Why Joe Manchin Owns Washington Right Now

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the late Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont. Jeffords gave us one of the few bright moments of 2001 when he left the Republican Party and became a Democrat. This flipped the Senate and gave the Democrats a 51-49 Senate majority until they lost it again in the 2002 midterms.

The 2000 election gave us a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Dick Cheney breaking the tie. Almost immediately Senate minority whip Harry Reid began looking for a disgruntled Repubican senator who might be flipped. He succeeded with Jeffords, a moderate whose disenchantment with the Repubican Party had been growing for years. CNN reported at the time:

Moderates don’t survive in the Republican Party without a thick skin. Over the years, the proud, laconic Jeffords had endured countless arm twistings, cold shoulders and petty slights for taking stands at odds with his party–against Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut and Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination, for the Clintons’ health-care reform, minimum-wage hikes and more money for the National Endowment for the Arts. But by last year, the hostility had begun to wear him down. He was chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, a post that could be powerful in promoting his passion for schools, but conservative G.O.P. upstarts on the panel, such as New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, were constantly maneuvering to undercut Jeffords’ authority, doing things like convening private meetings of the committee’s Republicans and not inviting him. Jeffords complained to Lott, but the majority leader didn’t rein in the right-wingers.

Jeffords’s favored policies, such as education funding, were getting no respect from the “movement conservatism” Republicans aligning themselves with Bush and Cheney. He found himself butting heads with the “fiscal conservatives” who were determined to cut everything out of government but military spending. Oh, and it was more important to cut taxes than fund schools.

Angry over Jeffords’ opposition to Bush’s $1.6 trillion tax-cut plan, Bush aides didn’t invite him to a White House ceremony honoring a Vermont teacher, a minor slight of the kind Jeffords had grown used to over the years. Others were more serious. The Administration began hinting that a program aiding Vermont dairy farmers might be in jeopardy. Jeffords was getting the silent treatment in the Finance Committee, and Gregg  [Judd Gregg, R-NH] announced that he would be “spearheading” the education bill for the G.O.P.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats were being very, very nice to Jim Jeffords. At some point Harry Reid offered to step down as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee so that Jeffords could have the position, although it’s not clear whether this was before or after Jeffords committed to switch.

All this negotiating was being kept secret from the Republicans, somehow. Then, one day, Jeffords confessed to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) that he was thinking of switching parties. Snow immediately tried to alert the White House. And tried, and tried. White House chief of staff Andrew Card wasn’t available to return her call until the afternoon of the following day. And then, it was too late.

So here we are with another 50-50 Senate, and thank goodness the Vice President is a Democrat this time. But then there’s the Joe Manchin problem. Manchin is vowing to “never” vote to end the filibuster. He’s not the only holdout, but he’s the most visible one. All over social media I see people demanding that Manchin be “pressured” to go along with the program.

And I keep thinking of Jim Jeffords. I’m betting Chuck Schumer and a lot of other people are thinking about Jeffords. What are the chances Mitch and the boys aren’t dropping hints to Manchin about how welcome he’d be to their party? Pretty damn low, I’d say. I expect there’s only so far Manchin can be pushed before we end up with Mitch McConnell leading the Senate again. I expect a lot of legislation going forward will be written with Manchin’s parameters in mind.

Now I’m hearing that the Senate covid bill will likely scale back the direct checks for some people who got them before:

Under the plan passed by the House, individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 per year would qualify for the full $1,400 stimulus payment. The size of the payments then begins to scale down before zeroing out for individuals making $100,000 per year and couples making $200,000.
Under the changes agreed to by Biden and Senate Democratic leadership, individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400-per-person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000.
As Paul Waldman says, this is really stupid. To save a few bucks in the bill moderate Democrats are risking alienating a whole lot of voters. “Do Democrats actually gain anything by making this change?” Waldman asks. “Because it’s hard to see how they do.”
Manchin appears to have been the chief “moderate” who demanded the change. Waldman:

It was always a little odd that it was moderates who wanted to make sure those at higher incomes didn’t get too much assistance, but the disagreement wasn’t so much about fairness and equity as it was about how aggressive Democrats should be in confronting the effects of the pandemic. Progressives wanted to do as much as possible, and moderates wanted to find ways to scale back the bill’s ambitions.

And since the checks are the most visible part of the bill, that was a good place for the moderates to come out for trimming it back. Never forget that moderate Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are always on the lookout for high-profile ways they can disagree with their party, which helps them sustain their reputation for independence.

But it’s also probably the case that had Biden wanted, he could have held firm on the House’s numbers and the moderate Democrats would have gone along in the end. It’s implausible to think that Manchin or Sinema would have torpedoed the entire relief bill over this relatively minor question.

See also Moderate Democrats Strip Stimulus Checks From Twelve Million Voters for No Reason.by Eric Levitz. “… what do Democrats gain at the cost of denying checks to 12 million potential 2022 voters? How much money did Joe Manchin ‘save’ the U.S. Treasury?” Levitz asks. And the answer is, it makes the relief package 0.63 percent cheaper.

And if I were in charge of coming up with a Manchin strategy, I honestly don’t know what I would do.

