You won’t hear this from me very often, if ever again, but Democrats in Washington need to learn from and follow the example of Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. In the Texas Senate, which Patrick leads, until very recently it took support from 19 of the 31 Senators to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. That neatly matched the number of Republican Senators. In November, however, Democrats gained a seat, meaning Republicans are down to 18. So Patrick brought forward a proposal to set the threshold for bringing a bill to the floor at 18. It only took a majority vote to get this one on the floor and pass it. So all Republicans voted for it and all Democrats against; and the rules were changed. 

Patrick did this once before, in 2015 when Republicans had 20 seats. So Patrick and Republican Senators made the threshold 19. 

Republican Senator Bryan Hughes explained the Republican rationale, as quoted by the Austin American-Statesman, “This package is an effort to allow the body to perform its duties without being bogged down and undermining effective government.”

Patrick himself explained, “We’re the majority party. We’re the majority in the House, we have all the statewide (elected offices), but the Democrats would be controlling the Senate because there are 13 of them.”

Meanwhile in the US Senate Democrats are split and agonizing over whether they should do away with the filibuster, or cloture, rule which requires 60 votes to end debate and bring a bill to the floor for a vote. It would only take a majority vote to change this rule. Democrats of course now have a slim Senate majority— with Vice President Kamala Harris the tie breaking vote in a 50-50 Senate split. (In the arcane rules of the arcane Senate, the Democrats could take some issues through the “reconciliation” process where only fifty votes are required. That is limited, however.)

Please, get over it. As Biden said in his inaugural speech, the country is in a series of “cascading crises.” Yes, Democrats should reach out to Republicans and try to get some on board with legislation. But, they have to keep in mind that Republicans spent the entire Obama Administration blocking the President’s agenda — in a deliberate and premeditated strategy of trying to make his presidency unsuccessful. They have spent decades obstructing progress and it is already clear that’s what most of them plan to do again in hopes they will be able to take back the majority in 2022 by saying Democrats didn’t get anything done.  

Yes, such a move would carry risks if Republicans were to take back the Senate. As long as Democrats manage to hold on to the House, however, that can act as a check on a Republican Senate — even if the Republicans were to take back the presidency. Democrats can explain they’re doing it to “allow the body to perform its duties without being bogged down and undermining effective government.” After all, they are the “majority party” and if the filibuster rule remains in place, the minority Republicans “would be controlling the Senate” — and by extension the fate of the country.

Governor Abbott continues focus on Austin as Legislature convenes

Meanwhile, Governor Greg Abbott is continuing his broadsides at the City of Austin as the Texas Legislature convenes with Republican majorities in both houses. The issue there of course is the Council’s vote last August to cut the police budget. The Independent has covered how the City Council recklessly handed this issue to Abbott and Republicans, some of them putting scoring personal political points with their base above protecting the interests of the City of Austin — when they could have gone about police reform in a more broad based manner and provided the governor less ammunition to use against the whole City.

Governor Greg Abbott

From a purely political standpoint, it’s hard to blame Abbott for using the Council’s vote as a campaign issue after they handed it to him. Now, however, Abbott’s efforts to punish Austin could result in real public safety consequences and precedents that could further strip local governments of their limited powers in Texas.

Exactly what retribution Abbott will pursue is a little unclear because he has been all over the place on that. First he threatened to take away or limit property tax revenues for cities who take actions he sees as “defunding the police.” Not long after that he trotted out a proposal for the state Department of Public Safety to take over management of the Austin Police Department (APD). Now, Abbott is touting a plan to deny sales tax revenues to cities who meet his definition of defunding the police. One troublesome part of this is that Abbott has made it such a focus that it will look like he failed if he doesn’t get some sort of legislation passed. Austin officials are rightly resisting any legislation that removes or inhibits local authority over APD, but they do not have anything approaching a strong hand at the Texas Legislature.

Meanwhile it should be noted that Abbott is not proposing anything to deal with issues of police misconduct around the state (and nation) that were the impetus for the action of the Austin Council. Neither is he proposing to add any state money into local policing, just to inject the state into local budgetary and management matters.

The Governor thinks the Austin City Council is a danger to public safety, but his pandering to the right wing (on coronavirus) is a proven menace to public health and safety.

Also, Abbott might want to tone down the sanctimony just a little bit, given his tragic and deadly performance on the coronavirus. The Governor thinks the Austin City Council is a danger to public safety, but his pandering to the right wing (on coronavirus) is a proven menace to public health and safety. We’ve discussed that here before so this time let’s give Texas Monthly a shot at it, from their Bum Steer awards: a “dynamic played out [on coronavirus] again and again in 2020” in which “Abbott sought to deflect criticism by hiding his intentions and contradicting himself. At first, he urged local officials to take the reins and do what was necessary to fight the virus. When those measures became unpopular, he stepped in to nullify orders issued by local officials. When infections spiked once more, he placed blame on local officials for not doing enough. He took responsibility when it was politically advantageous to do so and shirked it when it wasn’t.”

The Monthly concluded, “One riddle we’ve never been able to figure out: What does this guy think a governor is supposed to do? . . . There are many reasons for our state’s poor response to the COVID-19 crisis, and many Texans—and non-Texans—who share responsibility for it. But none of them abdicated their duties as profoundly as our governor did. Which is why Greg Abbott, the Sphinx-on-the-Colorado, is our Bum Steer of the Plague Year.”

