Tuesday, July 20, 2021

A pair of poison pills

A pair of unsettling developments are on the horizon. And the horizon metaphor may be apt given that I'm discussing a pair of sunset laws, or laws with an expiration date. In other words, if these laws aren't renewed or updated they'll expire. So, what laws am I discussing? I'm referring to the child tax credit bill passed by Democrats this year and the tax cuts passed by Republicans in 2017. Both measures were passed on party-line votes. Both expire in time to be volatile fodder for upcoming political cycles. 

The more recent of these two measures, the child tax credit, expires in one year. This was part of the Democrats' most recent recovery package. It will probably prove to be popular with those receiving it and could prove to be an electrified third rail for politicians opposing it. The debate over extending it will take place next spring, just as the nation braces itself for midterm elections. Might this be a way for Democrats to expand their majorities in the federal Congress? Perhaps. 

Meanwhile, the tax cuts brought into law by the previous president and the Republicans when they had the a majority expire, somewhat, in time for the 2024 election. Normally, tax bills are ten-year pieces of legislation. However, if the 2017 tax bill is not renewed in 2024, the rates jump back to the pre-2018 rates for 2025. This early expiration served two purposes, one of which is financial. The bill scored less expensively when the rates expired after eight years. Thus the cuts looked less costly than they really were. Secondly, well, the extension or demise of the "Trump" tax cuts will occur during the presidential election. 

So, what we have here are two poison pills. They're evidence of cynical gameplay by our two parties. They're also evidence of what the strange world of filibusters and reconciliation bring to us. Bills that have to do with revenue (or federal judges) can get through on reconciliation. Thus they need no bipartisan cooperation. When government wants to show love, it gives money. In 2017 Republicans showed love to their constituents with tax cuts. Democrats to households with kids. For a long time I was ambivalent about the filibuster, but I now find myself wearying of it. It's something that can be gamed. Our two parties have figured out how to game it. It gets in the way of some meaningful changes (such as voter reform and the minimum wage) but not others (tax/spend bills and judicial confirmations). These poison pills, which will fill the airwaves in the next two election cycles, are predictable and should attract more attention and thought now before they become fodder in an election year. 

Monday, July 12, 2021


So, let me get this straight. The newest anti-abortion law in Texas empowers citizens to sue citizens for damages as a way of illegalizing abortion? That's how this article tells it. I cannot imagine how such a mechanism for enforcing a law can be Constitutional. I also cannot imagine something more symbolic of where the conservative movement in America has devolved. It's now truly a movement whose means and ends are to pit neighbor against neighbor. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The U.S. Flag Code

The U.S. Flag code tells us it's a good idea to fly the American flag every day. There are about 20 days, however, in which it's especially encouraged to do so. Today is . . . 

It sounds like a proficiently-written script, doesn't it? It's how I started many days of class in 2021. And it's how I'll start many others this fall when I return to campus. 

The events of January 6, 2021 enraged me. Sickened me. Left me more despondent than I had been on any day that I can remember since September 11, 2001. I needed a constructive response, though. It was necessary for me to channel my fury over the events of that day in a way that would help me grow and set an example for the kids who look to me for guidance. Those would include the two at home, too. So, I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with the U.S. Flag Code, the not-legally-binding code of conduct regarding the flag produced by the U.S. Congress. It's a little long. But here it is: U.S. Flag Code.  

It's changed somewhat what I do in the classroom. On those days specified by the code, I lead the class in an exercise in which we talk about why the day has been set aside. Sometimes we do this light-heartedly. Sometimes it's more serious. At my house, meanwhile, it means I don't display the flag nearly as often. After all, I don't have lighting for it to be displayed overnight. But I think the practice of displaying it on those days set aside gives me something additional to be thoughtful about. 

Perhaps it makes passers-by wonder why it's up some days and not some others. July 4 (and this year July 5) are pretty obvious. But not too many know why I would fly it on March 29 or the third Saturday in May. Maybe they'll be interested in taking a look. 