Can This Country Be Governed?

Let’s start with a message from this disgruntled gentleman:

Okay then. On to the news.

It appears Senate Democrats are preparing to abandon attempts to keep the $15 minimum wage, or a variation thereof, in the Senate covid relief bill. The plan to penalize large companies that pay low wages is also being abandoned after it became clear over the weekend that getting all 50 Democratic senators to agree on language for the provision could drag on indefinitely. The Dems want the whole thing signed into law by March 14, when current extended unemployment benefits expire.

Related to this, on Friday Paul Waldman wrote that “Republicans seem unable to find their opposition mojo.” The great Republican outrage machine is still chugging away, but its reach ain’t what it used to be. “Social conservatives are getting exorcised about transgender rights — but much of the party seems uninterested in taking up this rallying cry,” Waldman writes. “There’s plenty of apocalyptic rhetoric on Fox News, but it isn’t doing much to affect the rest of the debate (and Fox’s greatest influence comes when it shapes mainstream news coverage).”

The outrage machine has been unable to persuade Americans outside of the hard-core base that Joe Biden is the devil, and this has impeded the Right’s ability to whip up opposition to what Biden is trying to do. It’s also the case that a whole lot of people are really really hurting because of the pandemic and really really need more relief from the government. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 68 percent of Americans support the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion covid relief bill, and only 24 precent oppose it. Getting voters angry at Democrats about transgender girls playing sports isn’t working.

So, now is the time for Democrats to push ahead to enact their undiluted agenda.  But after the relief package passes, they’ll be up against the filibuster. And a few Democrats still think it’s more important to preserve the filibuster than, you know, pass anything. How we’re gong to get around that, I do not know. I fear that after the relief bill we’re looking at an unbroken several months of obstruction followed by a disaster in the 2022 midterm elections. The GOP may be flailing around more than usual, but it still controls a lot of states, and in those states Republicans are pushing full speed ahead with voter suppression.

I highly recommend David Atkins’s  Voter Suppression Is The Only Policy Agenda Left for a White Christian Identity Party at Washington Monthly. There’s a lot packed into this, and you don’t need a subscription to read it. I’m just going to quote the ending here:

All they have left is opposition, voter suppression and judges. Don’t do anything about crises–but also don’t let anyone else do anything about them, either. Don’t say the racism too loud (though that’s changing fast), but also make sure no one else gets to vote or have any power. Don’t pass any laws, but just let some extremist Federalist Society judges stop anyone else from passing any laws, either.

This dynamic is not going to change anytime soon, regardless of how long Trump holds sway over the party.

Oh, yes, the T word. See also Atkins’s As CPAC Goes, So Goes the GOP. And It’s Not Looking Good. And Greg Sargent, at WaPo, today:

Amid the stream of delusion, depravity, malevolence and megalomania that characterized Donald Trump’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Sunday, one message should be regarded as arguably more important than all the others combined.

It’s this: The former president told his audience that the Republican Party’s success in coming years depends, in no small part, on its commitment to being an anti-democracy party.

We could be looking at a great turnaround for American democracy and prosperity, or we could be looking at a fizzle of bills that fail to pass and the continued erosion of democracy and U.S. standard of living. Unfortunately, right now it looks as if the future hinges on the likes of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Damn.

The Latest on the $15 an Hour Minimum Wage Increase

I’ve been torn between writing about CPAC or the covid relief bill. I decided to let the covid bill win.

It’s a shame about the $15 an hour minimum wage. I’ve read a lot of opinions about whether it would still be possible to get the bill through the Senate with the minimum wage intact using some procedural maneuver or another. There’s a good explanation of these by Li Zhou and Emily Stewart at Vox.

In brief, one option is firing the parliamentarian and keeping the $15 minimum wage in the Senate bill This is probably not going to happen, because it would require 51 votes, and at least two Senate Democrats (Manchin and Sinema) are saying they won’t vote for it.

According to Josh Marshall (article behind subscription firewall), another option is for Vice President Harris to overrule the parliamentarian. The Senate could vote to overrule the veep, but that would require a 60-vote majority, Marshall thinks. So let’s say Harris overrules the parliamentarian. What happens next? Josh Marshall:

Remember, Manchin and Sinema still hold all the cards. They don’t support overruling the parliamentarian and they don’t support hiking the minimum wage to $15. Put it in the relief bill and they can just vote against the whole bill. Then the whole thing goes down.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) says there’s no way Manchin and Sinema are going to vote against the COVID relief bill no matter what they claim now.

Parliamentarians have been overruled many times; it’s not all that controversial, or at least it didn’t use to be. But then the Dems would be playing chicken with Manchin and Sinema, who say they don’t support overruling the parliamentarian, either. There’s a lot at stake.

Bernie Sanders is working on a patch. From Vox:

“In the coming days, I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate to move forward with an amendment to take tax deductions away from large, profitable corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour and to provide small businesses with the incentives they need to raise wages,” he said. “That amendment must be included in this reconciliation bill.”

That would leave a lot of people out, but it’s better than nothing.

