Finally, everyone in the United States is eligible for an injection of a vaccine that provides immunity to the Covid-19 coronavirus – immunity, at least, to Original Formula Covid, anyway. The California Silicon Valley of Death, British B117 Bomber, Brazilian Bikini Brain Waxer, South African Flaming Lung Necklace, Texas Brazos Big Boy High Contagion, Indian Triple Play Mutant, and Who Knows Whats Coming Next Week strains, all of which have arisen (or will arise) from continuing mass stupidity and recklessness notwithstanding, getting the shot is still the best thing 99.999% of us can do for ourselves. And that’s exactly what Cerise and I did.
This being the Washington DC metropolitan area we live in, there’s no shortage of medical facilities with minus 109 degree Fahrenheit cold storage, and we managed to obtain our first shots – Moderna for Cerise, Pfizer for me – in short order. Then we compared notes on the side effects of each brand, finding no essential difference between them. If you haven’t gotten an mRNA Covid vaccine yet, expect to not even feel the shot when you get it. And then expect to be knocked flat on your keister for at least eighteen hours, starting approximately six hours after that surprisingly painless injection.
Seriously, don’t plan for any 10-K runs, big presentations to your boss, three hundred mile drives to visit your relatives, marathon online Scrabble tournaments or anything similar the next day. If you don’t feel like something between having caught the worst case of the common cold you’ve ever suffered through and having been mugged by a pack of lunatics wielding net bags full of fresh grapefruits, you are highly atypical, very lucky and an object of both Cerise’s and my sincere envy. Not that we wouldn’t do it again. Which is good, because, well, actually, we will, in fact, have to do it again.
The fact that those I know who have had it tell me the aftereffects of the second shot are worse than the first does little to cheer me up, but what the hell – consider the alternative; actually having Covid is infinitely worse. And besides, no matter how miserable it makes us, we know it’s our duty as patriotic, informed, educated and civically responsible Americans to take that second shot with the same cheerful determination we possessed for the first. To paraphrase Nathan Hale, I regret that I have only a cumulative total of four to six days moping around in abject discomfort to give for my country. Or something like that, anyhow.
And there was, I will confess, an entire weekday after that first shot where I had to ask Gretchen to reschedule all my consultations – my head felt like it was stuffed with snot flavored cotton candy and I couldn’t think worth beans. And in the hired brain business, you can’t work like that. And as could be expected, postponing an entire day of appointments just piled everything up for the rest of the week. Not to mention the irate attitude of some of my clients who had to wait two or three days for a chance to ask my advice about their problems. In particular, I recall that on Friday, there was this Zoom meeting which I shall not soon forget. My interlocutor was one Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of whom you may have heard.
Now the thing about Zoom meetings is, the videos are pretty much superfluous. In fact, all the information content that would interest anyone but a stalker obsessed with AOC (What’s she wearing today? What does her voice sound like? What’s the background look like? Etc.) is verbal. So here’s a transcript of the Zoom meeting. You can imagine AOC wearing a black, Hillary Clinton style pantsuit jacket with fire engine red lipstick if you like. Don’t bother trying to imagine what I looked like. It’s simply not worth it.
Tom: Hello? Representative Ocasio-Cortez? Hello, can you hear me? Okay, I see you nodding. I can’t hear you though.
AOC: All right, there! I had it on Mute. Can you hear me now?
Tom: Yes. Your video just froze, however.
AOC: I’ll [inaudible]. Hold it, I’m [inaudible]
Tom: Your voice is breaking up now, Congresswoman.
AOC: [Inaudible] … ridiculous… what the [inaudible]…
Tom: It seems there are some bandwidth problems on your end. Try turning off your video. I’ll do the same. That should help.
AOC: Okay, can you hear what I’m saying now?
Tom: Yes, Congresswoman. I don’t think we will have any further problems if we keep the videos disabled. Video requires considerably more resources than audio. Particularly if one or both parties are using a green screen – not that bandwidth is more of an issue in that case, but rather it’s a question of processing power; CPU speed and RAM.
AOC: What made you mention a green screen?
