend Astros and Rangers games. Great. So, tourism dollars will roll in and businesses will do better in general. We also will see a spike in positive tests, spikes in hospitalizations, and spikes in deaths.

The numbers won’t be as neat as the numbers on freeze deaths. After all, we could predict a change in numbers as holidays approach like St. Patrick’s Day and Spring Break. We are also seeing more and more people being vaccinated. So, the statistical models of positives, hospitalizations, and deaths would have fluctuated one way or another anyway.

Libertarians (which modern Republicans are a lot closer to) view the world as a world where government has little role. The market can decide what’s right and wrong. Government is ineffective at making our lives better. When you put a Libertarian in charge they make both of these visions happen. Government becomes ineffective because we don’t prioritize making it effective. We don’t hire good people. We don’t invest in it. It becomes an afterthought.

The sordid underbelly of this ideology is the thinking behind how we regulate (or don’t regulate) private business. The public face calls for the invisible hand of the market to keep unbridled avarice in check. The private face knows that will never really happen. Depending on the optimism of the person, they may believe that most will benefit anyway or they simply don’t care.

The Declaration of Independence begins by asserting that governments are instituted among men (and women) to protect everyone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property if you are a John Locke fan). The constitution provides that government is there to provide for the common defense of its citizens. Sometimes that means protecting citizens from enemies foreign and domestic. Sometimes that means protecting citizens from themselves.

Some people may think it’s a good thing if we descend into an Ayn Rand dystopian future, but that’s not who we were called to be. If public health takes a back seat to profit motive then you end up like Judas holding your 30 pieces of silver. Sure, you’re 30 silver pieces richer, but at what cost? It sure wasn’t worth it for him and it won’t be worth it now either.

Who’s average anyway?

“You must be joking
You don’t know a thing about it
You’ve got no problem
I’d stay right there if I were you.” — Nik Kershaw

One of the speakers at CPAC used a common rhetorical trick during his speech that should really be addressed. The trick goes by different names, but we will call it the straw man tactic for now. Essentially, the idea is to construct someone that doesn’t really exist. Then, we can attach characteristics to them that will fit our particular purposes. Maybe we have them say something no one would ever actually say. Maybe we give them characteristics that few people actually share.

Pete Hegsheth is just one of a long line of conservative guys that say very similar things, but the tactics are what need to be put under focus. He invoked the “average man” as a kind of straw man that he created out of whole cloth. The average man doesn’t talk about equality, equal rights, or anything high brow like that when they meet with friends at the diner. They talk about the Bible, the tenth amendment, and standing for the national anthem.

It is a successful tactic on a number of fronts, but the most successful part of it goes to those that aren’t really part of his audience. See, I’ve never discussed any of those things at the diner and certainly haven’t heard anyone else discuss them. So, either Mr. Hegseth is full of shit or I am not average. If I’m being reasonable then I have to acknowledge the possibility that both of those could be true simultaneously.

I immediately called shenanigans on the tenth amendment discussion. I’m a former government teacher. I could tell you what the 10th amendment says, but I imagine most Americans can’t. They certainly aren’t talking about it at the local diner. Who knows, maybe average people are talking about the Bible and the anthem. We’ve already determined I’m not average.

This is a rhetorical trick the right continues to play. Progressives are a bunch of coastal elites and highly educated people that don’t represent real Americans. That education you worked so hard to get doesn’t make a real American. It certainly doesn’t make you an average American. We want you to be ashamed of that education and ashamed of that ability to think critically. You don’t matter like the flyover states matter.

If you look at public opinion polling, you will see that most people consider themselves to be average. However you measure average, they consider themselves average. It might be a reference to income (most call themselves middle class), education, or soci0-economic status. Any way you slice it, most people have a desire to be called average. That’s even if we aren’t average.

We want to belong as people. We desperately want to be able to go to that diner and relate to the masses. At least a part of us does. So, Mr. Hegseth is telling us what average people talk about. So, if we want to fit in with Bubba and Nadene we should really start talking about the Bible and how those elitist athletes should stand for the anthem. We certainly shouldn’t discuss why those athletes are kneeling. Average people don’t talk about that stuff.

What they don’t want you to know is that the so-called average man or woman is a myth. The reality is that a 50/50 split in the Senate isn’t representative of the overall population. The states that house the Democratic senators represent 42 million more Americans than the states that house the Republican senators. Yet, these charlatans manage to convince you that you are somehow elite if you have an education and reside in a city.

Even if you don’t bust out into a song and verse on the national anthem. Even if you don’t start quoting the 10th amendment word for word. They know you want to fit in. So, they are trying to subdue you into dropping your feelings about equality. You should just shut up about your opinions on policing. Average people support the police no questions asked. Average people certainly don’t stick up for LGTBQ rights. They’re too busy reading the Bible and singing the anthem.