And then there’s compromising with Republicans. There are a few Republicans who are proposing a much smaller minimum wage increase, something like $10. It wold be really sad to have to settle for that.

If the big bill has to be passed without the minimum wage increase so be it, but I’d like to see the Dems offer a stand-alone wage increase bill to the Senate and let all the Republicans vote against it. Then make television ads.

On MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell reminds us that the last time the minimum wage was raised, in 2007, the provision was inserted into a defense spending bill that Republicans were determined to pass. Put it in a bill the Republicans want, he says. But I can’t think of what such a bill would be right now. In 2007 George W. Bush kept pushing off-budget “supplement” bills to fund the Iraq War, and there was no way Republicans would have failed to pass one of those. But what do Republicans want now? To outlaw abortions? To make unlicensed open carry the law of the land? To pass a bunch more tax cuts for rich people? To further eviscerate voting rights?

Speaking of voting rights, more than 100 bills that would restrict voting are moving through state legislatures. The future of the nation may depend on passage of H.R. 1, the voting rights act. We can’t risk Republicans taking back the House or Senate in 2022.

But Manchin and Sinema are also opposed to ending the filibuster. I suggest applying extreme pressure to Manchin and Sinema until they change their minds. I mean that literally. Several tons, if need be.

Stuff to Read

Sorry I’ve been scarce. It’s been nutty here. I did get my second Pfizer shot, though, so that means in a few days I’ll be invincible, or something.

Tom Nichols, The Atlantic, The Republican Party Is Now in Its End Stages

The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.

I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.

No one thinks much about the Soviet Union in the late 1970s, and no one really should. This was a time referred to by the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, as the vremya zastoi—“the era of stagnation.” By that point, the Soviet Communist Party was a spent force, and ideological conviction was mostly for chumps and fanatics. A handful of party ideologues and the senior officers of the Soviet military might still have believed in “Marxism-Leninism”—the melding of aspirational communism to one-party dictatorship—but by and large, Soviet citizens knew that the party’s formulations about the rights of all people were just window dressing for rule by a small circle of old men in the Kremlin.

Greg Sargent, WaPo, A former CPAC organizer’s broadside shows conservatism’s ongoing descent

The CPAC gathering is planning numerous panels devoted to variations of the idea that there was massive voter fraud, that numerous states failed to adequately run their elections, and that judges and the media have refused to adequately vet the evidence of all those failures.

Cardenas has long been a critic of Trump. But this latest turn nonetheless represents yet another marker in the conservative movement’s ongoing descent.

Sargent pointed to this snip of an intervidw of the current American Conservative Union Chairman, Matt Schlapp. Clearly, they are doubling down on the “election was stolen” lie. It’s all they’ve got, apparently.

 

The GOP’s Big, Fat Problem

I understand Rep. Jamie Raskin was on The View today calling Donald Trump “the GOP’s problem.”

“I think he’s a pariah in terms of American politics, while he continues to exercise a stranglehold psychologically and politically and financially over the Republican party,” Raskin told the co-hosts. “And I feel bad for the Republicans, because they had an opportunity to do the right thing for America, for the Constitution, and to render impartial justice. But 43 of them didn’t and now he really is the GOP’s problem.”

This is what I’ve been thinking all along. I have thought that if the GOP and right-wing media heads had any sense at all they would have destroyed Trump after the 2018 midterms. If not through impeachment, they could have worked together to take him down in other ways. But they didn’t. And now much of the GOP seems to be doubling down on Trumpism. Republicans in state legislatures are calling for censure of Republicans who voted for impeachment, for example. See also Lindsey Graham’s toadyism on Fox News shows where the GOP is heading.

A number of news stories today say that Trump will speak at CPAC next weekend and tell the assembled wingnuts that that he is Republicans’ “presumptive 2024 nominee” and that he’s “still in charge” of the party. He also has let it be known he will be going after Repubicans’ who voted to impeach him or who have otherwise shown themselves to be insufficiently obsequious to His Orangeness. See Mike Allen, Scoop: Trump to claim total control of GOP at Axios.

Meanwhile, the Republican voter base is divided between those who think the party didn’t do enough to support Trump and those who are disgusted with Trump and want him to go away. Good luck threading that needle, Republicans.

Also today, the Supreme Court finally said Trump has to turn his tax returns over to the Manhattan District Attorney. We’ll see what Cy Vance does. Vance has a reputation for being soft on white collar crime, but he probably realizes that prosecuting Trump would be a huge boost to his political career.

Also today, Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing for the Attorney General position finally began. Garland said that investigating the January 6 atrocity at the Capitol will be his top priority. And I believe him.

See also This is Trump’s heaping list of legal problems post-impeachment at CNN. These include a criminal investigation into Trump for his “attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 Georgia general election.”

IMO it’s extremely unlikely Trump is going to skate through all of this. Four years is a long time in politics. I could understand being afraid of Trump’s base if there were an election around the corner. But it’s too early to know what impact he’ll have in 2022 or 2024, and it could well turn out that Republicans will be pretending they never heard of him by the next time voters are lining up at polls.

A Teachable Moment for Texas?