Tom: Um… well, that office you are apparently sitting in appears to be Nancy Pelosi’s, not yours. And frankly, if you were using the US Capitol network, I doubt there would have been any bandwidth issues to begin with. So I assume you’re somewhere else with sort of sketchy WiFi service, a rather mediocre Internet connection and a fairly wimpy computer.
AOC: What are you talking about? I have an iPad mini!
Tom: Oh, really? In that case, it explains a lot, actually.
AOC: There’s nothing wimpy about an iPad mini! You’re just saying that because a lot of women have iPad minis, that’s all! Not everybody needs a big honking computer with a bunch of CPUs and memory sticks and USB ports and RAMs and hard drives and whatever to compensate for their feelings of male inadequacies, you know!
Tom: I can assure you, Congresswoman, that I did not acquire this machine I am using, nor my tri-band mesh router, nor my gigabit capable ISP package, nor my fiber optic modem because I wish to compensate for anything. The requirements addressed by this hardware configuration are strictly professional in nature. Now, how may I assist you and your constituents today?
AOC: All right, we’ll talk about that – but no more mansplaining, okay?
Tom: Congresswoman, I can assure you, I was not, and am not mansplaining anything.
AOC: I’ll be the judge of who’s mansplaining and who isn’t, Mr. Collins! It is widely known that men are totally unaware of when they are doing it and therefore completely incapable of saying they aren’t doing it!
Tom: Well, it’s impossible to argue with logic like that, other than to point out that it obviously assumes men are all alike in one or more fundamental ways and therefore…
AOC: See? There you go again! Mansplaining! And just like I said, you didn’t even know it! Now – apologize!
Tom: Very well, Congresswoman, I apologize for commenting on how the hardware suite you are employing and / or your use of the green screen feature, either singly or in concert with one another, explains something about our audiovisual difficulties in the current Zoom session.
AOC: Apology accepted. Just see you don’t do it again.
Tom: Understood. Now, what’s your problem, may I ask?
AOC: The [expletive] filibuster! That fascist redneck hick from Kentucky…
Tom: I assume you are referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell?
AOC: Yeah, him. He’s been using it for years and years to torpedo progressive federal legislation.
Tom: Why yes, so he has.
AOC: You mean, you’re not going to disagree with me?
Tom: Why should I? It’s common knowledge he uses the filibuster to block passage of Democratic bills more often than Donald Trump insults another politician or an ethnic minority – including Mitch McConnell himself and Mrs. McConnell’s ethnic group, the Chinese, by the way.
AOC: I just thought maybe you were going to argue with me about whether McConnell is a fascist redneck or make some comment about the Democrats using the filibuster, too, or something.
Tom: What makes you think I would behave like that?
AOC: Well, you’re a man… and as far as I know, you’re not a Democrat.
Tom: So because I’m a man and a registered Independent, you think that means I don’t know that Congress is infested with Republican morons, neo-nazis, gun nuts, rabble rousers, xenophobes, Bible-thumping hypocrites, Southern fried racists, country bumpkin ignoramuses, conspiracy theory dupes, plain old fashioned criminals and damn fools who think Arthur Laffer is an economist?
AOC: If you know all that, then why aren’t you a Democrat?
Tom: Well, frankly, Congresswoman, because the Democratic Party has overrun Capitol Hill with its own plague of glad-handing lecherous political machine ward heelers, over-privileged, pretentious Ivy League egotists, duplicitous inner-city minority windbags, dizzy tree-hugging ecofreaks, New Age air heads, free-spending welfare state bozos, High-Tech industry stooges, GQ BLT single-issue axe-grinders and self-righteous feminist blow-hards.
AOC: Self-righteous feminist blow-hards? So you’re an old-fashioned male chauvinist pig, I suppose.
Tom: Feminism has nothing to do with women’s rights. It’s actually a fascist philosophy itself – one based on demonizing men. Feminism became attached, more or less by default, to the American Left because so many people confused it with the Suffrage movement and similar campaigns aimed at obtaining equal rights for women – something that, by the way, of which I am wholeheartedly in favor.
AOC: At this point, Mr. Collins, I’m wondering whether I should even bother paying you for this consultation.
