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The Week That Was

Readers of my generation may share my foggy recollection of the British satirical news show That Was the Week That Was, which ran for two seasons (1962–63). The show was pulled just before the 1964 general election. The IMBD entry says nothing about whether the timing was coincidental. An Americanized version aired during the 1964–65 season.

I seem to have hit the ground running, as they say, upon returning home from Tulsa on Thursday the 27th. This was not by way of any conscious decision or resolution, which makes it no great departure in an existential sense from the rest of my life. By noon on Friday I had trimmed my hair (I do it myself these days and, I know, you can tell), discovered that Roma was still playing at the Hollywood Theatre, retrieved the previous day's checked bags whose arrival at the airport the night before did not coincide with mine, downloaded Tulsa photos and began putting together a website gallery, opened Christmas cards that made it to Portland while I was in Tulsa, got a load of laundry underway, and made a grocery run to Fred Meyer.

In the days that followed I cranked out blog posts about the Tulsa visit and taking stock at year's end, transitioned from the old Wix Blog to the new Wix Blog, composed the January 1 newsletter that goes out to subscribers (see Contact page for subscription form), and fiddled with website updates. Readers might not guess from content, style, and quality of the blog posts, but the the verbiage does not flow in a clear, sparkling, rushing stream from your oft humbled scribe's pen onto the virtual page. To the contrary, I agonize as if I were writing in hope of compensation or, more to the point, as if my reputation, such as it is, depends on it.

I write today looking back on the week that has passed since my arrival home. We live in an era when events in the public sphere render satire superfluous. What follows is pretty much what is going down and my take on it. If only it were satire.

I hope for the best but fear that the standoff over the government shutdown will not redound to the advantage of the Democrats. While polling done immediately before Christmas had significantly more respondents putting the blame largely on the president, polls taken after Christmas show a move toward greater disapproval of the role Congress is playing.

That might indicate that blame is shifting from who caused the shutdown in the first place (pretty clearly Trump, who refused to sign a bill he’d previously signaled he’d support) to who is now preventing it from being resolved (less clear)."(Nathaniel Rakich, The Public Blamed Trump For The Shutdown — But That May Be Changing, FiveThirtyEight, January 4, 2019)

Let's not mince words. This is not about making the border secure and the country safe. Illegal border crossings have declined significantly from record highs in the early 2000s according to the latest statistics from US Customs and Border Protection (Molly Molloy, Is the US in an 'illegal' immigration crisis? Border patrol data suggests otherwise, The Guardian, October 25, 2018). It is about the president being able to say that he won. This is what he cares about. (Yes, that is what passes for Trumpian principle. He gets no benefit of the doubt from this corner.) And, yes, from their side the Democrats feel that they cannot be seen to roll over on the wall. They also on the whole have the sincere belief, and I think they are right, that the wall is an illusory solution to the mess on the Southern border.

A 31-foot ladder easily defeats a 30-foot wall. There are smarter strategies for border security, infrastructure investment, and immigration reform. —Senator Jeff Merkley

It is tempting to think that the Democrats should try to find a way to allow the president to claim victory while giving him little by way of substance. The down side is that the president would conclude that he has found a successful tactic.

I'll say it again. I like Joan of Arc Ocasio-Cortez. But sometimes she says and does things that have me scratching my ancient, gnarly skull. Take her ill-advised and poorly executed demand that Nancy Pelosi establish a new House committee to draft a "Green New Deal" that would zero out fossil fuels in ten years while including a federal job guarantee to mitigate any economic shocks. She also insisted the committee have subpoena power and only include members of Congress who don’t accept contributions from donors in the fossil fuel industry. (Bill Scher, Pelosi 2, Ocasio-Cortez 0, Politico, January 3, 2019). There no evidence in this that Ocasio-Cortez and her allies recognize that her district, like my city of Portland, is not representative of broad swathes of the country when it comes to backing the progressive agenda. The situation is dire, and I am all for pressing Pelosi and the Democrats to take urgent, aggressive action on climate change. At the same time, we have to be real. The timeline of ten years to zero out fossil fuels is at best wishful thinking. It makes sense only if it is being put on the table as a bargaining chip for negotiation. I don't get the impression that Ocasio-Cortez sees it as a bargaining chip. I could be selling her short.

It seems that the campaign for the committee was conducted primarily via social media, Twitter, Instagram, livestreaming of a confrontational protest at Pelosi's office on November 13. It's a strategy that is all the rage these days. While this has proven effective at destroying careers and wrecking lives, in some cases one can argue deservedly, I am yet to be convinced that much productive comes of it.

There’s an old adage in politics that lawn signs don’t vote. Perhaps we can add a new corollary: Instagram followers don’t pass legislation. (Scher)

There are more serious objections. Ocasio-Cortez and her allies seem oblivious to the prospect that creation of the new committee would create turf battles with chairs of existing environmental committees. Nor do they appear to be aware that they will need the votes of some members of Congress who represent districts and states dependent on the oil industry. The heavy-handed approach is no way to get broader support that will be needed to address environmental and other issues on her agenda.

Fortunately Nancy Pelosi is made of sterner stuff than her Republican counterparts of the past decade, who were notoriously unwilling or unable to stand up to Tea Party ideologues.

She did not go out of her way to antagonize those protesting in her office, including Ocasio-Cortez (after all, she did need the New Yorker’s vote for speaker). But nor she did see any reason to reward their grandstanding. (Scher)

I do not want to come down too hard Ocasio-Cortez. She is new at this. The spotlight is on her because she is intelligent, articulate, committed, and, dare I say in 2019, attractive. I am with her on many goals while differing on strategy, tactics, and willingness to settle for less than I might like.

But so long as she is more focused on building an audience than building cases for her positions among her congressional peers, she will likely find herself on the short end of more intraparty battles. Pelosi, meanwhile, won back the gavel thanks to renewed respect from her colleagues, and from many rank-and-file Democrats, after dismantling a revolt on her right flank. But it’s her deft management of her left flank that allows her to maintain order and present a united front when negotiating with Republicans. If Trump and his administration think they are going to be dealing with a speaker running scared of her base, then they haven’t been paying attention. (Scher, again)

It would derelict to fail to note the ill-chosen words of new Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Michigan), spoken at a party where of course someone videoed it and threw it out for public consumption (Rachel Bade, Heather Caygle, and John Bresnahan, Dems livid after Tlaib vows to 'impeach the motherf—er,' Politico, January 4, 2019). This was a bad move in more ways than I care to count. I take heart from the response of House Democrats, not just from leadership but among the rank and file as well, who made it clear they deemed the comments inappropriate, uncalled for, and harmful to our cause.

It is possible to speak plainly, openly, and honestly while still being circumspect and choosing one's words carefully. We must hope that Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, and their colleagues in the freshman class will be quick learners.

One of the benefits of being a mature well-educated woman is that you're not afraid of expletives. And you have no fear to put a fool in his place. That's the power of language and experience. You can learn a lot from Shakespeare. —Dame Judi Dench

Zut alors! My intent at the outset was to keep this brief. Is there a vaccine for logorrhea?

More anon. Keep the faith.

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