Here’s a question for you. When the dust (or ice and slush, as it were) settles in Texas, what are the odds the Greg Abbott administration or the Republican Texas legislature will do a dadblamed thing to reform their power system to prevent future disasters?

I’m betting zero. They’ll have some showcase investigations, fire some people, and make some decorative tweaks, and next winter they’ll still have the same old system.

Paul J. Weber and Nomaan Merchant report for the Associated Press:

 As frozen Texas reels under one of the worst electricity outages in U.S. history, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has blamed grid operators and iced-over wind turbines but gone easier on another culprit: an oil and gas industry that is the state’s dominant business and his biggest political contributor.

Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune points out that this electric grid disaster has been costly in many ways:

It could leave a lasting bruise on the Texas exceptionalism political and business leaders like to brag about. What happened over the last four or five days, as the state became the subject of national and international pity and head-shaking, could undo years of economic development promotion, corporate relocation work and tourism campaigns.

It makes it a lot easier on the competition. Who wants to go to a failed state? Sure, there is no income tax. But we’re rationing gas, turning off electricity for millions of households and boiling water so it doesn’t poison us. Austin even closed a hospital and moved the patients when they couldn’t rely on heat or water.

In a hospital.

The light regulation here has been a key part of the business pitch. But the dark side was showing this week in the failures of our basic infrastructure.

If you were thinking of building a technology or manufacturing company in Texas, would you still want to do that, after this week? I think not. But what will the Texas government do?

Next week, temperatures will warm and legislators can take off their mittens and start waggling their fingers at House and Senate committee hearings, a customary act of umbrage and self-preservation that directs our attention to potential bad guys and away from the current and former legislators who set the policies that helped put us in this position. …

… Lawmakers have a fresh chance to decide whether cutting this particular corner, swapping light regulations and low energy costs for the risk of leaving Texans exposed to the harshest winter weather, is worth it.

If the public keeps paying attention, it’s probably not. If the public leaves the details to legislators and the usual crowd of special interests, the state might do what it did last time: Waggle those fingers, write a report and put the matter away until it gets cold again.

That’s how politics works.

This isn’t just Texas. This is the Republican Party. It’s been both parties in recent years, I admit. The Dems were too invested in some notion of glorious incrementalism to do anything useful. But they appear to have gotten over that, for the most part.

Republicans, on the other hand, don’t seem to know what governing is any more. Chris Hayes had a segment last night in which he said that all Republicans know how to do is “performative trolling.” It’s worth watching.

As for Ted Cruz, he isn’t up for re-election for four years. It’s possible he will have rehabilitated his image — such as it ever was — by then. But didn’t it occur to him to, you know, help? “There are a million things that a senator can do in the middle of a disaster,” Hayes said, “none of which interests a politician like Ted Cruz, who sees himself as basically Rush Limbaugh with a Senate office.”

See also Biden is poised to sign a major disaster declaration for Texas at Vox.

Former Governor: Texans Should Suffer for Unregulated Energy

It’s Wednesday. Between two and three million Texans have been without power since Monday.  The heads of the Texas energy system, ERCOT, can’t say when regular power will resume. Temperatures have been dipping into single digits, and the roads are treacherously icy.  Pipes have burst, leaving households without water as well as without heat. According to this BBC report, there have been an unusual number of deaths from traffic accidents. Many have tried to warm themselves with generators in the house, or in running cars, risking carbon monoxide poisoning.

One county said it had seen more than 300 suspected carbon monoxide cases during the cold snap. “It’s turning into a mini mass casualty event,” one Harris County doctor told the Houston Chronicle.

At least four people were killed following a house fire in Houston that officials said may have been sparked by candles. Separately, police said two men found alongside a Houston highway were believed to have died due to the cold.

I am seeing on social media that people are also getting low on food. Groceries are not being stocked, and a lot of groceries are closed.

Former Texas governor Rick Perry is speaking out … against energy regulations. The Houston Chronicle:

Former Texas governor Rick Perry suggests that going days without power is a sacrifice Texans should be willing to make if it means keeping federal regulators out of the state’s power grid. …

… “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” Perry is quoted as saying. “Try not to let whatever the crisis of the day is take your eye off of having a resilient grid that keeps America safe personally, economically, and strategically.”

I wonder how Texans without power feel about that. It is unfortunately the case, however, that minority neighborhoods are getting the worst of it, meaning the rich white folks are probably staying warm and well fed.

As I wrote yesterday, a big reason Texans are suffering right now is that Texas has maintained a power grid that is mostly unconnected with those of other states, so that it can avoid federal regulations. See especially Texas seceded from the nation’s power grid. Now it’s paying the price. at WaPo.  The state’s insistence on self-reliance and private, unregulated providers competing for business worked well for them, until now. But there is no financial incentive for investing in backup systems. There is no regulation forcing anyone to invest in backup systems. And because Texas is disconnected from the rest of the nation’s energy grids, there is no way to redirect energy to Texas.

Also from the Houston Chronicle:

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, blamed the failures on the state’s deregulated power system, which doesn’t provide power generators with the returns needed to invest in maintaining and improving power plants.

“The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union,” said Hirs. “It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.