Tom: An interesting comment, considering the situation. Now, for the third time, what’s your problem with the filibuster?
AOC: My problem is, I don’t like it and I want to get rid of it!
Tom: That’s a mighty big ask.
AOC: Which is why I’m asking you!
Tom: All right then – down to business at last. Okay, first, before we discuss getting rid of the Senate filibuster, are you aware of the fact that the House of Representatives had something very much like it at one time?
AOC: It did?
Tom: Yes, it did. Back in the nineteenth century, when a vote was taken on a bill in the House, they would count the yeas and the nays, but not the abstentions. If the total of the yeas and nays didn’t add up to a quorum, that is, a simple majority of the House delegates, the bill did not pass.
Tom: So, the minority party in the House always used that the same way the minority party in the Senate used the filibuster – to block federal legislation. Instead of of voting against bills they didn’t want, they would plan ahead of time for just enough of them to withhold their votes on it so that the total of yeas and nays would fail to add up to a quorum.
AOC: But they got rid of it, you said. Just like the Democrats want to get rid of the filibuster.
Tom: Well, not all the Democrats. I don’t think Joe Manchin does, for example.
AOC: Forget him. I meant the genuine, progressive Democrats, not some gun-slinging throwback like Manchin. So they got rid of it and everything was okay afterwards, right?
Tom: It was certainly gotten rid of, but not without considerable drama and unintended consequences.
AOC: And what do you mean by that?
Tom: Well, the way the majority party, at that time the Republicans, got rid of the quorum filibuster in the House was to start taking attendance.
Tom: That’s right – attendance. When a particular bill came up, one that the Republicans knew they could pass, the roll call the Speaker took for the vote counted not only the yeas and the nays, but also those “present.” And when that happened, the minority party members, Democrats at the time, tried to run out of the House chamber. But the Republicans had planned for that eventuality and blocked all the exits, trapping the entire US House of Representatives inside. Only one Democrat managed to escape before the vote ended. And from that day forward, a quorum in the House was determined by the number of members in the House chamber when the vote on a bill began, not just those members who voted on it. Soon the obvious counter-tactic of minority party members absconding before a vote proved ineffective – if the Democrats ran away, the Republicans would begin voting on a bill the Democrats wanted and that bill would fail due to lack of a quorum. So, the House began passing a great deal more legislation. That’s where the unintended consequences came in – for example, some of that legislation, bills which most historians agree would have been blocked by the bygone quorum filibuster, started the Spanish-American war. So I would say, be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.
AOC: Huh. Okay, but that was a long time ago. And I’m sure that today, most Democrats want to get rid of the Senate filibuster, no matter what.
Tom: All right then, in that case, how about the nuclear option? Have you considered using Senate Rule Twenty to get rid of Senate Rule Twenty-two filibusters completely, not just partially as the Democrats did for judicial nomination filibusters back in 2013?
AOC: No doubt about it, that could work.
Tom: And it could backfire, too, just like what the Democrats did in 2013 blew up in their faces when the Republicans controlled the Senate during the Trump administration and rammed through three Supreme Court justices, the mere mention of whose names makes Democrats’ skin crawl.
AOC: It’s a chance I would be willing to take. These are desperate times. If the Democrats don’t deliver on our promises to the coalition of voters who gave us both houses of Congress and the White House in 2020, and they get disappointed, the 2022 mid term elections will be a disaster.
Tom: Desperate times is it? Very well, then, how about the option of reinterpreting the Byrd Rule?
AOC: The Byrd Rule can only be waived by a sixty vote majority in the Senate! What do you mean by “reinterpretation?”
Tom: Nothing new, that’s for sure. The nuclear option is based on a reinterpretation of the Byrd Rule, you know. And Section 313(b)(2) of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act allows certain otherwise covered Senate-originated provisions to be excepted from the Byrd rule if the provisions are certified for exemption by the Senate Budget Committee chairman and ranking minority member, as well as the chairman and ranking minority member of the committee of jurisdiction – all of which would now be controlled by your fellow Democrats.
AOC: Yeah, I guess. So?