American COVID deaths surpass World War II totals

While we are on the subject of COVID-19, I need to note the monumentally tragic fact that the number of Americans who have died from COVID now exceeds the number of Americans who died in World War II. According to the National WWII Museum 418,500 Americans died in WWII. As of this writing, 419,004 Americans have died of COVID-19, according to the University of Virginia COVID Surveillance Dashboard. To put that in further perspective, the United States currently has just over four percent of the world’s population, but 19.5% of world deaths from COVID. As noted here before, the contrast between how Americans overall responded to the war effort and how they have responded to the current pandemic is heart breaking.

Arlington National Cemetery, photo from National Parks Service
Arlington National Cemetery, photo from National Parks Service

At the beginning of WWII the federal government launched a reorganization of American industry almost overnight to produce weapons, tanks, fighter planes, ammunition and other war supplies. Americans on the home front sacrificed, not just through their family members in the service, but in a wide range of ways. That included rationing of gasoline, automobiles, tires, fuel oil, coal, firewood, nylon, silk, butter, sugar, canned milk, and shoes. Virtually all Americans willingly and enthusiastically engaged in these communal efforts, knowing they were supporting the troops at the front and the future of the country.

This time around the front line troops are medical workers and essential workers that keep the country supplied with goods and basic services operating. While millions of Americans have done everything they can to support their fellow Americans on the front lines, millions of others refuse to to participate in measures to prevent the spread of the virus; including something so simple and effective as wearing a mask while around others outside one’s immediate household. Some even harass, and spew in the face of, low wage retail workers who end up having to enforce mask rules. Many Americans also refuse to even acknowledge the reality of the virus.

At least now we have a President who realizes the gravity of the situation. He summed it up well last week, “We’re in a national emergency. We need to act like we’re in a national emergency.” Joe Biden certainly acted like it. He issued immediate Executive Orders on COVID and on a number of other fronts. The flurry of Executive Orders prompted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to accuse the Biden Administration of being “lawless.” Paxton then filed suit seeking to overturn Biden’s Executive Order on immigration. 

Perhaps we should look on the bright side: Paxton jumped right back in the fray rather than sulking over not getting the pardon that he was so obviously seeking with his ill fated lawsuit to throw out the presidential vote in several swing states that Biden won. Also, by attacking the Biden Administration, Paxton at least admitted the reality that a Biden Administration exists. 

By attacking the Biden Administration, Paxton at least admitted the reality that a Biden Administration exists. 

Nonetheless, it’s pretty rich to hear charges of lawlessness coming from someone who has been under indictment for five years for corruption related to stock dealings and is now under investigation by the FBI for further corruption and abuse of office. It is also worth noting that in repeatedly suing the federal government Paxton follows in the footsteps of his predecessor as Attorney General, Greg Abbott. Abbott famously said, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.” Abbott also bragged, “I’ve sued the Obama administration now 25 times,” — getting a True from Politifact on that statement. 

Abbott seems to be following a similar strategy as Governor. He comes to work, bashes the Austin City Council, and then goes home. Well, that’s not quite fair because now he is also bashing Walgreen’s and CVS; for not vaccinating Texans fast enough. I’m not sure how much blame, if any, Walgreen’s and CVS deserve, but it is absurd to see the Governor resorting to attacks on them. If Abbott had not blocked Medicaid expansion or had come up with any health care reforms on his own, then Texas would have a better health care system and would not be so reliant on Walgreen’s and CVS. Instead Texas remains the state with the most uninsured residents. 

Also, the Governor would not have to be so reliant on Walgreen’s and CVS if the Administration of the President he faithfully supported would have actually developed a vaccine distribution program. Now, let’s wait and see how long it is before Abbott starts blaming the Biden Administration for the coronavirus. 

So Long Hammerin’ Hank

Let’s close by talking about a true American hero, Hank Aaron. Aaron died last week at 86. For the record, I was a Braves and Aaron fan as a kid — including reading a biography of him  when I was still in grade school. Later, like most of the country, I followed Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record. That was in 1973 and 1974. I also followed the news about the tons of racist hate mail he received during that period, including multiple death threats as well as threats to kidnap his children. That hate robbed Aaron of the full enjoyment of his historic accomplishment. 

On the twentieth anniversary of breaking Ruth’s record, Aaron told the New York Times, “It really made me see for the first time a clear picture of what this country is about. My kids had to live like they were in prison because of kidnap threats, and I had to live like a pig in a slaughter camp. I had to duck. I had to go out the back door of the ball parks. I had to have a police escort with me all the time. I was getting threatening letters every single day. All of these things have put a bad taste in my mouth, and it won’t go away. They carved a piece of my heart away.”

The attacks on Aaron helped answer a question that many, like myself, wondered about after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed and integration became a reality: what happened to all those virulent racists who formed violent mobs that did things like attack the Freedom Riders and jeer at and spit at young Black kids who were integrating schools? The answer appears to be that they just adopted a lower profile and did things like write vicious threatening letters to Hank Aaron. We then saw many of their descendents, political and perhaps blood, storming the US Capitol on January 6. 

The hate directed at Aaron also exposes one of the fundamental flaws in the ideology of white supremacy. If whites were actually superior at baseball (insert any profession here) then there would be no chance of Aaron breaking Ruth’s record. But, Aaron actually hit all those home runs. So that left racists fuming and threatening to hurt him and his children if he kept pursuing the record. Aaron persisted and succeeded. 

Aaron was more than a home run champion, both on and off the field. He was an all around player: at the plate; on the bases; in the field; at every aspect of the game. He also quietly participated in politics and was a lifelong Civil Rights advocate. So long Hank Aaron, an American hero for the ages.


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