“For more than a decade, generators have not been able to charge what it costs them to produce electricity,” said Hirs. “If you don’t make a return on your money, how can you keep it up? It’s like not taking care of your car. If you don’t change the oil and tires, you can’t expect your car to be ready to evacuate, let alone get you to work.”

Rational people ought to be able to understand that the Free Market is not a magic wand. “Free market” competition is really good at offering consumers better toasters and television sets at lower prices. But it’s not so good at providing other things, like health care and reliable energy. One of these days Americans will figure this out, maybe.

By now you’ve probably heard about the epic meltdown of the mayor of Colorado City, Texas (population 3,920). It went like this:

“No one owes you [or] your family anything,” Tim Boyd wrote on Tuesday in a now-deleted Facebook post, according to KTXS and KTAB/KRBC. “I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”…

…“The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!” he wrote on Facebook on Tuesday.

Boyd suggested that residents without electricity should simply “step up and come up with a game plan.” Those without running water could either deal with it, or “think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family.” He did not offer any further guidance, such as where safe drinking water or reliable electricity could be found.

“Only the strong will survive and the weak will [perish],” he wrote.

Mayor Boyd has since resigned, saying he might have used “better wording.” The news stories don’t say if Boyd is a Republican, but what he said is pretty much the Republican theory of governance these days — don’t ask the government to do anything for you.

Current Gov. Greg Abbott gave his state of the state speech a couple of weeks ago. He described what he saw as priority issues for Texas. These included five “emergency” items he wants the legislature to address right away. These are expanding broadband internet access; punishing local governments that ‘defund the police’ as he defines it; changing the bail system; addressing “election integrity”; and providing civil liability protections for businesses that were open during the pandemic. Abbott went on from there to call for more abortion restrictions; making Texas a “Second Amendment santuary state”; and new laws to stop “any government entity from shutting down religious activities in Texas,” including during a pandemic, I assume.

Expanding broadband is a good thing, and so is bail system reform, depending on how he wants to “reform” it. In the mouth of a Republican, however, “election integrity” is code for “finding new ways to suppress minority votes.” And the rest of his priorities are truly not needed, by anybody.

What did Abbott not mention? Vaccine distribution. Preparing schools to reopen. Helping those who have lost jobs because of the pandemic.

Texas resident Andrew Exum writes at The Atlantic,

Fixing ERCOT will require actual governance, as opposed to performative governance, and that is something the state’s leadership has struggled with of late. Rather than address the challenges associated with rapid growth, the state’s elected leaders have preferred to focus on various lib-owning initiatives such as the menace of transgender athletes, whether or not NBA games feature the national anthem, and—in a triumph of a certain brand of contemporary “conservatism”—legislating how local municipalities can allocate their own funds.

I’m anxious to see how our governor, in particular, will respond to this crisis, because I have never witnessed a more cowardly politician. When Abbott faces a challenge—and he has faced several in the past year alone—you can always depend on him to take the shape of water, forever finding the path of least resistance. I have no idea why the man became a politician, as I can discern no animating motive behind his acts beyond just staying in office.

I have to say that Missouri’s Republican Governor Parsons is cut from the same cloth. I can’t tell if he actually does anything. Like Abbott, he has resisted statewide pandemic restrictions in favor of letting county and city governments set restrictions if they want to. He’s rarely heard from until somebody criticizes him for something; he responds with some form of tantrum. He’s utterly worthless. But the state government in general has become wonderfully efficient at not doing anything that people need it to do. Last I heard the legislature was debating a bill that would allow people to run over protesters with their cars without facing criminal charges.

And, of course, the rot goes all the way up. The national Republican Party can’t decide what it’s even about any more, other than kissing Donald Trump’s ass.

Speaking of asses, a couple of chapters closed today — Rush Limbaugh is dead, and the last of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos was destroyed with dynamite. Not all the news is bad.

Texas — Like a Whole ‘Nother Country, Especially the Power Grid

I’m trying really hard to not feel smug about the power outages in Texas. We’ve got our own weather issues here in the Ozarks — snow and single-digit temperatures — and the power flickered on and off a few times today. I am not one to tempt fate in these matters.

And this is not amusing:

At least 14 people are dead in four states from the effects of a record-shattering cold snap and series of winter storms since Sunday. In Texas, as the electricity grid struggles to keep pace with record high demand amid a historic cold outbreak, people are turning to unsafe means to heat their homes. A woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston after a car was left running in a garage to keep them warm, according to police.

The Arctic air has also claimed the life of at least one homeless person in Houston, and a 10-year-old boy died after he fell through ice near Millington, Tenn. A tornado associated with the storm system that helped draw Arctic air to the south struck in North Carolina overnight, killing at least three and injuring 10.

But there also are tweets, like this one:

Yes, my dears, Texas has its own power grid, as described at Vox.

Texas operates its own internal power grid that serves much of the state. Managed by the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, the grid provides 90 percent of the state’s electricity and serves 26 million customers.

It draws on a diverse range of power sources in a competitive market. The largest source of electricity in Texas is natural gas, followed by wind and solar, coal, then nuclear. The state is the largest oil, natural gas, and wind energy producer in the US.

