Graveyard of Empires

I remember those days like a nightmare that you can’t seem to escape. I was walking to work from my remote parking space. I had been loaned out as a draftsman to another firm while working for Graeber, Simmons and Cowan back in 2001. I don’t recall the name of the firm, but I can point you to the building it was in on Congress Avenue if I happen to be driving with you downtown.

A plane had struck the North tower of the World Trade Center at some point during my drive to work that morning. I was late to work as usual when I was under a deadline and working late nights. The second plane struck not too long after we had all settled down to work that day, and I believe we were dismissed early because there was no use in pretending we were going to get anything done on the project with the kinds of things that were happening in the world that day.

I remember the second plane strike most vividly because it was one of the first times that I was forced to use the internet to get essential news updates, there being no television in the office I was working at. We watched the video of the crash over and over that morning, before leaving to go home and contemplate what we had just witnessed.

When the Travis County Libertarians convened later that week to try to pass an antiwar resolution, declaring that Travis County Libertarians were opposed to the war in Afghanistan that the President was proposing, I motioned to table the declaration. With a second and a majority vote, we did table it. The majority of us at that meeting that day knew that blood called out for blood. It was inevitable and probably right for the United States to seek vengeance against the instigators of the plot that destroyed those towers in New York City. I don’t regret doing that; even today, twenty years later I don’t regret it. I regret that we violated parliamentary procedure to get the resolution tabled, but not that we refused to say that the United States had no right to seek vengeance. Blood called out for blood.

By October 7, 2001, when the war against the Taliban started:

The U.S. military, with British support, begins a bombing campaign against Taliban forces, officially launching Operation Enduring Freedom. Canada, Australia, Germany, and France pledge future support. The wars early phase [PDF] mainly involves U.S. air strikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces that are assisted by a partnership of about one thousand U.S. special forces, the Northern Alliance, and ethnic Pashtun anti-Taliban forces. The first wave of conventional ground forces arrives twelve days later. Most of the ground combat is between the Taliban and its Afghan opponents.

cfr.org

I was actively planning to go overseas to help rebuild Afghanistan. They needed engineers and experienced construction personnel, and I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, my expertise to work at something that would hopefully inspire a lasting change in the country that had fostered so much hatred for the United States. This was a radical change from the teenager I had been a scant decade earlier. I was ready to go to jail rather than even register for the draft when I turned 18 in 1980. I was that opposed to war.

I knew that if we wanted to avoid a quagmire in Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Empires, it was going to take finesse and a deft hand on the tiller, and I hoped that the former Texas Governor was up to the job that he had signed himself up to perform as President of the United States. I wanted to be part of the success of that effort. I wanted the cycle we were caught in to end.

My hopes were soon dashed, though. By the middle of 2002, before I had made any headway in deciding if it would be smart to involve myself in Bush II’s ill-begotten war on terrorism, he was already taking his eye off the ball and had begun flirting with conducting a war against his daddy’s nemesis, Saddam Hussein:

There’s an old line: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And so it was with the Iraq war. Bush and Clinton and Powell and Blair knew quite a bit that wasn’t true. As Robert Draper shows in his book “To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq,” they were certain Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Only he didn’t. They were also certain, based on decades of testimony from Iraqi expats, that Americans would be welcomed as liberators.

nytimes.com

We ultimately squandered the opportunity handed to us by our allies in Afghanistan. Instead of pursuing a limited campaign that would destroy Al Qaeda and kill Osama Bin Laden, George W. Bush betrayed the needs of the nation and instead pursued imperial goals, trying to bring more countries under the direct control of the United States military through a permanent troop presence and a widening field of battle that essentially encompassed the entire globe, much less all of Afghanistan.

Osama Bin Laden left Afghanistan while we were distracted and took up residence under the protection of one of our purported allies, Pakistan. He lived in hiding there for another decade while our President’s dreams of empire were pursued at our nation’s expense. At the cost of nearly a million lives. Iraq’s government was destroyed and the entire region was destabilized because of the War on Terror. President Bush played right into OBL’s hands and attempted to colonize not just Afghanistan but Iraq as well.

We betrayed our allies, the Northern Alliance, the people who should have been the tip of the spear in everything we did in Afghanistan so as to keep our footprint in the country to a minimum, and instead tried to occupy the country. Time and again it was shown to us that this effort was doomed, and yet we kept doubling down on the investment of blood and treasure, with no one in leadership willing to admit that we were never going to be able to leave the country that we stupidly thought we could control.

We know now what that error has cost us. Has cost the people of Afghanistan. Twenty years later, the United States lead war in Afghanistan has finally come to an end, and the war between conservative governing factions in Afghanistan is set to begin. No one knows how long that war will rage, or what the ultimate outcome will be, but there is little doubt that the next war in Afghanistan is about to begin. Begin without our presence for the first time in a generation.

Donald Trump, the only president in history worse that George W. Bush, was left in charge of the United States when it came time to cut a deal to get us out of Afghanistan. President Obama could have done it, should have done it, but he thought he could turn that sow’s ear into a silk purse (the same hope of every leader left in charge of a debacle in the making) and kept us fighting an unwinnable war for the entire eight years of his Presidency.

Barack Obama, to his credit, did finally see to the death of the architect of the attacks on our country, but he failed to realize that with the death of OBL we no longer had a reason to stay in Afghanistan. We should have gotten out then, at least. Instead we kept lying to ourselves about what the ultimate outcome of the boondoggle would be. Another ten years went by.

Donald Trump, in his infinite lack of wisdom, decided the smart thing to do was hand the country of Afghanistan back over to the people we had fought for twenty years. He released the prisoners of war that we had captured and had them sign his peace deal, tying the hands of Joe Biden to the August 31st deadline that we have just gone through.

The Ezra Klein ShowThe Foreign Policy Conversation Washington Doesn’t Want to Have

Make no mistake, Joe Biden understood what needed to be done when he was Barack Obama’s Vice President. He opposed the surge. He wanted us to get out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later. As Ezra sums up in his article in the NY Times, it was always going to end this way. President Biden knew this just as well as Ezra’s guest in the podcast embedded above knows this.

There was never going to be a time when the coddled, corrupt Afghan puppet that we installed as leader of the country was going to be willing to risk his life for the country that we created. The same clearly went for all of the military personnel that we meticulously trained alongside us for twenty years in-country. Without leadership that would stand firm beside them they would melt away, leaving all the technology we had left in their hands in the hands of the enemies that Donald Trump put in charge with a stroke of his pen.