Hegseth knows most people won’t buy his crap. He doesn’t need most people to buy it. He only needs a small percentage of the population to be insecure enough to give in and table their concerns in order to try to be average. We all do it from time to time. We hold our tongues and go along to get along. Just remember what he is trying to do. The premise sounds absurd. It is absurd. However, it’s designed to attack the emotional part of your brain. I want to be average. If that’s what average people do then that’s what I should do. Except the average man is a straw man. He doesn’t exist.

Life is too short

“We’d all love to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free your mind instead.”– John Lennon

New words are invented every year. The word snark itself was added to the dictionary in the 19th century, but it obviously does not have the same meaning now as it did then. This is another common phenomenon in the English language. It’s hard to say when that shift happened, but snark is something you see frequently on social media.

I normally detest the axiom that “both sides do it” because I usually find this thinking as lazy and disproportionate. However, there is no more proper way to address snark in the political sense. However, it goes well beyond politics and into everyday life. In some sense it is simply poking fun and as long as everyone is in on the joke I guess there is no harm. Everyone that has been on the business end of one of those jokes knows that’s not really the case.

I saw two examples in the past couple of days that drove this point home and to be perfectly fair I will include one from each side of the political spectrum. There is one particular woman on Twitter that I follow because we are all a part of what could be labeled “Astros Twitter.” For those not in the know on these things that’s just a fancy way of saying we all follow the Astros and therefore follow each other because we want to see what others have to say about the Astros.

The group has become a little closer in the past calendar year because the Astros took a ton of abuse through the cheating scandal. Astros twitter therefore took on a pack mentality where we circled the wagons and defended each other. I’m admittedly not as active on Twitter as many others, but I also admittedly do a lot more reading than tweeting.

Anyhow, this woman has become increasingly fixated on Joe Biden. Every time he speaks she pounces on every stammer and stumble. She sees it as “proof” that he is suffering from dementia. Point out salient facts about his stuttering issue and you get a lot of noise coming back. I’d say more than half of her political tweets have immediate pushback from others on Twitter correcting her on the facts. Of course, this is normal when you look across Twitter.

What isn’t normal is what is happening to her. In the past year we have gone from occasional political tweets interspersed with tweets about life and sports to a majority of tweets being about politics and Joe Biden specifically. At some point we begin to worry not about the content of the complaints but the frequency. Naturally, some were doing this when Trump was president. So, it’s not a partisan thing. It’s a human thing. Is the hyper focus making you happy?

Of course, I say that knowing full well that a majority of my posts here were about the ex-president up until January 20th. So, admittedly there’s a fine line. Some people on the left crossed that fine line when they poked fun at numerous speakers and performers at CPAC. CPAC is an annual event where conservative politicians and celebrities get together to hear speeches and discussions about conservative issues.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said that he could not define pornography but he knew it when he saw it. In a similar way, I can’t define the difference between spirited commentary and hurtful snark, but I know it when I see it. We saw it this week when those on the left descended on the poor girl that opened CPAC with the national anthem. It was a brilliant study in snark if there ever was one.

The treatment failed a simple two-pronged test. First. has she done anything wrong? I suppose you could claim she has based on the fact that she was there. However, that’s a stretch. Is someone that has said nothing responsible for the views of those in attendance simply based on his or her own attendance? That’s a hard bar to cross. I’m not sure how old this girl was and whether she was watching all of the speeches in rapt anticipation. Maybe she sung the anthem and then went home. Maybe her parents brought her there and volunteered her because they thought she was talented.

This brings us to the second prong. How would have any of us have done in a similar situation? This is a difficult question. Could I sing the national anthem and stay on key? Maybe. Throw me into a room with hundreds of people and cameras and the odds go way down. I still remember the time I tried out for the high school pop show. The tryout didn’t go nearly as well as the rehearsals.

It’s the same phenomenon as game shows. Trivia seems simple from the comforts of our living room. Put us under the bright lights and in front of the camera and with real money on the line and those same trivia questions become that much more difficult. Even if the girl sucked beyond what any of us would suck we have to ask ourselves what we are getting out this exchange. Do we really need to tear someone down and demean them to make ourselves feel better?

This is where the Biden jokes and the jokes about this poor girl intersect. We only know what we saw and heard. We don’t know why. We don’t know if either was overcome with nervousness. We have no way of knowing how Biden’s stuttering impacts him at different moments or how this girl wound up being on stage in the first place. Admittedly, the line between fair game and cruelty can be blurry. A lot of it depends on how public a face the victim has. Another part depends on whether they knowingly put themselves out there like that. The final part comes down to what we get out of the exchange. Are we putting someone down to make ourselves feel better? If so, what does that say about us?