Here’s more on the Texas power grid from Houston Public Media. This confirms that the power grid has been kept separate from the rest of the country in order to avoid federal regulation. I also found an informative blog post titled The Ultimate Guide to Texas Electricity Deregulation . It appears the overriding concern in Texas has been to deregulate, deregulate, deregulate, and let competitive market forces provide low-cost energy to Texas consumers.

The extreme cold is causing multiple system failures, but as I understand it the single biggest problem is the natural gas supply. See The Real Reason for Texas’ Rolling Blackouts by Molly Taft at Gizmodo:

 Some of the country’s biggest oil refineries, owned by big names like Saudi Aramco and Exxon, shut down operations in Texas Monday. Last week, several natural gas facilities and pipelines in the state also shut down as temperatures dipped and wellheads froze up.

“We don’t have the supply of gas that we normally do, and we’re consuming gas in record numbers, which is also depressurizing the gas lines,” Rhodes explained. “Natural gas power plants also require a certain pressure to operate, so if they can’t get that pressure, they also have to shut down. Everything that could go wrong is going wrong with the system.”

Natural gas wells in Texas and Oklahoma froze, people. That’s one reason why there is less natural gas now.

But Some People are eager to blame renewables.

A photo of a helicopter de-icing a giant wind turbine went viral. However, that image wasn’t taken in Texas 2021, but in Sweden 2014.

Some old tweets are back in circulation:

I understand a lot of Texas righties are blaming the Green New Deal, which is pretty amazing considering the Green New Deal legislation was never passed. That Green New Deal is powerful stuff. Imagine what it would do if it ever went into effect.

I can’t be too hard on Texas, because the whole country has been living with a creaking, antiquated power grid for many years, and no one seems to be able to address the problem. Mostly because Republicans. The extreme weather has caused blackouts in 13 other states beside Texas. See Severe weather, blackouts show the grid’s biggest problem is infrastructure, not renewables, at Tech Crunch.

The current blackouts have nothing to do with renewables and everything to do with cold weather slowing down natural gas production because of freeze-offs and spiking demand for heating at the same time.

As Dr. Emily Grubert, an assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and, by courtesy, of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, noted, the problem is more of a total systems issue than one associated with renewable power.

“Let us be absolutely clear: if there are grid failures today, it shows the existing (largely fossil-based) system cannot handle these conditions either,” Grubert wrote on Twitter. “These are scary, climate change-affected conditions that pose extreme challenges to the grid. We are likely to continue to see situations like this where our existing system cannot easily handle them. Any electricity system needs to make massive adaptive improvements.”

Updating energy technology and increasing use of renewables would make the power much more reliable, the article says.

Who Is Going to Meet the Moment?

As much as I dislike him, I have always believed that Lindsey Graham was smart enough to know his entire career was built on shams and demagoguery to keep the rubes on his side. But now I wonder. At least one of us is a moron, and I don’t think it’s me.

Miz Lindsey did not just whiff on doing his duty in the impeachment vote. He is doubling down on the crazee to help Republicans take back Congress in 2022. Aaron Rupar writes at Vox:

If Graham’s Sunday morning appearance on Fox News Sunday is an indication, his loyalty to the former president is stronger than ever.

“Donald Trump is the most vibrant member of the Republican Party,” Graham said, distancing himself from former UN ambassador Nikki Haley’s comments about Trump not having a future in the GOP. “The Trump movement is alive and well … all I can say is that the most potent force in the Republican Party is President Trump.”

Those comments came at the end of an interview that began with Graham suggesting Republicans will go as far as to retaliate for Trump’s second impeachment by impeaching Vice President Kamala Harris if they take back the House next year.

Rupar goes on to say that “Graham seems to be calculating that Trumpism represents the Republican Party’s best bet to retake one or both chambers of Congress next year.” Maybe, but I question if loyalty to Trump will provide the political capital Graham assumes it will in 2022. I think the political landscape is very much in a state of flux right now. It’s too soon to know what it will look like 20 or so months from now. It may be time for the old dogs to learn new tricks.

Right now congressional Republicans seem to be divided between those who, at the very least, realize the party can’t continue down the same road. That’s the minority. The majority are stubbornly clinging to the shams and demagoguery that have sustained their entire political careers and which have crystallized in the form of blind loyalty to Trump, no matter what he did. See, for example, Dana Milbank, Trump left them to die. 43 Senate Republicans still licked his boots. Among other things, Milbank records this revelatory moment:

On the Senate floor, Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), an always-Trumper, was seen pointing at Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) and saying “blame you” in a raised voice. Romney was one of five Republicans who joined all 50 Democrats in voting to allow witness testimony.

See also Colbert King, In rallying to Trump, Senate Republicans sacrificed Pence. Yes, they’re okay with Trump trying to get his own vice president killed. But Pence himself is hardly a profile in courage; he remained at a safe and silent distance from the impeachment trial.