The Northern Alliance might have been up to the task if we had allowed them to lead, to put their blood and treasure on the line as the cost of not supporting the central government in Kabul. We’ll never know, because that eventuality never occurred. Instead we colonized and set up a puppet government just like we did in Vietnam; and the entire façade collapsed without our constant support, also just like Vietnam.

Now. Now we need to be working with Afghanistan’s neighbors to insure that it doesn’t devolve into the hellhole the Taliban made of it before. If we don’t do this work then we will find ourselves once again drawn into conflict there sometime in the future. Drawn into conflict or attacked by terrorists that found safe harbor there just as they did before. This outcome can’t be allowed to occur; and the only way to stop it is to help make Afghanistan the place it should have been all those years ago when we decided to continue being an empire instead of being a republic of fellow humans that needed to see past wrongs righted and the guilty brought to justice.

How can we, the country that still can’t come to peace with its own slave history, its own genocide of the original population of the land our country was founded on, how can we hope to ever show others how they can move past the point were blood calls out for blood? Who else is there that will do this work if we don’t?

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Featured image from: warfarehistorynetwork.com

The Wife

“Doesn’t she have a name?”

Yes she does. Thanks for asking.

She doesn’t want to see her name used on the blog, or when I happen to reference her in other online forums. She probably doesn’t want her name associated with my writing in much the same way that Margaret has been associated over time with an amazing ability to argue about anything. She has never understood why I use my own name on my own work.

“That is what a nom de plume is for.”

I am who I am. Like Popeye. Or Descartes. There is no hiding who I am behind another name. It will eventually come back to me as it does to other authors who continue to work at their writing. All I have to do is keep writing long enough and someone will notice it is me writing whether I want them to or not. But I don’t have to use her name or the children’s names. I can do that favor for them, so I will.

I started calling her the wife because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way. This was back when I worked for Tom Hatch, a lifetime and more ago. So, being the considerate person that I am, I’ve used no other reference for her since that time and the appellation just naturally migrated to the blog because of this. The wife has always referred to me as her significant other, which I find clever and cute at the same time. This is probably the reason we are still together after all these years.

Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyesspotifyamazon

At some point in the fourteen years since I first crafted a narrative for explaining the significance of the wife the proverbial “I can’t remember when we weren’t together” moment has occurred. I know that those moments existed, and that they mattered to me before she was a part of my life. They mattered until they didn’t matter anymore. My life is now defined by the beautiful woman I’ve been married to for over a quarter century. Defined by the two children we’ve raised together, both of them adults now.

Does this mean that I’m old?  Never. The children keep me young. They keep me young, while reminding me just how old I really am. Reality is a bitch like that. We both agreed we wanted children, way back in the pre-marriage days. If we were to get married, we would have children. We would be for each other and nobody else, until death do us part. Straying from each other would mean death showed up just a little bit earlier than death had planned.

I moved to Austin alone at the end of 1988, the beginning of 1989. Moved in with friends who were renting from a homeowner. In between the time I moved to Austin and the time I went back to get married and bring the wife to Austin with me, the housing market had collapsed in Texas and our friends were squatting in the house they had been renting, a house that ended up being owned by the Resolution Trust Corporation. The precursor tremors of this collapse is what made me relocate from San Angelo to Austin in the first place. Architecture work had dried up and so had a lot of the other work that easy access to Savings and Loan money had made possible. The tightening financial situation had everyone at each other’s throats and it felt like it was time for a change.

When I moved to Austin I also wanted to confirm, in my heart, that I couldn’t live without the wife-to-be. I suspected this was the case, but I had been utterly wrong on that score before, many times. There is nothing quite like temporary separation to prove where one’s heart lies. It took scant months for me to realize I was completely out of my depth in Austin without my trusty wingman. I had to have her back at my side. I would make an honest woman of her or die trying. I made a special trip back to San Angelo just to propose to her.

Sting – If I Ever Lose My Faith In Youspotifyamazon

We were married thirty-two years ago today. Well, actually, that’s not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. Her parents were in town for the graduation and helped us pack up the house the day after the wedding. They stayed to haul all our worldly possessions to Austin and brought the big horse trailer along with them from Oklahoma to do the job.

The wedding was planned by several mutual friends. Colors selected, dresses made, location reserved. Judge in attendance, annoyed at the lateness of the ceremony, but happy to be there for us all the same. It was a beautifully scripted event right up to the point where it ended. The happy, barely conscious couple kisses and then realizes no one has choreographed how to exit the arbor the wedding was held in. We all look blankly at each other.

The wife says, “Weddings over, see you at the reception.” and I laugh.

Did you notice the arbor reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. It didn’t rain much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. It’s the principle of the thing. Mother nature rained on our outdoor wedding, whatever that means. That wasn’t all. There was also a tornado after the reception and the trees across most of San Angelo were stripped bare of leaves when we emerged from the hotel we spent our wedding night in.

Late ceremony? My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony. They went to Dunkin’ Donuts in their tuxedos on the way to the wedding. Of course there was a delay getting the donuts so they were late. The soon-to-be-wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (moving next day) At the reception, opening the champagne for toasts, I was instructed to “aim for his head!” My brother or the best man? Both at the same time? I missed everyone with the cork. This was probably the smart move.

Supertramp – Give a Little Bitspotifyamazon

When my brother was married a few years later, we wrapped their wedding present in donut boxes. Bright pink and orange Dunkin’ Donuts to go boxes taped together in an unholy hodge-podge of a wrapping accident. I don’t think either one of them appreciated the joke. The wife and I laughed for weeks.  Joy is in the ears that hear, or maybe revenge is a dish best served cold. Best served cold, like donuts are before you dip them in coffee.

What’s that smell?

Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. It was the drunken wedding march before the player crapped out completely. The wife-to-be’s garter fell off more than once and had to be retrieved so that it could then be removed again properly at the reception. The Superman and Lois Lane outfits we discovered secreted away in our hotel room on our wedding night. The tornado damage the next day as we are driving out of town, heading for Austin.

Tom Cochrane – Life is a Highwayspotifyamazon

Driving, not much unlike how we met the first time. We met at work, four years prior to that day. We both drove test cars. Not vroom-vroom racing, and not on a track. Tire testing on regular highways in stripped-down cars:

The too long; didn’t read version of the story is this; eight hours a day trapped in a car, driving what was known in popular parlance as the double-nickel. Boring fifty-five dead-level miles an hour for four hundred miles per shift. The cars drove two shifts a day even if the drivers didn’t and since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly. If you were the lucky one whose car broke down, you were stranded with that broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you and your car.

Blue Öyster Cult – Don’t Fear the Reaperspotifyamazon

Some of us were a little edgy about the wait for the tow truck for up to three hours situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them while trapped sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t want to hassle with a gun so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.