Tom: So, according to the text of the Byrd Rule, that exemption applies to and I quote, “such provisions that will likely produce significant reduction in outlays or increase in revenues, but due to insufficient data such reduction or increase cannot be reliably estimated.” In other words, if the proposed legislation could conceivably make federal government spending go down or government revenues go up, it’s exempt from the Byrd Rule, even if there isn’t any data to to “reliably estimate” how much those amounts will be. There is, of course, the question of getting the ranking minority members of the relevant committees on board, but if the bill throws enough money at their respective states, they will be hard pressed to refuse. If they balk, they should be encouraged to envision the campaign advertisements their primary opponents will run against them, citing the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs they left on the table. The fact that they did it to thwart the Democrats will, naturally, be omitted. And what’s more important to them anyway – the voters in their state who will be justifiably grateful for the pork barrel money in hard times like these, or the blessings of clowns like McConnell and Trump, who at the moment are nothing more than hyenas fighting over the corpse of a political party in its death throes?
AOC: So then, we Democrats have to stay up late a night working out ways to construct legislation that gives the American people what we know they want and need, but looks like it’s going to cut federal spending or raise taxes, and make sure there’s no data to prove otherwise.
Tom: That’s the general idea.
AOC: That sounds like an awful lot of work.
Tom: Exploiting loopholes in seldom easy. But it usually pays off – that’s why billionaires hire legions of CPAs to work like fevered dervishes searching for ways through them. If they can do it, why not the Democrats? You’re not saying you’re afraid of a little hard work gaming the system, are you? Because the Republicans have that stuff down to a fine art, you know. Speaking of which, have you discussed the option of firing the current Senate Parliamentarian with your Senate colleagues?
AOC: Why would Senator Schumer want to do that?
Tom: To replace her with someone who will interpret the Byrd Rule the way the Democrats want it to be interpreted – to include more legislation under reconciliation, for example. Replace her with someone who will look at that exemption clause I just told you about and conclude that your latest bill to abolish student debt after five years applies to it; things like that.
AOC: I donno, the whole strategy strikes me as kind of… dishonest.
Tom: Dishonest? Congresswoman, this is Washington DC, a place where we have such high respect for the truth, we only use it on special occasions. Please don’t tell me that watching the sausage being made turns your delicate idealist’s stomach. Do you want universal child care, a single payer health care system, a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage, citizenship for the Dreamers and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or not?
AOC: Of course I do, but…
Tom: Well, then, you have to willing to play the same sneaky, slippery, scumbag games the Republican whores for Walmart, Amazon, big Pharma, the American Medical Association, Agribusiness, the fossil fuel companies and designer clothing sweatshop owners play to get the federal legislation they want passed. Why did you become a politician, anyway?
AOC: Uh… it seemed like a good idea at the time. I get to express my ideology.
Tom: And it pays better than waiting tables somewhere in New York City, too.
AOC: Yes, it does.
Tom: Look, have you considered supporting a plan for keeping the filibuster?
AOC: No! Why would I do that?
Tom: Maybe you should.
AOC: Explain yourself, please!
Tom: Okay, but only if you agree you won’t get angry at me for being a man and explaining something.
AOC: Nobody likes a wise guy, Collins!
Tom: Consulting isn’t a popularity contest, Congresswoman. And furthermore, I know for a fact that some people do like a wise guy. Now, tell me, have you ever seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?
AOC: That old Jimmy Stewart movie?
Tom: Yes. Directed by Frank Capra. In it, Stewart plays an idealistic young man who improbably ends up in Washington DC as the junior senator from some unnamed Western state. And do you recall the climax of Act III?
AOC: You mean, where he stands up in the Senate and delivers a huge, long filibuster that takes days and days?
Tom: I think in the motion picture, the supposed duration is twenty-five hours, but yes, it seems like he’s up there much longer when you see it on screen. And what happens at the end of his speech?
AOC: He collapses from exhaustion.
Tom: And, of course, since it’s a Hollywood movie, the sight of that brings the villain to his senses and he confesses his evil plot, and so forth. Total nonsense, that part, but the film is essentially propaganda for the New Deal, so what could one expect? But, nevertheless, you see my point, right?
