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The Political Clock’s a-Tickin’

If the Democrats sought to build a national clock, how would the bill develop?

Note that this is satire.

The Democrats in Congress introduced legislation to build a clock. The Republicans immediately proclaimed their opposition to the clock, to clocks in general, and to the lascivious notion that time exists.

The Democrats, while working on their bill, decided the clock should beep loudly every five minutes, all hours of the day. And also at random intervals during the last week of every month. They say this would promote awareness of the fleeting nature of existence. The people didn’t like the idea, but they do want a clock.

The media initially covered how everyone agrees America needs a new clock. The polls showed people would like to know what time it is. The beeping issue didn’t get much coverage, but something else did.

The Republican media and the more extreme Republican House members started a campaign against Roman numerals. “The Pope’s in Rome, but this clock is going to be in America,” they pointed out, seeming proud to know where the Pope was headquartered. “American clocks should have American numbers!” their rallying cry went. The Democrats retreated to regular numbers, but when a caller on C-SPAN mentioned they preferred Arabic numerals anyway, the whole issue blew up again.

The media taught the controversy around the numbers on the clock. Some experts raised the question of whether analog clocks are the best way to tell time. Digital clocks were considered, but abandoned when they realized in case of a power outage or malfunction the clock would be down. “Analog is more classy, anyway, and if something goes wrong, at least it will say a time, if not the time,” the House majority leader said.

The Democrats added to their proposal that only clean energy may be used to wind it, and that the materials used in its construction must be conflict-free. The business lobby and carbon fuel lobby bristled against these new provisions. The business media and US Chamber of Commerce condemned them as a tax. They said that hardworking Americans would be late for work and would miss their daughters’ alphabet-burping recitals if the clock couldn’t be wound using carbon fuel energy. They added that the conflict-free provision would cost too much and that China would use it to corner a large part of the market, making America less competitive.

The Republicans all cheered on these calls for paring back the bill, while progressive activists clamored for stronger labor provisions. A prominent West Virginia Senator weighed in, saying he thought the clock should be wound using coal, but he was in favor of the beeping. “ ‘The people of West Virginia love a good beep. Really tingles in the ear, if you know what I mean,’ the gentleman said Thursday,” a major publication reported.

There was an op-ed by a science think-tank calling for it to be an atomic clock, which caused immediate alarm and confusion online. Half the people seemed to think it was a call for the clock to be powered by nuclear fission, and most of them didn’t like that. The other half argued about whether the clock needs to be that accurate, or whether it could be set using atomic time without being an atomic clock, per se.

A second op-ed, this one by an evangelical-type, revived the hour label issue. “Roman numerals are for Super Bowls only,” she wrote. “America’s clock should feature the English names of the hours, not some fuddy foreign symbols.”

The word-based clock mockups got passed around online, with people commenting how the words were too small or the clock face too big. There were arguments about handling the words at three and nine, lest people have to turn their heads too much to read them. Others suggested the clock itself turn to show the hour, while the minute hand moves independently. But the conservatives said this would entice Americans to idleness, creating a welfare state. “Americans can turn their heads. Look at that Regan MacNeil—turned her head with the real vigor of American exceptionalism. The younger generation is grown soft,” one conservative pundit said.

Mainstream commentators did not know what to make of the fact that Regan MacNeil was the fictitious girl possessed by the enemy in The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty, 1971). But conservatives rally to the idea, posting videos of themselves trying to twist their own heads farther and farther around. Republican media explodes with advertisements for natural extracts to help turn your head like a real American should, including one made from owl feces.

A counter-proposal for the hour labels briefly gained traction, with right-wing radio fawning at the idea that every hour to be named for a president. Noon would be Ronald Reagan, six would be Lincoln, and so on. Once it was pointed out that the clock also represents night hours, the proposal fizzled. “We can’t have Ronnie be associated with midnight—the witching hour!” said one southern Republican senator, nearly fainting and fanning himself with a hankie.

At the eleventh hour, the Democrats added a new rider to the bill, which would empower the president to declare any hour a celebration or memorial of a cause. The Republicans immediately sought to amend to allow sponsorship by corporations and religious groups instead. More, they want a declaration that the clock not be used for menstrual-related math or contraception calculations. When Democrats point out using a clock as a calendar would be stupid, one Republican countered that time is time, and a clock’s just a short-term calendar.

Not satisfied, the Republicans pushed for another change: that the clock not be used to wake people from slumber. “We got this new problem called woke and it’s weakening our nation,” a former sitcom star tweeted. “If people can wake up other than from their butler bringing them breakfast, who knows where that leads.”

The Democrats went on to pass the bill, which included several other provisions:

  • a prescription-drug plan that has the federal government pick up the cost of the bottle labels (paid for by a tax on pool noodles)
  • a copyright provision that extends any outstanding copyright by one year for every dollar paid to a political campaign
  • a requirement that all state official paperwork begin dotting their lowercase Is with hearts or smiley faces, or optionally hearts with smiley faces inside

The clock will be built over the next ten years, assuming funding is added every year until then. Once completed, the clock will initially operate on weekdays between noon and six pm. After the first year, service will expand to weekends and other hours of the day, budget allowing.