I did nothing during my driving shift aside from chew up my guts worrying about everything that I wasn’t doing because I was trapped in a car. No phones, not even radio stations for most of the drive. Just a CB radio and whatever portable music you brought with you. I hated the job. It was the destruction of my one avenue of solace at the time, driving for pleasure. The only time I had to think was when I was driving, and driving eight hours a day every day was killing me with over-thinking my far too simple life.

This was where I was mentally on that fateful day when I was introduced to the person that I would come to affectionately refer to as the wife. Strung out on too much caffeine, like all drivers are. Mentally frazzled from eight hours of self-flagellation at all the mistakes I had made in life up to that point, including the screw-ups in timing and spacing that I was supposed to keep track of as the tail driver over the last eight hour shift. Bored with my music. Bored with my life. I was anxious to go home, smoke a joint and just mellow out.

Over my shoulder I hear “Hey, Tony, this is that girl I wanted you to meet.” Oh, right. The one with a knife like mine. She said she would show me how to use it. I turn around and I notice her grin first. This was a setup. I should have known. “I hear you want to meet my baby.” she says. “This is my baby.” She draws out a blade that is a good two inches longer than the butterfly knife that I carried and casually flips it back and forth without even checking to see that she is holding it right.

spotify & amazon playlists

I don’t know if I’m going to see blood or some other kind of demonstration next. Then I notice her eyes. They were grey-green. I’d never seen anything like them before. Not anywhere. Those witches eyes, framed by strawberry-blonde hair, and that impish grin on her pixie face. I was simultaneously in love with her and terrified of her all at the same time, in that very first instant. Casual authority. The way she just flipped that knife around, in exactly the kind of way that I didn’t do unless I wanted to be bandaging a cut in the next moment. That was freaking me out the most.

I think I said “Oh, is that how it works.” Then I showed her my tiny blade, which she laughed at. She proceeded to show me which end of the handle to hold and how to flip it around without cutting myself. Then she demonstrated how to stealth drop one side of the two-part butterfly handle so that she could gut someone in a single motion from draw to finishing stroke. A stroke that stopped mere fractions of an inch from my gut. Yep. I was terrified. She was my dream and my nightmare all in one woman. I had to get out of there or I was going to faint. I made my excuses and fled home to the apartment I shared with a roommate, a roommate who was rhythmically banging his date of the week on the other side of my bedroom wall.

Supertramp – Logical Songspotifyamazon

I was out at a Circle K down the street from my shared apartment, meeting another friend a few days later. I was there to pick up a box of comic books, the third one that this particular friend had sold to me. I’m pretty sure he was trying to seduce me with this contraband. Why do I think that? He had tried taking me to gay bars for several weeks at this point in time. Gay bars that he pretended weren’t actually gay bars and then feigned surprise when I noticed that there were no girls and that the guys around us were sitting just a little bit too close. Since that tactic hadn’t worked, he had decided he might have more success appealing to my love of heroic fiction and calling me back to a time before inhibition had closed off the kinds of drives he wanted to exploit with me.

As I was standing there going through the box of books, haggling over a price, I notice a familiar face drive up next to us. It’s that knife-girl. My knees got weak. She was there to get her Dr. Pepper, her lifeblood. She had bailed out of the little lakehouse that she and her estranged husband still shared on inertia alone and drove into town to get a change of scenery and to drop some quarters in the video game arcade down the street from where I was haggling over comics with my friend.

She saw the box of comics and her eyes lit up. “Is there any Superman?” she asked. I knew I had to get to know her better, right then and there. I completely forgot about the friend who had been trying so desperately to get me to open up to him for weeks and I don’t even remember his name now. She and I thanked him for the trade and we piled into our separate cars, then she followed me back to my apartment.

As we went through my most recent acquisitions on my bedroom floor, as well as dragging out the two previous boxes of books that I had acquired so she could see what treasures were hidden there, we discussed the other things that we had in common. Not only was she into comic books and a video game fanatic like me, she was also into Star Trek and speculative fiction too. This was too much for the both of us to ignore.

I had been looking all my life for another castaway from my home planet. Another refugee in this backwater chock full of mundanes, someone who understood what Science Fiction was and why it was the modern day equivalent to mana from heaven. We looked deep into each others nerdy eyes, and then kissed like it was the first time for both of us. We made love for the first time right there on top of that pile of comic books.

Dr Hook – “Sharing The Night Together” (1978)spotifyamazon

So the way into my heart that my friend had tried to exploit worked perfectly, it just didn’t work perfectly for him. I used those comics to seduce The wife instead, and then I married her. Thanks, man. I wish I could remember your name.

32 Years Ago Today Babe. Happy Anniversary

We lived together for just shy of four years before we tied the knot, got married, made the relationship official. We pretended that we weren’t living together for all of those years so that her parents wouldn’t know she was living in sin. They were from a different time, a completely different world than ours; and they’re both gone now. No harm in letting that cat out of the bag. We were shagging it for years before we told you mom and dad. Hope you didn’t mind.

In 2006 I started marking anniversaries by writing a piece with this title, adding to the first one rather than subtracting from it when I could, Just like our love for each other evolves and becomes more complex over time. May it continue on in this fashion forever. It is an interesting dream to contemplate.

She will not appreciate the song list I’m adding to the versions that occur after 2019. Those are not her kinds of songs. This is her kind of song:

TohoMojo -Godzilla Blue Oyster Cult Music Video HD – Aug 12, 2017spotifyamazon

It’s also her kind of movie. Giant monsters stomping on buildings. Explosions. I love drama, romance and intrigue. Explosions are nice, but they don’t keep me interested for long unless there are some decent characters on screen as well. These are my songs for her, and the lyrics of these songs still speak to me even if I can’t hear the music anymore:

Love
I don’t like to see so much pain
So much wasted
and this moment keeps slipping away
I get so tired
working so hard for our survival
I look to the time with you
to keep me awake and alive

And all my instincts, they return
And the grand façade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

In Your Eyes

…the resolution of all the fruitless searching. That is what she represents for me. May everyone find that harbor for themselves. Even you, wife.

Jimmy Buffett – One Particular Harborspotifyamazon

Testing Tires

It’s hot. It’s summer in Southwestern Texas. I’m sitting on the hood of a 1974 Thunderbird that we’ve nicknamed the Thunderchicken. This piece of crap of a vehicle that I’m stuck with has been driven millions of miles since it rolled off the assembly line in Detroit more than a decade ago, and it’s not even the oldest vehicle in the tire test fleet. That honor went to Bronco Billy, an off-white Gran Torino sedan that wished it could have been the sexier coupe, but instead was the four-door sedan that nobody wanted. That car was waiting at the shop, probably destined to take the Thunderchicken’s place, even though the floorboard on the drivers side had been patched with plywood so that the driver wouldn’t mistakenly put their feet down while traveling and lose a leg in the process. This is the life of a test car driver, if the tests you are doing are tire tests.