AOC: Uh… not exactly.
Tom: What if the Senate keeps the filibuster, but instead of the Democrats just curling up in fetal position like a bunch of wussies when a Republican threatens a filibuster, Chuck Schumer grows a pair and says, “Fine, your pathetic peckerwoods, go right ahead and filibuster!”
AOC: And then the Republican senator has to stand up and talk, like Jimmy Stewart did in the movie?
Tom: Exactly. Now – picture this: it’s Ted Cruz, and he’s started yammering. How about if MSNBC and CNN start covering every word of it? What if they break in with acerbic commentary at key moments, such as when he starts reading from Dr. Seuss, like he did the last time he made a fool of himself wasting the American people’s time? What if the Democrats were completely indifferent to him ranting and raving and just waited around patiently for him to collapse on the floor? Okay, who’s next then, Tom Cotton, maybe? Fine, let him stand up there and rant and rave and spout Donald Trump’s lies because he doesn’t even have enough imagination to make up any original ones of his own. And flop – there goes Senator Cotton, passed out from exhaustion. Who’s next? Does Ted Cruz want another go at it? Fine, let him. No? Ted’s still recuperating? Okay, do we vote now? No – here’s Rick Scott. Fine, let him rant and rave until he drops. And then who? Oh, it’s Mitch McConnell! Right – by that point, viewers will be betting on how long he lasts before he keels over in a faint. See where I’m going with this? Make the Republicans actually filibuster! Make them talk until they’re so hoarse they can’t make a sound. Let them spout their racial dog whistles and conspiracy theory nonsense through the day and into the the night and the next morning and on into the next day until they fall down on the Senate floor. Let them set records that surpass the Dixiecrat filibusters against the Civil Rights Act. Let them become a running joke – a continuing punchline for every late night comic. Let them make complete fools of themselves in front of the entire nation, let them become a world-wide laughing stock, and then let’s see how the Republicans do in the 2022 mid-term elections.
AOC: Well… I do see your point. That would be lots of fun to watch.
Tom: You bet it will. Listen, Congresswoman, with ninety percent of the rank and file Republicans still idolizing Donald Trump, the party is falling apart, destroying itself from within. A huge embarrassing show, a huge, stinking political dumpster fire, starring a cast of their most vile and reprehensible senators prattling away like demented meth heads for days on end could well be the political coup de grâce for the wounded, worm-eaten and suffering old elephant that is the sad and tragic remains of the party founded by Abraham Lincoln.
AOC: Hmm… I’m beginning to see what you mean.
Tom: Right – the Democrats’ best course of action is to lay it out for the Republicans – make sure the public knows what you stand for and that you intend to keep the promises you made in 2020. Use that as bait to lure idiots like Cruz and Cotton into trying to block legislation that sixty to eighty percent of the American public actually wants with real, live, televised filibusters. I guarantee, they won’t be able to resist.
AOC: All right, you’ve convinced me. Temporarily at least. I’ll know better tomorrow if I still believe you.
Tom: Take as much time as you need.
AOC: And that’s when I’ll decide whether to pay you or not.
Tom: Actually, as this is your first consultation, it’s free of charge.
Tom: It’s part of my marketing plan. I thought you knew, but suspected you might not when you started discussing payment.
AOC: Gee, I think Elizabeth Warren must have forgotten to tell me about that.
Tom: I’m sure she meant to. There’s a lot on her mind these days.
AOC: Okay, great. But tell me, if this appointment wasn’t free, and I thought your advice was bull-[expletive] and refused to pay you, would you sue me or put a lien on my car or something?
Tom: Absolutely not.
AOC: Oh, really?
Tom: On the other hand, if you didn’t pay me for a fee-eligible consultation, I wouldn’t expect you to request a subsequent one.
AOC: And wouldn’t that be terrible, not to have your brilliant advice.
Tom: Madame, allow me to be grandiose enough to say, it certainly would.
AOC: Hmph. We’ll see.
Tom: So we shall.
AOC: Goodbye, Mr. Collins.
Tom: Ciao, Congresswoman.