See also Peter Wehner, Why Are Republicans Still This Loyal to a Mar-a-Lago Exile?, at the New York Times. Wehner is a Republican who served in various roles in the Reagan and two Bush administrations. The short answer to the question is “tribal loyalty.” But it goes deeper:

For nearly a half-decade, Republicans became accustomed to saying one thing and thinking another. The impeachment vote was the last, best chance to break decisively with Mr. Trump. Yet once again most Republican lawmakers couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Mr. Trump still seems to haunt them, to instill fear in them. More than that, however: He has become them, weaving himself into their minds and communities so seamlessly that they are no longer capable of distinguishing their own moral sensibilities and boundaries from his, as they might once have done.

In short, too many Republicans have become hollowed-out simulations of human beings, incapable of independent thought or moral agency. But in trusting their fortunes to Trump, they are taking terrible risks. Trump, after all, lost. Not only did the Trump GOP lose the White House; it lost the House and Senate also. This hasn’t happened to Republicans since Hoover.

Further, Trump is facing multiple investigations, both criminal and civil. There could be big, splashy trials that reveal a lot of ugly truths.  There could be criminal convictions. There could also be more terrorist activity by his MAGA-head followers. I see no reason why Trump won’t be at least as much of a liability to the Republican Party as he was in the past two elections. Republicans may assume they can’t win without Trump’s rabid base, but I don’t see them winning with that base, either, outside of already deep red territory.

E.J. Dionne writes that it will be “wrenching … for Republican politicians to appease the GOP’s Trump-supporting majority while pretending to be another party altogether.” Frankly, I don’t think they can do it.

Kevin McDermott, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, thinks The GOP deserves to have Trump stalking their party for the next four years.

Trump’s acquittal may actually turn out to be good for the country.

Why? Because it will be bad for the Republican Party. And the GOP has become a dangerously dysfunctional cadre of extremists, cynics and cowards who would best serve America by sidelining themselves for a while. …

…Happily, Trump’s continued presence on the political stage will be especially bad for the most toxic elements of the GOP — the Josh Hawleys and Ted Cruzes of the world. Hawley, Missouri’s self-pitying, demagogic junior senator, has been positioning himself to inherit Trump’s base for a couple years now; Cruz, the reptilian Texan, has been doing it even longer (throwing his own wife and father under the bus in the process).

Yes, the party out of power does nearly always come roaring back in midterm elections. And there’s always the real possibility that the Democrats will fail to meet the moment, leaving voters confused as to why it matters who they vote for. We’ll see.

But for now the House Republicans who voted for impeachment, and the Republican senators who voted to convict, are facing censure from their own state parties, revealing how deep the rot goes.

Right now there is a bumper crop of editorials and opinion pieces declaring the Republican Party dead, at least as a political party. I say it hasn’t been a real political party for a long time, at least on the national level, but whatever. Now the current GOP is  finally being recognized as just the zombie version of the party it used to be. Will Bunch has an absolutely magnificent obirtuary at the Philadelphia Inquirer that begins:

The Republican Party was born on March 20, 1854, the green shoots of a political spring. Unlike America’s other parties that were often shotgun weddings of convenience, the Republicans burst forth around moral ideas that were so powerful — ending slavery and making America a world industrial power — that the tail of this supernova lasted for more than 166 years and inspired its eventual nickname, the Grand Old Party.

That GOP died — morally, if not officially — in the late afternoon gloaming of a grey and bitterly cold winter’s day, Feb. 13, 2021. After 43 Republican senators who’d been given a green light to “vote their conscience” on Donald Trump’s impeachment still managed to come up empty — thus enshrining the notion that an end-of-term president can foment a deadly insurrection to thwart a peaceful transition of power and not face any consequences — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell strolled to the well of the Senate. He was presumably holding the bloody knife with which he’d repeatedly stabbed American democracy for a dozen years hidden behind his back.

Do click on the link and keep reading. Toward the end Bunch writes,

There is, arguably, a large opening for a completely new second political party — one that actually promotes the economic interests of a multiracial working class and some of its social conservatism, but embraces ethics and eschews racism — but the stench of the GOP’s corpse may have to get worse before that can happen.

In 2021, the only hope for American salvation is not bipartisanship with a dead body but instead a Democratic Party that is every bit as bold as the Republicans are cowardly.

Can the Democrats be bold? Some of them seem ready; some not. I fear we’re going to be held back by the likes of Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin, and Dianne Feinstein. You want to win in 2022 and 2024, Dems? Kill the filibuster and pass H.R. 1

If there was ever a time that same old, same old ain’t gonna cut it, this is it. Who will break out of the old, dysfunctional patterns of the past few years? Who is going to meet the moment?

Probably not Lindsey Graham.

Some Trial, Part Two

The impeachment trial is over, and seven Republicans voted with the Democrats to convict — Sens. Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, Richard Burr, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. But I still say this is going to hurt the Republican Party, long term, more than it will hurt Democrats.

And there will be criminal trials ahead for Trump. District Attorney Fani Willis of Fulton County, Georgia, is looking into election fraud charges, for example. Possible civil and criminal charges could come out of New York. Just today, the Wall Street Journal reported that New York state prosecutors are investigating more than $250 million in loans Trump took out on some of his best-known Manhattan properties.