The Thunderchicken, in typical Murphy fashion, has picked the farthest point from home to break down. We’d just made the turn-around outside of Comstock and were heading back towards San Angelo, the shop, and home. That description cuts the story short a bit. We’d drive the North loop up towards Robert Lee first and then go through the stop and goes and then finally back to the shop and rest, but all that stuff was a few miles from home. A hop, skip and a jump away from home compared to being able to see the US-Mexico border from your car window.

The car just stopped in the middle of the road. I don’t mean the motor stopped running, I mean one of the front wheels stopped turning as if it had never turned before in it’s life and wasn’t about to turn again no matter how much gas you ran through the engine. So I gunned the thing to the side of the road leaving a skid mark and a crease in the asphalt the whole way, and then radioed ahead to the rest of the convoy who promptly turned around to see if the breakdown was something we could fix.

Tire tests were run in convoys of four vehicles, back in the 1980’s when I was working as a test driver. The lead driver was generally in charge of the crew and would make decisions for the convoy as a whole. I was not the lead driver. I drove tail when I was lucky. I was driving tail that day, which is how you can have a catastrophic vehicle failure and yet have no one from your crew notice it.

A brief inspection ensued when my buddy Harold, who was driving lead that day, came back to check on me. I’d met him at trade school a few years previously. When my job in Abilene fell through, I called on him to see if he had someplace I could sleep. I wanted to see if a change of scenery might make for better job prospects and I’d heard good things about San Angelo while living in Abilene. I knew there was no future for me back in Sweetwater with my family, just more dead-end work to kill time until time killed me. So I wasn’t going back home to Mom.


“Dispatch, this is Lickity Split.”
“I hear you.”
“We had to leave Palomino down on the river. Her car was trashed by some Javelina hogs that are running wild on the road. She was safe on the roof of the car the last time we saw her. Could you get a wrecker and some game wardens out there to her? I’m kind of worried about her. We didn’t dare go close with all them hogs milling around her car. We didn’t want to loose another one.”
“Will do Lickity Split. Be careful out there.”


Harold said “sure, come on down” and so I moved to San Angelo and started looking for work that might suit my interests. That was when we stumbled across the job that had left me stranded in Southwest Texas in the noonday sun, a business that was peculiar to San Angelo, Texas in that time and place.

Every tire sold in America is certified by a tire test that travels a route from San Angelo through Eldorado, Sonora & Juno, making a U-turn at the Camp Hudson historical marker. I think we even stopped to read it once. Don’t remember what it said. You then drive all the way back to San Angelo and proceed onto the North and East loops I described previously. Every manufacturer in the world was required to have this test performed on these roads by a testing company certified to do the job. We worked for one of these companies and the tires I was testing had fallen prey to a mechanical malfunction. Their time as test tires was over.

As it turned out, the fault wasn’t something we could fix. The lower a-frame on the driver’s side front wheel had come loose from the ball joint and jammed itself into the rim of the wheel. Had the a-frame missed the rim, I wouldn’t have been able to move the vehicle at all since the frame would have dug into the asphalt, tearing itself loose in the process and rendering steering useless. At least this way I wasn’t in the middle of the road, but I was still stuck; and after the relay call came back the rest of convoy was ordered on to finish the test. I was told to wait with the vehicle for the wrecker.

Harold wished me luck and headed back out on the road with the two other drivers in tow. As I watched them vanish over the farthest hill, I gripped the tire iron that was my only weapon that much more desperately and prayed that the wrecker would show up before dark.

It did, but just barely.


“Hold up Lickity Split”
“What’s the problem Palomino?”
“A deer ran into my car”
“You hit a deer?”
“No, it ran into my car. Ran headlong into the driver’s side door. Scared the shit out of me.”
“Wait a minute. It looks like it is getting up.”
“Nope, it broke something. Poor thing is suffering. Dammit, I don’t have a knife here! Wait, here’s a screwdriver. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay Lead. I’m ready, let’s get going.”
“You put that deer out of it’s misery with a screwdriver, Palomino?’
“Yeah. I’ve got to get a knife. I can’t be using a screwdriver to do the job every time.”
“Are you planning on hitting more deer, Palomino?”
“It ain’t got nothing to do with planning, Lickity Split”


Harold had been working for McDonald’s and he was sick of it. He had injured himself throwing milk for Gandy’s dairy and decided that the fast food job offered more interesting work than loading milk trucks, but had soon discovered the grind that I already knew fast food work to be. Winter was just around the corner, and we needed work if we were going to keep a roof over our heads while the snow was falling. If it fell.

This was West Texas after all, so snow might not fall at all. It wouldn’t be the first warm Winter on record for San Angelo. It’s hard to say what the weather will be like in Texas, from season to season, sometimes from minute to minute. “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes” as the old timers will tell you.

It was all fine and good to smoke our way through the summer in San Angelo, spending time down on the lakeshore getting stoned with the college students who flocked there over the summer. Summer was over now, the students were all back in school, learning to do jobs that paid better than the shit work we could find with our technical degrees from TSTI.

He had gotten a lead on a different kind of job than what we had both done before. It just required a drivers license, which we both had, and a clean driving record. Our driving records were clean, even if we weren’t. We decided that we would go see if we could get a job at the same place and thereby share the commute to and from work.


“Dispatch this is Red Squirrel”
“Go ahead Red Squirrel”
“I’ve just hit a cow.”
“Do you need an ambulance?”
“No, no. I’m fine. I think the car’s fine too.”
“I thought you said you hit a cow.”
“I did.”
“Well then, how can the car be fine? You don’t just hit a cow and drive away.”
“Well, I saw it just in time to brake. I had them brakes locked down so hard that the nose of the car went under that cow’s ass. She was so shocked at the intrusion that she shit all over the hood of the car and then ran off. So I’m fine, the cars fine, but the shop boys are going to have one hell of a mess to clean up when I get back in tonight.”
“Did you get that dispatch? Dispatch?”


We started out at Texas Test Fleet. They hired us pretty much on the spot, but we went ahead and went across the street to Smithers and put in an application there as well. Word was that Smithers paid better and their cars were of better quality. We didn’t really care, we just needed jobs that paid real money to pay the real rent that was going to be due soon.