The Move to Ban Vape Mail

The legislation to ban postal delivery of vaping products is misguided and ridiculous.

The bill is 116th Congress: S. 1253. It passed the Senate by unanimous consent, which is another way of saying no Senator could be bothered, with everything going on, to say, “I object.”

Now, the bill doesn’t get everything wrong, but it gets one thing very wrong: it adds a ban on the US Postal Service carrying vaping-related packages, either as the primary carrier or as a last-hop service for commercial carriers. (Actual tobacco products have been in that boat for some years, though cigars are exempted because enough rich fools smoke them and have a lot of clout.) Some rural customers, who are often not served by commercial carriers, will be unable to receive delivery of the products at all (though the law being amended does exempt Alaska and Hawaii, which effectively means that rural folks in those states are treated better than rural folks in the remainder of the nation).

With all the attention on the post office these days, what with Donald John Trump and his Postmaster General DeJoy trying to derail the 2020 election, and his OMB with their postal butcher’s chart, one would think the US Senate, or at least one Senator, would not want to cut off another slice of flesh, however small, from one of the most impressive and dependable government organizations. But they did, and now it’s up to the House to finish (the House had previously passed a similar bill, so it seems likely).

The basic idea behind the bill is to prevent teenagers from ordering e-cigarettes online and getting them in the mail. So far, so good. But it also prevents everyone from that basic commercial function. Commercial carriers can continue delivering the products, but only with enhanced age verification measures.

The USPS should, by rights, be able to compete with commercial carriers for revenue, given that Congress has, in their infinitesimal wisdom, requires them to generate revenues rather than funding them as part of the general welfare, as an essential government service, as the necessity they are. It’s not like the military turns a profit, but they get beaucoup. The IRS does bring in revenue, and they get mismanaged and cut down. And the USPS with them.


There is an obvious need for a modern system to verify age for all purposes online. There is also an obvious need for improving the delivery verification mechanisms. Congress has not attempted either of those things. They have simply shrugged off their duty to regulate with care. That is sad.

As the country moves toward cannabis regulation, for example, there will come a day where it will be shipped across state lines. Should the post office be banned from that? Shouldn’t there be a modern system of age verification for it? Or for alcohol. Or any other product that, by law or by a vendor’s choice, is to be age restricted?

And if no children live at an address, why shouldn’t the resident be able to register that fact and have their packages delivered as any other article would be?

The Postal Service should be modernized, including steps that protect and improve its ability to carry ballots during elections. Democrats absolutely should not assist in cynical plots to undermine a bedrock institution like the USPS.

But not a single senator—not my senators, not yours, not the best nor worst, not nobody’s—bothered to object to this bill. It is a damned shame. The weal is left unguarded, the US Postal Service is further neglected, the system gets just a little worse.

Congress Should Pass the Laws We Know are Needed

As the US Senate appears close to a compromise on DACA and border security, we are once again reminded that the major challenges of our day are not black boxes that deny any solution. They are clear roadmaps to the changes that need to be made. The lack of action, the lack of deals, stems entirely from the recalcitrance, more often than not by Republicans.

CHIP

Children need healthcare. Kids get sick a lot. Colds and strep and chicken pox. Some have asthma or other chronic conditions. Everybody knows that kids need to go to the doctor. The US Congress knows. But they don’t act. States have to start planning to deny new applicants and pare back services.

It’s a no-brainer. Pass it.

TPS

The president has rescinded temporary protected status for Haitians, Sudanese, Nicaraguans, and now for Salvadorans. The law was being stupid, but in hold-my-Diet-Coke fashion the president has made it stupider (and went on to add insult to injury).

An updated TPS law would set forth a clearer understanding of the stakes when admitting peoples’ affected by disaster of whatever kind. Either they come for a strict and limited time, without the sort of extension can-kicking that created the current masses under threat, or they come with a pathway to permanent status.

There should be no more of this nonsense where the law basically designs a trap for hundreds of thousands who left a tough break, only to be haunted by its ghost ten years later in the form of a cruel presidency.

The Wall

Don’t build it. If you’re going to build it anyway, it should only be in concert with DACA and full immigration reform besides.

Other Issues

There are plenty of regulatory changes needed, with Congress empowered to force them through new legislation. To hear Republicans tell it so often, there’s not a business in America that can open for the day without submitting forms first. But rather than turn those alleged instance of misregulation or overregulation into changes to the law, they simply let them continue unabated. They should fix ill-fitting regulation. Democrats may quibble over whether a given law protects enough, and that’s where compromise is needed, but generally they should welcome streamlining regulations because it strengthens the argument that sensible regulation is possible.


And so on. The problem is not that we don’t know the right moves. It’s that these Republicans have chosen to Norquist themselves up the river by pledging fealty to idiocy. They can’t compromise, they can’t do what needs to be done. They have no business being there. Work requirements for Medicaid? How about some work requirements for Republican legislators.