A couple of moments on Sunday reminded me why I'm glad I've been doing this in 2021. First, there was a rather sad (but unsurprising article) over the way partisanship has twisted American's perception of the flag. It's a tough read, but worthwhile. That article greeted my day. My day closed with my reaction to something my son shared, namely that many on Instagram were posting protest messages about the flag in response to the injustices of which the posters are aware. Wow. It was like my son was seeing online in real time the problems that NY Times article had described. 

He was seeing, in real time, the consequences of weaponizing the flag and weaponizing patriotism the way many have in this past year. 

So it seems fitting and proper we end July 4 with properly folding the flag. 

My next project along these lines will concern the National Anthem. After all, there was a scandalous furor over the U.S. Women's Soccer Team yesterday regarding appropriate protocol during the National Anthem at a match. I use the word scandalous because of the way many worms misrepresented images to tell a lie about those women. The athletes did nothing wrong aside from not knowing the right direction to turn: toward the flag or toward the 98-year-old veteran performing the anthem. I guess it's time for me to pursue the text that confirms what someone I trust once told me, that out of reverence for the flag one doesn't applaud the performing of the national anthem. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Working Through the Backlog

I acted out a relatively new summertime tradition during the holiday break. I set aside all the magazines I had received in the late summer and fall (really since the end of our beach vacation in July) and worked through all of them. This was my way of saying good riddance to what was in most regards a rotten news year. Those magazines, filled with news from 2020, didn't deserve to see the new year tomorrow. And after reading issue after issue in which either Covid, Trump, Biden, or Trump's jesters were on the cover, I know I'm right. 

The pile. 

Those headlines don't deserve to see the dawning of another year. 

What a bitter, awful, rotten, miserable, toxic year of news. A year in which Americans were at the meanest. A year in which selfishness was glorified. A year in which common sense had a hard time being seen or heard above the din of grievance and acrimony. 

I pulled some interesting tidbits from the pile of unread news, and it will help me incorporate thoughtful examples in my work with students. More importantly, it may help me turn the conversations in social settings with friends and family. I'm talked out, and even more importantly listened-out, from politics and Covid in 2020. I can't do it again in 2021. Perhaps the recovered news items I read will help me turn potentially contentious conversations into thoughtful ones. Here are some of the interesting items: 

  • The pace at which globalization took place was slowing in the 2010s, well before Covid. There may be interesting ways in which automation, a re-think on supply chains, and a sobering reassessment of power relations make trade a little less vibrant in the next decade. 
  • Print journalism was struggling long before the internet's threat became apparent this century. In fact, I probably need to think of my normal growing up (a thick Philadelphia Inquirer whose Sunday edition would take the better part of a Sunday to digest) as an anomaly, or special period in history (like the post-World War II boom) rather than as the normal. 
  • It seems as if electric cars will be mainstream, and that this may happen more quickly in the next few years than I was expecting. That CR-V we purchased in November 2019 might be the last gasoline car I purchase, which hurts given how much I enjoy driving. 
  • One of the most cynical but useful quips I've seen that may put my frustrations with social media into perspective: "If you're not buying, you're the product." By the way, I'm a paid subscriber to four distinct news outlets: The New York Times, The Economist, The Philadelphia Inquirer (digital only), and The Week. If one counts sports, I guess The Athletic would be a fifth. 
  • I probably should stop the practice of drinking coffee immediately upon waking up. There's allegedly some science to how the caffeine may inhibit the metabolism of the breakfast sugars. 
  • Get ready for a wave of mergers . . .
  • . . . and an undertow of antitrust activity. 