We came back to work our shifts that night. Just two idiots who had no idea what we were doing other than that we would have to drive for eight hours at a stretch. I had driven that far on my many trips to see family in Kansas over the years. I could handle eight hours of driving that would see me back home at the end of the day. At least, that is what I told myself.

Five miles from the shop, the passenger side rear tire came off of Harold’s car. “I looked up and the tire was passing me in the ditch. I was wondering whose tire that was when the horrible grinding noise started, and that is when I realized it was my tire.” So the lead driver called in the tow truck for the now permanently disabled vehicle, and the three remaining drivers, myself included, continued on down the road to Sonora and the Devil’s River, leaving my best friend and my ride back home in the ditch waiting for a tow truck. The rest of that night’s work was largely uneventful, which was good. I don’t think I would have wanted to go back to work testing tires if we had lost another driver that first night.


“You aren’t going to believe this Lickity Split”
“You hit another deer Palomino?”
“No. I just drove over one.”
“What?”
“It jumped off that ridge you just passed on the right. When it hit the road it’s poor legs went out from under it and I was too close to do anything but keep driving.”
“Do we need to stop, Palomino?”
“Hell, no. Damn thing is blood and guts all over the road. There isn’t enough left to pick up without us risking getting run over trying to collecting the pieces.”
“Roger, Palomino. We’ll report it’s location when we get back in.”


We were offered jobs at Smithers the next day, which we gladly took. Their cars certainly did look nicer, the shop was cleaner and they did pay better than TTF did. Within a week the lead driver we had been following flaked out and left, and Harold was promoted to lead in his place. This meant that he and I were entrusted with the lives of two other people and the value of four automobiles each and every day that we drove test cars. I don’t think they understood who we really were, but we were happy for the work.

We usually drove day shift five days a week. There were weekend crews that worked part time, and there were frequent vacancies for anyone who wanted to work a sixth day during the busy driving week. We were subbing for some missing drivers one night not to long after we had started our new jobs. This was the second time I had been down on the river at night. It gets a little freaky down there at night. It is a hundred miles in any direction to civilization on that stretch of the river. The only light that is visible comes from your headlights. The sky is pitch black, with piercing white holes of light for every visible star. It reminded me of my bygone boyhood camping days, but there were no adults on this trip to protect us from our own stupidity.

It’s called the Devils river. The name gave it the ominous tone that we drivers assigned to it. In addition to being remote it was also out of radio range for the CB radios we had. We called it the hole. We were functionally alone through that stretch of road and as I said, it was dark that night, no moon in sight. In the light coming from our headlights we saw a jeep on the opposite side of the road, off in the ditch.

This thing looked like it had been on the losing end of a three-way bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etcetera. We didn’t dare stop. Not without functional radios to radio in help with. We called it in as soon as we got back up out of the hole. That wreck was gone before we drove that way again a few days later. I never did find out what the story behind the jeep was.

On another night we came across yet another wreck, this one in the clearing stages. A car had run head-on into a tanker truck. Everyone in both vehicles was dead, as far as I could tell. I found out later that a baby had survived in the back seat of the car, because the backward facing child seat had saved it from being crushed. As I’m sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go on down my hellish road that night, a highway patrolman wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, a shoe with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. I had to look twice to make sure I saw what I thought I saw. At least they had a tarp over the car by the time we got to the wreck. I did not want to see what was inside of it. I’ve never had a stomach for blood. To this day I curse at the looky-loos who stop to gawk at roadside accidents. Stop looking and drive unless you want to be a statistic too.


“Hold up Lickity Split”
“Another deer Palomino?”
“Yeah, I finally hit one. The knife came in handy, just like I knew it would.”
“Do I need to turn around for you, Palomino?”
“No, no. We got it. Third here grabbed some rocks and we wedged the headlight back into place with them. I should be good till we get back to the shop. I think I’m going to call this car Rocky from now on, though.”
“10-4 Palomino. We’ll look for your lights before we continue then.”


The tow truck driver laughed when he saw the damage the car had left on the asphalt, all the way to the edge of the road. “Damn! It’s a good thing you got it to the side. Otherwise you’d have been stuck out here waving people around the car all day.” I explained to him that he was the one and only person who had been down that lonely road since I had my accident with the steering, and that I was really, really glad to see him. I could finally stop gripping that tire iron in fear because I at least had someone to talk to, even if all I had to do was ride shotgun all the way back to the shop, a full three hours away.

I started thinking then, though. I need a weapon the next time I’m caught out here like this. Something better than this dumb tire iron. Something I can carry in my pocket. Maybe a knife? I’ll have to get someone to show me how to use one, though.

Featured image: Michelin 10 wheel Poids Lourd Rapide

Police Lynching

What we witnessed was a lynching. That’s part of the reason to put it in a historical context. It was a public message to people that what Officer Chauvin was doing was okay and you might be next.

Phillip Atiba Goffpolicingequity.org

The quote is from this episode of The Rachel Maddow Show:

RACHEL MADDOW – Hope over history: Racial justice advocates anxiously await Chauvin verdict – April 19, 2021

Professor Goff’s statement echoes what I took away from the brief bits of the nine minute video of Officer Chauvin killing George Floyd that I could make myself watch. Officer Chauvin was acting the part of a terrorist, instructing his audience on the subject of what happens when law enforcement decides to kill a black person. I can kill him and I can kill you. That is what Officer Chauvin is saying.

Monday’s show led off with a visitation on the 100th anniversary of the massacre in Tulsa. If you haven’t heard the story, it is worth giving this six minute video a chance to tell you about it:

RACHEL MADDOW – Remembering the Tulsa race massacre as the 100th anniversary approaches – April 19, 2021

It is also worth remembering in the time and place that we find ourselves in today, that the police in America were founded from the slave patrols that were instituted during the years when slavery was a part of life in the United States:

Throughline – American Police – June 4, 2020

…this system of essentially tracking black people’s movements to control them needed a similar kind of armed and/or empowered law enforcement constituency. So on one hand, you do have the growth of a formal bureaucratic nuts-and-bolts police system that emerges by the late 1860s, 1870s. You know, prisons are being remodeled or expanded and built. Prison farms are beginning to open. I say all that to say because the South had a very anemic infrastructure when it came to criminal justice by a very stark contrast to northern states. And one of the things that it doesn’t really have is it doesn’t have a formal professional police force like – certainly like big cities from Boston to New York, Philadelphia, the old colonial cities, now essentially industrial, thriving, modern places by the 1870s and 1880s. And so what does the South do? Well, Southern leaders empower vigilante groups to do a lot of the day-to-day surveillance and policing of black people, and out of that, particularly in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan is born in Pulaski, Tenn.

npr.org

In the South the police force is directly descended from the KKK and slave patrols. In the North the history is different, but just slightly different. The police in those areas still establish a racial hierarchy with black and brown people at the bottom of the social ladder, they just didn’t do it because of slavery. This is the racial basis for American policing. The history that all Americans have to accept and deal with.