I’m sorry the Dems changed their minds about calling witnesses. David Kurtz at TPM:

Dems seemed to have seized the advantage, backed by five GOP senators, to present at least some witnesses in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The fierce reaction of GOP senators to what House impeachment managers and Dem senators wanted to do testified to the the advantage Dems had taken hold of.

But just as quickly, House managers and Senate Dems entered into an agreement whereby Trump was willing to stipulate to what Rep. Herrera Beutler’s statement would be. As a result, there will be no witnesses, no documentary evidence, and no real trial.

It’s possible there’s more to this we don’t yet know about. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler is, of course, the Republican who testified that Kevin McCarthy had described to her the phone call in which McCarthy had begged Trump to stop the riot, and Trump replied that the mob was “more upset about the election than you are.”

There’s also this:

A former Pence staffer tells CNN that on January 6, then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien was traveling. His deputy at the time, Matt Pottinger, and Gen. Keith Kellogg, Pence’s national security adviser, were both at the White House on the day of the rally and riot. Kellogg confirmed to CNN that he was in the Oval Office with Trump and the President’s children as the riot was raging, during which Pence was forced to flee the Senate chamber.
During the riot, Kellogg was in communication with Pence through the vice president’s staff, which was communicating back to the White House and getting that information to Kellogg, who was with Trump.
“Kellogg was Pence’s national security adviser, so of course they knew exactly what the circumstance was,” said the former Pence staffer.

My impression is that Pence and his former staffers were not willing to testify. How pathetic is that? And how pathetic is is that most Republicans are unwilling to stand up even after they might have been killed?

There’s a must-read at Pro Publica, “I Don’t Trust the People Above Me”: Riot Squad Cops Open Up About Disastrous Response to Capitol Insurrection by Joaquin Sapien and Joshua Kaplan. The writers interviewed police who defended the Capitol. Do read the whole thing. I want to call out a couple of bits.

The interviews also revealed officers’ concerns about disparities in the way the force prepared for Black Lives Matter demonstrations versus the pro-Trump protests on Jan. 6. Officers said the Capitol Police force usually plans intensively for protests, even if they are deemed unlikely to grow violent. Officers said they spent weeks working 12- or 16-hour days, poised to fight off a riot, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police — even though intelligence suggested there was not much danger from protesters.

“We had intel that nothing was going to happen — literally nothing,” said one former official with direct knowledge of planning for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “The response was, ‘We don’t trust the intel.’”

By contrast, for much of the force, Jan. 6 began like any other day.

“We normally have pretty good information regarding where these people are and how far they are from the Capitol,” said Keith McFaden, a former Capitol Police officer and union leader who retired from the force following the riot. “We heard nothing that day.”

We know there was intelligence; it just wan’t acted on, or passed on. How much of this was from Trump operatives supressing the intelligence, or how much of it was from the old double standard that says only Black/leftist demonstrations are “mobs” or “rioters,” I do not know. But then there’s this:

On the morning of Jan. 4, members of a civil disturbance unit gathered in a briefing room. A small group of officers were shown a document from Capitol intelligence officials that projected as many as 20,000 people arriving in Washington that week. The crowd would include members of several militia and right-wing extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois and the white supremacist Patriot Front. Some were expected to be armed, according to one officer who attended the briefing. The document anticipated that there could be violence.

For some reason, this information didn’t leave the room and was not shared with other officers.

At lot of details like this:

One officer in the middle of the scrum, a combat veteran, thought the rioters were so vicious, so relentless, that they seemed fueled by methamphetamine. To his left, he watched a chunk of steel strike a fellow officer above the eye, setting off a geyser of blood. A pepper ball tore through the air over his shoulder and exploded against the jaw of a man in front of him. The round, filled with chemical irritant, ripped the rioter’s face open. His teeth were now visible through a hole in his cheek. Blood poured out, puddling on the pavement surrounding the building. But the man kept coming.

So now the Senate has effectively given future losing candidates permission to attempt a coup.

Politico is reporting that Lindsey Graham will be meeting with Trump to talk about the future of the GOP. If those two represent the future of the GOP, we’re all in for a buttload of hurt.  I take it Miz Lindsey will be trying to get Trump to be a better team player. Good luck with that.

Unfortunately, the impeachment was not widely watched, according to CNN business. We cannot let this drop. I agree with David Atkins that there must be House investigations of the attack on the Capitol and Trump’s role in it.

There is still so much that we don’t know about the President’s actions in the lead-up to and the events of January 6th. We don’t know exactly what he knew about how violent it would become. We don’t know exactly why he and his appointees refused to allow more help to the Capitol Police both before the insurrection and during the sacking the Capitol. We don’t know the details of what he said on the phone with legislators before, during and afterward. And crucially we don’t know the timeline of exactly what Trump did, hour by hour, in consultation with his closest aides. … The House must initiate investigations, making liberal use of its subpoena power to force witnesses to Trump’s behavior and state of mind to go on the public record.

Trump, and Trumpism, must be destroyed.

Pro-Trump protesters storm into the U.S. Capitol during clashes with police, during a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton – RC2P2L9YHHVX