And that's it for 2020. A year that saw me more engaged with the news than is probably healthy. A year in which I muttered to myself much more often than my relatively weak slate of blog entries would suggest. A year in which estrangement from loved ones with whom I disagreed politically seemed dangerously close.  A year that I pray gives way to a time in which we at least try to be more decent to one another in this country. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving. I find myself grateful today for my health, my family, and my home. There's a twinge of sadness with that second item, though, as I celebrate a holiday weekend without seeing many in my family. As I write this, I'm still working through some grumpiness at having to miss out on time with Mom and Dad and siblings. Nephews and nieces, too. The three who are most immediate and who daily bring me joy are with me, and I need to keep that in mind. The home is in good shape (getting a little tired of it, of course). And the health would be better if I were ten or fifteen pounds fewer. 

I'm hoping that 2021 will give me more occasion to write than this past year did. I most often use the word crummy to describe 2020. Exhausting, though, might be just as apt. I set forth with this blog years ago as a means to comment on what I was seeing politically. As 2020 wore on, I found myself so fatigued and dismayed (and at times angry) that writing on that arena was the last thing I wanted to do in my spare time. When I hashed out arguments in my head, I was bothered by how often my tone turned to bitterness. I came across a quote today from Friedrich Nietzche that seems appropriate to what I experienced: "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." 

Now I find myself trying to take care. My greatest hope for the upcoming year is that we simply become nicer to one another in this country. As I experienced it, political discourse became yelling. And I'm tired of the yelling. Communities, churches, families . . . too much yelling, not enough listening.  

I'm tired of the precautions and limits, too. I've been back at work now for more than three months. Masks. Social distancing. Limited numbers of students and teachers. Teaching in that environment has been exhausting, and I had thought three months of adhering to rules and enforcing rules would permit me three days of family and food. I was wrong, and I've surrendered to the fact that in this age of Covid-19, I put my mind to what I need to do and respect that I'll often not get to do what I want to do. I pray that one year from now freer to move about our communities, churches, and families, and that those realms once again remember how to be nice. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020



The difficult photo above is of a billboard I came across in north central Pennsylvania. I took the photo in July 2015. I don't know if it's still there. 

But the ugly and racist sentiment that motivated someone to erect it still exists. It put Donald Trump over the top to victory in 2016. And it's the force that I pray we defeat in the fall of 2020. 

Why am I raising this now? I miss My Old Party. I was a registered Republican until 2016. From time to time I harbor a small hope the party can take a more optimistic and healthy path. So I read David Brooks' most recent essay with interest, an essay in which he analyzes the possible directions leaders in the party could lead it in a post-Trump era. 

But he ends his essay acknowledging that the odds of any of those thought leaders' ideas resulting in something good as "under 50-50." 

I miss My Old Party. I don't think it's coming back. Ever. And that's a shame. And perhaps it's not worth saving after it decided that catering to and feeding to the racist sentiments in our country was a path worth taking in the 21st century. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2020


In Ron Chernow's 'Grant,' an American Giant's Makeover Continues ...

As I wound toward the end of a long (and, boy, do I mean long) biography on Ulysses S. Grant, I came across an amusing anecdote from the years after his presidency. The former president and his wife took a long journey across the globe. Literally. The left from an East Coast port and returned to the West Coast almost two years later. He was feted around the globe, and news accounts of his popular receptions through Europe and Asia redeemed his popularity in the U.S. 

So when he returned he was greeted and celebrated in cities across our nation as he made his way eastward toward home on the East Coast. But, according to the book, the finest parade and celebration for him was held in Philadelphia. 

Then I recalled that, yes, Philly is a great city for parades. Which got me to thinking of the big parade here in 2018. Which led me to YouTube to watch the video of Jason Kelce's speech. And of highlights from that Superbowl.

And I, a grown man, wept. 

I enjoyed that brilliant memory today. 


The biography? It was good. I'm simply not much of a biography guy. I learned from it though, and find myself better understand the murkiness of our post-Civil War era. In some ways I feel like a political and social standoff followed the Civil War just as the Cold War followed World War II. It was called Reconstruction. We won the Cold War. 

I don't think we won the cold war that emerged in the years before, during, and after the Grant presidency.