I liked Six Flags Over Texas back when I was a teenager and into amusement parks. I could appreciate the history of the six flags that flew over Texas that was the reference for the name, but I always knew that one of those six flags was a flag of rebels and white nationalists. The amusement park that started in Texas is too embarrassed to fly the rebel flag in places where they own parks and the rebel flag never actually flew, so they have repurposed the six flags to be some other six flags and who really cares now anyway? I’m sympathetic to their corporate problem and really don’t see why they should have to fly flags in the first place other than that they put it in their name. Apparently some people didn’t learn their history and now want to pretend it wasn’t real history. They want to force Six Flags to fly the rebel flag even though the name and the flag were specific to Texas. These are facts folks.

There are plaques up in the Texas capitol that claim that the Confederacy wasn’t based on preserving slavery, which is false. Those plaques as well as most of the statues and monuments across the South date back to various times when white nationalism was in power and acted to whitewash history, giving themselves honor that they never deserved in the first place. They used their authority to compel the schools to muddy history in the textbooks, teaching kids falsehoods that could be disproved by doing basic research on the subject of the history of the succession movement and of the racist history of the American continent under European dominance and then United States dominance.

What has become clear to me over the years since I first started paying attention to this subject is that a lot of people have been fed lies for a lot of their lives; and they are happy to go on believing the comforting lies that they were told as children. It’s time to grow up now. It’s time to embrace the truth as it transpired through history, and to make our way forward with a firm grasp on the truth. Like the confederate monuments that dot our landscape, each town square that ever held a lynching party should be required to host a token from this memorial:

youtubecnn
New York Timesmuseumandmemorial.eji.org

…and Derek Chauvin should be forced to wear one around his neck for the rest of his life. He is the personification of the racist history of the American police system. It is long past time to rewrite that system. At least the jury did find him guilty. That is a step in the right direction.

I cannot help but think of the famous image of Deputy Sheriff Cecil Ray Price and Sheriff Laurence A. Rainey laughing at a hearing after their arraignment following the murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964.

Price and Rainey thought it was funny when they were arraigned along with 16 of their friends—not for murder, because Mississippi refused to bring charges, but for conspiracy and violating the civil rights of the murdered men, both federal offenses. And why shouldn’t they think it was all a joke? The jury was all white and, after all, they were law enforcement officers.

heathercoxrichardson.substack.com

Opening Old Wounds

As a doctor, you of all people should be aware of the dangers of reopening old wounds.

ST II

I never thought much of that line from Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan. I mean, I’ve heard the old wounds phrase a thousand times if I’ve heard it once, from many places aside from Star Trek. Maybe I should have given the meaning more weight, or acknowledged the hazard more knowledgably. Maybe I should have tread the old memory grounds more cautiously?

Bob SegerNight Moves (Official Video) – Premiered Jul 10, 2020

I broke something in myself last week. I didn’t know I was breaking it until it was broken, and I don’t know how to put it all back together again the way it was before. I don’t even know that I want to put it back the way it was. It was painful even the way it was, and digging out the painful bits has revealed something about myself that I really never thought about before. I don’t think it is a good thing and I probably should change it.

Jackson BrowneRunning On Empty – Jun 8, 2019

What I do know is that I’ve listened to a lot of music that takes me back to 1983 in the last week, and I may have finally stumbled across a story that will compel me to finish it or it will kill me. I hurt like I haven’t hurt since those years, except maybe in the days following my mother’s death. Too much trauma in the last four years. I don’t know how much more I can take.

There has to be an invisible sun
It gives its heat to everyone
There has to be an invisible sun
That gives us hope when the whole day’s done

The Police
The PoliceInvisible Sun – Feb 23, 2010




Informational Segregation

Discover the incredible true story of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols and the US space program. Stream the documentary, Woman In Motion, exclusively on Paramount+ in the US on June 3.

Paramount+ on Facebook
Woman in Motion (2021)
Paramount PlusWoman In Motion – Apr 5, 2021

I love that this documentary exists. I need to say that first. I love the fact that one of my favorite actors had such a prominent role in diversifying NASA. Nichelle Nichols was the daughter’s idol as a child. She has a version of every Uhura doll that has been released since they first started making Star Trek toys back in 1974. The vendor who sold her that doll cried when she ripped it out of the package and started playing with it right there in front of him back in 1996. She is a fan and the daughter of true fans of Star Trek, the only series.

Got that? Good. I love the fact that this documentary exists, but I won’t be subscribing to Paramount+ just to see it. This documentary should be available streaming everywhere. Why won’t I subscribe to Paramount+ just to see it?

I won’t subscribe because we are forgetting the very lesson that Nichelle Nichols is promoting in the documentary.

Where are my people?

They aren’t visible because they were denied information. They were not just denied access, but they were denied even the information that would allow them to do jobs at NASA. This was done as part of the pursuit of insuring that the majority of the benefits created by technology landed in white men’s hands. They weren’t told that this was something they could do, and so consequently there were few who even asked if they might do it.

Hidden Figures (2016)
20th Century Studios UKHidden Figures | Official HD International Trailer – Sep 20, 2016

You would never have seen this movie made by a Hollywood studio at any point prior to 2016. Barack Obama’s election made Hidden Figures possible, because the popularity of Obama made movie investors sit up and take notice, be willing to hazard real money on a movie about the black women who were the pioneers of diversity in American government.

These women had to overcome obstacles that the average person has no way to understand. Not only the fact that they were women and they were black in the United States of the 60’s, but that the information that they needed to be who they were was reserved for people who could pay to access that information.

Information is for everybody who wants it, everyone who needs it, not just the people who can afford it. Information is not just for the people who subscribe to the correct entertainment channels and pay the right amounts to the right people. Information is for everybody, and we are allowing profit motives to re-segregate us into smaller and smaller groups. We are allowing copyright to Trump the best interests of our nation and our world.

This has to stop. We have to stop allowing copyright holders to refuse access to their products unless you are willing to pay them for it. This is the basis for the creation of libraries, the understanding that information should be available to everyone. The library should be a thing that you can access by computer or cellphone. You shouldn’t have to get in a car and go find a building somewhere in your city in order to borrow something from your library.

I look forward to seeing Woman in Motion and Hidden Figures played to children in schools, to adults who don’t think women and blacks should be allowed to do the same things as white men. They are the people who need this experience, and it should be made available to them, not just to the people willing to pay Paramount or Disney or any other copyright holder directly for their jealously hoarded intellectual property.

Finite Understanding

I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at.

Ada Lovelace (?) (datanerds.com) (Amazon.com)

A hat/tip is owed to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe #818; however, I could find no source for the quote. I haven’t decided if it is worth the effort to go through all her papers in order to find it or not find it.

Ada Lovelace helped write programs for a computer before there was a computer to run them on. She translated articles on Babbage’s analytical engine from other languages. She experimented with electricity and tried to write a calculus for the brain to explain why we think and feel the way we do.

Not only was she born before her time, but I would say that her time has not yet arrived. Imagine what she could have achieved had she been born tomorrow?

[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine.

Ada Lovelace (Wikipedia)

Featured image: a watercolor of Ada found on Wikipedia

Change

What is more important to be about change as a society; changed individuals or a changed social structure? The answer to that is very simple because, if you don’t start out with individuals who are determined to change a thing, you will never get a political consensus.

Bayard Rustin
Throughline – Remembering Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the March on Washington – February 25, 2021

The Enron Legacy

there were many factors that went into creating the energy disaster with which Texans are now dealing. But at least in one respect, the problems in Texas are a product of an approach to the energy business that Lone Star State companies like Enron pursued at the end of the 20th century.

wapo

Ken Lay was George Bush’s best friend, back when George Bush was governor of Texas. That was what Ken Lay would tell you, if he was still alive today. The story is more slanted now that Ken Lay has been convicted of felony crimes and his flagship business, Enron, went bankrupt and took $40 billion dollars and the fortunes of thousands with it. Also, Ken Lay is conveniently dead of natural causes, so it is easy to blame him for all of the greed that was behind the drive to deregulate the energy sector in the United States.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (book) (movie)
Movieclips Classic TrailersEnron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) – Nov 20, 2013

It is because of Ken Lay’s friendship with Governor and then President Bush that the Texas and California electrical grids ended up being the mess that they are today. It’s just taken longer for Texas’ grid to fall apart than it did California’s, which has been on the ropes since Enron arranged for it to start suffering rolling blackouts back at the turn of the century.

I watched/read The Smartest Guys in the Room when the movie/book came out back in 2005. The story itself was just another nail in the coffin of my belief in market solutions, the death of my libertarian delusions. Every time that the fraudsters finally convince someone in authority to deregulate, it doesn’t take long to prove that government regulation had been there for a very good reason after all. Enron bought energy companies and then created energy markets for their power to be sold on. That was what those regulations stood in the way of, huge profits on Wall Street.

One of the last acts of desperation in the failing business that Enron became after its meteoric rise on the stock market was to turn off power generation in California’s electrical market in order to drive up the price of electricity and put money in the pockets of Enron executives and traders. Enron created rolling blackouts on purpose in order to profit from the suffering of California citizens. One of the last acts of desperation of the Texas Public Utility Commision during the recent winter storm was to set the price of electricity high enough on the Texas market to inspire power generators to turn on their excess capacity and flood the Texas power grid in their time of need. It’s just too bad that there wasn’t any capacity to be had because the power generators hadn’t bothered to insure against freezing by weatherizing their supply systems. Just too bad that electric energy generators and their investors were more interested in profiting off of the suffering of Texas citizens than they were in spending money weatherizing against winter storms that they hoped would never show up, but still manage to show up about every ten years anyway.

KUT 90.5 – Texas’ Power Grid Was 4 Minutes And 37 Seconds Away From Collapsing. Here’s How It Happened – February 24, 2021

kut.org

Shares of Macquarie rose 3.4% in Sydney on Monday after the company raised its profit outlook. They are now down 2.8% over the past 12 months.

One customer told the Dallas Morning News that his electric bill for five days stood at $5,000, the amount he would normally pay for several years of power. Another told the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate that he had been charged more than $16,000 for February.

wsj.com

It is also too bad that Texas’ hostility to federal regulation caused it to seek an isolated grid through ERCOT, which meant that most of Texas went without power when it’s isolated grid went down and no one could send it power to keep it afloat. Unless you were lucky and lived around El Paso, which (along with Amarillo and the panhandle) are not under ERCOT and consequently only saw minor interruptions in service.

This is what happens when you make the essentials for survival into profit-driven commodities; commodities that no one can understand how to profit from unless they are scarce enough to drive demand over available supply. When there is more demand than there is supply of the essentials some people won’t survive. The death toll across Texas due to the winter storm and resulting power outages is still unknown but is likely to be well over 100 people, and a bank in Australia made 200 million off of those deaths.

Texas is misnamed. Texas (tejas) supposedly means friend or ally. Nothing could be further from the truth than seeing Texas as your friend or ally. That is the ploy of the confidence man, the demand to trust him even though he seems to be oilier than all get out. The Texas mascot should be the irresponsible teen who wants to shirk all the day long because he can. It should be the grasshopper that whiles the summer away instead of storing food for the winter. Like the grasshopper and the irresponsible teen, Texas is always unprepared for adversity because of these infantile behavior patterns. Texas is a great place to be young and healthy, because there are no worries about tomorrow here, and no requirement to save anything for that day of need. Texas is a horrible place to be old or sick in because there is no place to go when you reach your hour of need. No allowance for the slackers that we pretend to be fond of, but throw out in the cold the minute that things get tough.

The true beneficiary of Texas largesse is the corporate raider, the false priest, the con artist. Texas is made for thieves. Personal and corporate greed are rewarded here, rewarded more highly than any human virtue. Just look at Ken Lay. He understood what Texas was for. He rode that pony hard and put it up wet counting on not being there when the tax man came for his cut. He died a millionaire, of the diseases of old age he could have avoided if he had straightened up and flown right. Why bother? No one gets out of this life alive.

The Enron legacy is ERCOT and every other Texas boondoggle ever hatched. Every scheme that amounted to nothing more than stealing from public coffers and crafting a golden parachute for yourself. If we had those billions that Enron stole from us, that the deregulation scheme stole from us, we wouldn’t need to go without water or power, the average Austinite wouldn’t have to be out there hand-delivering necessities to people on the verge of death during a pandemic. This lunacy has to stop. The question is, will we pay attention long enough to make it stop?

Featured image from twitter.com/austinenergy

Postscript

Governor Greg Abbott made off like a bandit after the legislative session that did not fix the Texas power grid, but not nearly as much of a bandit as one of the owners of Texas’ power generation facilities:

Winter Storm Uri cost us an estimated $293 billion in damages and some estimates put the actual death toll closer to 700. Nearly 5 million Texans lost power; many more went days without water. Remember?

One Texan who hasn’t forgotten is Dallas resident Kelcy Warren, although not because he worried that he and his family were in any danger. Warren, co-founder and now executive chairman of Energy Transfer Partners, lives in a 27,000-square-foot ivy-covered stone castle on nine acres in North Dallas. He bought his humble abode in 2009 for a reported $29 million. We can imagine that the heat stayed on in the Warren manse (or perhaps the family repaired to its private island off the coast of Honduras.)

What the pipeline tycoon remembers, we suspect, is not the nearly $300 billion that the storm cost Texas. It’s the figure $2.4 billion. As Justin Miller reports in the current issue of the Texas Observer, that’s the profit Warren’s company collected during the blackouts, a sizable portion of the $11 billion profit the natural gas industry as a whole collected by, in Miller’s words, “selling fuel at unprecedented prices to desperate power generators and utilities during the state’s energy crisis.”

Warren, a hefty donor over the years to former Gov. Rick Perry, former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, made sure that Gov. Greg Abbott didn’t forget either.

On June 23, Warren wrote out a check to Abbott’s reelection campaign in the amount of $1 million. That’s the biggest check Warren has ever given a Texas politician, according to campaign finance reports. And it’s four times the usual $250,000 gift that Abbott has gotten from his reliable Dallas benefactor nearly every year since he was elected governor in 2014.

houstonchronicle.com

This is the Enron legacy, in spades. This is what the for-profit power generation scheme that Ken Lay wanted put in place is there for. It is there to make billions of dollars for people who control access to the power of the state. We are fools to continue to allow this fraud to continue at our expense, at the possible cost of our own lives. If you vote for Republicans in Texas, you are the biggest fool of all.

Filibuster? Blame Aaron Burr

It’s 1804. Aaron Burr kills Alexander Hamilton but he’s still the vice president, runs out of town. Back, 1805, he’s in the chamber. He’s still dispensing advice in the Senate. And Burr says, you’re a great deliberative body but a really great chamber has a very clean rulebook and yours is a mess. And he singles out that previous question motion. They get rid of it in 1806, not because they wanted to create filibusters, right, not because they saw the great deliberative body of the Senate and they needed a right way to protect the rights of minorities. That rule was gone because Aaron Burr told them to get rid of it and it hadn’t been used yet.

Sarah Binder
On the Media – The Filibuster: Protection or Obstruction? – Apr 6, 2017

This was originally published as a quote from this episode of On the Media, near the date when the episode released. Since this is a problem that we are still talking about four years later, I have moved it forward to today and added more of my thoughts on the subject, like I had originally intended to do when I set the quote aside to be published later, and then published even later after my thoughts evaporated.

This is the thing that started the thoughts back up again:

Robert ReichThe Only Way Democrats Will Get Anything Done – Feb 25, 2021 (facebook)

The filibuster is a Senate rule requiring a 60 vote supermajority to pass legislation, which means a minority of Senators can often block legislation that the vast majority of Americans want and need.

It’s not in the Constitution. In fact, it is arguably unconstitutional. Alexander Hamilton considered a supermajority rule as “A Poison” that would lead to “Contemptible Compromises of the public good.”

Even without the filibuster Senate Republicans already have an outsized influence. The 50 of them represent 41.5 million fewer Americans than the 50 Senate Democrats.

The Senate isn’t a democratic body. It is a body created to ensure that states had a voice in the federal government. That is its reason for existing and that is why it is made up the way that it is. But that doesn’t mean that the rules that govern the Senate should be broken in such a way that it can’t get business done because the minority wants to roll around on the floor like a temperamental child that doesn’t get what it wants (Yes, Ted Cruz. I’m imagining you with chocolate smeared on your face and wearing an OshKosh jumper rolling on the Senate floor right now, destroying my fond memories of Green Eggs and Ham. Petulant. Small. Child. Ted Cruz) The Senate simply needs to restore the motion to call the previous question that still exists in the House rules and in the basic parliamentary rules that govern most legislative bodies (Robert’s Rules of Order) Striking that rule in the Senate is what has lead to the impasse of the filibuster.

It is amusing to me that the rule was originally struck because it was thought that Senators were too civilized to need to end debate with a vote since no Senator had ever refused to stop talking when it was clear that he was not convincing anyone. Had the original Senators known the future, known that John C. Calhoun would use the filibuster in defense of slavery to bring the United States to the brink of Civil War, that Mitch McConnell and his Republicans would use it to stop the Senate from being able to get anything done, they would have left the ability to call the previous question in place. If we could talk to them today they would probably marvel at our inability to simply set the filibuster aside as a bad idea that has long outlived its usefulness. They had just voted themselves as no longer subject to the King of England a few decades earlier. Don’t like the rules? Change the rules.

Postscript

As someone pointed out soon after I had published the piece, I seem to contradict myself on the subject of the filibuster when it comes to Wendy Davis and her filibuster in the Texas Senate. Not really. I’m all for using the rules to get your way. I have done this myself at Libertarian Party meetings. I would do it again if I had to. This is the point in having rules in the first place and learning the rules as part of the process.

The filibuster can be used for both good and bad reasons. I happen to think that Wendy Davis was making the good fight back in 2013. I also happen to think that Ted Cruz is a moron for reading Green Eggs and Ham on the U.S. Senate floor protesting against the Affordable Care Act. Wendy Davis had to stand up for less than a day and defend her filibuster, which resulted in the legislation she opposed being left unpassed and required the Governor to call a special session in order to pass later. Legislation that was later gutted by the courts. Ted Cruz rolled around like a spoiled child knowing that he would never succeed at what he wanted to do because he’d have to stop sometime, and the Senate would simply gavel through the measure anyway. Which they promptly did as soon as he wiped the snot off his face and left the Senate floor.

The broken U.S. Senate rules could be fixed at any time and should probably have been fixed decades ago. The same goes for the Texas Senate, another legislative body that borrowed the rules it utilizes from the broken U.S. Senate. If they leave those loopholes in the rules they will be used, and they will be used by minorities to impede the will of the majority. The majority in Texas is simply wrong on the subject of women’s health. A whole state full of misogynists, but that is a story for another article.

For every Senate race in 2022, the Democratic candidate should be running on ending the filibuster. “If you vote for me I will vote with the Democratic caucus to put an end to the filibuster.” It seems crazy that we would have to vote on ending this BS that Aaron Burr started, but that is life in the modern United States.